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without his effeminacy. He endeavours indeed commonly to ftrike by the force and vigour of his dialogue, but he never executes his purpose better, than when he tries to footh by softness.
Yet it must be at laft confeffed, that as we owe every thing to him, he owes fomething to us; that, if much of his praise is paid by perception and judgement, much is likewife given by cuftom and veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his deformities, and endure in him what we should in another loath or defpife. If we endured without praifing, refpect for the father of our drama might excufe us; but I have feen, in the book of fome modern critick, a collection of anomalies which fhew that he has corrupted language by every mode of depravation, but which his admirer has accumulated as a monument of honour.
He has fcenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclufion. I am indeed far from thinking, that his works were wrought to his own ideas of perfection; when they were fuch as would fatisfy the audience, they fatisfied the writer. It is feldom that authours, though more ftudious of fame than Shakespeare, rife much above the standard of their own age; to add a little to what is beft will always be fufficient for prefent praise, and those who find themselves exalted into fame, are willing to credit their encomiafts, and to fpare the labour of contending with themfelves.
It does not appear, that Shakespeare thought his works worthy of pofterity, that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had any further profpect, than of prefent popularity and prefent profit. When his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end; he folicited no addition of honour from the reader. He therefore made no fcruple to repeat the fame jefts in many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the fame knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve's four comedies, two are concluded by a marriage in a mask, by a deception, which perhaps never happened, and which, whether likely or not, he did not invent.
So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, though he retired to eafe and plenty, while he was yet little declined into the vale of years, before he could be disgusted with fatigue, or difabled by infirmity, he made no collection of his works, nor defired to rescue thofe that had been already published from the depravations that obfcured them, or fecure to the rest a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their genuine state.
Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in the late editions, the greater part were not published till about seven years after his death, and the few which appeared in his life are apparently thrust into the world without the care of the authour, and therefore probably without his knowledge.
Of all the publishers, clandeftine or profeffed, their negligence and unfkilfulness has by the late revifers been fufficiently fhown. The faults of all are indeed. numerous and grofs, and have not only corrupted many paffages perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought others into fufpicion, which are only obfcured by obfolete phrafeology, or by the writer's unfkilfulnefs and affectation. To alter is more eafy than to explain, and temerity is a more common quality than diligence. Those who faw that they must employ conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had the authour published his own works, we should have fat quietly down to disentangle his intricacies, and clear his obfcurities; but now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to understand.
The faults are more than could have happened without the concurrence of many caufes. The ftile of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed
and obfcure; his works were tranfcribed for the
In this ftate they remained, not as Dr. Warburton
much negligence of English printers, that they could very patiently endure it. At laft an edition was undertaken by Rowe; not because a poet was to be publifhed by a poet, for Rowe feems to have thought very little on correction or explanation, but that our authour's works might appear like thofe of his fraternity, with the appendages of a life and recommendatory preface. Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing what he did not undertake, and it is time that juftice be done him, by confeffing, that though he feems to have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errours, yet he has made many emendations, if they were not made before, which his fucceffors have received without acknowledgment, and which, if they had produced them, would have filled pages and pages with cenfures of the stupidity by which the faults were committed, with displays of the abfurdities which they involved, with oftentatious expofitions of the new reading, and felf congratulations on the happiness of difcovering it.
Of Rowe, as of all the editors, I have preferved the preface, and have likewife retained the authour's life, though not written with much elegance or fpirit; it relates however what is now to be known, and therefore deserves to pafs through all fucceeding pub
The nation had been for many years content enough with Mr. Rowe's performance, when Mr. Pope made. them acquainted with the true ftate of Shakespear's
text, fhewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave reafon to hope that there were means of reforming it. He collated the old copies, which none had thought to examine before, and restored many lines to their integrity; but, by a very compendious criticifm, he rejected whatever he difliked, and thought more of amputation than of cure.
I know not why he is commended by Dr. Warburton for diftinguishing the genuine from the fpurious plays. In this choice he exerted no judgement of his own; the plays which he received, were given by Hemings and Condel, the firft editors; and rpf which he rejected, though, according to the tioufness of the prefs in thofe times, they were ted during Shakespear's life, with his natam. omitted by his friends, and were never a works before the edition of 1664, from 1 were copied by the later printers.
This was a work which Pope feems to ha unworthy of his abilities, being not able to his contempt of the dull duty of an editor. ftood but half his undertaking. The duty or is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, neceffary; but an emendatory critick would charge his duty, without qualities very different from dulnefs. In perufing a corrupted piece, he must have before him all poffibilities of meaning, with all poffibilities of expreffion. Such must be his comprehenfion of thought, and fuch his copioufnefs of language. Out of many readings poffible, he must be able to