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be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no relief or conjecture, where it manifeftly labours and cries out for affistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent abfurdity.
As there are very few pages in Shakspeare, upon which fome fufpicions of depravity do not reafonably arife; I have thought it my duty in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation, to take in the affiftances of all the older copies.
In his hiftorical plays, whenever our English chronicles, and in his tragedies, when Greek or Roman ftory could give any light, no pains have been omitted to fet paffages right, by comparing my author with his originals; for, as I have frequently obferved, he was a clofe and accurate copier wherever his fable was founded on hiftory.
Wherever the author's fenfe is clear and difcoverable, (though, perchance, low and trivial,) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an oftentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.
Where, through all the former editions, a pasfage has laboured under flat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a tranfpofition in the pointing, I have restored to him both fenfe and fentiment; fuch corrections, I am perfuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have conftantly endeavoured to fupport my corrections and conjectures by parallel paffages and authorities from himself, the surest means of expounding any author whatsoever. Cette voie d'interpreter un autheur par lui-même eft plus fure que tous les commentaires, fays a very learned French critick.
As to my notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our author, I hope, will derive fome fatisfaction,) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Wherever I have ventured at an emendation, a note is conftantly fubjoined to justify and affert the reafon of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly fet forth my grounds for fuch conjecture, and fubmit it to judgment. Some remarks are fpent in explaining paffages, where the wit or fatire depends on an obscure point of history: others, where allufions are to divinity, philofophy, or other branches of fcience. Some are added, to fhow where there is a fufpicion of our author having borrowed from the ancients : others, to show where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And fome are neceffarily thrown in, to explain an obfcure and obfolete term, phrafe, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious gloffary; but as I have been importuned, and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS, (in which many terms occur which are not to be met with in his Plays,) I thought a glossary to all Shakspeare's works more proper to attend that volume.
In reforming an infinite number of paffages in the pointing, where the sense was before quite loft, I have frequently fubjoined notes to fhow the depraved, and to prove the reformed, pointing: a part of labour in this work which I could very willingly have fpared myself. May it not be objected, why then have you burdened us with these notes? The answer is obvious, and, if I mistake not, very material. Without fuch notes, these paffages in fubfequent editions would be liable,
through the ignorance of printers and correctors, to fall into the old confufion: whereas, a note on every one hinders all poffible return to depravity: and for ever fecures them in a state of purity and integrity not to be loft or forfeited.
Again, as fome notes have been neceffary to point out the detection of the corrupted text, and establish the restoration of the genuine reading; fome others have been as neceffary for the explanation of paffages obfcure and difficult. To understand the neceffity and ufe of this part of my task, fome particulars of my author's character are previously to be explained. There are obfcurities in him, which are common to him with all poets of the fame fpecies; there are others, the iffue of the times he lived in; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The nature of comick poetry being entirely fatirical, it bufies itself more in expofing what we call caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the happiness of a free conftitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly fpeculative and inquifitive, are obferved to produce more humourifts, and a greater variety of original characters, than any other people whatfoever and these owing their immediate birth to the peculiar genius of each age, an infinite number of things alluded to, glanced at, and expofed, muft needs become obfcure, as the characters themfelves are antiquated and difufed. An editor therefore fhould be well verfed in the hiftory and manners of his author's age, if he aims at doing him a fervice in this refpect.
Befides, wit lying moftly in the affemblage of ideas, and in putting thofe together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance, or congruity, to make up pleafant pictures, and
agreeable vifions in the fancy; the writer, who aims at wit, muft of course range far and wide for materials. Now the age in which Shakspeare lived, having, above all others, a wonderful affection to appear learned, they declined vulgar images, fuch as are immediately fetched from nature, and ranged through the circle of the fciences, to fetch their ideas from thence. But as the refemblances of fuch ideas to the fubject muft neceffarily lie very much out of the common way, and every piece of wit appear a riddle to the vulgar; this, that fhould have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural tract they were in, (and induce them to follow a more natural one,) was the very thing that kept them attached to it. The oftentatious affectation of abftruse learning, peculiar to that time, the love that men naturally have to every thing that looks like mystery, fixed them down to the habit of obfcurity. Thus became the poetry of DONNE (though the wittieft man of that age,) nothing but a continued heap of riddles. And our Shakspeare, with all his eafy nature about him, for want of the knowledge of the true rules of art, falls frequently into this vicious manner.
The third fpecies of obfcurities which deform our author, as the effects of his own genius and character, are thofe that proceed from his peculiar manner of thinking, and as peculiar a manner of clothing those thoughts. With regard to his think ing, it is certain, that he had a general knowledge of all the sciences: but his acquaintance was rather that of a traveller than a native. Nothing in philofophy was unknown to him; but every thing in it had the grace and force of novelty. And as novelty is one main fource of admiration, we are not to wonder that he has perpetual allufions to the
most recondite parts of the sciences: and this was done not so much out of affectation, as the effect of admiration begot by novelty. Then, as to his Style and diction, we may much more juftly apply to SHAKSPEARE, what a celebrated writer faid of MILTON: Our language funk under him, and was unequal to that greatness of foul which furnished him with fuch glorious conceptions. He therefore frequently ufes old words, to give his diction an air of folemnity; as he coins others, to exprefs the novelty and variety of his ideas.
Upon every diftinct fpecies of these obscurities, I have thought it my province to employ a note for the service of my author, and the entertainment of my readers. A few tranfient remarks too I have not fcrupled to intermix, upon the poet's negligences and omifsions in point of art; but I have done it always in fuch a manner, as will testify my deference and veneration for the immortal author. Some cenfurers of Shakspeare, and particularly Mr. Rymer, have taught me to diftinguish betwixt the railer and critick. The outrage of his quotations is fo remarkably violent, fo pufhed beyond all bounds of decency and fober reasoning, that it quite carries over the mark at which it was levelled. Extravagant abufe throws off the edge of the intended difparagement, and turns the madman's weapon into his own bofom. In short, as to Rymer, this is my opinion of him from his criticisms on the tragedies of the laft age. He writes with great vivacity, and appears to have been a scholar : but as for his knowledge of the art of poetry, I cannot perceive it was any deeper than his acquaintance with Boffu and Dacier, from whom hẹ has transcribed many of his best reflections. The late Mr. Gildon was one attached to Rymer by a