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teach the young and ignorant to decide without principles; defeat curiofity and difcernment by leaving them lefs to difcover; and, at laft, fhow the opinion of the critick, without the reasons on which it was founded, and without affording any light by which it may be examined.
"The editor, though he may lefs delight his own vanity, will probably please his reader more, by fuppofing him equally able with himself to judge of beauties and faults, which require no previous acquifition of remote knowledge. A defcription of the obvious fcenes of nature, a reprefentation of general life, a fentiment of reflection or experience, a deduction of conclufive argument, a forcible eruption of effervefcent paffion, are to be confidered as proportionate to common apprehenfion, unaf fifted by critical officioufnefs; fince to conceive them, nothing more is requifite than acquaintance with the general ftate of the world, and those faculties which he must always bring with him who would read Shakspeare,
"But when the beauty arifes from fome adaptation of the fentiment to customs worn out of use, to opinions not univerfally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute particularity, which cannot be fupplied by common understanding, or common obfervation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend his affiftance.
"The notice of beauties and faults thus limited will make no diftinct part of the defign, being reducible to the explanation of obfcure paffages.
"The editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the comparison of Shakspeare's fentiments or expreffion with those of ancient or modern authors, or from the difplay of any beauty not obvious to the ftudents of poetry; for as he
hopes to leave his author better understood, he wifhes likewife to procure him more rational approbation.
"The former editors have affected to flight their predeceffors: but in this edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every commentator, that pofterity may confider it as including all the reft, and exhibit whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the English drama."
Though Dr. Johnson has here pointed out with his ufual perfpicuity and vigour, the true course to be taken by an editor of Shakspeare, fome of the pofitions which he has laid down may be controverted, and some are indubitably not true. It is not true that the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed than thofe of any of his contemporaries: for in the plays of Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, Maffinger, and others, as many errors may be found. It is not true that the art of printing was in no other age in fo unfkilful hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is stated, that "these plays were printed from compilations made by chance or by ftealth out of the feparate parts written for the theatre:" two only of all his dramas, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V. appear to have been thus thruft into the world, and of the former it is yet a doubt whether it is a first sketch or an imperfect copy. I do not believe that words were then adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, or that an antiquated diction was then employed by any poet but Spenfer. That the obfcurities of our author, to whatever cause they may be referred, do not arise from the paucity of contemporary writers, the prefent edition may furnish indifputable evidence.
And lastly, if it be true, that "very few of Shakfpeare's lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used fuch expreffions as were then common," (a pofition of which I have not the smallest doubt,) it cannot be true, that "his reader is embarraffed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obfoleteness and innovation."
When Mr. Pope firft undertook the task of revifing these plays, every anomaly of language, and every expreffion that was not understood at that time, were confidered as errors or corruptions, and the text was altered, or amended, as it was called, at pleasure. The principal writers of the early part of this century feem never to have looked behind them, and to have confidered their own era and their own phrafeology as the standard of perfection: hence, from the time of Pope's edition, for above twenty years, to alter Shakfpeare's text and to reftore it, were confidered as fynonymous terms. During the last thirty years our principal employment has been to restore, in the true fenfe of the word; to eject the arbitrary and capricious innovations made by our predeceffors from ignorance of the phrafeology and cuftoms of the age in which Shakspeare lived.
As on the one hand our poet's text has been defcribed as more corrupt than it really is, fo on the other, the labour required to investigate fugitive allufions, to explain and justify obfolete phrafeology by parallel paffages from contemporary authors, and to form a genuine text by a faithful collation of the original copies, has not perhaps had that notice to which it is entitled; for undoubtedly it is a laborious and a difficult task: and the due execution of this it is, which can alone
entitle an editor of Shakspeare to the favour of the publick.
I have faid that the comparative value of the various ancient copies of Shakspeare's plays has never been precisely ascertained. To prove this, it will be neceffary to go into a long and minute difcuffion, for which, however, no apology is neceffary for though to explain and illuftrate the : writings of our poet is a principal duty of his editor, to afcertain his genuine text, to fix what is to be explained, is his firft and immediate object: and till it be established which of the ancient copies is entitled to preference, we have no criterion by which the text can be afcertained.
Fifteen of Shakspeare's plays were printed in quarto antecedent to the firft complete collection of his works, which was published by his fellowcomedians in 1623. Thefe plays are, A Midfummer-Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Loft, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Two Parts of King Henry IV. King Richard II. King Richard III. The Merchant of Venice, King Henry V. Much Ado about Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windfor, Troilus and Crefsida, King Lear, and Othello.
The players, when they mention these copies, represent them all as mutilated and imperfect; but this was merely thrown out to give an additional value to their own edition, and is not ftrictly true of any but two of the whole number; The Merry Wives of Windfor, and King Henry V-With refpect to the other thirteen copies, though undoubt edly they were all furreptitious, that is, ftolen from the playhouse, and printed without the confent of the author or the proprietors, they in general are preferable to the exhibition of the fame plays in the
folio; for this plain reafon, because, instead of printing these plays from a manufcript, the editors of the folio, to fave labour, or from fome other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they reprefented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late, inftead of the earliest, edition; in fome inftances with additions and alterations of their own. Thus therefore the first folio, as far as refpects the plays above enumerated, labours under the disadvantage of being at leaft a fecond, and in fome cafes a third, edition of these quartos. I do not, however, mean to fay, that many valuable corrections of paffages undoubtedly corrupt in the quartos are not found in the folio copy; or that a fingle line of these plays fhould be printed by a careful editor without a minute examination, and collation of both copies; but those quartos were in general the bafis on which the folio editors built, and are entitled to our particular attention and examination as firft editions.
It is well known to those who are converfant with the business of the prefs, that, (unless when the author corrects and revifes his own works,) as editions of books are multiplied, their errors are multiplied alfo; and that confequently every fuch edition is more or lefs correct, as it approaches nearer to or is more diftant from the firft. A few inftances of the gradual progrefs of corruption will fully evince the truth of this affertion.
. In the original copy of King Richard II. 4to. 1597, Act II. fc. ii. are these lines:
"You promis'd, when you parted with the king,