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the most striking beauties inventive genius could produce, or Nature's most fertile valley yield for poetic scenery.
The ingenious Author of the Pursuits of Literature, in his satirical animadversions on Shakspeare's Commentators, says,
Enough for me great Shakspeare's words to hear,
With this very learned Critic, and whose production I duly appreciate, I must so far concur, that if we had Shakspeare purified from the foul perversions occasioned by careless transcribers, the dross of typographical blunderers, the barbarisms of daring interpolators, and the obscurities raised upon the fabric of sense by the misconceptions of early Editors—then, indeed, should we have SHAKSPEARE's Words--then, indeed, would the language of Nature be conspicuous, and neither note nor horn-book be required in perusing the fair pages of unexampled genius.
But what must have been the corrupt state of his matchless productions at the present day, had not the active exertions of enlightened understanding, for more than a century, been employed to remove those errors which the hand of corruption had diffused throughout ? The rich gems undoubtedly would still sparkle, but their light could not remove opacity from the incrusted diamonds that surrounded them, and which required the eye of genius to penetrate, and the hand of judgment to clear from the petrifactions in which they were enveloped. To Shakspeare's Commentators, then, we are indebted for the comparatively perfect state in which we have his Works at present; and notwithstanding they have done much, most of them were aware that much more remained to be done; though, in the confidence of their own judgment, they conceived the task insurmountable, and that genius could neither restore what proved too difficult for themselves, nor add farther light on that which they had in vain attempted to illustrate.
Who, then, will not admit that the Works of our unrivalled Bard become an object of national importance, and that critical investigation is a debt we owe him until his text be perfectly restored? Who will not indulge the hope that from year to year proofs equal to demonstration may be advanced to expunge corruption and display purity? And who will not welcome that truth, in garb however humble, which, dispelling the mists of obscurity, exhibits the productions of Nature? For who, so vitiate in taste, will drink from the troubled waters of impurity, when the well-spring of truth invites to its wholesome beverage?
It is now little more than three months since I published a pamphlet, entitled, “ A few Concise Examples of Errors corrected in Shakspeare's Plays:" and perhaps we have not many instances where a mere Specimen had so rapid a sale: in less than a month a second edition was demanded, and which has now also become scarce: but however flattered by these marks of public approbation, nevertheless the intemperate dart of invidious jealousy was aimed at me.* In truth, it passed by; I heard its whizzing sound, but remained perfectly safe; and now would I pass by the party from whence it came, and
, leave the disappointed votaries of mammon to fatten on their own maliciousness, but that the most active exertions continue to be used, in order to raise a troop of would-be Critics to attack the citadel, where fair fame would raise a small standard to the honour of him who aspires to be, in part, a Restorer of Shakspeare's Text to its original beauty; and who justifies him, where the severe lash of animadversion has been falsely aimed to wound his unerring genius.
* See the second edition of my. Examples, &c. where, like a ball that rebounds, the aimed arrow is made to lodge in the bosom from whence it came.
Indeed, it is truly distressing to find, that even among the higher order of educated genius, the most extravagant jealousies will arise, when that degrading principle, self-interest, is suffered to send its corroding poison to the heart. Beholding with jaundiced eye the full gale that was set to waft my labours into public favour, a paper, called The Literary Gazette, was employed as the vehicle to run down, not only the EXAMPLES I had published of my Restorations and Elucidations of Shake SPEARE, but also to condemn my unpublished Work, (this now offered to fair and honourable criticism :) yea, to condemn it even to the flames, that party prejudice, like the tyrant of Rome, might rejoice during the conflagration! But with the Gazette and its Editor I have no farther concern: they did their worst,- the reprobation of impartial judgment attended their temerity; and I believe the Proprietor will not again afford cause for the index of contempt to be pointed at him.
That the law of reprisal was necessary to be enforced on the occasion, a generous public not only admitted, but perceived its effects with glowing satisfaction; and here I should have been cautious in farther recrimination, but that the asperity of disappointed profit (not fame) still circulates its venom, and, under the garb of criticism, argues on one particular point,--that my Restorations are founded merely on CONJECTURE!
Now this remark, however invidiously designed, seems better adapted to the labours of all my predecessors; for I trust to prove that the principles which have guided me, and the clue which I have obtained, bring my Restorations, in the eye of candour, even to demonstration.
Shakspeare being, as all our Commentators agree, ignorant of both the Greek and Latin languages, of what value can either prove in restoring or illustrating his text? Upon what principle must a Restorer or Commentator.act? Can he call magic to his aid? or a Hecate to conjure the shade of Shakspeare to answer questions? Has the erudition of Dr. Johnson or the researches of Mr. Steevens enabled either to suggest any restorations in SHAKSPEARE but merely on conJECTURE? As for preferring the text of one copy to that of another, such cannot be called restoration; neither can those impurities in grammar occasioned by ignorant transcribers and compositors be considered restoration; for justice to the Author's unerring genius demanded that which even lay within the abilities of a village schoolmaster. But if any Commentator, studious to restore, on principles of reason, the Author that he would illustrate on those of truth, ever had an auxiliary at command, surely I may safely say that I had one which
I proved most serviceable:-I mean my practical knowledge of the typographic art; for what penetration displayed, this confirmed, in pointing out how the errors originated. Recourse to books I had none; and convinced I am that deep researches often destroyed, in my predecessors, what the first impulse of reason dictated; for, whilst fancy, in the confluence of parallelisms, compelled them to seek anchorage in false soundings, they accepted any aid rather than be wrecked in the stream to which laboured investigation had carried them.
The causes which introduce errors into a work while in the hands of a Printer are so numerous, that to recount and explain them would make my preface a volume. Indeed, throughout this work, I have been as explicit as possible in displaying how the many errors arose; but that the reader may form a just conception of the means by which one letter has been falsely introduced for another, and which, helping to form a word, enabled it to maintain the place it usurped, I here prefix, on a reduced scale, the plan of a pair of letter-cases, by referring to which, it will be found how close the connection is between certain types, and which, when in their respective boxes, the least shaking of the frame whereon the cases rest must dislodge from their own compartments, and scatter them into those of their neighbouring types.