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The reputation consequent on tasks of that nature invited me to attempt the method here; with this view, the hopes of restoring to the public their greatest poet in his original purity : after having so long lain in a condition that was a disgrace to common sense. To this end I have ventured on a labour, that is the first assay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever. For the late edition of Milton by the learned Dr. Bentley is, in the main, a performance of another species. It is plain, it was the intention of that great man rather to correct and pare off the excrescences of the Paradise Loft, in the manner that Tucca and Varius were employed to criticize the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the iniquity or ignorance of his censurers, who, from some expressions, would make us believe, the Doctor every where gives us his corrections as the original text of the author ; whereas the chief turn of his criticism is plainly to thew the world, that if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote so.
I thought proper to premise this observation to the readers, as it will shew that the critic on Shakespeare is of a quite different kind. His genuine text is religiously adhered to, and the numerous faults and blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered, but what by the clearest reasoning can be proved a corruption of the true text; and the alteration, a
real restoration of the genuine reading. Nay, so strictly have I ftrove to give the true reading, tho' sometimes not to the advantage of my author, that. I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my disadvantage; or else were totally ignorant of the true duty of an editor.
The science of criticism, as far as it affects an editor, seems to be reduced to these three clafles; the emendation of corrupt passages; the explanation of obscure and difficult ones ; and an inquiry into the beauties and defects of composition. This work is principally confined to the two former parts; tho’ there are some specimens interspersed of the latter kind, as several of the emendations were best supported, and several of the difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the beauties and defects of the composition peculiar to this immortal poet. But this was but occafional, and for the sake only of perfecting the two other parts, which were the proper objects of the editor's labour. The third lies open for every willing undertaker: and I shall be pleased to fee it the employment of a masterly pen.
It muft necessarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the assistance of manuscripts is wanting to set an author's meaning right, and and rescue him from those errors which have been transmitted down thro'a series of incorrect editions, and a long intervention of time, many passages
must be desperate, and past a cure; and their true fense irretrievable either to care or the fagacity of conjecture. But is there any reason therefore to say, that because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left desperate? We should thew very little honesty, or wisdom, to play the tyrants with an Author's text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all adventures, and to the utter detriment of his sense and meaning: But to be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no relief or conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for affistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent absurdity.
But because the art of criticism, both by those who cannot form a true judgment of its effects, nor can penetrate into its causes, (which takes in a great number besides the Ladies;) is esteemed only an arbitrary capricious tyranny exercised on books; I think proper to subjoin a word or two about those rules on which I have proceeded, and by which I have regulated myself in this edition. By this, I Hatter myself, it will appear, my emendations are so far from being arbitrary or capricious, that they are established with a very high degree of moral certainty.
As there are very few pages in Shakespeare, upon which some suspicions of depravity do not reason. ably arise; I have thought it my duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious collation to take in the assistances of all the old copies.
In his Historical Plays, whenever our Englis VOL. I.
Chronicles, and in his Tragedies when Greek or Roman story, could give any light; no pains have been omitted to set passages right by comparing my Author with his originals : for, as I have frequently observed, he was a close and accurate copier wherever his Fable was founded on History,
Wherever the Author's sense is clear and discoverable, (tho', perchance, low and trivial;) I have not by any innovation tampered with his text; out of an oftentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.
Where, thro' all the former editions, a passage has laboured under flat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment, such corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.
And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the surest means of expounding any author whatfoever. Cette voïe d'interpreter un autheur par luiinême est plus sure que tous les commentaires, says a very learned French critic.
As to my Notes, (from which the common and learned readers of our Author, I hope, will derive some pleasure;) I have endeavoured to give them a variety in some proportion to their number. Where-ever I have ventured at an emendation, a Note is constantly subjoined to justify and
assert the reason of it. Where I only offer a conjecture, and do not disturb the text, I fairly set forth my grounds for such conjecture, and submit it to judgment. Some remarks are spent in explaining passages, where the wit or satire de. pends on an obscure point of history: Others, where allusions are to divinity, philosophy, or other branches of science. Some are adied to fhew, where there is a suspicion of our Author having borrowed from the antients : Others, to few where he is rallying his contemporaries; or where he himself is rallied by them. And fome are necessarily thrown in, to explain an obscure and obsolete Term, Phrase, or Idea.
In reforming an infinite number of pallages in the Pointing, where the sense was before quite loft, I have frequently subjoined notes to shew the depraved, and to prove the reformed, pointing : a part of labour in this work which I could
very willingly have spared myself. May it not be objected, why then have you burdened us with these notes? The answer is obvious, and, if I mistake not, very material. Without such notes, these passages in subsequent editions would be liable, through the ignorance of printers and correctors, to fall into the old confusion : whereas, a note on every one hinders all pollible return to depravity; and for ever fecures them in a state of purity and integrity not to be lost or forfeited.
Again, as some notes have been necessary to point out the detection of the corrupted text, b 2