« ZurückWeiter »
-Dismay'd not this Our captains brave Macbeth and Banquo ?-Yes. Such harmless industry may, surely, be forgiven, if it cannot be praised : may he, therefore, never want a monosyllable, who can use it with such wonderful dexterity.
Rumpatur quisquis rumpitur invidia! The rest of this edition I have not read, but, from the little that I have seen, think it not dangerous to declare that, in my opinion, its pomp recommends it more than its accuracy. There is no distinction made between the ancient reading, and the innovations of the editor; there is no reason given for any of the alterations which are made; the emendations of former criticks are adopted without any acknowledgment, and few of the difficulties are removed which have hitherto embarrassed the readers of Shakespeare.
I would not, however, be thought to insult the editor, nor to censure him with too much petulance, for having failed in little things, of whom I have been told, that he excels in greater. But I may, without indecency, observe, that no man should attempt to teach others what he has never learned himself; and that those who, like Themistocles, have studied the arts of policy, and “ can teach a small state how to grow great,” should, like him, disdain to labour in trifles, and consider petty accomplishments as below their ambition'.
• These excellent observations extorted praise from the supercilious Warburton himself. In the Preface to his Shakespeare, published two years after the appearance of Johnson's anonymous painphlet, he thus alludes to it: “ As to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakespeare, (if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.” According to Boswell, Johnson ever retained a grateful remembrance of this distinguished compliment; “ He praised me," said he, “ at a time when praise was of value to me.” Boswell, I.—Johnson affixed to this tract, proposals for a Shakespeare in 10 volumes, 18mo. price, to subscribers, 11. 55. in sheets, half-a-guinea of which moderate sum was to be deposited at the time of subscription. The following fuller proposals were published in 1756; but they were not realized until the lapse of nine years from that period. Boswell, 1.Ed.
FOR PRINTING THE
PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1756.
When the works of Shakespeare are, after so many editions, again offered to the publick, it will, doubtless, be inquired, why Shakespeare stands in more need of critical assistance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to supply?
The business of him that republishes an ancient book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare. Most writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books, indeed, are sometimes published after the death of him who produced them; but they are better secured from corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the author ; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one descent.
But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has been far different: he sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre ; and thus thrust into the world surreptitiously and hastily, they suffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the state of the press, in that age, will readily conceive.
It is not easy for invention to bring together so many causes concurring to vitiate the text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with so little care : no books could be left in hands so likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manuscript: no other transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their task as those who copied for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the people were universally illiterate : no other editions were made from fragments so minutely broken, and so fortuitously reunited ; and in no other age was the art of printing in such unskilful hands P.
With the causes of corruption that make the revisal of Shakespeare's dramatick pieces necessary, may be eniimerated the causes of obscurity, which may be partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
When a writer ontlives his contemporaries, and remains almost the only unforgotten name of a distant time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age has its modes of speech, and its cast of thought ; which, though easily explained when there are many books to be compared with each other, become sometimes unintelligible and always difficult, when there are no parallel passages that may conduce to their illustration. Shakespeare is the first considerable author of sublime or familiar dialogue in our language. Of the books which he read, and from which he formed his style, some, perhaps, have perished, and the rest are neglected. His imitations are, therefore, unnoted, his allusions are undiscovered, and many beauties, both of pleasantry and greatness, are lost with the objects to which they were united, as the figures vanish when the canvass has decayed.
p It is not true, that the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed than those of any of his cotemporaries : for in the plays of Massinger, Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, and others, as many errors may be found. It is not true, that the art of printing was in no other age in such unskilful hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is stated, that “ these plays were printed from compilations made by chance or by stealth, out of the separate parts written for the theatre :” two only of all his dramas, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and King Henry V. appear to have been thus thrust into the world; and of the former it is yet a doubt, whether it is a first sketch, or an imperfect copy. See Malone's Presace throughout. Ed.
It is the great excellence of Shakespeare, that he drew his scenes from nature, and from life. He copied the manners of the world, then passing before him, and has more allusions than other poets to the traditions and superstition of the vulgar; which must, therefore, be traced, before he can be understood.
He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrases was yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while the Saxon was still vice versa visibly mingled in our diction. The reader is, therefore, embarrassed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion swept away before its meaning was generally known, or sufficiently authorised : and in that age, above all others, experiments were made upon our language, which distorted its combinations, and disturbed its uniformity.
If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which 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 seem 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, though the paucity of contemporary writers makes them now seem peculiar.
Authors are often praised for improvement, or blamed for innovation, with very little justice, by those who read few other books of the same 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 versification 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 authors. Instead of dilating 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 passages 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 obstructions 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