« PreviousContinue »
Το publish new and correct editions of the works of
approved authors has ever been esteemed a service to learning, and an employment worthy of men of learning. It is not material whether the author is ancient or modern. Good criticism is the same in all languages. Nay I know not whether there is not greater merit in cultivating our own language than any other. And certainly next to a good writer, a good critic holds the second rank in the republic of letters. And if the pi ous and learned Bishop of Thessalonica has gained im→ mortal honour by his notes upon Homer, it can be no discredit to a graver Divine than myself to comment upon such a divine poem as the Paradise Lost, especi ally after some great men, who have gone before me in this exercise, and whose example is sanction sufficient.
My design in the present edition is to publish the Paradise Lost, as the work of a classic author cum notis variorum. In order to this end, the first care has been to print the text correctly according to Milton's own editions. And herein the editors of Milton have a considerable advantage over the editors of Shakespear. For the first editions of Shakespear's works being printed from the incorrect copies of the players, there is more
room left for conjectures and, emendations; and as ac cording to the old proverb,
Bene qui conjiciet vatem hunc perhibebo optimum,
the best guesser was the best diviner, so he may be said in some measure too to be the best editor of Shakespear, as Mr. Warburton hath proved himself by variety of conjectures, and many of them very happy ones, upon the most difficult passages. But we who undertake to publish Milton's Paradise Lost are not reduced to that uncertainty; we are not left floating in the wide ocean of conjecture, but have a chart and compass to steer by; we have an authentic copy to follow in the two editions printed in his own life-time, and have only to correct what may be supposed to be the errors of the press, or mistakes occasioned by the author's blindness. These two editions then, the first in ten books printed in a small quarto, and the second in twelve books printed in a small octavo, are proposed as our standard: the varia tions in each are noted; and we never deviate from them both without assigning, as we think, a substantial reason for it. Some alterations indeed are necessary to be made in consequence of the late improvements in printing, with regard to the use of capital letters, Italic characters, and the spelling of some words: but to Milton's own spelling (for we must distinguish between his and that of his times) we pay all proper regard, and commonly note where it is right, and where it is wrong; and follow it or not accordingly. His pointing too we generally observe, because it is generally right; such
was the care that Milton himself took in having the proof-sheets read to him, or his friends took for him: and changes of consequence we make none without sig nifying the reasons. In lesser instances there is no occa→ sion to be particular. In a word, we approve of the two first editions in the main, though we cannot think that they ought to be followed (as some have advised) letter for letter, and point for point. We desire to transcribe all their excellences, but have no notion of perpetuating their faults and errors.
When the text was settled, the notes came next under consideration. P. H or Patrick Hume, as he was the first, so he is the most copious annotator. He laid the foundation, but he laid it among infinite heaps of rubbish. The greater part of his work is a dull dictionary of the most common words, a tedious fardel of the most trivial observations, explaining what requires no explanation: but take away what is superfluous, and there will still remain a great deal that is useful; there is gold among his dross, and I have been careful to separate the one from the other.
It was recommended to me indeed to print entire Mr. Addison's Spectators upon the Paradise Lost, as ingenious essays which had contributed greatly to the reputation of the poem, and having been added to several editions they could not well be omitted in this edition : and accordingly those papers, which treat of the poem in general, are prefixed in the nature of a preliminary discourse; and those, which are written upon each book
separately, are inserted under each book, and interwoven in their proper places.
Dr. Bentley's is a great name in criticism, but he has not acquired any additional honour by his new edition of the Paradise Lost. Nay some have been so far prejudiced as to think, that he could not be a good critic in any language, who had shown himself so injudicious an one in his own mother-tongue. But prejudice apart, he was a very great man, of parts inferior to few, of learning superior to most men; and he has made some very judicious and useful remarks upon the Paradise Lost, though in the general they may rather be called the dotages of Dr. Bentley. He was more sagacious in finding faults, than happy in mending them; and if he had confined himself only to the former, he might have had better success; for when he attempted the latter, and substituted verses of his own in the room of Milton's, he commonly made most miserable bungling work, being no poet himself, and having little or no taste of poetry.. Dr. Pearce, Lord Bishop of Rochester, has distinguished his taste and judgment in choosing always the best authors for the subjects of his criticism, as Cicero and Longinus among the Ancients, and Milton among the Moderns, His Review of the Text of the Paradise Lost is not only a most complete answer to Dr. Bentley, but may serve as a pattern to all future critics, of sound. learning and just reasoning, joined with the greatest candour and gentleness of manners. The whole is very well worthy of the perusal of every lover and admirer of Milton; but such parts only are ingrafted into this
work as are more immediately proper for our design, and explain some difficulty, or illustrate some beauty of our author. His Lordship, together with my Lord Bath, first engaged me in this undertaking, and he has kindly assisted me in it from the beginning to the end; and I cannot but entertain the better hopes of the public approbation, as these sheets, long before they went to the press, were perused and corrected by his Lordship.
Of Mr. Richardson's notes it must be said that there are strange inequalities in them, some extravagances, many excellences; there is often better sense than grammar or English; and he sometimes hits the true meaning of the author surprisingly, and explains it pro perly. He had good natural parts but without erudition or learning, in which he was assisted by his son, who is a man of taste and literature, as well as of the greatest benevolence and good nature.
Mr. Warburton likewise has published some remarks upon the Paradise Lost, occasioned chiefly by Dr. Bentley's edition. They were printed some years ago in the History of the Works of the Learned, and he allowed me the free use of them: but upon looking into that work, to my regret I found that his remarks were continued no farther than the three first books, and what is become of his other papers, and how they were mislaid and lost, neither he nor I can apprehend; but the excellence of those which remain sufficiently evinces the great loss that we have sustained in the others, which cannot now be recovered. He has done me the honour