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T hath been no unusual thing for writers, when dissatis

fied with the patrourse or judgment of their own times, to appeal to posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even thought fit to apply to it in the first instance; and to decline acquaintance with the publick, till envy and prejudice had quite fubfided. But, of all the truiters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him justice as it would, but to find him out as it could. For, what between too great attention to his profit as a player, and too little to his reputation as a poet, his works, left to the care of door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped the common fate of thole writings, how good soever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they itruggled into light; but so disguised and travested, that no clailick author, after having run ten secular stages through the blind cloisters of monks and canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a condition. But for a full account of his disorders, I refer the reader to the excellent discourse which follows, and turn myself to confider the remedies that have been applied to them.

Shakespeare's works, when they escaped the players, did not fall into much better hands when they came amongit printers and booksellers; who, to say the truth, had at first but small encouragement for putting him into a better condition. The stubborn nonsense, with which he was incrusted, occasioned his lying long neglected amongst the common lumber of the stage. And when that refiftless {plendor, which now shoots all around him, had, by degrees, broke through the shell of those impurities, his dazzled admirers became as suddenly insensible to the extraneous scurf that still stuck upon him, as they had been before to the na(K 4]

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tive beauties that lay under it. So that, as then he was thought not to deserve a cure, he was now supposed not to need any.

His growing eminence, however, required that he should be used with ceremony; and he soon had his appointment of an editor in form. But the bookseller, whose dealing was with wits, having learnt of them, I know not what filly maxim, that none but a poet should prefume to meddle with a poet, engaged the ingenious Mr. Rowe to undertake this employ, ment. A wit indeed he was; but fo utterly unacquainted with the whole business of criticism, that he did not even collate or consult the firit editions of the work he undertook to publish; but contented himself with giving us a meagre account of the author's life, interlarded with some commonplace scraps from his writings. The truth is, Shakespeare's condition was yet but ill understood. The nonsense, now, by consent, received for his own, was held in a kind of reverence for its age and author; and thus it continued, till another great poet broke the charm, by shewing us, that the higher we went, the less of it was still to be found.

For the proprietors, not discouraged by their first unsuccessful effort, in due time, made a fecond; and, though they still stuck to their poets, with infinitely more success in their choice of Mr. Pope, who, by the mere force of an uncommon genius, without any particular study or profesfion of this art, discharged the great parts of it so well, as to make his edition the best foundation for all further improvements. He separated the genuine from the fpurious plays; and, with equal judgment, though not always with the same success, attempted to clear the genuine plays from the interpolated scenes: he then consulted the old editions; and, by a careful collation of them, rectified the faulty, and supplied the imperfect reading in a great number of places : and lastly, in an admirable preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively sketch of Shakespeare's poctick character: and, in the corrected text, marked out those peculiar strokes of genius which were most proper to support and illustrate that character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And although much more was to be done before Shakespeare could be restored to himfelf (such as amending the corrupted text where the printed books afford no allistance; explaining his licentious phraseology and obscure allufions; and illustrating the beauties of his poetry) yet, with great modesty and prudence, our illustrious editor left this to the critick by profesion.

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But nothing will give the common reader a better idea of the value of Mr. Pope's edition, than the two attempts which have been fince made by Mr. Theobald and Sir Thomas Hanmer in opposition to it; who, although they concerned themselves only in the first of these three parts of criticism, the restoring the text (without any conception of the second, or venturing even to touch upon the third) yet succeeded fo very ill in it, that they left their author in ten times a worse condition than they found him. But, as it was my ill fortune to have fome accidental connexions with these two gentlemen, it will be incumbent on me to be a little more particular concerning them.

The one was recommended to me as a poor man; the other as a poor critick: and to each of them, at different times, I communicated a great number of observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the relief of their several distresses. As to Mr. Theobald, who wanted money, I allowed him to print what I gave him for his own advantage; and he allowed himself in the liberty of taking one part for his own, and fequeftering another for the benefit, as I supposed, of some future edition. But, as to the Oxford editor, who wanted nothing, but what he might very well be without, the reputation of a critick, I could not so easily forgive him for trafficking with my papers without my knowledge; and, when that project failed, for employing a number of my conjectures in his edition against my express defire not to have that honour done unto me.

