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ever seem remote.
our phrases was yet in fluctuation, when words done, is to be done again; and no single edition were adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring will supply the reader with a text on which le languages, and while the Saxon was still visi- can rely as the best copy of the works of Shakbly mingled in our diction.
The reader is speare. therefore embarrassed at once with dead and The edition now proposed will at least have with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and this advantage over others. It will exhibit all innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion the observable varieties of all the copies that can produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion be found; that if the reader is not satisfied with swept away before its meaning was generally the editor's determination, he may have the known, or sufficiently authorized : and in that means of choosing better for himself. age, above all others, experiments were made Where all the books are evidently vitiated, upon our language, which distorted its combi- and collation can give no assistance, then begins nations, and disturbed its uniformity.
the task of critical sagacity: and some changes If Shakspeare has difficulties 'above other may well be admitted in a text never settled by writers, it is to be imputed to the nature of his the author, and so long exposed to caprice and work, which required the use of the common ignorance. But nothing shall be imposed, as in colloquial language, and consequently admitted the Oxford edition, without notice of the altemany phrases allusive, elliptical, and proverbial, ration ; nor shall conjecture be wantonly or unsuch as we speak and hear every hour without necessarily indulged. observing them: and of which, being now fami It has been long found, that very specious Jiar, we do not suspect that they can ever grow emendations do not equally strike all minds uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they can with conviction, nor even the same mind at dif
ferent times; and therefore, though perhaps These are the principal causes of the obscurity many alterations may be proposed as eligible, of Shakspeare; to which might be added the very few will be obtruded as certain. In a lanfulness of idea, which might sometimes load his guage so ungrammatical as the English, and so words with more sentiment than they could licentious as that of Shakspeare, emendatory conveniently convey, and that rapidity of ima- criticism is always hazardous; nor can it be al. gination which might hurry him to a second lowed to any man who is not particularly versed thought before he had fully explained the first in the writings of that age, and particularly But my opinion is, that very few of his lines studious of his author's diction. There is dans were difficult to his audience, and that he used ger lest peculiarities should be mistaken for corsuch expressions as were then common, though ruptions, and passages rejected as unintelligible, the paucity of contemporary writers makes them which a narrow mind happens not to undernow seem peculiar.
stand. Authors are often praised for improvement, or All the former critics have been so much emblamed for innovation, with very little justice, byployed on the correction of the text, that they those who read few other books of the same age. have not sufficiently attended to the elucidation Addison himself has been so unsuccessful in of passages obscured by accident or time. The enumerating the words with which Milton has editor will endeavour to read the books which enriched our language, as perhaps not to have the author read, to trace his knowledge to its named one of which Milton was the author; and source, and compare his copies with their origiBentley has yet more unhappily praised him as nals. If in this part of his design he hopes to the introducer of those elisions into English attain any degree of superiority to his predeces. poetry, which had been used from the first essays sors, it must be considered that he has the adof versification among us, and which Milton was vantage of their labours; that part of the work indeed the last that practised.
being already done, more care is naturally be. Another impediment, not the least vexatious stowed on the other part; and that to declare to the commentator, is the exactness with which the truth, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very Shak speare followed his authors. Instead of ignorant of the ancient English literature; Dr. dilating his thoughts into generalities, and ex- Warburton was detained by more important pressing incidents with poetical latitude, he studies; and Mr. Theobald, if fame be just to often combines circumstances unnecessary to his his memory, considered learning only as an inmain design, only because he happened to find strument of gain, and made no farther inquiry them together. Such passages can be illustrated after his author's meaning, when once he had only by him who has read the same story in the notes sufficient to embellish his page with the very book which Shakspeare consulted. expected decorations.
He that undertakes an edition of Shakspeare, With regard to obsolete or peculiar diction, has atl these difficulties to encounter, and all the editor may, perhaps claim some degree of these obstructions to remove.
confidence, having had more motives to consider The corruptions of the text will be corrected the whole extent of our language than any other by a careful collation of the oldest copies, by man from its first formation. He hopes that, which it is hoped that many restorations may by comparing the works of Shakspeare with yet be made: at least it will be necessary to col- those of writers who lived at the same time, imlect and note the variation as materials for future mediately preceded, or immediately followed critics ; for it very often happens that a wrong him, he shall be able to ascertain his ambiguireading has affinity to the right.
