« PreviousContinue »
further, and ask, Who among the new and latest school of critics has arisen so surpassing his predecessors that he can justly look down on them with indifference or contempt Who has since appeared who has equalled Warburton in subtilty, Johnson in clearness and power of illustration, Steevens in variety of attainments, and Gifford in acuteness and rectitude of understanding 2 In their voluminous annotations they have brought together a vast mass of information, curious and apposite ; and they have rectified innumerable passages that were previously intricate, obscure, or corrupt; they have opened the stores of many concealed treasures, and made us acquainted with numerous works and authors who lay very remote indeed from the beaten path of literature, and who would have remained, but for them, inaccessible and unknown. It is true that their information is not presented to us in what in present times we should consider the most correct and commodious form, cleared of disputes and doubts, and disentangled from the controversies and mistakes which grew up around it; but that was a defect inherent in the nature of the subject. Genius springs up at once, but learning is the product of the accumulated toil of different ages, and only increases by continued labour and gradual acquisition. We cannot presume that the Variorum commentators ever considered their editions otherwise than as tentative and experimental,” as a foundation for more perfect ones, or expected that their controversies and altercations, their doubts and disputes, would remain as a permanent monument of their want of learning and temper. Theirs was “mixed grain, to be winnowed and fanned" by their successors; a raw material to be worked up and improved on ; a copious supply collected from various reservoirs, which was to be cleared and filtered by the labour and attention of others. Reject all that is now known to be erroneous, abridge all that is superfluous, clear the arguments from the controversies attached to them, arrange them in a better and conciser form, give the acuteness of one without his asperity, and the industry of another without his tediousness, and then we should do justice to their labours, present a valuable foundation for future researches, and make a decided progress in attaining the object desired. The manner in which an edition of Shakspere should be prepared is not different from that of an ancient classical author;f first, by a diligent collation of manuscripts when they are to be obtained,f and of early editions; secondly, by an illustration from other works; and, thirdly, by the application of correct reasoning and ingenious conjecture; and when cases occur, as in the differences between the folios and quartos, Š which sometimes lie beyond the province of critical arbitration, the diffi
* Steevens says (vol. i. p. 33) justly, “Every reimpression of our great dramatic writer's works must be considered in some degree as experimental, for their corruptions and obscurities are still so numerous, and the progress of fortunate conjecture so tardy and uncertain, that our remote descendants may be perplexed by passages that have perplexed us, and the readings which have hitherto disunited the opinions of the learned may continue to disunite them as long as England and Shakspere have a name,” &c. + We perceive, since we wrote the above, that Theobald in his Preface says, “Shakspere's case has in a great measure resembled that of a corrupt classic, and consequently the method of cure was likewise to bear a resemblance,” &c. t Mr. Dyce has in various places shown in his Remarks, &c. the value of the origimal MSS. of plays, the important and authentic readings they afford, and the corrections they give of the printed copies. This makes us deeply lament that so few have survived. § Pope had observed “that a number of beautiful passages which are extant in the first single editions (i. e. the Quartos) are omitted in the folios, as it seems, without any other reason than the actor's willingness to shorten some scenes,” &c.
culties must be faithfully recorded and left to the reader's arbitration and judgment. Let us hear what one of the most sagacious and accomplished critics has said on this subject: “Scis enim, neque te praeterit curiosissime perscrutatum, quicquid habet vetustas quod doceat, non tam praeclare nobiscum agi, ut in tractandis his facundiae priscae monumentis, modi, moras, scrupuli, etiam illis quibus id unum opus aetatem fuit, difficiles passim non occurrant. Multa planissime dicta, cum scriberentur, nunc numeris sunt obscuriora Platonicis, ignoratione alicujus ritus, moris, casus, fabulae, quondam omnibus notissimae. Alibi, glossemata, voces rariores eoque significationis dubitatae, alibi verba vulgaria, sed usuac vi secretiore vix que etiam intentis obvio, responsant. Saepe librariorum manus calui ac frustrari nescio quem soporem o apparet, et non modo vocabulis, versibusve omissis cruciamur sedest et ubi literis aut syllabis dissimulatis, repetitis, trajectis gangraena succreverit; est ubiquod explanaturis aut memoriae suao causa studiosus ad marginem alleverat, in corpus auctoris transierit, et molestiam creet. Nec vero qui primi formis exprimendis scriptores veteres dederunt, semper exprobatissimo quisque exemplari transtulerunt : aut non interdum mimium in corrigendis, quae non assequabantur, et propterea mendosa putabant, sibi permiserunt, et qui deinde renovatis identidem editionibus inchoatum ab illis munus proficere voluerunt, ut complura in quibus priores defecerunt praeclare procuravereita in non paucis offenderunt insi; et aliquid et rectius inveniendi occasionem praebuere secuturis.”