« PreviousContinue »
felf where he is perfect, can be supposed to have written. By fimilar reference it is that the ftyle of many an ancient building has been characteristically reftored. The members of architecture left entire, have instructed the renovator how to fupply the lofs of fuch as had fallen into decay. The poet, therefore, whofe dialogue has often, during a long and uninterrupted series of lines, no other peculiarities than were common to the works of his moft celebrated contemporaries, and whofe general ease and sweetness of verfification are hitherto unrivalled, ought not so often to be fufpected of having produced ungrammatical nonfenfe, and fuch rough and defective numbers as would difgrace a village fchoolboy in his first attempts at English poetry.-It may alfo be observed, that our author's earliest compofitions, his Sonnets, &c. are wholly free from metrical imperfections.
The truth is, that from one extreme we have reached another. Our incautious predeceffors, Rowe, Pope, Hanmer, and Warburton, were fometimes justly blamed for wanton and needlefs deviations from ancient copies; and we are afraid that cenfure will as equitably fall on fome of us, for a revival of irregularities which have no reasonable sanction, and few champions but fuch as are excited by a fruitless ambition to defend certain pofts and paffes that had been fuppofed untenable. The "wine of collation," indeed, had long been "drawn," and little befide the "mere lees was left" for very modern editors "to brag of." It should, therefore, be remembered, that as judgment, without the aid of collation, might have infufficient materials to work on, so collation, divested of judgment, will be often worfe than thrown away, becaufe it introduces obfcurity inftead of light. To render Shakspeare lefs intelli
gible by the recall of corrupt phrafeology, is not, in our opinion, the fureft way to extend his fame and multiply his readers; unless (like Curll the bookfeller, when the Jews fpoke Hebrew to him,) they happen to have most faith in what they leaft understand. Refpecting our author, therefore, on fome occafions, we cannot join in the prayer of Cordelia :
It is unlucky for him, perhaps, that between the intereft of his readers and his editors a material difference fhould fubfift. The former with to meet with as few difficulties as poffible, while the latter are tempted to seek them out, because they afford opportunities for explanatory criticism.
Omiffions in our author's works are frequently fufpected, and fometimes not without fufficient reafon. Yet, in our opinion, they have fuffered a more certain injury from interpolation; for almost as often as their measure is deranged, or redundant, fome words, alike unneceffary to fenfe and the grammar of the age, may be difcovered, and, in a thoufand inftances, might be expunged, without lofs of a fingle idea meant to be expreffed; a liberty which we have fometimes taken, though not (as it is hoped). without conftant notice of it to the reader. Enough of this, however, has been already attempted, to fhow that more on the fame plan might be done with fafety. So far from understanding the power
3 Sufficient inftances of measure thus rendered defective, and in the prefent edition unamended, may be found in the three last Acts of Hamlet, and in Othello. The length of this prefatory advertisement has precluded their exemplification, which was
of an ellipfis, we may venture to affirm that the very name of this figure in rhetorick never reached the ears of our ancient editors. Having on this subject the support of Dr. Farmer's acknowledged judgment and experience, we shall not shrink from controverfy with thofe who maintain a different opinion, and refufe to acquiefce in modern fuggeftions if oppofed to the authority of quartos and folios, configned to us by a fet of people who were wholly uninftructed in the common forms of ftyle, orthography, and punctuation.-We do not therefore hefitate to affirm, that a blind fidelity to the eldeft printed copies, is on fome occafions a confirmed treafon against the sense, spirit, and verfification of Shakspeare.
All these circumstances confidered, it is time, inftead of a timid and fervile adherence to ancient copies, when (offending against fenfe and metre) they furnish no real help, that a future editor, well acquainted with the phrafeology of our author's age, fhould be at liberty to reftore fome apparent meaning to his corrupted lines, and a decent flow to his obftructed verfification. The latter (as already has been obferved) may be frequently effected by the expulfion of useless and fupernumerary fyllables, and an occafional fupply of fuch as might fortuitoufly have been omitted, notwithstanding the declaration of Hemings and Condell, whofe fraudulent preface afferts that they have published our author's plays "as abfolute in their numbers as he conceived them." Till fomewhat resembling the process above fuggefted be authorized, the publick will afk in vain for a
here meant to have been given.-We with, however, to imprefs the foregoing circunftance on the memory of the judicious reader.
commodious and pleasant text of Shakspeare. Nothing will be loft to the world on account of the measure recommended, there being folios and quartos enough remaining for the ufe of antiquarian or critical travellers, to whom a jolt over a rugged pavement may be more delectable than an easy paffage over a smooth one, though they both conduct to the fame object.
To a reader unconverfant with the licenses of a theatre, the charge of more material interpolation than that of mere fyllables, will appear to want fupport; and yet whole lines and paffages in the following plays incur a very juft fufpicion of having originated from this practice, which continues even in the present improved ftate of our dramatick arrangements; for the propenfity of modern performers to alter words, and occafionally introduce ideas incongruous with their author's plan, will not always escape detection. In fuch vagaries our comedians have been much too frequently indulged; but to the injudicious tragical interpolator no degree of favour fhould be shown, not even to a late Matilda, who, in Mr. Home's Douglas thought fit to change the obfcure intimation with which her part fhould have concluded
fuch a fon,
"And such a husband, make a woman bold.
fuch a fon,
"And fuch a husband, drive me to my fate."
Here we perceive that Fate, the old poft-horfe of tragedy, has been faddled to expedite intelligence which was meant to be delayed till the neceffary moment of its difclofure. Nay, further the prompt
er's book being thus corrupted, on the first night of the revival of this beautiful and interefting play at Drury Lane, the fame fpurious nonfenfe was heard from the lips of Mrs. Siddons, lips, whofe matchless powers should be facred only to the task of animating the pureft ftrains of dramatick poetry. Many other inftances of the fame prefumption might have been fubjoined, had they not been withheld through tendernefs to performers now upon the ftage. Similar interpolations, however, in the text of Shakspeare, can only be fufpected, and therefore must remain unexpelled.
To other defects of our late editions may be subjoined, as not the least notorious, an exuberance of comment. Our fituation has not unaptly resembled that of the fray in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet :
"While we were interchanging thrufts and blows,
till, as Hamlet has obferved, we are contending
for a plot
"Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause."
Indulgence to the remarks of others, as well as partiality to our own; an ambition in each little Hercules to fet up pillars, afcertaining how far he had travelled through the dreary wilds of black letter; and perhaps a reluctance or inability to decide between contradictory fentiments, have alfo occafioned the appearance of more annotations than were abfolutely wanted, unless it be thought requifite that our author, like a Dauphin Claffick, fhould be reduced to marginal profe for the ufe of children; that all his various readings (affembled by Mr. Capell) should