« PreviousContinue »
nels sufficient in the discovery of faults, and have both advanced some probable interpretations of obscure passages ; but when they aspire to conjecture and emendation, it appears how falsely we all eítimate our own abilities, and the little which they have been able to perform might have taught them more candour to the endeavours of others.
Before Dr. Warburton's edition, Critical observations on Shakespeare had been published by Mr. Upton, a man skilled in languages, and acquainted with books, but who seems to have had no great vigour of genius or nicety of taste. . Many of his explanations are curious and useful, but he likewise, though he professed to oppose the licentious confidence of editors, and adhere to the old copies, is unable to restrain the rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill feconded by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is expanded by a succeisful experiment, swells into a theorist, and the laborious collator at some unlucky moment frolicks in conjecture.
Critical, historical, and explanatory notes have been likewise published upon Shakespeare by Dr. Grey, whose diligent perusal of the old English writers has enabled him to make some useful observations. What he undertook he has well enough performed, but as he neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism, he employs rather his memory than his fagacity. It
“ furnished with either of the folio editions, much less any of “ the ancient quartos : and even Sir Thomas Hanmer's pere “ formance was known to him only by Dr. Warburton's repre“ sentation.” FARMER.
were to be wished that all would endeavour to imitate his modesty, who have not been able to surpass his knowledge.
I can say with great sincerity of all my predecessors, what I hope will hereafter be said of me, that not one has left Shakespeare without improvement, nor is there one to whom I have not been indebted for asistance and information. Whatever I have taken from them, it was my intention to refer to its original author, and it is certain, that what I have not given to another, I believed when I wrote it to be my own. In some perhaps I have been anticipated; but if I am ever found to encroach upon the remarks of any other commentator, I am willing that the honour, be it more or less, should be transferred to the first claiinant, for his right, and his alone, stands above dispute; the second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor can himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient certainty, from recollection.
They have all been treated by me with candour, which they have not been careful of observing to one another. It is not easy to discover from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed. The subjects to be discussed by him are of very small importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the interest of feet or party. The various readings of copies, and different interpretations of a passage, seem to be questions that might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions. But, whether it be, that small things make mean men proud, and vanity catches small occasions ; or that all con
trariety of opinion, even in those that can defend it no longer, makes proud men angry, there is often found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invective and contempt, more eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame.
Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the vehemence of the agency; when the truth to be investigated is so near to inexistence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by rage and exclamation : that to which all would be indifferent in its original state, may attract notice when the fate of a name is appended to it. A commentator has indeed great temptations to supply by turbulence what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to a fpacious surface, to work that to foam which no art or diligence can exalt to spirit.
The notes which I have borrowed or written are either illustrative, by which difficulties are explained ; or judicial, by which faults and beauties are remarked; or emendatory, by which depravations are corrected.
The explanations transcribed from others, if I do not subjoin any other interpretation, I suppose commonly to be right, at least I intend by acquiescence to confess, that I have nothing better to propose.
After the labours of all the editors, I found many passages which appeared to me likely to obstruct the greater number of readers, and thought it my duty to
facilitate their passage. It is imposible for an expo: sitor not to write too little for some, and too much for others. He can only judge what is necessary by his own experience; and how long foever he may deliberate, will at last explain many lines which the learned will think impoflible to be mistaken, and omit many for which the ignorant will want his help. These are censures merely relative, and must be quietly endured. I have endeavoured to be neither superfluousy copious, nor scrupulously reserved, and hope that I have made my author's meaning accessible to many, who before were frighted from perusing him, and contributed something to the publick, by diffusing innocent and rational pleasure. .
The complete explanation of an author not systematick and consequential, but defultory and vagrant, abounding in casual allusions and light hints, is not to be expected from any single scholiait. All personal reflections, when names are suppressed, must be in a few years irrecoverably obliterated; and customs, too minute to attract the notice of law, such as modes of dress, formalities of conversation, rules of visits, difposition of furniture, and practices of ceremony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue, are so fugitive and unsubitantial, that they are not easily retained or recovered. What can be known will be collected by chance, from the receffes of obscure and obsolete papers, perused commonly with some other view. Of this knowledge every man has some, and none has much; but when an author has engaged the publick attention, those who can add any thing to
his illustration, communicate their discoveries, and time produces what had eluded diligence.
To time I have been obliged to resign many pafsages, which, though I did not understand them, will perhaps hereafter be explained, having, I hope, ilustrated fome, which others have neglected or miltaken, sometimes by short remarks, or marginal directions, such as every editor has added at his will, and often by comments more laborious than the matter will seem to deserve ; but that which is most difficult is not always most important, and to an editor nothing is a trifle by which his author is obscured.
The poetical beauties or defects I have not been very diligent to observe. Some plays have more, and some fewer judicial observations, not in proportion to their difference of merit, but because I gave this part of my design to chance and to caprice. The reader, I believe, is seldom pleased to find his opinion anticipated; it is natural to delight more in what we find or make, than in what we receive. Judgment, like other faculties, is improved by practice, and its advancement is hindered by submission to dictatorial decisions, as the memory grows torpid by the ufe of a table-book. Some initiation is however necessary; of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part is obtained by habit ; I have therefore shewn so much as may enable the candidate of criticisın to discover the rest.