ties, disentangle his intricacies, and recover the In this part all the present editions are appa- meaning of words now lost in the darkness of rently and intentionally defective. The critics antiquity. did not so much as wish to facilitate the labour When therefore any obscurity arises from an of those that followed them. The same books allusion to some other book, the passage will be are still to be compared; the work that has been quoted. When the diction is entangled, it will
be cleared by a paraphrase or interpretation.reflection or experience, a deduction of concluWhen the sense is broken by the suppression of sive arguments, a forcible eruption of effervespart of the sentiment in pleasantry or passion, cent passion, are to be considered as proportionthe connexion will be supplied. When any for- ate to common apprehension, unassisted by crigotten custom is hinted, care will be taken to tical officiousness; since to convince them, noretrieve and explain it. The meaning assigned thing more is requisite than acquaintance with to doubtful words will be supported by the au- the general state of the world, and those facul. thorities of other writers, or by parrallel passages ties which he must almost bring with him who of Shakspeare himself.
would read Shakspeare. The observation of faults and beauties is one But when the beauty arises from some adapof the duties of an annotator, which some of tation of the sentiment to customs worn out of Shakspeare's editors have attempted, and some use, to opinions not universally prevalent, or to have neglected. For this part of his task, and any accidental or minute particularity, which for this only, was Mr. Pope eminently and in cannot be supplied by common understanding, disputably qualified ; nor has Dr. Warburton or common observation, it is the duty of a comfollowed him with less diligence or less success. mentator to lend his assistance. But I have never observed that mankind was The notice of beauties and faults thus limited, much delighted or improved by their asterisks, will make no distinct part of the design, being commas, or double commas; of which the only reducible to the explanation of obscure passages. effect is, that they preclude the pleasure of The editor does not however intend to prejudging for ourselves, teach the young and igno- clude himself from the comparison of Shake rant to decide without principles ; defeat curi- speare's sentiments or expression with those of osity and discernment, by leaving them less to ancient or modern authors, or from the display discover; and at last show the opinion of the of any beauty not obvious to the students of critic, without the reasons on which it was poetry; for as he hopes to leave his author betfounded, and without affording any light by ter understood, he wishes likewise to procure which it may be examined.
him more rational approbation. The editor, though he may less delight his The former editors have affected to slight their own vanity, will probably please his reader more, predecessors : but in this edition all that is valuby supposing him equally able with himself to able will be adopted from every commentator, judge of beauties and faults, which require no that posterity may consider it as including all the previous acquisition of remote knowledge. A rest, and exhibiting whatever is hitherto known description of the obvious scenes of nature, a of the great father of the English drama. representation of general life, a sentiment of |
PREFACE TO SHAKSPEARE.
PUBLISHED IN THE YEAR 1768.
THAT praises are without reason lavished on ticism is to find the faults of the moderns, and the dead, and that the honours due only to excel- the beauties of the ancients. While an author lence are paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst to be always continued by those, who, being performance, and when he is dead, we rate them able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence by his best. from the heresies of paradox ; or those, who, To works, however, of which the excellence being forced by disappointment upon consola- is not absolute and definite, but gradual and tory expedients, are willing to hope from poste comparative ; to works not raised upon princirity what the present age refuses, and Aatter ples demonstrative and scientific, but appealing themselves that the regard, which is yet denied wholly to observation and experience, no other by envy, will be at last bestowed by time. test can be applied than length of duration and
Antiquity, like every other quality that at- continuance of esteem. What mankind have tracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly long possessed, they have often examined and votaries that reverence it, not from reason, but compared ; and if they persist to value the posfrom prejudice. Some seem to admire indiscri- session, it is because frequent comparisons have minately, whatever has been long preserved, confirmed opinion in its favour. As among the without considering that time has sometimes co- works of nature no man can properly call a river operated with chance; all perhaps are more wil deep, or a mountain high, without the knowling to honour past than present excellence ; ledge of many mountains, and many rivers; so, and the mind contemplates genius through the in the productions of genius, nothing can be shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through styled excellent till it has been compared with artificial opacity. The great contention of cri- J other works of the same kind. Demonstration
