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WHEN I was lately in the country, and en
, tirely taken up with other kind of affairs, I received a letter from my honest bookseller in Town, informing me, that a new edition of Shakespeare was just published by Mr. Warburton, who had taken occahon, some where or other in that work of bis, to mention me with some sort of abuse for those Critical Observations I had sometime before written, as well to do justice to this our ancient dramatic poet, as to put some stop, if poffible, to the vague and licentious Spirit of criticism.
Perhaps all attempts, to reduce so irregular an art to any regular method, might deserve a place among the many impracticable schemes with which our nation abounds. But yet while I perceived critics Jo numerous, (for who more or less does not criticize ?) and found every one appealing to a standard and a tast, where could be the absurdity of enquiring, whether, or no, there really is in nature any foundation for the thing itself; or whether the whole does not depend on meer whim, caprice, or fashion ? Beside, I began to be apprehenfrue for the fate of some of my most favourite English authors.
IVe have few books in our language that merit a critical regard ; and when by chance any of these bave been taken out of the hands of meer correctors of printing presses, and esteemed worthy of some more learned commentator's care and revisal ; the commentator, by I know not what kind of fatality, bas forgot bis province, and the author himself has been arbitrarily altered, and reduced to such a fancied plan of perfeétion, as the corretor, within bimself, bas thought proper to establish.
But of this I have fully spoken and methinks what I have spoken deserves a serious notice. 'I was therefore à matter of surprize, at first, when I received my bookseller's kind information : but upon a second consideration, which, they say, is the best, my surprize entirely vanished : for, as it seems, this was the gentleman, who formerly alisted Mr. Theobald in bis edition of Shakespeare; and to write of Shakespeare without praising this coadjutor, was à crime unpardonable
. Hinc illæ lacrimæ. But if praise comes not fairly in my way, I will never go out of my way either to give it, or to gain it ; at least I will never prostitute it at the expence both of my judgment and learning.
While I was revolving in my mind such thoughts as these, down came the new edition of Shakespeare ; which as soon as I opened, the following pasage,
like the famous Virgilian lots, appeared full in my view,
" Why, Phaeton, for thou art Merop's son, “ Wilt thou aspire to guide the beavenly car, “And with thy daring folly burn the world ?”!
st. Wby, Phaeton, for thou art MEROP's son.]
Merop's son, i.e. A BASTARD, base-born." Mr. W.
The poet's words I thought a good farcasm on his bad editar. But what hall we say of the judicious remark fabjoined? I was told, formerly, that Merops and Clymene were busband and wife; and that if Phaeton was MEROP'S SON be was a legitimate off-Spring, and no BASTARD. Now the comment on this pasage, if it requires any, should be,“ W by “ Phaeton wilt thou, of low birth, and who
vainly vauntest tbyself to be the son of Phæbus, aspire to guide, &c. “ Thou,
- Tumidus genitoris imagine falfi.'
Mistakes of this kind I never fould bave made matter for triumph. Some errors are owing to haft and carelesness, and others to the common infirmity of human nature. But when I red on fartber, and found errors of all kinds, still increasing upon me,
such as even the most inveterate enemy would pity, did not an unusual infolence destroy every degree of it ; then I thought it bigh time, and but common justice to Shakespeare, to endeavour to check, if possible, the daring folly of such a Phaeton : and a fair opportunity now offered, for my bookseller told me he would reprint, if I thought proper, my obfervations on Shakespeare, with such additions and alterations, as I bould make.
But the reader is mistaken if he thinks that ei. ther in this preface, or in the following work the hindredth part of our critics errors are corrected. No: I have given the reader bis proper cue, and to persue it farther, leave it in his powerBut '
where to begin, and when I have once begun how to leave off I know not : the faults are so many, and of so many forts, that the variety binders all judgment of this kind. However if I can out of these furnish for my learned reader any entertainment, while at the same time I am doing but common justice to our poet, I shall not think my pains ill bestowed.-One observation, I now plainly perceive, will naturally lead on another, so that 'tis of no great importance where I begin, the difficulty will be where to end. Let us then hear the pathetic invocation of King Lear at the sight of bis ungrateful daughter.
66 O Heav'ns