« PreviousContinue »
Since I have confined my imagination to the margin, it must not be confidered as very reprehenfible, if I have fuffered it to play fome freaks in its own dominion. There is no danger in conjecture, if it be propofed as conjecture; and while the text remains uninjured, thofe changes may be fafely offered, which are not confidered even by him that offers them as neceffary or fafe.
If my readings are of little value, they have not been oftentatiously displayed or importunately obtruded. I could have written longer notes, for the art of writing notes is not of difficult attainment. The work is performed, firft by railing at the ftupidity, negligence, ignorance, and afinine tafteleffness of the former editors, fhowing, from all that goes before and all that follows, the inelegance and abfurdity of the old reading; then by propofing fomething, which to fuperficial readers would feem fpecious, but which the editor rejects with indignation; then by producing the true reading, with a long paraphrafe, and concluding with loud acclamations on the discovery, and a fober with for the advancement and profperity of genuine criticism.
All this may be done, and perhaps done fometimes without impropriety. But I have always suspected that the reading is right, which requires many words to prove it wrong; and the emendation wrong, that cannot without fo much labour appear to be right. The juftness of a happy reftoration ftrikes at once, and the moral precept may be well applied to criticism, quod dubitas ne feceris.
To dread the fhore which he fees fpread with wrecks, is natural to the failor. I had before my eye, fo many critical adventures ended in mifVOL. I.
carriage, that caution was forced upon me. I encountered in every page wit ftruggling with its own fophiftry, and learning confufed by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced to cenfure those whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was difpoffeffing their emendations, how foon the fame fate might happen to my own, and how many of the readings which I have corrected may be by fome other editor defended and eftablifhed.
"Criticks I faw, that other's names efface,
That a conjectural critick fhould often be miftaken, cannot be wonderful, either to others, or himself, if it be confidered, that in his art there is no fyftem, no principal and axiomatical truth that regulates fubordinate pofitions. His chance of error is renewed at every attempt; an oblique view of the paffage, a flight mifapprehenfion of a phrafe, a cafual inattention to the parts connected, is fufficient to make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he fucceeds beft he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he that fuggefts another will always be able to difpute his claims.
It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The allurements of emendation are fcarcely refiftible. 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 confider what objections may rife 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 5 to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authors have, in the exercise of their fagacity, many affiftances, which the editor of Shakspeare is condemned to want. They are employed upon grammatical and fettled languages, whofe conftruction contributes fo much to perfpicuity, that Homer has fewer paffages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the choice. There are commonly more manufcripts than one; and they do not often confpire in the fame mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confefs to Salmafius how little fatisfaction his emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecturæ, quarum nos pudet, pofteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipfius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, when mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Lipfius, notwithstanding their wonderful fagacity and erudition, are often vague and difputable, like mine or Theobald's.
Perhaps I may not be more cenfured for doing wrong, than for doing little; for raifing in the
the Bishop of Aleria-] John Andreas. He was fecretary to the Vatican Library during the papacies of Paul II. and Sixtus IV. By the former he was employed to fuperintend fuch works as were to be multiplied by the new art of printing, at that time brought into Rome. He published Herodotus, Strabo, Livy, Aulus Gellius, &c. His fchool-fellow, Cardinal de Cufa, procured him the bifhoprick of Accia, a province in Corfica; and Paul II. afterwards appointed him to that of Aleria. in the fame ifland, where he died in 1493. See Fabric. Bibl. Lat. Vol. III. 894. STEEVENS.
publick expectations, which at laft I have not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to fatisfy those who know not what to demand, or those who demand by defign what they think impoffible to be done. I have indeed difappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my tafk with no flight folicitude. Not a fingle paffage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to restore; or obfcure, which I have not endeavoured to illuftrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confeffed the repulfe. I have not paffed over, with affected fuperiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not inftruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might eafily have accumulated a mafs of feeming learning upon easy scenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was neceffary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have faid enough, I have faid no more.
Notes are often neceffary, but they are neceffary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakspeare, and who defires 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 ftoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is ftrongly engaged, let it difdain alike to turn afide to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obfcurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preferve his comprehenfion of the dialogue and his intereft in
the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactnefs, and read the commentators.
Particular paffages 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 fubject; the reader is weary, he fufpects not why; and at laft throws away the book which he has too diligently ftudied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been furveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remotenefs neceffary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full defign and in its true proportions; a close approach fhows the finaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is difcerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to confider how little the fucceffion of editors has added to this author's power of pleafing. 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 allufions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce," that Shakspeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehenfive foul. All the images of nature were ftill prefent to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily when he defcribes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Thofe, who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation; he was naturally learned; he needed not the fpectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot fay he is every where alike; were he fo, I fhould do him injury to compare him with the greatest