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the honor of submitting to the public opinion. The task was laborious but pleasing: It originated in what may be termed adoration of a writer, perhaps the most distinguished that England can be said to boast; but who yet, and even like the monumental marble, has suffered considerable injury from length of time. But the injury is chiefly discoloration; the effigies of this terrestrial Jupiter, this maker, this creator, stands majestically firm. Something, more, indeed, was requisite to its beauty than the mere removal of spot or stain: the chisel was to be occasionally used with boldness, but it was at the same time to be directed with care. Unhappily, however, this care is little seen. But to speak more particularly, and at once to the point. The only way in which the later commentators attempt to elucidate Shakspeare, is by producing what they call parallel passages from the writers of the time which passages, however, being parallel in nothing but a word, while the sense is entirely different, has led to the grossest, the most ridiculous mistakes:for it should ever be borne in mind that to illustrate an author properly, the similarity must be found, not in the word alone, but in the thought. Now, it is from attending to little more than the former, that almost all the Editors have failed in their examples:
still so very many errors to correct.'
and that we have That they have
been seemingly diligent, I must readily own: yet such kind of diligence as that which is found in them, darkens
The notes and observations of any worth, and which are subscribed with the name of Steevens, are known to have proceeded, for the most part, from the pen of Capel. In like manner, those attributed to Theobald, and which can be said to be of value, are as certainly the work of Warburton.
2 "The obscure diligence of the Editor Theobald." Thus speaks Warburton, and the words may be as aptly applied to Mr. Steevens.
instead of illuming, so that we can with difficulty discover through the palpable obscure," our "uncouth way." Addison has well observed, that "in works of criticism, it is absolutely necessary to have a clear and logical head." In this he is incontrovertibly right.
But here let me advert to the duty of the Critic and the Annotator, and which I conceive to be nearly as follows: To consider the word which may be liable to challenge in his author, not only in respect to analogy, or as it may resemble in sound or appearance that which he proposes to substitute for it, but how far the one he has to offer will agree with the context; so that no explication, no interpretation whatever, may appear forced or arbitrarily brought in.
A very frivolous objection has been raised against the Poet, and for the admission of words which may be considered as new. "Such," say the Editors, "are not to be received: no example can be found of their use." But it should be remembered that if words are employed by Shakspeare, of which the etymology is unknown if there be among them such as Philologers declare themselves unable to trace back to any ancient language whatever, but which seem to be entirely of the writer's formation: why may they not have their origin with Shakspeare as well as with another? Nay, the greater the genius of the author, the more likely will he be to venture on expressions at once novel and bold. It is from this very circumstance, from this very practice, and which has been so weakly and impoliticly censured,
1 "I wish we had more liberty to introduce new words by a derivation analogous to others already in use, when they are evidently wanted." Priestly's Introduction to Grammar.
Why this liberty should not be taken, and generally, it may be difficult to tell,
that both Homer and Milton have so greatly excelled in sublimity of style.' Thus much with respect to words which may properly be said to be coined by the Poet. As to French and Italian expressions he has used very many he has likewise no inconsiderable number of words with a Latin sense and which our Grammarians and Lexicographers, instead of cavilling at, would do well to adopt, since the English language is comparatively weak,
But it will here be necessary to consider and I shall do it as concisely as possible-how far it may be permitted to bring conjecture in aid of the Editor, and for the purpose of clearing up obscurities which may be said to lie in the Poet's fancy, and which consequently can be effected in no other way. It has indeed been largely indulged in
by Warburton, and hence his excellence as a Critic and a Commentator: hence the very high estimation in which he must ever be held by those who are possessed of a kindred spirit. He was truly the character depicted by the Roman orator; Vir maxime limatus et subtilis, equally judicious and acute. But this Conjectural Criticism, of which I shall presently say more, certain of the Poet's Editors will not by any means admit: nor, from the manner in which, as before observed, they attempt to elucidate him-am I in the least surprised at the objection. They who have looked to verbal mistakes alone, will necessarily exclaim against a mode of interpretation which owes its superiority to strength of intellect: to an
For a defence of the Freedom of Versification, and in which Shakspeare, like his contemporary Dramatists, has largely indulged himself, the reader is referred to Warburton's excellent preface to the Poet's works. See also the annotations of that Editor (passim) with the remarks of Webbe and other distinguished critics of the latter age.
intimate acquaintance with the nature of man. clearly of the opinion of Johnson in the matter (though much more inclined, by the way, to such kind of criticism than himself,) who has remarked that, "there is no danger in conjecture, if proposed as conjecture." This, then, I have practised on every occasion, by confining my emendations entirely to the margin, where they may be suffered to remain, until some future Editor, (who, let it be remembered, must be neither a Theobald nor a Steevens) shall determine on the validity of their claims.
It must not be imagined from what has gone before, that I declare against the illustration of an author by producing parallel passages from the works of his contemporaries, or from those of a not very distant age: : I am sensible that this is frequently to be done, and with success, all I contend for is, that it must be practised by well considering the context: by an attention, as I have already remarked, not to the word alone, but to the thought: above all, however, I will maintain, and boldly, that without the "daring conjecture," as Johnson has termed it, Shakspeare would ever remain particularly obscure for as a similarity of talent is wanting, in the writers of his time, it is in vain to search among them for a similarity of sentiment or expression. I yet repeat, that on ordinary occasions, and where, (if it be permitted me so to talk) the Poet is nothing more than man,—such resemblance is often to be found: and if there be judgment to direct in the application, it will be well-the mode of explication may be adopted, I say, with success.
It is acknowledged, I believe, on all hands, that Johnson did little as a commentator on Shakspeare: that is to say, in giving clearness and consistency to the Poet's expression; while the charge of a want of morality in his writings, is much too hastily advanced. The critic ob
serves of him-" He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose." But it should be remembered, that if some things repugnant to our moral feelings be occasionally found in his pages, the Poet is no way deserving of reprehension on that account. It is not himself, but the character who speaks. It is true, indeed, that the stage should be a school of morality, and it is on this principle -whatever the formalist may think on the matter-that the vicious are presented to our view:-it is not to excite us to imitation, but abhorrence, that they are produced on the scene. --And who shall have the temerity to say, that the axiomatical sentences, the lessons in virtue which are scattered through the dramas of Shakspeare, are not such as must inevitably arrest the attention of the good, and tend to the reformation of the bad. But the censure of the critic is not confined to this point alone. He is equally severe when speaking of him in the exercise of his art.--" Whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity"-with much more to the like effect. Again we are told of one of his plays; "To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility," &c. &c. This is a language by no means allowable in speaking of Shakspeare ;-it is indeed far better suited to the meridian of Paris, than that of London. Beside, what are we to understand by unresisting imbecility?" The expression is vague and indeterminate it gives us nothing but an empty sound. But Johnson on other occasions is frequently more sono