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truth of history; and throwing out fentiments as justly adapted to the circumftances, of his fubject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a furprizing effufion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have seen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in this age, began extremely to fuffer by an inundation of Latin: and this, to be fure, was occafioned by the pedantry of those two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, both great Latinifts. For it is not to be wondered at, if both the court and schools, equal flatterers of power, fhould adapt themselves to the royal tafte.
But now I am touching on the queftion (which has been fo frequently agitated, yet fo entirely undecided,) of his learning and acquaintance with the languages; an additional word or two naturally falls in here upon the genius of our author, as compared with that of Jonfon his contemporary. They are confeffedly the greatest writers our nation could ever boast of in the drama. The first, we fay, owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and the other a great deal to his art and learning. This, if attended to, will explain a very remarkable appearance in their writings. Befides those wonderful master-pieces of art and genius, which each has given us; they are the authors of other works very unworthy of them: but with this difference, that in Jonfon's bad pieces we do not discover one fingle trace of the author of The Fox and Alchemift; but, in the wild extravagant notes of Shakspeare, you every now and then encounter ftrains that recognize the divine compofer. This
difference may be thus accounted for. Jonfon, as we faid before, owing all his excellence to his art, by which he fometimes ftrained himself to an uncommon pitch, when at other times he unbent and played with his fubject, having nothing then to fupport him, it is no wonder that he wrote so far beneath himself. But Shakspeare, indebted more largely to nature than the other to acquired talents, in his moft negligent hours could never fo totally diveft himself of his genius, but that it would frequently break out with aftonifhing force and fplendor.
As I have never propofed to dilate farther on the character of my author, than was neceffary to explain the nature and use of this edition, I fhall proceed to confider him as a genius in poffeffion of an everlasting name. And how great that merit must be, which could gain it against all the difadvantages of the horrid condition in which he had hitherto appeared! Had Homer, or any other admired author, first started into publick fo maimed and deformed, we cannot determine whether they had not funk for ever under the ignominy of fuch an ill appearance. The mangled condition of Shakspeare has been acknowledged by Mr. Rowe, who published him indeed, but neither corrected his text, nor collated the old copies. This gentleman had abilities, and fufficient knowledge of his author, had but his industry been equal to his talents. The fame mangled condition has been acknowledged too by Mr. Pope, who published him likewife, pretended to have collated the old copies,, and yet feldom has corrected the text but to its injury. I congratulate with the manes of our poet, that this gentleman has been sparing in indulging his private fenfe, as he
phrafes it; for he, who tampers with an author, whom he does not understand, must do it at the expence of his fubject. I have made it evident throughout my remarks, that he has frequently inflicted a wound where he intended a cure. He has acted with regard to our author, as an editor, whom LIPSIUS mentions, did with regard to MARTIAL; Inventus eft nefcio quis Popa, qui non vitia ejus, fed ipfum excidit. He has attacked him like an unhandy flaughterman; and not lopped off the errors, but the poet.
When this is found to be fact, how abfurd must appear the praifes of fuch an editor! It feems a moot point, whether Mr. Pope has done moft injury to Shakspeare, as his editor and encomiaft; or Mr. Rymer done him fervice, as his rival and cenfurer. They have both shown themselves in an equal impuissance of fufpecting or amending the corrupted paffages: and though it be neither prudence to cenfure or commend what one does not understand; yet if a man muft do one when he plays the critick, the latter is the more ridiculous office; and by that Shakspeare fuffers moft. For the natural veneration which we have for him makes us apt to swallow whatever is given us as his, and fet off with encomiums; and hence we quit all fufpicions of depravity: on the contrary, the cenfure of fo divine an author fets us upon his defence ; and this produces an exact fcrutiny and examination, which ends in finding out and difcriminating the true from the spurious.
It is not with any fecret pleasure that I fo frequently animadvert on Mr. Pope ás a critick, but there are provocations, which a man can never quite forget. His libels have been thrown out with fo much inveteracy, that, not to dispute whether they
fhould come from a chriftian, they leave it a question whether they could come from a man. I should be loth to doubt, as Quintus Serenus did in a like cafe:
"Sivė homo, feu fimilis turpiffima bestia nobis
The indignation, perhaps, for being represented a blockhead, may be as ftrong in us, as it is in the ladies for a reflection on their beauties. It is certain, I am indebted to him for fome flagrant civilities; and I fhall willingly devote a part of my life to the honeft endeavour of quitting fcores: with this exception, however, that I will not return thofe civilities in his peculiar ftrain, but confine myself, at least, to the limits of common decency. I fhall ever think it better to want wit, than to want humanity and impartial posterity may, perhaps, be of my opinion.
But to return to my fubject, which now calls upon me to enquire into thofe caufes, to which the depravations of my author originally may be af figned. We are to confider him as a writer, of whom no authentick manufcript was left extant; as a writer, whofe pieces were difperfedly performed on the several stages then in being. And it was the cuftom 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 fuppofed they had no farther right to print them without the confent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublifhed, when any one fucceeded, there was a conteft betwixt the curiofity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and the policy of the stagers, who
wifhed to fecrete it within their own walls. Hence many pieces were taken down in fhort-hand, and imperfectly copied by ear from a reprefentation others were printed from piecemeal parts furreptitiously obtained from the theatres, uncorrect, and without the poet's knowledge. To fome of these causes we owe the train of blemishes, that deform thofe pieces which stole fingly into the world in our author's life-time.
There are ftill other reafons, which may be fuppofed to have affected the whole fet. When the players took upon them to publifh his works entire, every theatre was ranfacked to supply the copy; and parts collected, which had gone through as many changes as performers, either from mutilations or additions made to them. Hence we derive many chafms and incoherences in the sense and matter. Scenes were frequently tranfpofed, and shuffled out of their true place, to humour the caprice, or fuppofed convenience, of fome particular actor. Hence much confufion and impropriety has attended and embarraffed the business and fable. To these obvious caufes of corruption it must be 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 affiftance of any intelligent editor: which has been the cafe likewife of many a classick writer.
The nature of any diftemper once found has generally been the immediate ftep to a cure. Shakfpeare's cafe has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt classick; and, confequently, the method of cure was likewife to bear a refemblance. By what means, and with what fuccefs, this cure has VOL. I.