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a kind of confpiracy, has been fince raised against all the publishers of Shakspeare.
That many paffages have paffed in a ftate of depravation through all the editions is indubitably certain; of these, the restoration is only to be attempted by collation of copies, or fagacity of conjecture. The collator's province is fafe and easy, the conjecturer's perilous and difficult. Yet as the greater part of the plays are extant only in one copy, the peril must not be avoided, nor the difficulty refused.
Of the readings which this emulation of amendment has hitherto produced, fome from the labours of every publisher I have advanced into the text; thofe are to be confidered as in my opinion fufficiently fupported; fome I have rejected without mention, as evidently erroneous; fome I have left in the notes without cenfure or approbation, as refting in equipoife between objection and defence; and fome, which feemed fpecious but not right, I have inferted with a fubfequent animadverfion.
Having claffed the obfervations of others, I was at laft to try what I could fubftitute for their mistakes, and how I could fupply their omiffions. I collated fuch copies as I could procure, and wifhed for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very communicative. Of the editions which chance or kindness put into my hands I have given an enumeration, that I may not be blamed for neglecting what I had not the power to do.
By examining the old copies, I foon found that the later publishers, with all their boafts of diligence, fuffered many paflages to ftand unauthorized, and contented themfelves with Rowe's regulation
of the text, even where they knew it to be arbitrary, and with a little confideration might have found it to be wrong. Some of thefe alterations are only the ejection of a word for one that appeared to him more elegant or more intelligible. Thefe corruptions I have often filently rectified; for the hiftory of our language, and the true force of our words, can only be preferved, by keeping the text of authors free from adulteration. Others, and thofe very frequent, smoothed the cadence, or regulated the measure; on thefe I have not exercised the fame rigour; if only a word was tranfpofed, or a particle inferted or omitted, I have fometimes fuffered the line to ftand; for the inconftancy of the copies is fuch, as that fome liberties may be easily permitted. But this practice I have not fuffered to proceed far, having restored the primitive diction wherever it could for any reafon be preferred.
The emendations, which comparison of copies fupplied, I have inferted in the text; fometimes, where the improvement was flight, without notice, and fometimes with an account of the reasons of the change.
Conjecture, though it be fometimes unavoidable, I have not wantonly nor licentiously indulged. It has been my fettled principle, that the reading of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore is not to be difturbed for the fake of elegance, perfpicuity, or mere improvement of the sense. For though much credit is not due to the fidelity, nor any to the judgment of the first publishers, yet they who had the copy before their eyes were more likely to read it right, than we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident that they have often made firange miftakes by ignorance or
negligence, and that therefore fomething may be properly attempted by criticism, keeping the middle way between presumption and timidity.
Such criticism I have attempted to practise, and where any paffage appeared inextricably perplexed, have endeavoured to discover how it may be recalled to fenfe, with leaft violence. But my first labour is, always to turn the old text on every fide, and try if there be any interstice, through which light can find its way; nor would Huetius himself condemn me, as refufing the trouble of research, for the ambition of alteration. In this modeft induftry, I have not been unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the violations of temerity, and fecured many fcenes from the inroads of correction. I have adopted the Roman fentiment, that it is more honourable to fave a citizen, than to kill an enemy, and have been more careful to protect than to attack.
I have preferved the common diftribution of the plays into acts, though I believe it to be in almost all the plays void of authority. Some of those which are divided in the later editions have no divifion in the first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have no divifion in the preceding copies. The fettled mode of the theatre requires four intervals in the play, but few, if any, of our author's compofitions can be properly diftributed in that manner. An act is fo much of the drama as paffes without intervention of time, or change of place. A paufe makes a new act. In every real, and therefore in every imitative action, the intervals may be more or fewer, the restriction of five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This Shakspeare knew, and this he practifed; his plays were written, and at first printed in one unbroken
continuity, and ought now to be exhibited with fhort paufes, interpofed as often as the scene is changed, or any confiderable time is required to pafs. This method would at once quell a thoufand abfurdities.
In reftoring the author's works to their integrity, I have confidered the punctuation as wholly in my power; for what could be their care of colons and commas, who corrupted words and fentences. Whatever could be done by adjufting points, is therefore filently performed, in fome plays, with much diligence, in others with lefs; it is hard to keep a bufy eye fteadily fixed upon evanefcent atoms, or a difcurfive mind upon evanefcent truth.
The fame liberty has been taken with a few particles, or other words of flight effect. I have fometimes inferted or omitted them without notice. I have done that fometimes, which the other editors have done always, and which indeed the state of the text may fufficiently juftify.
The greater part of readers, inftead of blaming us for paffing trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles fo much labour is expended, with fuch importance of debate, and fuch folemnity of diction. To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not underftand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promife that they would become in general, by learning criticism, more useful, happier, or wiser.
As I practifed conjecture more, I learned to truft it lefs; and after I had printed a few plays, refolved to infert none of my own readings in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate myfelf, for every day encreafes my doubt of my emendations.
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 safe.
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, first 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 difcovery, and a fober wifh for the advancement and prosperity 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 restoration strikes 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.