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HAT the publick is here to expect is a true and correct edition of Shakespear's works cleared from the corruptions with which they have hitherto abounded. One of the great admirers of this incomparable author hath made it the amufement of his leifure hours for many years paft to look over his writings with a careful eye, to note the obfcurities and abfurdities introduced into the text, and according to the best of his judgment to restore the genuine fenfe and purity of it. In this he propofed nothing to himself but his private fatisfaction in making his own copy as perfect as he could: but as the emendations multiplied upon his hands, other gentlemen equally fond of the author defired to fee them, and fome were fo kind as to give their affiftance by communicating their obfervations and conjectures upon difficult paffages which had occurred to them. Thus by degrees the work growing more confiderable than was at first expected, they who had the opportunity of looking into it, too partial perhaps in their judgment, thought it worth being made publick; and he, who hath with difficulty yielded to their perfuafions, is far from defiring to reflect upon the late editors for the omissions and defects which they left to be fupplied by others who should follow them in the fame province. On the contrary, he thinks the world much obliged to them for the progress they made in weeding out fo great a number of blunders and mistakes as they have done, and probably be who bath carried on the work might never have thought of fuch an undertaking if he had not found a confiderable part so done to his hands.
From what caufes it proceeded that the works of this author in the first publication of them were more injured and abused than perhaps any that ever pass'd the press, hath been fufficiently explained in the preface to Mr. Pope's edition which is here fubjoined, and there needs no more to be faid upon that fubject. This only the reader is defired to bear in mind, that as the corruptions are more numerous and of a groffer kind than can well be conceived but by those who have looked nearly into them; fo in the correcting them this rule hath been most strictly observed, not to give a loofe to fancy, or indulge a licentious Spirit of criticism, as if it were fit for any one to prefume to judge what Shakespear ought to have written, inftead of endeavouring to discover truly and retrieve what he did write: and fo great caution hath been used in this respect, that no alterations have been made but what the fenfe neceffarily required, what the measure of the verse often helped to point out, and what the fimilitude of words in the falfe reading and in the true, generally Speaking, appeared very well to juflify.
Most of those passages are here thrown to the bottom of the page and rejected as spurious, which were ftigmatized as fuch in Mr. Pope's edition; and it were to be wished that more had then undergone the fame fentence. The promoter of the prefent edition bath ventured to difcard but few more upon his own judgment, the most confiderable of which is that wretched piece of ribaldry in King Henry V. put into the mouths of the French princess and an old gentlewoman, improper enough as it is all in French and not intelligible to an English audience, and yet that perhaps is the best thing that can be faid of it. There can be no doubt but à great deal more of that low stuff which difgraces the works of this great author, was foifted in by the players after his death, to pleafe the vulgar audiences by which they fubfifted: and though Some of the poor witticisms and conceits must be fuppofed to have
fallen from his pen, yet as he hath put them generally into the mouths of low and ignorant people, jo it is to be remember'd that he wrote for the ftage, rude and unpolished as it then was; and the vicious taste of the age must ftand condemned for them, fince be hath left upon record a fignal proof how much he defpifed them. In his play of The Merchant of Venice a clown is introduced quibbling in a miferable manner, upon which one who bears the character of a man of fenfe makes the following reflecton: How every fool can play upon a word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into filence, and difcourfe grow commendable in none but parrots. He could hardly have found fironger words to express his indignation at thofe falfe pretences to wit then in vogue; and therefore though fuch trafb is frequently interspersed in his writings, it would be unjust to caft it as an imputation upon his taste and judgment and character as a Writer.
There being many words in Shakespear which are grown out of uife and obfolete, and many borrowed from other languages which are not enough naturalized or known among us, a gloffary is added at the end of the work, for the explanation of all thofe terms which bave hitherto been so many ftumbling-blocks to the generality of readers; and where there is any obfcurity in the text not arifing from the words but from a reference to fome antiquated cuftoms now forgotten, or other caufes of that kind, a note is put at the bottom of the page to clear up the difficulty.
With thefe feveral helps if that rich vein of fenfe which runs. through the works of this author can be retrieved in every part and brought to appear in its true light, and if it may be hoped without presumption that this is here effected; they who love and admire him will receive a new pleasure, and all probably will be more ready to join in doing him juftice, who does great honour to his country as a rare and perhaps a fingular genius: one who hath attained an high degree of perfection in those two great branches of poetry, Tragedy
and Comedy, different as they are in their natures from each other; and who may be faid without partiality to have equalled, if not excelled, in both kinds, the beft writers of any age or country who have thought it glory enough to diftinguish themselves in either.
Since therefore other nations have taken care to dignify the works of their most celebrated poets with the fairest impreffions beautified with the ornaments of sculpture, well may our Shakespear be thought to deferve no less confideration: and as a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his ftatue at a publick expence; fo it is defired that this new edition of his works, which hath coft fome attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monument defigned and dedicated to his honour.