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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 fome 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 authour's compofitions can be properly diftributed in that manner. An act is for 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 Shakespeare knew, and this he practifed; his plays were written, and at first printed in one unbroken continuity, and ought now to be exhibited with short paufes, interpofed as often as the scene is changed, or any confiderable time is required to país. This method would at once quell a thousand abfurdities.
In restoring the authour'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 adjusting 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 ftate of the text may fufficiently justify.
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 such folemnity of diction. To thefe I anfwer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promife that they would become in general, by learning criticism, more useful, happier or wifer.
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 myself, for every day encreases 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 VOL. I. d
are not confidered even by him that offers them as neceffary or fafe.
If my readings are of little value, they have not been oftentatioufly difplayed 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, and fhewing, 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 with for the advancement and profperity of genuine criticism.
All this may be done, and perhaps done fometimes without impropriety. But I have always fufpected 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 juftnefs of a happy restoration ftrikes at once, and the moral precept may be well applied to criticifm, 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 mifcarriage, 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 established.
Criticks, 1 faw, that other's names efface,
That a conjectural critick fhould often be mistaken, 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 subordinate pofitions. His chance of errour is renewed at every attempt; an oblique view of the paffage, a flight mifapprehenfion of a phrase, fual 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 ftate, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely refiftible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once ftaited a happy change, is too much delighted to confider what objections may rife against it.
Yet conjectural criticifm has been of great ufe in the learned world; nor is it my intention to depreciate a ftudy, that has exercifed fo many mighty. minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from the Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authours have, in the exercise of their fagacity, many affiftances, which the editor of Shakespeare 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 conje&uræ noftræ, quarum nos pudet, pofteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipfius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim viliis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere conjecture is to be ufed, 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 publick expectations, which at laft I have not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of