« PreviousContinue »
an obscure and obsolete term, phrase, or idea. I once intended to have added a complete and copious glofsary; but as I have been importuned, and am prepared to give a correct edition of our author's POEMS (in which many terms occur that are not to be met with in his plays) I thought a glossary to all Shakespeare's works more proper to attend that volume.
In reforming an infinite number of passages 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 obiected, 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 possible return to depravity; and for ever secures 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, and establish the restoration of the genuine readings; some others have been as necessary for the explanation of passages obfcure and difficult. To understand the necessity and use of this part of my task, fome particulars of my author's character are previously to be explained.
There are obscurities in him, which are common to him with all poets of the same species ; there are others, the issue of the times he lived in ; and there are others, again, peculiar to himself. The nature of comick poetry being entirely satirical, it busies itself more in exposing what we call caprice and humour, than vices cognizable to the laws. The English, from the happiness of a free constitution, and a turn of mind peculiarly speculative and inquisitive, are observed to produce more humourists, and a greater
the rene detech tomen
variety of original chara&ters, than any other people whatsoever: and these owing their immediate birth to the peculiar genius of each age, an infinite number of things alluded to, glanced at, and exposed, must needs become obscure, as the characters themselves are antiquated and disused. An editor therefore should be well versed in the history and manners, of his author's age, if he aims at doing him a service in this respect.
Besides, wit lying mostly in the assemblage of ideas, and in the putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance, or congruity, to make up pleasant pictures, and agreeable visions in the fancy; the writer, who aims at wit, muft of course range far and wide for materials. Now the age in which Shakespeare lived, having, above all others, a wonderful affection to appear learned, they declined vulgar images, such as are immediately fetched from nature, and ranged through the circle of the sciences to fetch their ideas from thence. But as the resemblances of such ideas to the subject must necessarily lie very much out of the common way, and every piece of wit appear a riddle to the vulgar; this, that should have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural tract they were in (and induce them to follow a more natural one) was the very thing that kept them attached to it. The oftentatious affectation of abstruse learning, peculiar to that time, the love that men naturally have to every thing that looks like mystery, fixed them down to this habit of obscurity. Thus became the poetry of Donne (though the wittiest man of that age) nothing but a continued heap of riddles. And our Shakespeare, with all his easy nature about him, for want of the knowledge of the true rules of art, falls frequently into this vicious manner.
The third species of obscurities which deform our author, as the effects of his own genius and character,
are those that proceed from his peculiar manner of thinking, and as peculiar a manner of cloathing those thoughts. With regard to his thinking, it is certain, that he had a general knowledge of all the sciences : but his acquaintance was rather that of a traveller, than a native. Nothing in philosophy was unknown to him ; but every thing in it had the grace and force of novelty. And as novelty is one main source of admiration, we are not to wonder that he has perpetual allusions to the most recondite parts of the sciences : and this was done not so much out of affectation, as the effect of admiration begot by novelty. Then, as to his stile and di&tion, we may much more justly apply to SHAKESPEARE, what a celebrated writer has said of MILTON : Our language funk under him, and was unequal to that greatness of soul which furnished him with such glorious conceptions. He therefore frequently ules old words, to give his diction an air of folemnity; as he coins others, to express the novelty and variety of his ideas.
Upon every distinct species of these obscurities, I have thought it my province to employ a note for the service of my author, and the entertainment of my readers. A few transient remarks too I have not fçrupled to intermix, upon the poet's negligences and omissions in point of art; but I have done it always in such a manner, as will testify my deference and veneration for the immortal author. Some censurers of Shakespeare, and particularly Mr. Rymer, have
taught me to distinguish betwixt the railer and sritick. · The outrage of his quotations is so remarkably violent, so pushed beyond all bounds of decency and fober realoning, that it quite carries over the mark at which it was levelled. Extravagant abufe throws off the edge of the intended disparagement, and turns the madman's weapon into his own bosom. In short, as to Rymer, this is my opinion of him, from his criticisms on the tragedies of the last age. He writes
as will ut! have's neglig
'with great vivacity, and appears to have been a scholar: but as for his knowledge of the art of poetry, I cannot perceive it was ary deeper than his acquaintance with Boflu and Dacier, from whom he has transcribed many of his best reflexions. The late Mr. Gildon was one attached to Rymer by a similar way of thinking and studies. They were both of that species of criticks, who are desirous of displaying their powers rather in finding faults, than in consulting the improvement of the world : the hypercritical part of the science of criticisin.
I had not mentioned the modest liberty I have here and there taken of animadverting on my author, but that I was willing to obviate in time the splenetick exaggerations of my adversaries on this head. From past experiments I have reason to be conscious, in what light this attempt may be placed : and that what I call a modeft liberty, will, by a little of their dexterity, be inverted into downright impudence. From a hundred mean and dishonest artifices employed to discredit this edition, and to cry down its editor, I have all the grounds in nature to beware of attacks. But though the malice of wit, joined to the finoothness of versification, may furnin some ridicule; fact, I hope, will be able to stand its ground against banter and gaiety.
It has been my fate, it seems, as I thought it my duty, to discover fome anachronisins in our author ; which might have sept in obfcurity but for this ReHorer, as Mr. Pope is pleased affectionately to stile me; as for instance, where Aristotle is mentioned by Hector in Troihts and Crellida : and Galen, Cato, and Alexander the Great, in Coriolanus. Thefe, in Mr. Pope's opinion, are blunders, which the illiteracy of the firft publifhers of his works has fathered upon the poet's memory: it net being at all credible, ihat these could be the errors of any man who had the leeft tincture of a school, or the leajt conversation with such
as bad. But I have sufficiently proved, in the course of my notes, that such anachronisms were the effect of poetick licence, rather than of ignorance in our poet. And if I may be permitted to ask a modest question by the way, why inay not I restore an anachronism really made by our author, as well as Mr. Pope take the privilege to fix others upon him, which he never had it in his head to make; as I may venture to affirm he had not, in the instance of Sir Francis Drake, to which I have spoke in the proper place?
But who shall dare make any words about this freedom of Mr. Pope's towards Shakespeare, if it can be proved, that, in his fits of criticism, he makes no more ceremony with good Homer himself? To try, then, a criticism of his own advancing; in the 8th book of the Odyssey, where Demodocus sings the episode of the loves of Mars and Venus ; and that; upon their being taken in the net by Vulcan,
- The god of arms
Mr. Pope is so kind gravely to inform us, “ That “ Homer in this, as in inany other places, seems to " allude to the laws of Athens, where death was the « punishment of adultery.” But how is this fignificant observation made out? Why, who can posibly object any thing to the contrary? Does not Pausanias relate, that Draco, the lawgiver to the Athenians, granted impunity to any person that took revenge upon an adulterer? And was it not also the institution of Solon, that if any one took an adulterer in the fact, he might use him as be pleased ? These things are very true : and to see what a good memory, and sound judgment in conjunction can atchieve ! Though Homer's date is not determined down to a single year, yet it is pretty generally agreed that he lived above 300 years before Draco and Solon : and that, it seems, has