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I must have the highest honor for Your Lordship, and cannot help profeffing myfelf without reserve, and with all poffible veneration,
Your LORDSHIP's ever obliged,
May 20, 1749.
and devoted Servant,
O publish new and correct editions of the works of approved authors has ever been esteemed a fervice 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 fame 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 fecond rank in the republic of letters. And if the pious and learned Bishop of Theffalonica has gained immortal honor by his notes upon Homer, it can be no difcredit to a graver Divine than myself to comment upon fuch a divine poem as the Paradife Lost, efpecially after fome great men, who have gone before me in this exercise, and whofe example is fanction fufficient.
My defign in the prefent edition is to publish the Paradife Loft, as the work of a claffic author cum notis variorum. And 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 confiderable 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 according to the old proverb,
Bene qui conjiciet vatem hunc perhibebo optimum, the best gueffer was the beft diviner, fo he may be faid in fome 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 paffages. But we who undertake to publish Milton's Paradife Loft are not reduced to that uncertainty; we are not left floting in the wide ocean of conjecture, but have a chart and compafs to fteer 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 fuppofed to be the errors of the prefs, or mistakes occafioned 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 fmall octavo, are propofed as our ftandard: the variations in each are noted; and we never deviate from them both without affigning, as we think, a fubftantial reafon for it. Some alterations indeed are neceffary to be made in confequence of the late improvements in printing, with regard to the use of capital letters, Italic characters, and the fpelling of fome words: but to Milton's own fpelling (for we muft diftinguish 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 obferve, because it is generally right; fuch was the care, that Milton himself took in having the prooffheets read to him, or his friends took for him: and changes of confequence we make none without fignifying the reafons; in leffer inftances there is no occafion to be particular. In a word we approve of the two first editions in the main, tho' we cannot think that they ought to be followed (as fome have advised) letter for letter, and point for point.
defire to transcribe all their excellences, but have no notion of perpetuating their faults and errors.
When the text was fettled, the notes came next under confideration. P. H. or Patrick Hume, as he was the firft, fo 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 fuperfluous, and there will ftill remain a great deal that is ufeful; there is gold among his drofs, and I have been careful to feparate the one from the other. It was recommended to me indeed to print intire Mr. Addifon's Spectators upon the Paradife Loft, as ingenious effays 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 thofe papers, which treat of the poem in general, are prefixed in the nature of a preliminary difcourfe; and those, which are written upon each book feparately, are inferted 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 honor by his new edition of the Paradife Loft. Nay fome have been fo far prejudiced as to think, that he could not be a good critic in any language, who had shown himself fo injudicious an one in his own mother-tongue. But prejudice apart, he was a very great man, of parts inferior to few, of learning fuperior to most men; and he has made fome very judicious and useful remarks upon the Paradife Loft, though
though in the general they may rather be called the dotages of Dr. Bentley. He was more fagacious in finding faults, than happy in mending them; and if he had confined himself only to the former, he might have had better fuccefs; but when he attempted the latter, and substituted verses of his own in the room of Milton's, he commonly made most miferable bungling work, being no poet himself, and having litile or no tafte of poetry. Dr. Pearce, the prefent Lord Bishop of Bangor, has distinguished his tafte and judgment in choofing always the best authors for the fubjects of his criticifm, as Cicero and Longinus among the Ancients, and Milton among the Moderns. His Review of the Text of the Paradise Loft is not only a most complete answer to Dr. Bentley, but may ferve as a pattern to all future critics, of found learning and just reasoning joined with the greatest candor and gentleness of manners. The whole is very well worthy of the perufal of every lover and admirer of Milton, but fuch parts only are ingraffed into this work as are more immediately proper for our design, and explain fome difficulty, or illuftrate fome beauty of our author. His Lordship together with my Lord Bath first engaged me in this undertaking, and he has kindly affifted me in it from the beginning to the end; and I cannot but entertain the better hopes of the public approbation, as these fheets, long before they went to the prefs, were perufed and corrected by his Lordship. Of Mr. Richardfon's notes it must be faid that there are ftrange inequalities in them, fome extravagances, and many excellences; there is often better fenfe than grammar or English; and