Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
THE TEXT of Dryden’s poems as printed in England, whether in his own time or after his death, has never been in a satisfactory state. There is no edition wholly free from errors, and most editions contain many gross blunders. Only one of the editors has really collated the original editions, and even he seems not always to have compared Dryden’s translations with the original works.  1
  Badly as Dryden’s editors have served him, the author himself is not wholly blameless. It was his misfortune that he could not always see his works through the press. Thus he was in Wiltshire while Annus Mirabilis was printing, and before his return the book had come out and some copies had been sold. The list of errata, for which he found room on a fly-leaf, was so hurriedly made that itself is full of false references. But errors were more often due to Dryden’s fault than to his misfortune. That he could be careful in correcting the press he showed in the case of the Epistle to John Driden, a work for which he had a special affection, as the child of his old age and the encomium of his ancient race. But the last of his publications, the very volume which contains this epistle, has, in other poems, some glaring errors of the press. Some of these, and others in other works, were silently corrected in subsequent editions. It needed no Bentley to detect the husband of Eurydice in a line which Dryden allowed to appear in this form:
        Had Orphans sung it in the neather Sphere.
But there are cases in which the true reading may reasonably be a matter of doubt. Thus in Eleonora the original text gives:
        And some descending Courtier from above
Had giv’n her timely warning to remove.
The word ‘Courtier’, or, as Dryden would have said, the word of ‘Courtier’, was changed by Broughton into ‘Courier’, and Todd denounced the original reading as ‘a laughable error of the press’. The original reading is defended by Christie and Dr. Saintsbury, and there is something to be said on either side. In Palamon and Arcite a line in the original appeared as
        Rich Tap’stry spread the Streets and Flowers the Pots adorn.
The earlier editors changed ’Pots’ into ’Posts’, and, although Dr. Saintsbury prefers the original reading, the passage cited in my note seems to show that they were right.
  Many of the poems were republished soon after Dryden’s death, some in a collection and some in volumes of Miscellanies. Jacob Tonson, who had succeeded Herringman as Dryden’s publisher, was also the publisher of these early posthumous editions. Whom he employed to see the books through the press does not appear. The work was not well done, and some of the corruptions which were then allowed to defile the text have appeared in every later edition. The first editor with a name was Thomas Broughton, who published two incomplete collections, one in 1741, the other in 1743. Broughton introduced new errors, and some of these have held their ground in the published texts. In 1760 four volumes of the poems appeared under the editorship of Samuel Derrick. Derrick, who in his poetical character is the louse of Johnson’s famous epigram, as an editor is styled by Dr. Saintsbury ‘the accursed’. What right Dr. Saintsbury had to throw this stone will appear hereafter. That Derrick deserved it is unhappily true. In his edition the game of corruption went merrily on. Not satisfied with accidental errors, Derrick took upon himself to alter Dryden’s text, and always altered it for the worse. From his volumes other editions were printed, and in spite of the boasts of later editors, some of his abominations are still printed as the genuine work of Dryden.  3
  In 1808 appeared Walter Scott’s complete edition of the works of Dryden. It was unfortunate that the great poet and man of letters hardly suspected the existence of corruption in the text. It is astonishing that he should have passed many passages which on the face of them did not make sense. Nor was there much improvement in the Wartons’ edition of 1811. To one of the poems in it were appended some notes by Todd, a textual critic of some capacity, who corrected a few, but only a few, of Derrick’s mistakes. Mitford’s Aldine edition of 1832 is bad, and was hardly made better by Mr. Richard Hooper, who claims to have revised it in 1866 and again in 1891. Mr. Richard Bell’s edition, which appeared in 1854, was quite in Derrick’s manner, and added many fresh errors to a corrupt text. And so the melancholy tale goes on.  4
  The first, and, down to the present century, the only serious attempt to present a correct text was made by William Dougal Christie. His edition, which does not contain the translations from Greek and Latin poets, appeared in 1870. Christie had zeal and industry, and was a man of undoubted ability. He was at the pains to consult and in some cases to collate the original editions. That his collation was not as complete or as accurate as he implies is evident from the errors which he allowed to stand in his text. In fact, some evil spirit seems to have dogged the steps of Dryden’s editors, and may well raise apprehension in one who ventures to add himself to their number. Some of the blunders in Christie’s text are so absurd, so ruinous to sense, that it is hard to see how he passed them even without a collation, and inconceivable that he could have left them if once a collation had called his attention to them. As an editor he had two faults: he was not sure in judgement, and he seems to have had no ear. When Dryden wrote
        If they, through Sickness, seldom did appear,
Pity the Virgins of each Theatre!
