Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

undertaking. For as to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Obfervations, &c. on Shakspeare, (if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth, given as a fpecimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the rest are absolutely below a ferious notice.

[ocr errors]

The whole a critick can do for an author, who deferves his fervice, is to correct the faulty text; to remark the peculiarities of language; to illuftrate the obfcure allufions; and to explain the beauties and defects of fentiment or compofition. And furely, if ever author had a claim to this fervice, it was our Shakspeare; who, widely excelling in the knowledge of human nature, hath given to his infinitely varied pictures of it, fuch truth of defign, fuch force of drawing, fuch beauty of colouring, as was hardly ever equalled by any writer, whether his aim was the ufe, or only the entertainment of mankind. The notes in this edition, therefore, take in the whole compass of

1

criticifm.

I. The first fort is employed in reftoring the poet's genuine text; but in thofe places only where it labours with inextricable nonfenfe. In which, how much foever I may have given fcope to criti cal conjecture, where the old copies failed me, I have indulged nothing to fancy or imagination; but have religiously obferved the fevere canons of literal criticism, as may be feen from the reasons accompanying every alteration of the common text. Nor would a different conduct have become a critick, whofe greatest attention, in this part, was to vindicate the established reading from interpola

8 Published in 1745, by Dr. Johnfon. REED,

tions occafioned by the fanciful extravagancies of others. I once intended to have given the reader a body of canons, for literal criticifm, drawn out in form; as well fuch as concern the art in general, as those that arife from the nature and circumftances of our author's works in particular. And this for two reafons. Firft, to give the unlearned reader a just idea, and confequently a better opinion of the art of criticifm, now funk very low in the popular esteem, by the attempts of fome who would needs exercife it without either natural or acquired talents; and by the ill fuccefs of others, who feemed to have loft both, when they came to try them upon English authors. Secondly, To deter the unlearned writer from wantonly trifling with an art he is a ftranger to, at the expence of his own reputation, and the integrity of the text of established authors. But these uses may be well fupplied by what is occafionally faid upon the fubject, in the course of the following remarks.

II. The fecond fort of notes confifts in an explanation of the author's meaning, when by one or more of these causes it becomes obfcure; either from a licentious ufe of terms, or a hard or ungrammatical conftruction; or laftly, from far-fetched or quaint allufions.

1. This licentious ufe of words is almoft peculiar to the language of Shakspeare. To common terms he hath affixed meanings of his own, unauthorized by ufe, and not to be juftified by analogy. And this liberty he hath taken with the noblest parts of speech, such as mixed modes; which, as they are moft fufceptible of abuse, fo their abuse much hurts the clearness of the difcourfe. The criticks (to whom Shakspeare's licence was ftill as much a fecret as his meaning which that licence

[ocr errors]

had obfcured) fell into two contrary mistakes; but equally injurious to his reputation and his writings. For fome of them, obferving a darkness that per→ vaded his whole expreffion, have cenfured him for confufion of ideas and inaccuracy of reafoning. In the neighing of a horse (fays Rymer) or in the growling of a maftiff, there is a meaning, there is a lively expression, and, may I fay, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of Shakspeare. The ignorance of which cenfure is of a piece with its brutality. The truth is, no one thought clearer, or argued more closely, than this immortal bard. But his fuperiority of genius lefs needing the intervention of words in the act of thinking, when he came to draw out his contemplations into difcourse, he took up (as he was hurried on by the torrent of his matter) with the first words that lay in his way; and if, amongst these, there were two mixed modes that had but a principal idea in common, it was enough for him; he regarded them as fynonymous, and would ufe the one for the other without fear or fcruple.Again, there have been others, fuch as the two laft editors, who have fallen into a contrary extreme; and regarded Shakspeare's anomalies (as we may call them) amongst the corruptions of his text; which, therefore, they have cafhiered in great numbers, to make room for a jargon of their own. This hath put me to additional trouble; for I had not only their interpolations to throw out again, but the genuine text to replace, and eftablifh in its ftead; which, in many cafes, could not be done without fhowing the peculiar fense of the terms, and explaining the caufes which led the poet to so perverse a ufe of them. I had it once, indeed, in my defign, to give a general alphabetick glossary of thofe

terms; but as each of them is explained in its proper place, there feemed the lefs occafion for fuch an index.

2. The poet's hard and unnatural conftruction had a different original. This was the effect of mistaken art and defign. The publick tafte was in its infancy; and delighted (as it always does during that ftate) in the high and turgid; which leads the writer to disguise a vulgar expreffion with hard and forced conftruction, whereby the fentence frequently becomes cloudy and dark. Here his criticks fhow their modefty, and leave him to himfelf. For the arbitrary change of a word doth little towards difpelling an obfcurity that arifeth, not from the licentious ufe of a fingle term, but from the unnatural arrangement of a whole fentence, And they rifqued nothing by their filence. For Shakspeare was too clear in fame to be fufpected of a want of meaning; and too high in fashion for any one to own he needed a critick to find it out. Not but, in his best works, we must allow, he is often fo natural and flowing, fo pure and correct, that he is even a model for style and language.

3. As to his far-fetched and quaint allufions, these are often a cover to common thoughts; juft as his hard conftruction is to common expreffion, When they are not fo, the explanation of them has this further advantage, that, in clearing the ob fcurity, you frequently difcover fome latent conceit not unworthy of his genius.

III. The third and laft fort of notes is concerned in a critical explanation of the author's beauties and defects; but chiefly of his beauties, whether in ftyle, thought, fentiment, character, or compofition. An odd humour of finding fault hath long prevailed amongst the criticks; as if nothing

[ocr errors]

were worth remarking, that did not, at the fame time, deserve to be reproved. Whereas the publick judgment hath lefs need to be affifted in what it fhall reject, than in what it ought to prize; men being generally more ready at spying faults than in discovering beauties. Nor is the value they fet upon a work, a certain proof that they understand it. For it is ever feen, that half a dozen voices of credit give the lead: and if the publick chance to be in good humour, or the author much in their favour, the people are fure to follow. Hence it is that the true critick hath fo frequently attached himself to works of established reputation; not to teach the world to admire, which, in those circumftances, to fay the truth, they are apt enough to do of themselves; but to teach them how, with reafon to admire: no eafy matter, I will affure you, on the fubject in queftion: for though it be very true, as Mr. Pope hath obferved, that Shakspeare is the fairest and fulleft fubject for criticism, yet it is not fuch a fort of criticifm as may be raised mechanically on the rules which Dacier, Rapin, and Boffu, have collected from antiquity; and of which, fuch kind of writers as Rymer, Gildon, Dennis, and Oldmixon, have only gathered and chewed the hufks: "nor on the other hand is it to be formed on the plan of those crude and fuperficial judgments, on books and things, with which a certain celebrated paper fo much abounds; too good indeed to be named with the writers laft mentioned, but being unluckily mistaken for a model, because it was an original, it hath given rife to a deluge of the worft fort of critical jargon; I mean that which looks moft like fenfe. But the kind of criticism

The Spectator. REED.

« ÎnapoiContinuă »