* By pursuing this plan with diligence, by mutual co-operation and assistance, improvement will gradually take place, difficulties will be lessened, obscurities removed, and a more pure and authentic text established. But let not any one person suppose that it is in his power, separately and independently, to present an edition to the public which shall so surpass its predecessors and contemporaries, as to render future improvement hopeless, to defy the attacks of criticism, and to authorise a deviation from temperate discussion with his opponents, or a modest though proper reliance on his own judgment, learning, and competence for his task. Every critic is engaged in the deliberation of doubtful points, which are not to be settled by the mere weight of authoritative dogmatism or angry recrimination. In all probability, from the time in which any one of the Greek tragedians, say Euripides, was first published by the Aldine press, including those of separate plays, at least a hundred editions have subsequently appeared, with various degrees of improvement, each profiting by the labours of the past, according to the knowledge of the editor, and the general progress and advance of critical knowledge and taste. Some time elapses before individual and particular observations are collected into general rules—then new canons of criticism are established, which are the solid stepping stones of future improvement; and as they are verified in their truth and increase in their number, so an approximation towards the perfection of the work is made, and the rapidity of the future progress insured. As regards what is called “The Variorum Commentators,” their defects, like their merits, are of various kinds. Antiquarian literature, and researches into the shy and remote recesses of black letter volumes, were not much in vogue. Johnson in his Dictionary seldom deviates from the authority of the most common authors, and thus he left an ample field of discovery to his successors. From the time of Charles the Second, we may say that our old authors—the resplendent stars that illuminated the reigns of
*see J. F. Gronovii Dedicatio Livi Historie. For this dedication, we have heard that Gronovius received from his episcopal patron a thousand broad pieces of gold!
Elizabeth and James—were much neglected and little known: Pope had never met with Bishop Hall's Satires till just at the end of his life; and the most curious and valuable productions of Shakspere's age were either lying unknown in the libraries of the ancient manor houses and halls, or perishing in the damp of cellars and garrets, or sold to the shopkeepers of the neighbouring towns.” Some certainly approached their task with a very slight and superficial acquaintance with the necessary learning. Among the early editors we recollect none except Theobald who had really studied the literature he was called on to investigate and display. Johnson trusted to his sagacity and strength of understanding, and Warburton to his ingenuity and quick discernment. Malone's labours did not extend beyond a strenua inertia, while the chief defect in Steevens, who was both learned and acute, was in his want of taste and feeling for the genius of his author. This was the cause of much unnecessary discussion and much unfortunate conjecture. The old editors of Beaumont and Fletcher, Messrs. Seward and Simpson, only casually consulted the original editions, in order to see whether they confirmed their own conjectures; and Mr. Collier in his edition has clearly shewn with what inattention and carelessness all former collations have been made. § Let us then equally profit by the labours and avoid the errors of our predecessors; let us admit that there is room (in the present stage of critical investigation) for various editions, formed on different purposes and plans, as in the ancient authors, and suitably to the editor's talents and inclination. Mr. Collier need not envy Mr. Knight, nor Mr. Dyce jostle with Mr. Hunter. Mr. Harness may survey his past labours with tranquillity and satisfaction. Their merits will be fully recognised by the public, and their improvements and suggestions incorporated with the works of their predecessors; nor will anything arise injurious to their fame, or impair the utility of their labours, unless in an evil hour any one should place himself in the chair of the dictator, and assume the authentic language of a judge, when he should rely on the reasonable and persuasive arguments of an advocate. In the mean time, in the muses' territory let there be peace. Let the olive wreath be as dear as the laurel crown; nor ever let it be in the power of the enemy, with malicious triumph, to exclaim,
* We remember accompanying the late Mr. R. Heber to the shop of a country grocer, who had purchased the library in an old Elizabethan mansion hard by ; and where he bought some scores of folios by the pound, the weight being ascertained by the scales | t Johnson has given in a short compass a correct summary of the different causes of the difficulties and obscurities in the text of Shakespeare. 1. The style was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed, and obscure; 2. His works were transcribed for the players by those who may be supposed to have seldom understood them ; 3. They were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who still multiplied errors; 4. They were sometimes mutilated by the actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; 5. They were at last printed without correction of the press. f “Rowe did not even collate or consult the first editions of the work he undertook to publish.” So says Warburton, and he adds that Pope was “without any particular study or profession of this art,” i.e. of editing. He also says “that the Oxford editor (Hanmer), so far from a thought of examining the first editions, even neglected to compare Mr. Pope's, from which he printed his own, with Mr. Theobald’s.” Wid. Preface. But Mr. Tyrwhitt, who was brought up in the true school of criticism, never (we are told) attempted any emendation before he had consulted the second folio. § Steevens has taken the trouble to calculate the number of letters in a page of Shakspere (1793), and has found that each contains about 2,660 pieces of metal, which, multiplied by 16, the number of pages in a sheet, will amount to 42,880, the misplacing any one of which would inevitably cause a blunder.” Wid. p. 56, ed. Reid.