Christie remarks that ‘Theatre’ was pronounced with the a long. When Dryden wrote
        An Universal Metempsuchosis,
Christie gives a stress both to the penultimate and to the antepenultimate of the last word in the line. From a line in The Wife of Bath’s Tale,
        But, not to hold our Proffer in Scorn,
a syllable has undoubtedly dropt out. Christie filled the gap with a word which gives no sense. This lack of judgement sometimes makes it doubtful whether he carelessly followed an error of his predecessors, or actually misunderstood his text. An example may be found in the line from Cymon and Iphigenia which is cited below. Christie’s want of ear, very manifest in his notes, made him overlook some errors which would certainly have roused Dryden’s indignation.
  Scott’s edition was republished in 1883 and the following years as revised and corrected by Dr. George Saintsbury. However well Dr. Saintsbury may have deserved of Dryden in other respects, it must be regretfully declared that his work on the text was worse than useless. It is true that in some of the poems his text is a great improvement on Scott’s, but the improvement is due, not to Dr. Saintsbury, but to Christie. Dr. Saintsbury acknowledges to some extent his obligation to his predecessor, but he claims to have made a collation of the original editions. It is unfortunate that he should have used a phrase which well might be, and actually has been, misunderstood. He has been taken to mean that he had throughout collated his text with the original editions. This was not the case. It must be clear to one who really has made the collation that Dr. Saintsbury cannot have meant more than that he had verified the corrections which Christie mentioned in his notes. It follows that, where Scott and Christie agree in an error, that error, however monstrous and palpable, is usually reproduced by Dr. Saintsbury. A few instances will suffice. In Stanza 23 of Annus Mirabilis, Dryden wrote and printed:
        So reverently Men quit the open air,
When Thunder speaks the angry Gods abroad.
This remained the text in both the editions published in Dryden’s lifetime. After his death the first word of the second line was corrupted into ‘Where’, much to the detriment of the text, and ‘Where’ it remained for two hundred years. It is ‘Where’ in Christie’s text, and consequently it is ‘Where’ in Dr. Saintsbury’s. The error was the more unpardonable that Dryden was proud enough of his simile to reproduce it in his contemporary play of The Maiden Queen:
          As, when it thunders,
Men reverently quit the open air
Because the angry gods are then abroad.
Here Dr. Saintsbury prints his text correctly with no corruption of ‘then’ into ‘there’. The same poem presents us with an error infinitely worse. In Stanza 224, Dryden, after picturing the ghosts of traitors as descending from London Bridge and dancing round the Fire of London, goes on thus:
        Our Guardian Angel saw them where he sate
Above the Palace of our slumbring King.
In the Miscellany Poems, published after Dryden’s death, ‘he’ was turned into ‘they’, and this piece of egregious nonsense figures in all subsequent English editions, even in Christie’s and consequently in Dr. Saintsbury’s. It appears even where special care should have been taken to secure sense, in Mr. Humphry Ward’s English Poets. The editors did not stay to ask themselves why the ghosts should have mounted to the roof of Whitehall, how they could dance in a place so unfit for the exercise, or by what supernatural duplicity they could at the same moment sit on the ridge of the Palace and dance round the Fire.
  Another curious error may be quoted from Cymon and Iphigenia. The poet, in describing the effect of Love upon one whom he calls a ‘Man-Beast’, a human being
        Above, but just above, the Brutal kind,
declares that
        Love made an active Progress through his Mind,
The dusky Parts he clear’d, the gross refin’d,
The drowsy wak’d; and as he went impress’d
The Maker’s Image on the human Beast.
