« PreviousContinue »
first and last) the errors in every play, at leaft, were trebled. Several pages in each of these ancient editions have been examined, that the affertion might come more fully fupported. It may be added, that as every fresh editor continued to make the text of his predeceffor the ground-work of his own (never collating but where difficulties occurred) fome deviations from the originals had been handed down, the number of which are leffened in the impreffion before us, as it has been conftantly compared with the moft authentick copies, whether collation was abfolutely neceffary for the recovery of fenfe, or not. The perfon who undertook this task may have failed by inadvertency, as well as thofe who preceded him; but the reader may be affured, that he, who thought it his duty to free an author from fuch modern and unneceffary innovations as had been cenfured in others, has not ventured to introduce any of his own.
It is not pretended that a complete body of various readings is here collected; or that all the diverfities which the copies exhibit, are pointed out; as near two thirds of them are typographical mistakes, or such a change of infignificant particles, as would croud the bottom of the page with an oftentation of materials, from which at last nothing ufeful could be selected.
The dialogue might indeed sometimes be lengthened by other infertions than have hitherto been made, but without advantage either to its spirit or beauty as in the following inftance:
"Lear. No, I fay.
"Kent. I fay, yea.'
Here the quartos add :
"Lear. No, no, they would not. "Kent. Yes, they have."
By the admiffion of this negation and affirmation, has any new idea been gained?
The labours of preceding editors have not left room for a boaft, that many valuable readings have been retrieved; though it may be fairly afferted, that the text of Shakspeare is reftored to the condition in which the author, or rather his first publifhers, appear to have left it, fuch emendations as were abfolutely neceffary, alone admitted: for where a particle, indifpenfably neceffary to the fense was wanting, fuch a fupply has been filently adopted from other editions; but where a fyllable, or more, had been added for the fake of the metre only, which at first might have been irregular,” fuch interpolations are here conftantly retrenched,. fometimes with, and fometimes without notice. Thofe fpeeches, which in the elder editions are printed as profe, and from their own conftruction are incapable of being compreffed into verfe, without the aid of fupplemental fyllables, are restored to profe again; and the measure is divided afrefh in others, where the mass of words had been inharmoniously separated into lines.
The scenery, throughout all the plays, is regulated in conformity to a rule, which the poet, by his general practice feems to have proposed to himfelf. Several of his pieces are come down to us, divided into fcenes as well as acts. Thefe divifions were probably his own, as they are made on fettled
7 I retract this fuppofition, which was too haftily formed. See note on The Tempest, Vol. IV. p. 73. STEEVENS.
principles, which would hardly have been the cafe, had the task been executed by the players. A change of fcene, with Shakspeare, moft commonly implies a change of place, but always an entire evacuation of the ftage. The cuftom of diftinguishing every entrance or exit by a fresh scene, was adopted, perhaps very idly, from the French theatre.
For the length of many notes, and the accumulation of examples in others, fome apology may be likewife expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the fource of an imperfect ex. planation. Where a paffage has been conftantly mifunderstood, or where the jeft or pleafantry has been fuffered to remain long in obfcurity, more inftances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at firft fight to have been neceffàry. For thefe it can only be faid, that when they prove that phrafcology or fource of merriment to have been once general, which at prefent feems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may ferve to free the author from a fufpicion of having employed an affected fingularity of expreflion, or indulged himself in allufions to tranfient customs, which were not of fufficient notoriety to deferve ridicule or reprehenfion. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are affembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, fuch neutral collections fhould always be regarded as materials for future criticks, who may hereafter apply them with fuccefs. Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the moft celebrated writers; yet fuch
8 Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenfer, offers a fimilar apology for having introduced illuf
circumftances as fall below the notice of hiftory, can only be fought in the jeft-book, the satire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not out- . live a week, is fometimes neceffary to throw light on those annals which take in the compafs of an age. Thofe, therefore, who would with to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, muft excuse the infertion of fuch an epigram as beft
trations from obfolete literature. "I fear (fays he) I shall be cenfured for quoting too many pieces of this fort. But experience has fatally proved, that the commentator on Spenfer, Jonfon, and the reft of our elder poets, will in vain give fpecimens of his claffical erudition, unless, at the fame time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors refpectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allufions and many imitations will either remain obfcure, or lofe half their beauty and propriety: as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.'
Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakspeare, a fample of
all fuch READING as was never read.
But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKSPEARE himself had ftudied the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain fo many different allufions and obfolete cuftoms in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood. For want of this fort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Creffida, fignifies Teucer, fo celebrated for his fkill in archery. Had he deigned to confult an old history, called The Destruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKSPEARE and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beaft, which the Grecian army brought against Troy. If SHAKSPEARE is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for fo valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the fatire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which fo effentially contributes to the service of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dullness." STEEVENS.
fuits the purpofe, however tedious in itself; and fuch as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allufion to ftewed prunes; fhould not be difgufted at a multitude of inftances, which, when 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 furnifh notes to his own works, is fure to lofe half the praife which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allufions lefs temporary, or cleared up for himself thofe difficulties which lapfe of time muft inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been defirous to support old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He defires to be regarded as one, who found the tafk he undertook more arduous than it seemed, while he was yet feeding his vanity with the hopes of introducing himself to the world as an editor in form. He, who has difcovered in himself the power to rectify a few mistakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all difficulties muft yield to the efforts of future labour; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at last.
Mr. Steevens defires it may be observed, that he has ftrictly complied with the terms exhibited in his propofals, having appropriated all fuch affiftances, as he received, to the use of the prefent editor, whofe judgment has, in every inftance, determined on their refpective merits. While he enumerates his obligations to his correfpondents, it is neceffary that one comprehenfive remark fhould be made on fuch communications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of thefe were founded VOL. I. Dd