immediately displays its power, and has nothing practised by the rest of the world ; by the pecuto hope or fear from the flux of years; but works liarities of studies or professions, which can tentative and experimental must be estimated operate but upon small numbers; or by the acby their proportion to the general and collective cidents of transient fashions or temporary opiability of man, as it is discovered in a long suc- nions : they are the genuine progeny of common cession of endeavours. Of the first building humanity, such as the world will always supply, that was raised, it might be with certainty de- and observation will always find. His persons termined that it was round or square; but whe-act and speak by the influence of those general ther it was spacious or lofty must have been re- passions and principles by which all minds are ferred to time. The Pythagorean scale of num- agitated, and the whole system of life is conbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but tinued in motion. In the writings of other poets the poems of Homer we yet know not to trans- a character is too often an individual: in those cend the common limits of human intelligence, of Shakspeare it is commonly a species. but by remarking that nation after nation, and It is from this wide extension of design that century after century, has been able to do little so much instruction is derived. It is this which more than transpose his incidents, new-name fills the plays of Shakspeare with practical his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments. axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of
The reverence due to writings that have long Euripides, that every verse was a precept; and subsisted, arises therefore not from any credu- it may be said of Shakspeare, that from his lous confidence in the superior wisdom of past works may be collected a system of civil and ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of economical prudence. Yet his real power is not mankind, but is the consequence of acknow. shown in the splendour of particular passages, ledged and indubitable positions, that what has but by the progress of his fable, and the tenor been longest known has been most considered, of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend and what is most considered is best understood. him by select quotations, will succeed like the
The poet, of whose works I have undertaken pedant in Hicrocles, who when he offered his the revision, may now begin to assume the dig- house to sale, cárried a brick in his pocket as a nity of an ancient, and claim the privilege of specimen. establishing fame and prescriptive veneration. It will not easily be imagined how much Shake He has long outlived his century, the term com- speare excels in accommodating his sentiments monly fixed as the test of literary merit. What to real life, but by comparing him with other ever advantages he might once derive from per- authors. It was observed of the ancient schools sonal allusions, local customs, or temporary opi- of declamation, that the more diligently they nions, have for many years heen lost; and every were frequented, the more was the student dis. topic of merriment, or motive of sorrow, which qualified for the world, because he found nothing the modes of artificial life afforded him, now only there which he should ever meet in any other obscure the scenes which they once illuminated. place. The same remark may be applied to The effects of favour and competition are at an every stage but that of Shakspeare. The theatre, end; the tradition of his friendships and his en- when it is under any other direction, is peopled mities has perished; his works support no opi- by such characters as were never seen, conversnion with arguments, nor supply any faction ing in a language which was never heard, upon with invectives ; they can neither indulge vanity, topics which will never arise in the commerce of nor gratify malignity; but are read without any mankind. But the dialogue of this author is often other reason than the desire of pleasure, and are so evidently determined by the incident which therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained; produces it, and is pursued with so much ease yet, thus unassisted by interest or passion, they and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim have passed through variations of taste, and the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by changes of manners, and as they devolved from diligent selection out of common conversation, one generation to another, have received new and common occurrences. honours at every transmission.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is But because human judgment, though it be love, by whose power all good and evil is distrigradually gaining upon certainty, never becomes buted, and every action quickened or retarded. infallible; and approbation, though long con- To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival into the fable ; tinued, may yet be only the approbation of pre- to entangle them in contradictory. obligations, judice or fashion; it is proper to inquire, by what perplex them with oppositions of interest, and peculiarities of excellence Shakspeare has gained harass them with violence of desires inconsisand kept the favour of his countrymen. tent with each other ; to make them meet in
Nothing can please many, and please long, rapture, and part in agony; to fill their mouths but just representations of general nature. Par- with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; ticular manners can be known to few, and there to distress them as nothing human ever was disfore few only can judge how nearly they are tressed; to deliver them as nothing human ever copied. The irregular combinations of fanciful was delivered ; is the business of a modern drainvention may delight awhile, hy that novelty of matist. For this, probability is violated, life which the common satiety of life sends us all in is misrepresented, and language is depraved. quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are But love is only one of many passions; and as soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose it has no great influence upon the sum of life, on the stability of truth.
it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, Shakspeare is, above all writers, at least above who caught his ideas from the living world, all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet and exhibited only what he saw before him. that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of He knew that any other passion, as it was remanners and of life. His characters are not gular or exorbitani, was a cause of happiness or modified by the customs of particular places, un- calamity.