So the lines appear in the first and only contemporary edition. The last word was afterwards corrupted into ‘Breast’. This piece of nonsense with its absurd suggestion of tattooing is printed in Christie’s text and consequently in Dr. Saintsbury’s.
  Since Christie did not print Dryden’s translations from the ancient poets, Dr. Saintsbury had here no help from his predecessors. He does indeed remark that liberties have been taken with the text and implies that he has taken pains ‘to note them singly’. That he has done so I cannot perceive except in one instance, and even there he leaves the error in his text. Of the errors which he has not corrected some are very unfortunate. Thus Ovid has a passage which Dryden correctly rendered:
        Nor cou’d thy Form, O Cyllarus, foreslow
Thy Fate; (if Form to Monsters Men allow.)
The regret that qualities, mental or physical, do not save one from death is a commonplace of ancient poetry. Yet here the editors unanimously change ‘foreslow’ into ‘foreshow’. What sense the lines might then have would certainly not have been known to Dryden or to Ovid. In one of the versions from Lucretius there is a line which points the contrast between the brief life of Homer and the eternity of his Iliad. As Dryden wrote and printed it, the line ran:
        Th’ immortal Work remains, the mortal author’s gone.
Will it be believed that the English editors print ‘immortal’ instead of ‘mortal’?
  Since the English editors have ignored Dryden’s own texts, it can hardly be expected that they should have consulted the originals of his translations. Nor have they. They have so changed the text as to display their ignorance both of their poet and of his authorities. Dryden translated the Twenty-ninth Ode of the Third Book of Horace, and prefixt to it the correct title. His English editors, one and all, change ‘third’ into ‘first’. One only remarks that ‘first’ ought to be third, and even he leaves the error in his text because he supposed it was Dryden’s.  9
  When Juvenal wrote
        veniet cum signatoribus auspex,
and Dryden wrote and printed
        The Publick Notaries and Auspex wait,
the English editors print ‘Haruspex’, an emendation which makes the scansion harsh in Dryden and impossible in Juvenal. They seem to have desired to display their learning, since at a Roman marriage in Juvenal’s time the augur did not use birds for divination. But their learning goes astray, for, as often happens, the old name outlived the change.
  Occasionally Dr. Saintsbury following Scott, who himself followed a bad text, has printed a reading other than Christie’s. His variations are sometimes for the worse. Thus in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, when Monmouth suggests that Shaftesbury’s motives are self-interested, the Earl replies in effect that, if this be so, there is all the more reason why Monmouth should trust him, since his interest lies all in Monmouth’s advancement.
                    Royal Youth, fix here,
Let Int’rest be the Star by which I Steer.
Hence to repose your Trust in Me was wise,
Whose Int’rest most in your Advancement lies.
The lines may be Tate’s but were at least passed by Dryden. Here it is plain that ‘let’ is used in the sense of ‘assume’. An edition published after the deaths of both authors changed ‘I’ into ‘you’, taking ‘let’ in a hortative sense. This illogical reading is deliberately preferred by Dr. Saintsbury.
  In some forms used by Dryden his editors have made changes without system and without justification. He uses according to the sense and the sound either ‘them’ or ‘’em’. The latter has sometimes been allowed to stand, and has sometimes been altered. It may be that Dryden was not always careful in his use, but there are clear cases where his choice was deliberate. He was doubtless not aware that the two words are etymologically different, but his choice must be respected. A line in the Epistle to John Driden is thus printed by most editors:
        Who, while thou shar’st their lustre, lend’st them thine.
This is not what Dryden wrote, nor could he have been guilty of such a cacophony. Again, he chose to write ‘ev’n’, but Mr. Hooper invariably prints ‘e’en’.
