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required the Use of the common colloquial Language, and consequently admitted many Phrases allusive, elliptical, and proverbial, such as we speak and hear every hour without observing them ; and of which, being now familiar, we do not suspect that they can ever grow uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they can ever feem remote.
These are the principal Causes of the Obscurity of Shakespeare; to which might be added the Fulness of Idea, which might sometimes load his Words with more Sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and that Rapidity of Imagination which might hurry him to a second Thought before he had fully explained the first. But my Opinion is, that very few of his Lines were difficult to his Audience, and that he used such Expressions as were then common, tho' the Paucity of contemporary Writers makes them now feem peculiar.
Authours are often praised for Improvement, or blamed for Innovation, with very little Justice, by those who read few other Books of the fame Age. Addison himself has been so unsuccessful in enumerating the Words with which Milton has enriched our Language, as perhaps not to have named one of which Milton was the Author; and Bentley has yet more unhappily praised him as the Introducer of those Elisions into English Poetry, which had been used from the first Essays of Verlífication among us, and which Milton was indeed the last that practised.
Another Impediment, not the least vexatious to the Commentator, is the Exactness with which Shakespeare followed his Authours. Instead of di. lating his Thoughts into Generalities, and expressing Incidents with poetical Latitude, he often combines Circumstances unnecessary to his main Design, only because he happened to find them together. Such Pasages can be illustrated only by him
who has read
the same Story in the very Book which Shakespeare consulted.
He that undertakes an Edition of Shakespeare, has all these Difficulties to encounter, and all these Ob. structions to remove.
The Corruptions of the Text will be corrected by a careful Collation of the oldest Copies, by which it is hoped that many Restorations may yet be made: At least it will be neceffary to collect and note the Variation as Materials for future Criticks; for it very often happens that a wrong Reading has Affinity to the right.
In this part all the present Editions are apparently and intentionally defective. The Criticks did not so much as wish to facilitate the Labour of those that followed them. The same Books are still to be compared; the Work that has been done, is to be done again; and no single Edition will supply the Reader with a Text on which he can rely as the best Copy of the Works of Shakespeare.
The Edition now proposed will at least have this Advantage over others. It will exhibit all the observable Varieties of all the Copies that can be found; that, if the Reader is not satisfied with the Editor's Determination, he may have the Means of choosing better for himself.
Where all the Books are evidently vitiated, and Collation can give no Affistance, then begins the Talk of critical Sagacity: And fome Changes may well be admitted in a Text never settled by the Authour, and so long exposed to Caprice and Ignorance. But nothing shall be imposed, as in the Oxford Ediţion, without Notice of the Alteration ; nor shall Conjecture be wantonly or unnecessarily indulged.
It has been long found, that very specious Emendations do not equally strike all Minds with Conviction, nor even the same Mind at different Times; and therefore, though perhaps many Alterations may
be proposed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as certain. In a Language fo ungrammatical as the English, and so licentious as that of Shakespeare, emendatory Criticism is always hazardous ; nor can it be allowed to any Man who is not particularly versed in the Writings of that Age, and particularly studious of his Authour's Didion. There is Danger lest Peculiarities fhould be mistaken for Corruptions, and Pallages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow Mind happens not to understand.
All the former Criticks have been so much employed on the Correction of the Text, that they have not sufficiently attended to the Elucidation of Passages obscured by Accident or Time. The Editor will endeavoured to read the Books which the Authour read, to trace his Knowledge to its Source, and compare his Copies with their Originals. If in this part of his Design he hopes to attain any Degree of Superiority to his Predeceffors, it must be considered, that he has the Advantage of their Labours; that Part of the Work being already done, more Care is naturally bestowed on the other Part; and that, to declare the Truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant. of the ancient English Literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important Studies; and Mr. Theobald, if Fame be just to his Memory, considered Learning only as an Instrument of Gain, and made no further Enquiry after his Authour's Meaning, when once he had Notes sufficient to embellish bis Page with the expected Decorations. With Regard to obfolete or
peculiar Diction, the Editor may perhaps claim fome Degree of Confidence, having had more Motives to consider the whole Ex. tent of our Language than any other Man from its first Formation. He hopes that, by comparing the Works of Shakespeare with those of Writers who ļived at the fame Time, immediately preceded, or immediately followed him, he shall be able to ascer
tain his Ambiguities, disentangle his Intricacies, and recover the Meaning of Words now lost in the Darko ness of Antiquity.
When therefore any Obfcurity arifes from an Allusion to some other Book, the Passage will be quoted. When the Diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a Paraphrase or Interpretation. When the Senfe is broken by the Suppression of Part of the Sentiment in Pleasantry or Passion, the Connexion will be supplied. When any forgotten Cuftom is hinted, Care will be taken to retrieve and explain it. The Meaning assigned to doubtful Words will be supported by the Authorities of other Writers, or by paralle! Pafsages of Shakespeare himself.
The Observation of Faults and Beauties is one of the Duties of an Annotator, which fome of Shakespeare's Editors have attempted, and some have negJected. For this Part of his Tafk, and for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and indisputably quaJified; nor has Dr. Warburton followed him with less Diligence or less Success. But I have never observed that Mankind was much delighted or improved by their Afteriiks, Commas, or double Commas; of which the only Effect is, that they preclude the Pleasure of judging for ourselves, teach the Young and Ignorant to decide without Principles; defeat Cariolity and Discernment, by leaving them less to discover; and at last shew the Opinion of the Critick, without the Reasons on which it was founded, and without affording any Light by which it may be examined.
The Editor, though he may less delight his own Vanity, will probably please his Reader more, by fuppofing him equally able with himself to judge of Beauties and Faults, which require no previous Acquisition of remote Knowledge. A Description of the obvious Scenes of Nature, a Representation of general Lifc, a Sentiment of Reflection or Experience, a Deduction of conclusive Arguments, a forcible Eruption of effervescent Passion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common Apprehension, unaslisted by critical Officiousness; since, to convince them, nothing more is requisite than Acquaintance with the general State of the World, and those Faculties which he must almost bring with him who would read Shakespeare.
But when the Beauty arises from fome Adaptation of the Sentiment to Customs worn out of Use, to Opinions not universally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute Particularity, which cannot be supplied by common Understanding, or common Obfervation, it is the Duty of a Commentator to lend his Assistance.
The Notice of Beauties and Faults thus limited, will make no distinct Part of the Design, being reducible to the Explanation of obscure Paffages.
The Editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the Comparison of Shakespeare's Sentiments or Expression with those of ancient or modern Authours, or from the Display of any Beauty not obvious to the Students of Poetry; for as he hopes to Jeave his Authour better understood, he wishes likewise to procure him more rational Approbation.
The former Editors have affe&ted to flight their Predeceffors : But in this Edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every Commentator, that Posterity may consider it as including all the rest, and exhibiting whatever is hitherto known of the great Father of the English Drama.