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nothing then to support him, it is no wonder he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shakespeare, indebted more largely to nature, than the other to acquired talents, in his most negligent hours could never fo totally divest himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with aftoniching force and splendor.
As I have never proposed to dilate farther on the character of my Author, than was necessary to explain the nature and use of this edition, I shall proceed to consider him as a genius in possession of an everlasting name. And how great that merit must be, which could gain it against all the disadvantages of the horrid condition
in which he has hitherto appeared! Had Homer, or any other admired author, first started into publick so maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whesher they had not funk for ever under the ignominy of such an ill appearance. The mangled condition of Shakespeare has been acknowledged by Mr. Rowe, who published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, nor collated the old copies. This Gentleman had abilities, and a fufficient knowledge of his author, had but his industry been equal to his talents. The same mangled condition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published him likewise, pretended to have collated the old copies, and yet seldom has corrected the text but to its injury. I congratu, late with the Manes of our Poet, that this Gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private
fense; for he, who tampers with an author whom he does not understand, must do it at the expence of his subject. 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 nescio 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 the fact, how absurd must appear the praises of such an Editor? It seems a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done most injury to Shakespeare as his Editor and Encomiast; or Mr. Rymer done him service as his Rival and Censurer. Were it every where the true text, which that Editor in his late pompous edition gave us, the Poet deserved not the large encomiums bestowed by him : nor, in that case, is Rymer's censure of the barbarity of his thoughts, and the impropriety of his expressions, groundless. They have both thown themselves in an equal impuissance of suspecting or amending the corrupted passages: and tho it be neither prudence to censure, or commend, what one does not understand ; yet if a man must do one when he plays the critick, the latter is the more ridiculous office. And by that Shakespeare suffers moft. For the natural veneration, which we have for him, makes us apt to swallow whatever
is given us as his, and set off with encomiums; and hence we quit all suspicions of depravity: On the contrary, the censure of fo divine an author sets us upon his defence; and this produces an exact fcrutiny and examination, which ends in finding out and discriminating the true from the spurious.
It is not with any secret pleasure, that I lo 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 so much inveteracy, that not to dispute whether they should come from a Christian, they leave it a queftion whether they could come from a man.
I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like case,
Sive homo, feu fimilis turpisima bestia nobis, Vulnera dente dedit. The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, may be as strong in us as it is in the ladies for a reflection on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for some flagrant civilities; and I shall willingly devote a part of my life to the honeft endeavour of quitting scores: with this exception however, that I will not return those civilities in his peculiar strain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I shall ever think it better to want wit than to want humanity : and impartial posterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion.
But to return to my subject; which now calls upon me to inquire into those causes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be afligned. We are to consider him as a writer, of whom no authentic manuscript was extant; as a writer, whose pieces were dispersedly performed on the several stages then in being. And it was the custom of those days for the poets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was fupposed, they had no farther right to print them without the consent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiosity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and the policy of the stagers, who wished to secrete it within their own walls. Hence, many pieces were taken down in short-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear, from a representation : Others were printed from piece-meal parts surreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the Poet's knowledge. To some of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform those pieces which stole singly into the world in our author's life-time.
There are still other reasons, which may be supposed to have affected the whole set. When the players took upon them to publish his works entire, every theatre was ransacked to supply the copy; and parts collected which had gone thro' as many
changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many chasms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice or supposed convenience of some particular actor. Hence much confusion and impropriety has attended, and embarrassed, the business and fable. For there ever have been, and ever will be in playhouses, a set of affuming directors, who know better than the poet himself the connection and dependance of his scenes; where matter is defective, or superfluities to be retrenched; perfons, that have the fountain of inspiration as peremptorily in them, as Kings have that of honour. To these obvious causes of corruption it must be added, that our author has lain under the disadvantage of having his errors propagated and multiplied by time : because, for near a century, his works were republished from the faulty copies without the affistance of any intelligent editor : which has been the case likewise of many a classic writer.
The nature of any distemper once found has generally been the immediate step to a cure. Shakespeare's case has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt claffic ; and, consequently, the method of cure was likewise to bear a resemblance. By what means, and with what success, this cure has been effected on ancient writers, is too well known, and needs no formal illustration.