  These restorations of the text are such as Dryden’s editors might with reasonable industry have succeeded in making. There is, however, one problem of which they never suspected the existence. My friend, Mr. Henry B. Wheatley, discovered that what profess to be copies of the first edition of Absalom and Achitophel differ from one another. His discovery led me to the solution of a point which had much puzzled me. In Stanza 105 of Annus Mirabilis, the copy of the first edition which I first collated gave a text which has escaped the notice of all editors. An examination of other copies showed me why, for these copies did not give it. Moreover, these copies had a list of errata which the other had not. What must have happened is this. When Dryden came back from Wiltshire after the publication of the poem, he saw for himself, or was told by others, that his lines would give great offence and might even be accused of blasphemy. In those copies which had not been sold he was at the charge of cancelling a sheet in order to give an inoffensive version of the lines. Observing that there was a blank page at the end of the Preface, he printed on it a list of such errors as ‘by mistaken words have corrupted’ the text. Something of the same kind must have happened in the case of other poems, but it is obviously impossible to collate all existing copies.  13
  After the copy of the present text, together with the first draft of this Introduction, was in the hands of the press, there appeared at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first scholarly edition of the poems. The editor, Dr. George Noyes, has made a complete collation of the original texts, and has removed by far the larger number of the defacing errors. Most of the cases in which he has overlooked an error are of small importance, as when in the line
        What is’t to thee if he neglect thy Urn?
he prints ‘neglects’ for ‘neglect’, or when in the line
        The Fiend, thy Sire, has sent thee from below,
he prints ‘hath’ for ‘has’. There are, however, cases in which he has followed our predecessors in altering the original text without, as it seems to me, just cause. It may be that this deviation has not been intentional. Thus, when Dryden printed
        Not all the Wealth of Eastern Kings, said she,
Have Pow’r to part my plighted Love and me:
the Cambridge editor prints ‘Has’ for ‘Have’. Here the assumption of a misprint seems highly improbable. The irregular construction, called by Dr. Abbott ‘the confusion of proximity’, is common and natural. It is paralleled by the taunt thrown at Antony by Cassius in Shakespeare’s play:
        The posture of your blows are yet unknown.
Another case in which a misprint has been unduly assumed occurs in Baucis and Philemon:
        Heav’ns Pow’r is infinite: Earth, Air, and Sea,
The Manufacture Mass, the making Pow’r obey.
The change of ‘Manufacture’ into ‘Manufactur’d’ may seem plausible, but before it can be accepted there must be some evidence that the verb or participle was used precisely in this sense. The New English Dictionary supplies no such evidence. The verb was new in Dryden’s time, but the noun had been in use for some time, and sometimes had the sense, now obsolete, of handicraft. Its attributive use in the present passage may be harsh, but it can be justified by analogy, and in all probability the original text is right.
  Again, there are instances in the Translations where a reference to the translated work shows that the editor’s silent alterations of the original text are mistaken. Thus when Dryden printed
        More grateful to the sight than goodly Planes,
a reference to Ovid’s ‘platano conspectior alta’ shows that the alteration of ‘Planes’ into ‘plains’ is a clear error. Nor is it easy to see what sense the Cambridge editor attaches to a passage in Persius when in Dryden’s
        There boast thy Horse’s Trappings, and thy own:
he substitutes ‘Their’ for ‘There’. This line is, as it happens, given correctly in most of the English editions.
  In the matter of spelling the Cambridge editor has occasionally introduced forms for which I find no warrant in the original texts. Thus he prints ‘color’d’ where the original gives ‘colour’d’. Moreover, he seems to have made insufficient allowance for Dryden’s love of his own Northamptonshire speech. In some cases his alterations obscure the rhyme. Thus when Dryden printed
        A Tuft of Daisies on a flow’ry Lay
They saw, and thitherward they bent their way:
there can be no justification for changing ‘Lay’ into ‘lea’, though it is only natives who know that the word is still ‘lay’, not ‘lea’, in Dryden’s own village. Again, such a form as ‘smoother’d’ should not be ejected in favour of ‘smother’d’. Yet again it is not easy to see why such phonetic forms as ‘pact’ and ‘tane’ should give way to ‘pack’d’ and ‘ta’en’, the latter a bad representative of a monosyllable. I should add that on the other hand in finally revising the text, I have seen reason to abandon some original readings which I once thought capable of defence, and that I have occasionally corrected an error which I had at first overlooked.
