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P R E F A CE,
HEN I was lately in the country, and en
tirely taken up with other kind of affairs, I received a letter from my bonest bookseller in Town, informing me, that a new edition of Shakespeare was just published by Mr. Warburton, who bad taker occasion, some where or other in that work of bis, to mention me with some sort of abuse for those Critical Observations I bad sometime before written, as well to do justice to this our ancient dramatic poet, as to put some stop, if possible, to ibe 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 so numerous, (for who more or less does not criticize ?) and found every one appealing to a standard and a tajt, where could be tbe absurdity of enquiring, whether, or no, there really is in nature any foundation for the thing itself ; or wbetber the whole does not depend on meer whim, caprice, or fashion ? Befide, I began to be apprebensrve for the fate of some of my most favourite English authors. We have few books in our language that merit a critical regard ; and when by chance any of these have 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 bimself bas been arbitrarily altered, and reduced to fuch a fancied. plan of perfection, as the corre&tor, within bimfelf, has thought proper to establish.
But of this I have fully spoken ; and methinks what I have spoken deserves a serious notice. 'Twas therefore a matter of surprize, at first, when I received my bookseller's kind information : but upon a second confideration, which, they say, is the best, my surprize entirely vanished : for, as it seems, this was the gentleman, who formerly assisted Mr. Theobald in his edition of Sbakespeare ; and to write of Shakespeare without praising this coadjutor, was a 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 tbe expence both of my judgment and learning.
While I was revolving in my mind such thoughts as tbefe, 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,
6. Wby, Phaeton, for thou art Merop's fon, “ Wilt thou aspire to guide tbe beavenly car, “ And with thy daring folly burn the world ?")
« Wby, Phaeton, for thou art Merop's son.]
Merop's fon, i, e. A BASTARD, base-born." Mr.W.
The poet's words I thought a good farcasm on bis bad editor. But what shall we say of the judicious remark subjoined ? 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, “ Wby « Phaeton wilt thou, of low birth, and who
vainly vauntest thyself to be the son of Phæbus, “ aspire to guide, &c. “ THOU,
Tumidus genitoris imagine falfi.”
Mistakes of this kind I never pould bave made matter for triumph. Some errors are owing to bajt and carelesness, and others to the common infirmity of buman nature. But when I red on farther, and found errors of all kinds, fill increafing upon me,
such as even the most inveterate enemy would pity, did not an unusual insolence destroy every degree of it; then I thought it bigb time, and but common justice to Shakespeare, to endeavour to check, if posible, 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 fuch additions and alterations, as I bould make.
But the reader is mistaken if he thinks that either in this preface, or in the following work the hundredib part of our critics errors are correEted. 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 of 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 fall 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 bear the pathetic invocation of King Lear at the sight of bis ungrateful daughter.
• O Heav'ns