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the point is once known to be established, may be diminished by any future editor. An author, who catches (as Pope expreffes it) at the Cynthia of a minute, and does not furnish notes to his own works, is sure to lose half the praise which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allufions less temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapse of time must inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been desirous to support old readings, than to claiin the merit of introducing new ones. He desires to be regarded as one, who found the task he undertook more arduous than it seemned, while he was yet feeding his vanity with the hopes of introducing himself to the world as an editor in form. He, who has discovered in himself the power to rectify a few mistakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all difficulties must yield to the efforts of future labour; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at last.
Mr. Steevens desires it may be observed, that he bas strictly complied with the terms exhibited in his proposals, having appropriated all such aslistances, as he received, to the use of the present editor, whose judgment has, in every instance, determined on their respective merits. While he enumerates his obliga. tions to his correspondents, it is necessary that one comprehensive remark should be made on such communications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were
founded on the supposition, that Shakespeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed; the notes would have been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A constant peruser of Shakespeare will suppose whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in filence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrase, or peculiarities of expression, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or sagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many passages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be considered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated paffage in Shakespeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; fo neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatic pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be mer with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, derives its greatest value from its accessibility *.
* There is reason to think that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of queen Elizabeth's INJUNCTIONS in 1559, are particularly directed to the suppressing of “ Many pamphlets, PLAYFs, and ballads: that no manner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c. but under certain restrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This observation is taken from Dr. Percy's Additions to his Efray on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclusion of the second vol. of the entries belonging to the Stationers' company, that in the 41st year of queen Elizabeth, many new restraints on booksellers were laid. Among these are the following, “ That no plaies be printed excepte they bee allowed by such as have auctoritye.” The records of the Stationers however contain the entries of some which have never yet been met with by the most successful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It Tould seem from the same volumes thät it was customary for the Stationers to seize the whole impression of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishop of London, who sometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete satires of bishop Hall.
Mr. Theobald, at the conclusion of the preface to his first edi. tion of Shakespeare, asserts, that exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and B. and Fletcher, he had read “ above 800 of olu. English plays." He omitted this affertion, however, on the
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the suppresfion of many dramatic and poetical names, which were plunged in obscurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never since attracted curiosity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued so long, that many books may be supposed to be lost; and that curiosity, which has been now for some years increasing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in small numbers, being thus neglected, were soon destroyed; and though the capital authors were preserved, they were preserved to languish without regard. How little Shakespeare himself was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as of an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler, having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from D'Avenant's altera
republication of the same work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falfhood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to serve the pur
pose for which he pretends to have perused this imaginary stock of : ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonson, Fletcher and Shakespeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained entire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonson, till the time of his death. It does not appear that any other collection but the Harleian was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edition contain any intrinsic evidences of so comprehensive an examination of our eldest dramatic wricers, as he assumes to himself the merit of having made.
In the year 1707 Mr. N. Tate published a tragedy called Ine jured Love, or the Cruel Ilusband, and in the title page of it calls himself, “ Axtbor of the fragedy called King Lear."
tion of that celebrated drama, in which almost every original beauty is either aukwardly disguised, or ar. bitrarily omitted. So little were the defects or peculiarities of the old writers known, even at the begin. ning of our century, that though the custom of alliteration had prevailed to that degree in the time of Shakespeare, that it became contemptible and ridiculous, yet it is made one of Waller's praises by a writer of his life, that he first introduced this practice into English versification.
It will be expected that some notice should be taken of the last editor of Shakespeare, and that his merits should be estimated with those of his predecessors. Little, however, can be said of a work, to the completion of which, both a large proportion of the commentary and various readings is as yet wanting. The Second Part of King Henry VI. is the only play from that edition, which has been consulted in the course of this work; for as several passages there are arbitrarily omitted, and as no notice is given when other deviations are made from the old copies, it was of little consequence to examine any further. This circumstance is inentioned, left such accidental coincidences of opinion, as may be discovered hereafter, hould be interpreted into plagiarisın.
It may occasionally happen, that some of the remarks long ago produced by others, are offered again as recent discoveries. It is likewise absolutely impossible to pronounce with any degree of certainty, whence all the hints, which furnish matter for a commentary, have been collected, as they lay