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newed at every attempt; an oblique view of the passage, a slight misapprehension of a phrase, a casual inattention to the parts connected, is sufficient to make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he that suggests another will always be able to dispute his claims.
It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely resistible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once started a happy change, is too much delighted to consider what objections may rise against it.
Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the learned world ; nor is it my intention to depreciate a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from the Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authours have, in the exercise of their sagacity, many assistances, which the editor of Shakespeare is condemned to want. They are employed upon grammatical and settled languages, whose construction contributes so much to perspicuity, that Homer has fewer passages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the choice. There are commonly more manuscripts than one; and they do not often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confess to Salmasius how little satisfaction his emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecturæ nostra, quarum nos pudet, posteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipsius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Lipsius, notwithstanding their wonderful sagacity and erudition, are often vague and disputable, like mine or Theobald's.
Perhaps I may not be more censured for doing wrong, than for doing little ; for raising in the publick expectations, which at last I have not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy those who know not what to demand, or those who demand by design what they think impossible to be done. I have indeed disappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to restore ; or obscure, which I have not endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confessed the repulse. I have not passed over, with affected superiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not instruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might easily have accumulated a mass of seeming learning upon easy scenes ; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have said enough, I have said no more.
Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption ; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.
Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book, which he has too diligently studied. Parts are not to be examined
till the whole has been surveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness necessary for the comprehension of any great work in its full design and its true proportions ;, a close approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is discerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this authour's
power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him ; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allusions understood ; yet then did
Dryden pronounce “that Shakespeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily : When he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned : he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike ; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid ; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him : No man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.” It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want a commentary; that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments..obscure. But it is vain to carry wishes
beyond the condition of human things ; that which must happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer since the use of types, has been suffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of mind, which despised its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and explaining.
Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now to stand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
NOTES ON THE PLAYS
THESE two first Plays, the Tempest and the Midsummer-night's Dream, are the noblest Efforts of that sublime and amazing Imagination, peculiar to Shakespeare, which soars above the Bounds of Nature without forsaking Sense : or, more properly, carries Nature along with him beyond her established Limits. Fletcher seems particularly to have admired these two Plays, and hath wrote two in Imitation of them, the Sea-Voyage and the Faithful Shepherdess. But when he presumes to break a Lance with Shakespeare, and write in emulation of him, as he does in the False one, which is the Rival of Anthony and Cleopatra, he is not so successful. _After him, Sir John Suckling and Milton catched the brightest Fire of their Imagination from these two Plays; which shines fantastically indeed, in the Goblins, but much more nobly and serenely in Tbe Mask at Ludlow-Castle.WARBURTON.
Act I. SCENE i.
It may be observed of Gonzalo, that, being the only good Man that appears with the King, he is the only Man that preserves his Cheerfulness in the Wreck, and his Hope on the Island. Act I. SCENE Ü. (I. ii.)
That the Character and Conduct of Prospero may be understood, something must be known of the System of Enchantment, which supplied all the Marvellous found in the Romances of the middle Ages. This system seems to be founded on the Opinion that the fallen Spirits, having different Degrees of Guilt, had different Habitations alloted them at their Expulsion, some being confined in Hell, some, as