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To revive the anomalies, barbarifms and blunders of fome ancient copies, in preference to the corrections of others almoft equally old, is likewise a circumftance by no means honourable to our author, however fecure refpecting ourselves. For what is it, under pretence of restoration, but to use him as he has ufed the Tinker in the Taming of a Shrew, to re-clothe him in his priftine rags? To affemble parallels in fupport of all thefe deformities, is no infuperable labour; for if we are permitted to avail ourselves of every typographical mistake, and every provincial vulgarifm and offence againft established grammar, that may be met with in the coeval productions of irregular humourifts and ignorant fectaries and buffoons, we may aver that every cafual combination of fyllables may be tortured into meaning, and every fpecies of corruption exemplified by correfponding depravities of language; but not of fuch language as Shakspeare, if compared with himself where he is perfect, can be fuppofed to have written. By fimilar reference it is that the flyle of many an ancient building has been characteristically restored. The members of architecture left entire, have inftructed 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 feries 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 fo often to be fufpected of having produced ungrammatical nonfenfe, and fuch rough and defective numbers as would difgrace a village fchool-boy in his first attempts at English poetry. It may alfo be obferved, 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 juftly blamed for wanton and needless 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 fanction, 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 fhould therefore be remembered, that as judgement, without the aid of collation, might have infufficient materials to work on, fo collation, divefted of judgement, will be often worse than thrown away, because it introduces obfcurity inftead of light. To render Shakspeare lefs intelligible by a recall of corrupt phrafeology, is not, in our opinion, the
fureft way to extend his fame and multiply his readers; unlefs (like Curll the bookfeller, when the Jews spoke 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 wish 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 reason. Yet, in our opinion, they have fuffered a more certain injury from interpolation; for almoft 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 thousand instances, 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 conflant 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 underflanding the power 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 fubject the fupport of Dr. Farmer's acknowledged judgement and experience, we fhall not fhrink from controverfy with thofe who maintain a different opinion, and refufe to acquiefce in modern fuggeflions if oppofed to the authority of quartos and folios, configned to us by a set of people who were wholly uninftructed in the common forms of ftyle, orthography and punctuation. We do not therefore hesitate to affirm, that a blind fidelity to the eldest printed copies, is on fome occafions a confirmed treafon againft the sense, fpirit, and verfification of Shakspeare.
All thefe circumftances 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 restore fome apparent meaning to his corrupted lines, and a decent flow to his obftructed verfification.
Sufficient inftances of measure thus rendered defective, and in the prefent edition unamended, may be found in the three laft acts of Hamlet, and in Othello. The length of this prefatory advertisement has precluded their exemplification, which was here meant to have been given.-We wish, however, to imprefs the foregoing circum. ftance on the memory of the judicious reader.
The latter (as already has been observed) may be frequently effected by the expulfion of ufelefs and supernumerary fyllables, and an occafional supply 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 ask in vain for a 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 use of antiquarian or critical travellers, to whom a jolt over a rugged pavement may be more delectable than an eafy paffage over a fmooth one, though they both conduct to the fame object.
To a reader unconverfant with the licences 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 prefent improved flate 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 efcape detection. In fuch vagaries our comedians have been much VOL. I