« PreviousContinue »
terms he hath fixed meanings of his own, unauthorized by use, and not to be justified by analogy, And this liberty he hath taken with the noblest parts of speech, such as mixed modes; which, as they are most susceptible of abuse, so their abuse most hurts the clearness of the discourse. The criticks (to whom Shakspeare's licence was still as much a secret as his meaning which that licence had obscured) fell into two contrary mistakes; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writings. For some of them, observing a darkness that pervaded his whole expression, have censured him for confusion of ideas and inaccuracy of reasoning. In the neighing of a horfë (says Rymer) or in the growling of a mastiff
, there is a meaning, there is a lively expresion, and, may I foy, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakspeare. The ignorance of which' censure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely, than this immortal bard. But his superiority of genius less needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into difcourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst there, there were two mixed modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as synonymous, and would use the one for the other without fear or fcruple. ----Again, there have been others, such as the two last editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme;
and regarded Shakspeare's anomalies, (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, there
sote, they have cashiered in grcat numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and establish in its stead; which, in many cases, could not be done without shewing the peculiar sense of the terms, and explaining the causes which led the poet to so perverse a use of them., I had it once, indeed, in my design, to give a general alphabetical glossary of those terms; but as each of them is explained in its proper place, there seemed the less occasion for such an index.
2. The poet's hard and unnatural construction had a different original. This was the effect of mistaken art and defen. The publick taste was in its infancy; and delighted (as it always does during that state) in the high and turgid; which leads the writer to disguise a vulgar expression with hard and forced construction, whereby the sentence frequently becomes cloudy and dark. Here his criticks shew their modesty, and leave him to himself. For the arbitrary change of a word doth little towards dispelling an obfcurity that ariseth, not from the licentious use of a single term, but from the unnatural arrangement of a whole sentence. And they risqued nothing by their filence. For Shakspeare was too clear in fame to be suspected of a want of meaning; and too high in fashion for any one to own he needed a critick to find it out. Not but, in his best works, we must allow, he is often fo natural and flowing, so pure and correct, that he is even a model for style and language.
3. As to his far-fetched and quaint allusions, these are often a cover to common thoughts; just as his hard construction is to common expression, When they are not so, the explanation of them has this further advantage, that, in clearing the obfcurity, you frequently discover some latent conceitnot unworthy of his genius.
III. The third and last sort of notes is concerned in a critical explanation of the author's beauties and defects; but chiefly of his beauties, whether in style, thought, sentiment, character, or composition. An odd' humour of finding fault hath long prevailed amongst the criticks; as if nothing were worth remarking, that did not, at the same time, deserve to be reproved. Whereas the publick judgment hath less need to be assisted in what it shall reject, than in what it ought to prize; men being generally more ready at spying faults than in discovering beauties. Nor is the value they set upon a work, a certain proof that they understand it. For it is ever seen, that half a dozen voices of credit give the lead: and if the public chance to be in good humour, or the author much in their favour, the people are sure to follow. Hence it is that the true critick hath so frequently attached himself to works of established reputation; not to teach the world to admire, which, in those circum. stances, to lay the truth, they are apt enough to do of themselves; but to teach them how, with reason to admire: no easy matter, I will assure you, on the subject in question: for though it be very true, as Mr. Pope hath observed, that Shakspeare is the fairest and fullest subject for criticism, yet it is not such a sort of criticisın as may be raised me
chanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Bossu, have collected from antiquity; and of which, such kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, and Oldmixon, have only gathered and chewed the husks: nor on the other hand is it to be formed on the plan of those crude and superficial judgments, on books and things, with which a certain celebrated paper? so much abounds; too good indeed to be named with the writers last mentioned, but being anluckily mistaken for a model, because it was an original, it hath given rise to a deluge of the worst fort of critical jargon; I inean that which looks most like fenfe. But the kind of criticism here required, is such as judgeth our author by those only laws and principles on which he wrote, NATURE, and COMMON-SENSE.
Our observations, therefore, being thus extensive, will, I presume, enable the reader to form a right judgment of this favourite poet, without drawing out his character, as was once intended, in a continued discourse.
These, such as they are, were among my younger amusements, when, many years ago, I used to turn over these sort of writers to unbend myself from more serious applications: and what certainly the publick at this time of day had never been troubled with, but for the conduct of the two last editors, and the perfuafions of dear Mr. Pope; whose memory and name,
7 The Spectator. REED.
He was desirous I should give a new edition of this poet, as he thought it might contribute to put a ftop to a prevailing folly of altering the text of celebrated authors without talents or judgment. And he was willing that his edition should be melted down into mine, as it would, he said, afford him (so great is the modesty of an ingenuous temper) a fit oportunity of confeffing his mistakes. 8 In memory of our friendship, I have, therefore, made it our joint edition. His admirable preface is here added; all his notes are given, with his name annexed; the scenes are divided according to his regulation; and the most beautiful passages' distinguished, as in his book, with inverted commas. In imitation of him, I have done the same by as many others as I thought most deserving of the reader's attention, and have marked them with double commas.
If, from all this, Shakspeare or good letters have received any advantage, and the publick any benefit, or entertainment, the thanks are due to the proprietors, who have been at the expence
procuring this edition.
And I should be unjust to several deserving men of a reputable and useful profession, if I did not, on this occasion, acknowledge the fair dealing I have always found amongst them; and profess my fense of the unjust prejudice which lies against them; whereby they have been, hitherto unable to procure that security for their property, which they see the rest of their fellowcitizens enjoy. A prejudice in part arising from the frequent piracies (as they are called) committed
8 See his Letters to me.