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Ladies for a Reflexion on their Beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for some flagrant Civilities; and I shall willingly devote a part of my Life to the honest Endeavour of quitting Scores : with this Exception however, that I will not return those Civilities in his peculiar Strain, but confine myself, at least, to the Limits of common Decency.
I shall 'ever think it better to want Wit, than to want Humanity: and impartial Pofterity may, perhaps, be of my Opinion.
But, to return to my Subject; which now calls upon me to inquire into those Causes, to which the Depravations of my Author originally may be affigned. We are to consider him as a Writer, of whom no authentic Manuscript was left extant; as a Writer, whose Pieces were dispersedly performed on the several Stages then in Being. And it was the Custom of those Days for the Poets to take a Price of the Players for the Pieces they from time to time furnished; and thereupon it was supposed, they had no farther Right to print them without the Confent of the Players. As it was the Intereft of the Companies to keep their Plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a Contest betwixt the Curiosity of the Town, who demanded to see it in Print, and the Policy of the Stagers, who wished to fecrete it within their own Walls. Hence, many Pieces were taken down in Short-hand, and imperfectly copied by Ear, from a Representation : Others were
printed from piece-meal Parts surreptitiously obtained from the Theatres, uncorrect, and without the Poet's Knowledge. To some of these Causes we owe the Train of Blemishes, that deforma those Pieces which stole fingly into the World in our Author's Life-time.
There are still other Reasons, which may be fupposed to have affected the whole Set. When the Players took upon them to publish his Works intire, every Theatre was ransaked to supply the Copy; and Parts collected, which had gone thro' as many Changes as Performers, either from Mutilations or Additions made to them. Hence we derive many Charois and Incoherences in the Sense and Matter. Scenes were frequently transposed, and shuffled out of their true Place, to humour the Caprice, of supposed Convenience, of fome particular Actor. Hence much Confusion and Impropriety has attended, and embarrased, the Business and Fable. To these obvious Causes of Corruption it must he added, that our Author has lain under the Disadvantage of having his Errors propagated and multiplied by Time: because, for near a Century, his works were published from the faulty Copies, without the Allistance of any intelligent Editor: which has been the Cafe likewise of many a Claffic Writer.
The Nature of any Diftemper once found has generally been the immediate Step to a Cure. ShakeJacare's Cafe has in a great measure resembled that
of a corrupt Classic; and, consequently, the Method of Cure was likewise to bear a Resemblance. By what Means, and with what Success, this Cure has been effected on ancient Writers, is too well known, and needs no formal Illustration. The Reputation, consequent on Tasks of that Nature, invited me to attempt the Method here ; with this View, the Hopes of restoring to the Publick their greatest Poet in his original Purity : after having so long lain in a Condition that was a Dilgrace to common Sense. To this end I have ventured on a Labour, that is the first Aflay of the kind on any modern Author whatsoever. For the late Edition of Milton by the Learned Dr. Bentley is, in the main, a Performance of another Species. It is plain, it was the Intention of that Great Man rather to correct and pare off the Excrescencies of the Paradise Loft, in the manner that Tuca and Farius were employed to criticize the Æneis of Virgil, than to restore corrupted Passages. Hence, therefore, may be seen either the Iniquity or Ignoiance of his Censurers, who, from some Expreffions, would make us believe, the Doctor every where gives us his Corrections as the original Text of the Author ; whereas the chief Turn of his Criticisin is plainly to fhew the World, that if Milton did not write as he would have him, he ought to have wrote fo.
I thought proper to premise this Observation to the Readers, as it will shew that the Critic on Shake
speare is of a quite different Kind. His genuine Text is for the most part religiously adhered to, and the numerous Faults and Blemishes, purely his own, are left as they were found. Nothing is altered, but what by the clearest Reasoning can be proved a Corruption of the true Text; and the Alteration, a real Restoration of the genuine Reading. Nay, so strictly have I ftrove to give the true Reading, tho' sometimes not to the Advantage of my Author, that I have been ridiculously ridiculed for it by those, who either were iniquitously for turning every thing to my Disadvantage ; or else were totally ignorant of the true Duty of an Editor.
The Science of Criticism, as far as it affects an Editor, seems to be reduced to these three Classes ; the Emendation of corrupt Paffages; the Explanation of obscure and difficult ones; and an Inquiry into the Beauties and Defects of Composition. This work is principally confined to the two former Parts : tho' there are fome Specimens interspersed of the latter Kind, as several of the Emendations were best supported, and several of the Difficulties best explained, by taking notice of the Beauties and Defects of the Composition peculiar to this immortal Poct. But this was but occasional, and for the sake only of perfecting the two other Parts, which were the proper Objects of the Editor's Labour. The third lies open for every willing Undertaker : and I shall be pleased to see it the Employment of a masterly Pen.
It must necessarily happen, as I have formerly observed, that where the Afiftance of Manuscripts is wanting to set an Author's Meaning right, and rescue him from those Errors which have been transmitted down thro' a Series of incorrect Editions, and a long Intervention of Time, many Paffages must be desperate, and past a Cure; and their true Sense irretrievable either to Care or the Sagacity of Conjecture. But is there any Reason therefore to say, That because all cannot be retrieved, all ought to be left desperate? We should shew very little Honesty, or Wisdom, to play the Tyrants with an Author's Text; to raze, alter, innovate, and overturn, at all Adventures, and to the utter Detriment of his Sense and Meaning : But to be so very reserved and cautious, as to interpose no Relief or Conjecture, where it manifestly labours and cries out for Alistance, seems, on the other hand, an indolent Absurdity.
As there are very few Pages in Shakespeare, upon which fome Suspicions of Depravity do not reasonable arise ; I have thought it my Duty, in the first place, by a diligent and laborious Colla. tion to take in the Alliances of all the older Copies.
In his Hiflorical Plays, whenever our English Chronicles, and in his Tragedies when Greek or Roman Story, could give any Light; no Pains have been omitted to set Passages right by comparing, my Author with his Originals : for, as I have