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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 bqokseller in Town, informing me, that a new edition of Shakespeare was just published by Mr. Warburton, who had taken occasion, some where or other in that work of his, to mention me with some fort 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 possible, 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 impraćticable schemes with which our nation abounds. But yet while I perceived critics fo numerous, (for who more or less does not criticize ?) and found every one appealing to a standard and a taft, 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 apprehensive for the fate of some of my most favourite English authors.
We bave few books in our language that merit a
But of this I have fully spoken, and methinks
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,
" Wby, Phaeton, for thou art Merop's son,
s. 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 sarcasm on his bad editor. But what fall we say of the judicious remark fabjained? 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 paljage, if it requires any, should be, “Wbyn “ Phaeton wilt thou, of low birth, and who “ vainly vaunteft libiyself to be the son of Pbæbus, aspire to guide, &c. “ Thou,
Tumidus genitoris imagine falfi.”
Mistakes of this kind I never pould have made matter for triumph. Some errors are owing to haft and carelesness, and others to the common infirmity of buman nature. But when I red on fartber, and found errors of all kinds, still increafing 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 high 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 be would reprint, if I thought proper, my obfervations on Shakespeare, with such additions and alterations, as I pould make.
But the reader is mistaken if be thinks that ei. ther in this preface, or in the following work the hundredth part of our critics errors are correzted. No: I have given the reader bis proper cue, and to persue it farther, leave it in his power. But where to begin, and when I. bave once begun how to leave off I know not : the faults are so many, and of so many sorts, 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 bear the pathetic invocation of King Lear at the sight of bis ungrateful daughter.