Слике страница

phrafes it; for he, who tampers with an author, whom he does not understand, muft do it at the expence of his fubject. I have made it evident throughout my remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a wound where he intended a cure. He has acted with regard to our author, as an editor, whom LIPSIUS mentions, did with regard to MARTIAL; Inventus eft nefcio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, fed ipfum excidit. He has attacked him like an unhandy flaughterman; and not lopped off the errors, but the poet.

When this is found to be fact, how abfurd must appear the praises of fuch an editor! It seems a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done most injury to Shakspeare, as his editor and encomiaft; or Mr. Rymer done him fervice, as his rival and cenfurer. They have both shown themselves in an equal impuissance of fufpecting or amending the corrupted paffages: and though it be neither prudence to cenfure or commend what one does not understand; yet if a man muft do one when he plays the critick, the latter is the more ridiculous office; and by that Shakspeare fuffers moft. For the natural veneration which we have for him makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as his, and fet off with encomiums; and hence we quit all fufpicions of depravity: on the contrary, the cenfure of fo divine an author fets us upon his defence; and this produces an exact fcrutiny and examination, which ends in finding out and difcriminating the true from the spurious.

It is not with any fecret pleasure that I fo frequently animadvert on Mr. Pope as a critick, but there are provocations, which a man can never quite forget. His libels have been thrown out with fo much inveteracy, that, not to difpute whether they

fhould come from a chriftian, they leave it a question whether they could come from a man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like cafe :

"Sive homo, feu fimilis turpiffima beftia nobis
"Vulnera dente dedit.-

The indignation, perhaps, for being reprefented a blockhead, may be as ftrong in us, as it is in the ladies for a reflection on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for fome flagrant civilities; and I fhall willingly devote a part of my life to the honeft endeavour of quitting fcores: with this exception, however, that I will not return thofe civilities in his peculiar ftrain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I fhall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity and impartial pofterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion.

But to return to my fubject, which now calls upon me to enquire into those causes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be affigned. We are to confider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manufcript was left extant; as a writer, whofe pieces were difperfedly performed on the feveral tages then in being. And it was the custom of thofe days for the poets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was fuppofed they had no farther right to print them without the confent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one fucceeded, there was a conteft betwixt the curiofity of the town, who demanded to fee it in print, and the policy of the ftagers, who

wifhed to fecrete it within their own walls. Hence many pieces were taken down in fhort-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear from a representation; others were printed from piecemeal parts furreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. To fome of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform thofe pieces which stole fingly into the world in our author's life-time.

There are ftill other reafons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole fet. When the players took upon them to publifh his works entire, every theatre was ranfacked to fupply the copy; and parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many chafms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently tranfpofed, and fhuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or fuppofed convenience, of fome particular actor. Hence much confufion and impropriety has attended and embarraffed the business and fable. To these obvious caufes of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the difadvantage of having his errors propagated and multiplied by time: because, for near a century, his works were publifhed from the faulty copies, without the affiftance of any intelligent editor: which has been the cafe likewife of many a classick writer.

The nature of any diftemper once found has generally been the immediate step to a cure. Shakfpeare's cafe has in a great meafure refembled that of a corrupt clafsick; and, confequently, the method of cure was likewife to bear a refemblance. By what means, and with what fuccefs, this cure has VOL. I.


been affected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration. The reputation, confequent on tasks of that nature, invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of reftoring to the publick their greatest poet in his original purity, after having fo long lain in a condition that was a difgrace to common fense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first assay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever. For the late edition of Milton, by the learned Dr. Bentley, is, in the main, a performance of another fpecies. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrefcencies of the Paradife Loft, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticife the Eneis of Virgil, than to reftore corrupted paffages. Hence, therefore, may be feen either the iniquity or ignorance of his cenfurers, who, from fome expreffions would make us believe the doctor every where gives us his corrections as the original text of the author; whereas the chief turn of his criticifm is plainly to fhow the world, that, if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.

I thought proper to premife this obfervation to the readers, as it will fhow that the critick on Shakspeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is for the moft part religioufly adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered but what by the cleareft reafoning can be proved a corruption of the true text; and the alteration, a real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, fo ftrictly have I ftrove to give the true reading, though fometimes not to the advantage of my author, that I have been ridiculously ridi

tuled for it by thofe, who either were iniquitoufly for turning every thing to my disadvantage; or elfe were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.

The fcience of criticism, as far as it effects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three claffes; the emendation of corrupt paffages; the explanation of obscure and difficult ones; and an enquiry into the beauties and defects of compofition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts: though there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as several of the emendations were best supported, and feveral of the difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the compofition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occafional, and for the fake only of perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every willing undertaker and I fhall be pleased to see it the employment of a masterly pen.

It must neceffarily happen, as I have formerly obferved, that where the affiftance of manufcripts is wanting to fet an author's meaning right, and refcue him from thofe errors which have been tranfmitted down through a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many paffages must be desperate, and past a cure; and their true fenfe irretrievable either to care or the fagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to fay, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left defperate? We fhould fhow very little honefty, or wifdom, to play the tyrants with an author's text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his fenfe and meaning: but to

« ПретходнаНастави »