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ment, decide among the varying lections, and give that which appears to him to be the best. But in this he may form a wrong judgment. And thus it is that the labours of one editor give occasion to the labours of others, to shew that he has done so.
Or he may err in his corrections of passages decidedly corrupt. He may suspect corruption where none really exists. He may think he is repairing the tenement while he is in fact dilapidating it. He may spoil where he thinks to amend. He may take off the rose from the fair forehead, and set a blister there. No one who has attended closely to the progress of editorial labour on these writings, from the time of Rowe, who first undertook to revise the ancient text, can doubt that this has often been done. Indeed, unthinking people who have felt themselves offended by a misjudgment of a modern editor, have said, Give us the old editions. This is going too far; but the modern editors require to be themselves subjected to editorial revision, and thus again the editorial labour bestowed on these writings becomes multiplied.
But it is not enough to secure if we can a true text. There are passages where we have no sufficient reason to doubt that we have the words as the Poet, perhaps in his haste or his negligence, left them; but his meaning is not clearly evolved. The sense is obscure not to the many only, but to those who have long pondered on the passages, and have brought to the consideration of them no small share of the requisite accessories. Such passages require to be ex
plained. Hence another class of annotations. As they are by hypothesis obscure, so they will in all probability be differently interpreted by different commentators. When doctors disagree who shall decide? The only way appears to be to present the different views taken by different critics, if of reputation, and if these views are not, as may sometimes be the case, too weak and absurd to claim even the slightest regard. People may deride attempts to explain. They may say that they are attempts at elucidating what is clear as the day, or that passages are elucidated into obscurity, or they may smile at the oversight of some unfortunate critic. On the whole, however, no reasonable person will doubt that critical labour of this kind has been very usefully employed; but this goes largely to swell the amount of the annotation.
Shakespeare, writing for the multitude rather than for scholars, used the vernacular language. In this there were in his time many words and phrases which have become obsolete and their meaning uncertain. This gives occasion to editorial labour of another kind. These words and phrases demand, in order to be understood, that they shall be illustrated from the speech of certain classes of society in which they are still found, or from the writings of other persons, the poet's contemporaries, who have not disdained the use of them.
Shakespeare has many allusions to the persons and events of his own day, not so conspicuous and so easy to be apprehended that the allusion is evident to every one, nor are they to the great public events only, with which all may be supposed to be familiar. Indeed allusions of this kind are not frequent; they are rather to the minor events of the day and to the
persons of secondary note. They are sometimes also distant and obscure; as if he intended that they should be fully understood only by a few persons, at least not presented to the common understanding of the crowds who frequented his theatre. Many of these have been detected and illustrated. Some it is probable never will be discovered; and there will be some, where doubts, just and reasonable doubts, may be entertained, whether an allusion was indeed really intended. Yet the suggestions of a mind intimately acquainted with the men and minuter transactions of the Shakespeare period will not be thought valueless, even if they do not carry complete conviction with them; while, where the evidence is complete, such kind of annotation is among the most satisfactory and pleasing that can be presented to us. It illustrates not only the mode of thinking of this great writer, but also his personal history, to a certain extent, a subject on which we desire to know much more than it has been permitted to us to receive. Here then we have further reason for the extent of editorial labour which these writings require and have received.
Shakespeare has many allusions to customs, usages, and opinions that have long passed away. The memory however of many of them remains, and every reader supplies for himself the little knowledge which is requisite to understand the allusion, or the exact force, of the author's words. But there are others which are no longer traditionally remembered, nor easily collected from books. It is the duty of an editor to supply the information which the reader may be supposed to want. This also adds to the mass.
Few persons will say that any editorial labour of the classes
of which I have spoken, supposing it to be good in its kind, ought to be dispensed with, or can be dispensed with. It is presumed that when we set up Shakespeare as the great English Poet, we do not mean that he is an author to be read in mere idle moods, and that we mean to receive from him the amount of pleasure which, however read, he will give ; but that we would have the text as he gave it, and understand the full force of every expression used by him, and his full intent and meaning in it. One thing we may carry with us as a most certain truth, that the more perfectly he is understood the higher will be our admiration and delight. And this may lead us to extend our forgiveness if sometimes an Editor has seemed to intrude his information, and sought to make clear to us that which was already clear as the day. But there is another department of what is deemed editorial duty, which has led to a great increase of annotation, which many suppose of a less profitable kind.
It will at once be understood that I mean the Parallelisms. These are seldom essential to the right understanding of the Poet, and yet they are not entirely beside the legitimate purpose of the commentator's duty. Shakespeare delivers lessons of moral wisdom, often curious and profound; and it cannot but be at least a pleasant and satisfactory knowledge, that the same thoughts have presented themselves to other great minds in different ages of the world, and especially if the thoughts have found similar words in which to express themselves, there being no reason to suppose that there was any acquaintance in the English Poet with the works of some
great predecessor, or where in a later writer there has been no reason to suppose that the thought was suggested by him. He would be a very severe commentator on commentators who should object to all annotation of this kind; though, considering the extent to which it might run out, the editor would here be disposed to put a restraint upon himself. Oxford has given us a whole volume for instance of parallel thoughts and expressions between Shakespeare and Aristotle; and John Hales, who relieved the severities of his learned labours by the study of these writings, goes so far as to say that there was nothing delivered by the ancients which he could not find as well said by our own Shakespeare: the proof of this in detail might not seem to be irrelevant. But the disposition to this particular kind of illustration, of which we find so much in the commentators and editors, may easily be carried too far.
Not so, however, when we have reason to believe that the Poet had before him, whether in a book or in the stores of his memory, a passage of some great author which he has imitated or which has been suggestive to himself. Everything of this kind belongs to the history of the Poet's studies and genius, of which we can never know too much. Nor is the pleasure to be despised of observing how he has treated the observation of another; how, as would generally be found, in passing through his mind it has been refined or exalted.
Nor shall we say that it is beside the duty of an editor to shew wherein Shakespeare has himself been imitated. Here however it is evidently his duty to confine himself to authors