Characters thus ample and general were not kings love wine like other men, and that wine easily discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps exerts its natural power upon kings. These are no poet ever kept his personages more distinct the petty cavils of petty minds ; a poet overlooks from each other. I will not say with Pope, that the casual distinction of country and condition, every speech may be assigned to the proper as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects speaker, because many speeches there are which the drapery. have nothing characteristical ; but, perhaps, The censure which he has incurred by mixing though some may be equally adapted to every comic and tragic scenes, as it extends to all his person, it will be difficult to find that any can be works, deserves more consideration. Let the properly transferred from the present possessor fact be first stated, and then examined. to another claimant. The choice is right, when Shakspeare's plays are not in the rigorous and there is reason for choice.
critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but Other dramatists can only gain attention by compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the hyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabu- real state of sublunary nature, which partakes · lous and unexampled excellence or depravity, as of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with the writers of barbarous romances invigorated endless variety of proportion and innumerable the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he that modes of combination; and expressing the course should form his expectations of human affairs of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain from the play or from the tale, would be equally of another; in which, at the same time, the deceived." Shakspeare has no heroes; his scenes reveller is hasting to his wine, and the mourner are occupied only by men, who act and speak as burying his friend ; in which the malignity of the reader thinks that he should himself have one is sometimes defeated by the frolic of anspoken or acted on the same occasion ; even other; and many mischiefs and many benefits where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue are done and hindered without design. is level with life. Other writers disguise the most Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and natural passions and most frequent incidents ; casualties the ancient poets, according to the 80 that he who contemplates them in the book, laws which custom had prescribed, selected will not know them in the world ; Shakspeare some the crimes of men, and some their absurdiapproximates the remote, and familiarizes the ties; some the momentous vicissitudes of life, wonderful; the event which he represents will and some the lighter occurrences; some the ternot happen, hut, if it were possible, its effects rors of distress, and some the gayeties of proswould probably be such as he has assigned ;* perity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, and it may be said, that he has not only shown known by the names of tragedy and comedy, human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but compositions intended to promote different ends as it would be found in trials to which it cannot by contrary means, and considered as so little be exposed.
allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks This therefore is the praise of Shakspeare, or Romans a single writer who attempted both. that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who Shakspeare has united the powers of exciting has mazed his imagination, in following the laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but phantoms which other writers raise up before in one composition. Almost all his plays are him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstacies, divided between serious and ludicrous characby reading human sentiments in buman lan ters, and, in the successive evolutions of the guage, by scenes from which a hermit may esti- design, sometimes produce seriousness and sormate the transactions of the world, and a con- row, and sometimes levity and laughter. fessor predict the progress of the passions. That this is a practice contrary to the rules of
His adherence to general nature has exposed criticism will be readily allowed; but there is him to the censure of critics, who form their always an appeal open from criticism to nature. judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis The end of writing is to instruct; the end of and Rymer think his Romans not sufficiently poetry is to instruci by pleasing. That the minRoman : and Voltaire censures his kings as not eled 'di ama may convey all the instruction of completely royal. Dennis is offended, that Me- tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because nenius, a senator of Rome, should play the bul- it includes hoih in its alterations of exhibition, foon: and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency vio- and approaches nearer than either to the appearlated when the Danish usurper is represented ance of life, by showing how great machinations as a drunkard. But Shakspeare always makes and slender designs may promote or obviate one nature predominate over accident; and, if he another, and the high and the low co-operate in preserves the essential character, is not very the general system by unavoidable concatena. careful of distinctions superinduced and adven- tion. titious. His story requires Romans or kings, It is objected, that by this change of scenes but he thinks only on men. He knew that the passions are interrupted in their progression, Rome, like every other city, had men of all dis- and that the principal event, being not advanced positions ; and wanting a buffoon, he went into by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, the senate-house for that which the senate-house wants at last the power to move, which constiwould certainly have afforded him. He was in- lutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This clined to show an usurper and a murderer not reasoning is so specious, that it is received as only odious, but despicable ; he therefore added true even by those who in daily experience feel drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that it to be false. The interchanges of mingled
scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicis. “Quærit quod nusquam est gentium, reperit ta.
situdes of passion. Fiction cannot move so
much, but that the attention may be easily transe Facit illud verisimile quod mendacium est." ferred; and though it must be allowed that
Plauti Pseudolus, Act. I. Sc. iv. Steedens. pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted
by unweicome levity, yet let it be considered | repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking Likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, congenial to his nature. In his tragic scenes and that the disturbance of one man may be the there is always something wanting, but his relief of another; that different auditors have comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. different habitudes; and that, upon the whole, His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the lanall pleasure consists in variety.