Mr. Theobald was naturally turned to industry and labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill express, so he read on; and by that means got a character of learning, without risquing, to every observer, the imputation of wanting a better talent. By a punctilious collation of the old books, he corrected what was manifestly wrong in the latter editions, by what was manifestly right in the earlier. And this is his real merit; and the whole of it. For where the phrase was very obsolete or licentious in the common books, or only slightly corrupted in the other, he wanted sufficient knowledge of the progress and various stages of the English tongue, as well as acquaintance with the peculiarity of Shakespeare's language, to understand what was right; nor had he either common judgment to see, or critical sagacity to amend, what was manifestly faulty. Hence he generally exerts his conjectural talent in the wrong place : he

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tampers with what is found in the common books; and, in the old ones, omits all notice of variations, the sense of which he did not underitand.

How the Oxford editor came to think himself qualified for this office, from which his whole course of life had been fo remote, is still more difñcult to conceive. For wharever parts he might have either of genius or erudition, he was absolutely ignorant of the art of criticism, as well as of the poetry of that time, and the language of his author. And to far from a thought of examining the frit editions, that he even neglected to compare Mr. Pope's, from which he printed his own, with Mr. Theobald's; whereby he lost the advantage of many fine lines, which the other had recovered from the old quartos. Where he trufts to his own fagacity, in what affects the sense, his conjectures are generally abfurd and extravagant, and violating every rule of criticism. Though, in this rage of correcting, he was not absolutely destitute of all art. For, having a number of my conjectures before him, he tock as many of them as he law fit, to work upon; and by changing them to something, he thought, fyrionymous or fimilar, he made them his own; and to became a critick at a cheap expcnce. But how well he hath fuccccded in this, as likewise in his conjectures, which are properly his own, will be seen in the course of my remarks: though, as he hath declined to give the reasons for his interpolations, he hath not afforded me fo fair a hold of him as Mr. Theobald hath done, who was less cautious. But his principal object was to reform his author's numbers; and this, which he hath done, on every occafion, by the infortion or omillion of a set of harmless unconcerning expletives, makes up the gross body of his innocent corrections.

And fo, in spite of that extreme negligence in numbers, which distinguishes the first dramatick writers, lie hath tricked up the old bard, from head to foot, in all the finical exactness of a modern meafurer of fyllables.

For the rest, all the corrections, which these two editors have made on any reasonable foundation, are here admitted into the text; and carefully aligned to their respective authors. A piece of justice which the Oxford editor never did; and which the other was not always fcrupulous in observing towards me. To conclude with them in a word, they separately posiefed thofe two qualities which, more than any other, have contributed to bring the art of criti

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cism into difrepute, dulness of apprehenfion, and extravagance of conje&ture.

I am now to give some account of the present undertaking. For as to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakspeare (if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius) the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.

The whole a critick can do for an author, who deserves his service, is to correct the faulty text; to remark the peculiarities of language; to illustrate the obscure allusions; and to explain the beauties and defects of sentiment or composition. And surely, if ever author had a claim to this service, it was our Shakespeare; who, widely excelling in the knowledge of human nature, hath given to his infinitely varied pictures of it, such truth of design, such force of drawing, such beauty of colouring, as was hardly ever equalled by any writer, whether his aim was the use, or only the entertainment of mankind. The notes in this edition, therefore, take in the whole compass of criticisin.

1. The first fort is employed in restoring the poet's genuine text; but in those places only where it labours with inextricable nonsense. In which, how much foever I may have given fcope to critical conjecture, where the old copics failed me, I have indulged nothing to fancy or imagination; but have religiously observed the severe canons of literal criticism, as may be seen from the reasons accompanying every alteration of the common text. Nor would a different conduct have become a critick, whofe greatest attention, in this part, was to vindicate the established reading from interpolations occafioned by the fanciful extravagancies of others. I once intended to have given the reader a body of canons, for literal criticism, drawn out in form; as well such as concern the art in general, as those that arise

from the nature and circumstances of our author's works in : particular. And this for two reasons. First, to give the unlearned reader a just idea, and consequently a better opinion of the art of criticism, now funk very low in the popular esteem, by the attempts of some who would needs exercise it without either natural or acquired talents; and by the ill success of others, who seemed to have lost both, when they came to try them upon English authors. Secondly, To deter the unlearned writer from wantonly trifling with an art he

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