« PreviousContinue »
agreeable visions in the fancy; the writer, who aims at wit, must of course range far and wide for materials. Now the age in which Shakspeare lived, having, above all others, a wonderful affection to appear learned, they declined vulgar images, such as are immediately fetched from nature, and ranged through the circle of the sciences, to fetch their ideas from thence. But as the resemblances of such ideas to the subject must necessarily lie very much out of the common way, and every piece of wit appear a riddle to the vulgar; this, that should have taught them the forced, quaint, unnatural tract they were in, (and induce them to follow a more natural one,) was the very thing that kept them attached to it. The ostentatious affectation of abstruse learning, peculiar to that time, the love that men naturally have to every thing that looks like mystery, fixed them down to the habit of obscurity. Thus became the poetry of DONNE (though the wittiest man of that age,) nothing but a continued heap of riddles. And our Shakspeare, with all his easy nature about him, for want of the knowledge of the true rules of art, falls frequently into this vicious manner.
The third species of obscurities which deform our author, as the effects of his own genius and character, are those that proceed from his peculiar manner of thinking, and as peculiar a manner of clothing those thoughts. With regard to his thinking, it is certain, that he had a general knowledge of all the sciences: but his acquaintance was rather that of a traveller than a native. Nothing in philosophy was unknown to him; but every thing in it had the grace and force of novelty. And as novelty is one main source of admiration, we are not to wonder that he has perpetual allusions to the
most recondite parts of the sciences: and this was done not so much out of affectation, as the effect of admiration begot by novelty. Then, as to his style and diction, we may much more justly apply to SHAKSPEARE, what a celebrated writer said of MILTON: Our language sunk under him, and was unequal to that greatness of soul which furnished him with such glorious conceptions. He therefore frequently uses old words, to give his diction an air of solemnity; as he coins others, to express the novelty and variety of his ideas.
Upon every distinct species of these obscurities, I have thought it my province to employ a note for the service of my author, and the entertainment of my readers. A few transient remarks too I have not scrupled to intermix, upon the poet's negligences and omissions in point of art; but I have done it always in such a manner, as will testify my deference and veneration for the immortal author. Some censurers of Shakspeare, and particularly Mr. Rymer, have taught me to distinguish betwixt the railer and critick. The outrage of his quotations is so remarkably violent, so pushed beyond all bounds of decency and sober reasoning, that it quite carries over the mark at which it was levelled. Extravagant abuse throws off the edge of the intended disparagement, and turns the madman's weapon into his own bosom. In short, as to Rymer, this is my opinion of him from his criticisms on the tragedies of the last age. He writes with great vivacity, and appears to have been a scholar: but as for his knowledge of the art of poetry, I cannot perceive it was any deeper than his acquaintance with Bossu and Dacier, from whom he has transcribed many of his best reflections. The late Mr. Gildon was one attached to Rymer by a
similar way of thinking and studies. They were both of that species of criticks who are desirous of displaying their powers rather in finding faults, than in consulting the improvement of the world; the hypercritical part of the science of criticism.
I had not mentioned the modest liberty I have here and there taken of animadverting on my author, but that I was willing to obviate in time the splenetick exaggerations of my adversaries on this head. From past experiments I have reason to be conscious, in what light this attempt may be placed: and that what I call a modest liberty will, by a little of their dexterity, be inverted into downright impudence. From a hundred mean and dishonest artifices employed to discredit this edition, and to cry down its editor, I have all the grounds in nature to beware of attacks. But though the malice of wit, joined to the smoothness of versification, may furnish some ridicule; fact, I hope, will be able to stand its ground against banter and gaiety.
It has been my fate, it seems, as I thought it my duty, to discover some anachronisms in our author; which might have slept in obscurity but for this Restorer, as Mr. Pope is pleased affectionately to style me as for instance, where Aristotle is mentioned by Hector in Troilus and Cressida; and Galen, Cato, and Alexander the Great, in Coriolanus. These, in Mr. Pope's opinion, are blunders, which the illiteracy of the first publishers of his works has fathered upon the poet's memory: it not being at all credible, that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a school, or the least conversation with such as had. But I have sufficiently proved, in the course of my notes, that such anachronisms were the effect of poetick licence, rather than of ignorance in our poet. And if I
may be permitted to ask a modest question by the way, why may not I restore an anachronism really made by our author, as well as Mr. Pope take the privilege to fix others upon him, which he never had it in his head to make; as I may venture to affirm he had not, in the instance of Sir Francis Drake, to which I have spoke in the proper place?
But who shall dare make any words about this freedom of Mr. Pope's towards Shakspeare, if it can be proved, that, in his fits of criticism, he makes no more ceremony with good Homer himself? To try, then, a criticism of his own advancing in the 8th Book of The Odyssey, where Demodocus sings the episode of the loves of Mars and Venus; and that, upon their being taken in the net by Vulcan,
The god of arms
Mr. Pope is so kind gravely to inform us, "That Homer in this, as in many other places, seems to allude to the laws of Athens, where death was the punishment of adultery." But how is this significant observation made out? Why, who can possibly object any thing to the contrary? Does not Pausanias relate that Draco, the lawgiver to the Athenians, granted impunity to any person that took revenge upon an adulterer? And was it not also the institution of Solon, that if any one took an adulterer in the fact, he might use him as he pleased? These things are very true: and to see what a good memory, and sound judgment in conjunction, can achieve! though Homer's date is not determined down to a single year, yet it is pretty generally agreed that he lived above three hundred years before Draco and Solon: and that, it seems, has made
him seem to allude to the very laws, which these two legislators propounded above three hundred years after. If this inference be not something like an anachronism or prolepsis, I will look once more into my lexicons for the true meaning of the words. It appears to me, that somebody besides Mars and Venus has been caught in a net by this episode and I could call in other instances, to confirm what treacherous tackle this net-work is, if not cautiously handled.
How just, notwithstanding, I have been in detecting the anachronisms of my author, and in defending him for the use of them, our late editor seems to think, they should rather have slept in obscurity and the having discovered them is sneered at, as a sort of wrong-headed sagacity.
The numerous corrections which I have made of the poet's text in my SHAKSPEARE Restored, and which the publick have been so kind to think well of, are, in the appendix of Mr. Pope's last edition, slightingly called various readings, guesses, &c. He confesses to have inserted as many of them as he judged of any the least advantage to the poet; but says, that the whole amounted to about twenty five words and pretends to have annexed a complete list of the rest, which were not worth his embracing. Whoever has read my book will, at one glance, see how in both these points veracity is strained, so an injury might be done. Malus, etsi obesse non pote, tamen cogitat.
Another expedient to make my work appear of a trifling nature, has been an attempt to depreciate literal criticism. To this end, and to pay a servile compliment to Mr. Pope, an anonymous writer has,
David Mallet. See his poem Of Verbal Criticism, Vol. I. of his works, 12mo. 1759. ŘEED.