guage, and his tragedy for the greater part by The players, who in their edition divided our incident and action. His tragedy seems to be author's work's into comedies, histories, and skill, his comedy to be instinct. tragedies, seem not to have distinguished the The force of his comic scenes has suffered three kinds by any very exact or definite ideas. little diminution from the changes made by a
An action which ended happily to the prin- century and a half, in manners or in words. As cipal persons, however serious or distressful his personages act upon principles arising from through its intermediate incidents, in their opi- genuine passion, very little modified by particular nion, constituted a comedy. This idea of a forms, their pleasures and vexations are commucomedy continued long among us; and plays nicable to all times and to all places; they are were written, which, by changing the catas- natural, and therefore durable: the advenutious trophe, were tragedies to-day and comedies to- peculiarities of personal habits are only superfi
cial dyes, bright and pleasing for a little wbile, Tragedy was not in those times a poem of yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any more general dignity or elevation than comedy; remains of former lustre; but the discriminations it required only a calamitous conclusion, with of true passion are the colours of nature: they which the common criticism of that age was sa- pervade the whole mass, and can only perish tisfied, whatever light pleasure it afforded in its with the body that exhibits them. The accidenprogress.
tal compositions of heterogeneous modes are History was a series of actions, with no other dissolved by the chance which combined them; than chronological succession, independent on but the uniform simplicity of primitive qualities each other, and without any tendency to intro- neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The duce or regulate the conclusion. It is not al. sand heaped by one food is scattered by another, ways very nicely distinguished from tragedy. but the rock always continues in its place. There is not much nearer approach to unity of The stream of time, which is continually wasbaction in the tragedy of “Antony and Cleo-ing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes patra,” than in the history of "Richard the without injury by the adamant of Shakspeare. Second.” But a history might be continued If there be, what I believe there is, in every through many plays; as it had no plan, it had nation, a style which never becomes obsolete, a no limits.
certain mode of phraseology so consonant and Through all these denominations of the drama congenial to the analogy and principles of its reShakspeare's mode of composition is the same; spective language, as to remain settled and unalan interchange of seriousness and merriment, by tered; this style is probably to be sought in the which the mind is softened at one time, and exhi- common intercourse of life, among those who larated at another. But whatever be his pur. speak only to be understood, without ambition of pose, whether to gladden or depress, or to con- elegance. The polite are always catching inodduct the story, without vehemence or emotion, ish innovations, and the learned depart from through tracts of easy and familiar dialogues, he established forms of speech, in hope of finding or never fails to attain his purpose; as he com- making better; those who wish for distinction mands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent with forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indif- there is a conversation above grossness, and beference.
low refinement, where propriety resides, and When Shakspeare's plan is understood, most where this poet seems to have gathered his comic of the criticisms of Rymer and Voltaire vanish dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the away. The play of “Hamlet” is opened, with ears of the present age than any other author out impropriety, by two sentinels; lago bellows equally remote, and among his other excellencies at Brabantio's window, without injury to the deserves to be studied as one of the original masscheme of the play, though in terms which a ters of our language. modern audience would not easily endure; the These observations are to be considered not character of Polonius is seasonable and useful; as unexceptionably constant, but as containing and the grave-diggers themselves may be heard general and predominant truth. Shakspeare's with applause.
familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and Shakspeare engaged in dramatic poetry with clear, yet not wholly without ruggedness or difthe world open before him; the rules of the ficulty; as a country may be eminently fruitful, ancients were yet known to few; the public though it has spots unfit for cultivation : his judgment was unformed; he had no example of characters are praised as natural, though their such fame as might force him upon imitation, sentiments are sometimes forced, and their acnor critics of such authority as might restrain his tions improbable; as the earth upon the whole extravagance; he therefore indulged his natural is spherical, though its surface is varied with disposition; and his disposition, as Rymer has protuberances and cavities. remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he Shakspeare with his excellencies has likewise often writes, with great appearance of toil and faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overstudy, what is written at last with little felicity; whelm any other merit. I shall show them in but, in his mic scenes, he seems to produce, the proportion in which they appear to me, without labour, what no labour can improve. In without envious malignity or superstitious venetragedy he is always struggling after some occa- ration. No question can be more innocently sion to be comic; but in comedy he seems to discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to re