“Hapc minima, qua Magistelli vocant, tanti Momenti sunt, ut sine illis, ne seria quidem saepenumero tractari possint.” Wid. J. J. Scaliger in Catull. p. 63.
P. 403.-‘‘You do not meet a man but frowns; our bloods
Doctor Johnson says, “This passage is so difficult, that commentators may differ without animosity or shame." Warburton would change “ bloods” into “brows.” Hanmer reads,
** Our looks
but this is not emendation, but original composition. Johnson says, that Warburton's explanation of his own reading is so obscure and perplexed, that he suspects some injury from the press; while his own interpretation brings but little satisfaction to our minds. We propose to make an alteration of one word and read,
“You do not meet a man but frowns: our bloods
P. 405.-" His daughter, and the heir of his kingdom, whom
The fourth line being too long, Steevens proposed his alteration,
“She's wed, her husband banished, she imprisoned,
This may be right; but we are more inclined to believe that “ she's wedded,” is only a marginal explanation of the words “hath referred herself to a poor but worthy gentleman,” which has got into the text.
P. 424.— ** Ere I could
So Ovid in the Metamorphoses, lib. x. v. 558.
“In que sinu, juvenis posita cervice reclivis
* We wish that modern commentators would listen to the advice and follow the example of a truly great scholar—the prince of scholars, and it would be of advantage both to the cause of literature and good manners: “Eum modum in notis servavi, ut meminem vivum me minimă quidem animadversione perstrinxerim ; mortuos autem, etiam quum ab eis dissentio, nunquam nisi honorificentissime appellarim. Illiberale enim facinus, propter nescio quas verborum quisquilias, aut propter errorem aliquem qui humanitus contingerit, tantorum hominum eruditionem, atque adeo totum nomen et famam in periculum vocare. Hoc solent facere stolide arguti homunciones, qui in hujusmodiáxautoNoyials totam actatem contriverunt, divina autem sapientiae mysteria ignorant.” Wide J. J. Scaligeri Praef, ad Catullum.
P. 448,- “Which can distinguish 'twixt
Warburton says, “sense and antithesis oblige us to read this nonsense thus:” “Upon the humbled beach.”
i.e. because daily insulted from the flow of the tide' We do not know which most to admire, the uncalled-for abuse, or the miserable alteration. Coleridge, in an unpropitious hour proposed,
“The grimed stones
but surely Theobald's reading “ unnumbered" is to be received with confidence, as deviating but little from the text, and making the intended opposition between the stars and pebbles clear and striking, i.e. between a comparatively small number of stars, each distinct and separate, and the stones, as like one another as twins, strewn on a beach in unnumbered and inseparable multitude. Heath would read “ spurned stones,” and Steevens, “hungry beach.” Infelices ambo!
P. 501,– ** Which stands
The old reading is “ oaks unskaleable;” the emendation is printed as Hanmer's ; but see the note by Seward in Fletcher's Mad Lover, p. 281, who says “the line in Cymbeline, “with rocks unskaleable,' in all editions before Sir T. Hanmer's, stood “with oaks unskealable.' This appeared very absurd; I therefore had the honour of communicating the emendation to Sir Thomas, and find that the ingenious Mr. Warburton concurred with me in it.” Honour to whom honour is due. Sir Thomas ought to have mentioned the obligation, and not passed off Mr. Seward's child as of his own procreation; but that such was his custom would appear from a passage in Warburton's preface, p. 231, ed. Reed.
P. 513,-" I see before me, man, nor here, nor here, Nor what ensues; but have a fog in them, That I cannot look through.” We cannot say that the notes of the commentators have given us a clear insight into the meaning and verbal construction of the passage. Malone does not think Johnson's paraphrase correct, and M. Mason's punctuation is very objectionable; see also Miss Seward's Letters, vol. iii. p. 245. We would so interpret as if the words in italics were understood.
“I see before me, man, nor here, nor here,
P. 547.-"If anything that's civil speak; if savage Take or lend.” In Malone's note on this passage, “that will enter into no converse,” “will" should be “can,” or the intended opposition between the civil man gifted with intelligible speech and the savage deprived of it is lost,
P. 553,- “Pardon me, Gods;
GENT. MAG. Wol. XXIII. 4 E