  The matter of spelling opens a difficult question. It must be admitted that Dryden was neither careful nor consistent. We cannot always tell whether the spelling was his own or his printer’s. We may fairly ascribe to him certain letters which indicate a pronunciation. Usually he wrote ‘salvage’ rather than ‘savage’, with a sound in the first syllable such as we give to ‘calves’. It is not likely that here he was under Italian influence, for this would imply a theory, and of theory he was clearly guiltless. He wrote ‘agen’ when he wished to pronounce the word as we do, but, if he desired the diphthong, as poets sometimes do, he wrote ‘again’. Christie regarded some of Dryden’s spellings as repulsive, for instance, ‘eugh’ for ‘yew’ and ‘ghess’ for ‘guess’, though the form ‘ghess’ is more phonetic than our own. Dr. Saintsbury modernizes the spelling unless there be strong reason to the contrary, and sometimes when there is. Thus on the line
        The Theatres are Berries for the Fair
he complains that Scott has obscured the sense for modern readers by printing ‘berries’, which is Dryden’s word, and himself prints ‘burrows’. This is worse than obscuring the sense, it is corrupting it. The word ‘berry’ does not mean a burrow, but a collection of burrows or warren. It still has that sense in Dryden’s own county, and in this place is a much more appropriate word. This, at any rate, is not one of those modernizings of which, according to Dr. Saintsbury, Dryden would have approved. That he would have approved of some cannot in face of the Preface to the Fables lightly be denied. Still, it must be remembered that a pious adherence to Dryden’s wishes is not always possible. It would, in face of the same Preface, have prevented Dr. Saintsbury from republishing some of the Plays. The reader is entitled to know what Dryden passed in the press. Moreover, with a simplified spelling, some of his forms may return into use. Some of them are more rational and phonetic than our own. We write ‘her sex’s arts’, thus pretending to have dropt a vowel which we in fact pronounce. Dryden’s ‘her Sexes Arts’ is better, but he does not always observe this use. Nor does he always keep such better spellings as ‘woolf’, ‘mold’, ‘sute’, ‘scepter’, ‘sheckle’. His ‘indew’d’ is nearer to speech than our ‘endued’. It is true that some of his spellings leave the sense ambiguous, but here editors have not always improved matters by making a choice. Thus Dryden printed
        ’Old as I am, for Ladies Love unfit.
Here Warton printed ‘Ladies’’ and Christie ‘Lady’s’. Since Dryden undoubtedly had in mind a line of Horace, it is certain that here Christie is wrong, but there are cases where there well may be a doubt. Again, Dryden sometimes uses the apostrophe not only in the genitive singular but also, where it is etymologically no less correct, in the nominative plural. He writes it especially in words that end in ‘a’, whether English or foreign. Thus we have ‘Sea’s’, ‘Epocha’s’, and ‘Idea’s’, all as nominatives. There seems no valid reason for altering these forms. There is certainly none where the changed spelling obscures a rhyme or a scansion. In the Epilogue to Tyrannick Love, the editors make Dryden rhyme ‘slattern’ with ‘Catherine’, though he printed neither of these words in this form. In this edition no spelling has been altered except in the case of undoubted misprints, nor then without a note.
