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verence for its age and author; and thus it continued till another great poet broke the charm, by fhewing us, that the higher we went, the lefs of it was ftill to be found.
For the proprietors, not difcouraged by their firft unfuccefsful effort, in due time, made a fecond; and, though they ftill ftuck to their poets, with infinitely more fuccefs in their choice of Mr. Pope, who, by the mere force of an uncommon genius, without any particular ftudy or profeffion of this art, difcharged the great parts of it fo well, as to make his edition the beft foundation for all further improvements. He feparated the genuine from the fpurious plays; and, with equal judgment, though not always with the fame fuccefs, attempted to clear the genuine plays from the interpolated scenes: he then confulted the old editions; and, by a careful collation of them. rectified the faulty, and fupplied the imperfect reading, in a great number of places: and laftly, in an admirable preface, hath drawn a general, but very lively fketch of Shakspeare's poetick character; and, in the corrected text, marked out thofe peculiar ftrokes of genius which were most proper to support and illuflrate that character. Thus far Mr. Pope. And although much more was to be done before Shakspeare could be reftored to himself (fuch as amending the corrupted text where the printed books afford no affiftance; explaining his licentious phrafeology and obfcure allufions; and illuftrating the beauties of his poetry); yet, with great modefty and prudence, our illuftrious editor left this to the critick by profeffion.
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 oppofition to it; who, although they concerned themfelves only in the first of these three parts of criticism, the reftoring the text, (without any conception of the fecond, or venturing even to touch upon the third,) yet fucceeded fo very ill in it, that they left their author in ten times a worfe condition than thy found him. But, as it was my ill fortune to have fome accidental connections 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 obfervations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the relief of their feveral diftreffes. 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 fuppofed of fome 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 fo eafily forgive him for a traffick with my papers without my knowledge; and, when that project failed, for cmploying a number of my conjectures in his edition against my exprefs 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 exprefs, fo he read on; and by that means got a character of learning without rifquing, to every observer, the imputation of wanting a better talent. By a punctilious collation of the old books, he corrected what was manifeftly wrong in the latter editions, by what was manifeftly right in the earlier. And this is his real merit; and the whole of it. For where the phrafe was very obfolete or licentious in the common books, or only flightly corrupted in the other, he wanted fufficient knowledge of the progrefs and various flages of the English, tongue, as well as acquaintance with the peculiarity of Shakspeare's language, to underftand what was right; nor had he either common judgment to fee, or critical fagacity to amend, what was manifeftly faulty. Hence he generally exerts his conjectural talent in the wrong place; he tampers with what is found in the common books; and, in the old ones, omits all notice of variations, the fense of which he did not understand.
How the Oxford editor came to think him felf qualified for this office, from which his whole courfe of life had been fo remote, is ftill more. difficult to conceive. For whatever parts he might have either of genius or erudition, he was abfolutely ignorant of the art of criticifm, as well as of the poetry of that time, and the language of his author. And fo far from a thought of examining the first editions, that he even neglected to compare Mr. Pope's, from which he printed his own, with Mr. Theobald's; whereby he loft the advantage of many fine lines, which the other had recovered from the old quartos. Where he trusts
to his own fagacity, in what affects the fenfe, his conjectures are generally abfurd and extravagant, and violating every rule of criticifm. Though, in this rage of correcting, he was not abfolutely deftitute of all art. For, having a number of my conjectures before him, he took as many of them as he faw fit, to work upon; and by changing them to fomething, he thought, fynonymous or fimilar, he made them his own; and fo became a critick at a cheap expence. But how well he hath fucceeded in this, as likewife 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 reafons for his interpolations, he hath not afforded me fo fair a hold of him as Mr. Theobald hath done, who was lefs cautious. But his principal object was to reform his author's numbers; and this, which he hath done, on every occafion, by the infertion or omiffion of a fet of harmlefs unconcerning expletives, makes up the grofs body of his innocent corrections. And fo, in fpite of that extreme negligence in numbers, which diftinguishes the firft dramatick writers, he hath tricked up the old bard, from head to foot, in all the finical exacnefs of a modern measurer of fyllables.
For the reft, all the corrections, which these two editors have made on any reafonable foundation, are here admitted into the text; and carefully affigned to their refpe&ive authors; a piece of juftice which the Oxford editor never did; and which the other was not always fcrupulous in obferving towards me. To conclude with them in a word, they feparately poffeffed thofe two qualities which,
more than any other, have contributed to bring the art of criticism into difrepute, dulness of apprehenfion, and extravagance of conjecture.
I am now to give fome account of the prefent undertaking. For as to all thofe things which have been publifhed under the titles of Effays, Remarks, Obfervations, &c. on Shakspeare, (if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth, given as a fpecimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the reft are abfolutely below a serious notice.
The whole a critick can do for an author, who deferves his fervice, is to correct the faultý text: to remark the pecularities of language; to illuftrate the obfcure allufions; and to explain the beauties and defects of fentiment or compofition. And furely, if ever author had a claim to this fervice, it was our Shakspeare; who, widely excelling in the knowledge of human nature, hath given to his infinitely varied pictures of it, fuch truth of. defign, fuch force of drawing, fuch 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 compafs of. criticifm.
I. The first fort is employed in restoring the poet's genuine text; but in those places only where it labours with inextricable nonfenfe. In which how much foever I may have given scope to critical conjecture, where the old copies failed me, I have indulged nothing to fancy or imagination;
6 Published in 1745, by Dr. Johnson. REED.