  Most editors have taken on themselves to correct Dryden’s Greek, changing for instance his [Greek] into [Greek]. But with this form the line will not, as we pronounce Greek, scan as Dryden scanned it, The truth is that Dryden’s master, the great Busby, mistook, like some good people of our own times, the mark of accent for a mark of stress. Like a modern Greek, and unlike an ancient Greek, he made no difference in pronunciation between [Greek] and [Greek]. In proper names Dryden is not consistent in his use, falling sometimes under the influence of Latin. On the line
        But Iphigenia is the Ladies care
Dr. Saintsbury has a note to express his hope that Dryden did not scan the name as Iphigena, and adds that ‘it is not impossible’. Clearly the implication is that Dryden was guilty of a false quantity. That he did so scan the name is not only possible but certain, but his fault was no mistake of the quantity, but adherence to a mistaken theory. It is characteristic of the want of thought displayed by Dryden’s editors that they should either never have noticed that he said Cleomnes and Hippodama, or else not have asked themselves why he did so. And so the poor poet has to answer for his editors’ errors as well as for his own. Thus he wrote and printed:
        Aëtions Heir, who on the Woody Plain
Of Hippoplacus did in Thebe reign,
but Dr. Saintsbury takes on himself to print ‘Ætion’s’, saying in a note that ‘Aetion’s’ would be a better form, but that Dryden probably meant to write ‘Ætion’s’. But, if Dryden meant what is wrong, why was he at the pains to print what is right? Why should a false diphthong be foisted on him, when he took trouble to print the mark of diaeresis? It is true that Dryden’s Greek was not unexceptionable. His ‘Hippoplacus’ involves no less than three errors. His editors by printing ‘Hypoplacus’ get rid of one, and seem to show that they have not noticed the other two. One cannot blame an editor who changes Dryden’s ‘Caledonian’ into ‘Calydonian’, but if in an incorrect text of Ovid Dryden found ‘Alyxothoe’, there seems no reason for printing the correct form. Dryden wrote, as he had a right to do, ‘Perithous,’ a form of as sound Latin as the ‘Pirithous’, upon which his editors insist. On his faults in this kind his editors have been severe, but, as they have failed to perceive some of them, they have turned their barbs against themselves. When Dryden erred not from the acceptance of a wrong theory, nor, if that be an error, from the desire to put his Greek names into an English dress, but from sheer ignorance, his editors for the same reason have failed to correct him. There is an ugly and glaring example in his quotation of the first line of the Iliad. He wrote [Greek], and [Greek] it is in all the editions. He would not mind much if his errors were pointed out to him, but he would rather his editors corrected him when he was wrong than when he was not.
  Again, most editors have robbed Dryden of his italics. His employment of them, apart from the habitual use in proper names, is not perhaps always happy, but the reader should be allowed to know what he printed. His italics are used sometimes for emphasis, sometimes to show, as in the case of Omen and Parterre, that a word was not fully naturalized. There is an interesting and exceptional case in Palamon and Arcite, where he wrote
        A Virgin-Widow and a Mourning Bride.
The English editors print without capitals or italics. It might be thought that they had never heard of Congreve. At any rate, they deprive the dramatist of the compliment which Dryden meant to pay him. It may be that as literature the line is better without the allusion, but, as Dr. Saintsbury, better in his theory than in his practice, once remarks, we are entitled ’to read what Dryden wrote and not what some forgotten pedant thought that Dryden should have written’. Of Dryden’s poems some few of those which were prefixed to plays or other works were printed in italics. In this case the italicized words, if we may so call them, were printed in the roman type.
  Again, Dryden is entitled to his marks of elision. Dr. Saintsbury drops them on the ground that they are ‘a conventional form, now disused, of indicating what Dryden calls “synalaepha”, and not affecting the actual scansion’. But it is pretty clear that, unlike Milton, and probably unlike the ancient Greeks, Dryden actually did in speech drop the elided vowel. Dr. Saintsbury holds that ‘slurring, not elision, is proper to English’. That may be so, but, if so, Dryden did what is not proper to English, and the reader is entitled to know what Dryden wrote, and not what Dr. Saintsbury thinks that ‘Dryden should have written’.  20
  In the matter of punctuation Dryden was often very careless, though it is clear that he was by no means indifferent. Of the first edition of Annus Mirabilis, he complains that false stops ‘confounded the sense’. Of another poem he complained that the printer had served him ill, and to the printer he seems often to have left his punctuation, the more that he was often pressed for time in correcting the press. To find his principles of punctuation we must take some work to which he gave special care. Such a work is the Epistle to John Driden, of which he was greatly but not unduly proud. A comparison of the text below, with other editions, or with modern usage, will show what Dryden meant his stops to convey. If no poet in the highest sense of the word, he was at least a surpassing rhetorician, and his stops are a guide to reading aloud. They may not mark the logical divisions of a sentence, but they do indicate the places where a skilful reader would choose to pause. Thus in the third line Christie prints:
        Who, studying peace and shunning civil rage,
whereas Dryden printed:
        Who studying Peace, and shunning Civil Rage,
where the comma, if not logical, is the reader’s guide. Again, where Christie gives
        Even then industrious of the common good;
Dryden has
        Ev’n then, industrious of the Common Good;
where the comma marks an emphasis and a consequent pause. Where there is evidence of careless proof-reading the stops in this edition have been altered, but not without a note.
  In any case Dryden’s English editors are the last people who can quarrel with the punctuation in this volume. Again and again they have so altered Dryden’s stops as to deprive his lines of all sense. The opening lines of the Prologue to Tyrannick Love present us with an admirable contrast, and were printed by Dryden almost as we should print them to-day. The sole difference is the use of two parenthesis marks for two commas. As the editors print them they appear thus:
        Self-love, which, never rightly understood,
Makes poets still conclude their plays are good,
And malice in all critics reigns so high,
That for small errors they the whole decry.
In this form the lines have neither construction nor sense. ‘Self-love’ is a subject without a verb, and ‘understood’ is a participle without a meaning. Mr. Hooper and Dr. Saintsbury, even Christie no less, have not seen that ‘understood’ is a verb. ‘The printer’, said Dryden on one occasion, ‘is a beast’. To what would he have compared the editor? The printer, poor soul, had Dryden’s handwriting to wrestle with, yet in this and in many other instances the printer was right until the editor came with his ineradicable predilection for absolute nonsense.
  The English editors of Dryden, except Christie, who did not cover the whole ground, even of the poems, have always begun at the wrong end. Eager to annotate and criticize their author, they have been at no pains to ascertain what their author wrote. It follows that some of their efforts have been sadly beside the mark. Thus Scott wrote and Dr. Saintsbury repeated a note on a line in one of the translations from Horace, which, being based upon a false reading, is absolutely mistaken. Again, in one of the versions from Ovid, Scott, by accidentally omitting a line, has given cause to some amusing or exasperating futility. Dr. Saintsbury, instead of referring to the original text, assumes that Scott’s was right, and finding a line with none to rhyme with it resorts to misplaced and impossible conjectures. He even complains that Dryden’s version is so free that the original gives no help. This is not the fact, nor near the fact. Ovid’s lines are
        Et secum tenui suspirans murmura dicat,
  Ut puto, non poteras ipsa referre vicem.
Tum de te narret, tum persuadentia verba
  Addat, et insano iuret amore mori.
In Dr. Saintsbury’s text this is represented by
        And sighing make his mistress understand
She has the means of vengeance in her hand;
And swear thou languishest and diest for her.
It needs little scholarship to see that the English, which is at least as close as is usual in Dryden’s version, has no representative of the third line in the Latin. The two phrases of that line are well represented by the line which Dr. Saintsbury omits,
        Then naming thee thy humble suit prefer.
It would be hard to name a more serious fault in a textual critic than that which Dr. Saintsbury has here committed.
  Another case where a misprint has led to misplaced annotation and false emendations occurs in Mac Flecknoe, l. 185. Christie prints:
        But so transfused as oil on waters flow,
and repeats this as the reading of ‘all the early editions’. He defends the false grammer on the strange ground that ‘the verb is made plural following the plural noun’. Earlier editors changed the text to ‘oil and water’, and some later ones, accepting Christie’s report, have printed this impossible alteration. But Christie’s report is not true. The first edition gives
        But so transfus’d as Oyls on Waters flow,
and this is the only reading that gives any sense.
  That the present text should be wholly free from errors is more than can be hoped, but it is at least more correct than any printed in our own country. It does not contain Dryden’s translations from Virgil, which are long enough for a separate volume. For another reason it excludes one version from Theocritus and one from Lucretius. Nor has room been found for a few poems which have at various times without authority or probability been attributed to Dryden. On the other hand, it has been thought well to reprint such of the songs in the plays as could be detached from their context.  25
  My best thanks are due to my friend, Mr. Henry B. Wheatley, for the loan of first editions and for generous help on the bibliography, and to the Secretaries of the Clarendon Press, the Reader, and the Printers, who have done their best to save me from errors. Such errors as remain must be ascribed to me alone.  26
  The notes are intended to record, with defined exceptions, the cases in which this text differs from the original editions. The exceptions are indisputable misprints, such as ‘pobability’ for ‘probability’, though some of these have been recorded, false stops, where the printer, not the author, was clearly in fault, and false capitals in the same case.

Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors