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your attempt to ascertain the order of the plays, with a contradiction sedulous and unremitted as that with which you have pursued my
Observations on Shakspeare's Will and his Sonnets, you at least would not have found your undertaking a ver
comfortable one. I was then an editor, and indulged you with even a printed foul copy of your work, which you enlarged as long as you thought fit.The arrival of people on business prevents me from adding more than that I hope to be still indulged with the correction of my own notes on the Y[orkshire] T[ragedy). I expect almost every one of them to be disputed, but assure you that I will not add a single word by way of reply. I have not returned you so complete an answer as I would have done had I been at leisure. You have, however, the real sentiments of your most humble servant,
G. STEEVENS.' The temper in which this letter was written is obvious. Steevens was at the time assisting Malone in preparing his Supplement to Shakspeare, and had previously made a liberal present to him of his valuable collection of old plays; he afterwards called himself a dowager editor,' and said he would never
more trouble himself about Shakspeare. This is gathered from a memorandum by Malone, but Steevens does in effect say so in one of his letters; adding, Nor will such assistance as I may be able to furnish ever go towards any future gratuitous publication of the same author: ingratitude and impertinence from several booksellers have been my reward for conducting two laborious editions, both of which, except a few copies, are already sold.'
In another letter, in reply to a remonstrance about the suspension of his visits to Malone, Steevens says:-'I will confess to you without reserve the cause why I have not made even my business submit to my desire of seeing you. I readily allow that any distinct and subjoined reply to my remarks on your notes is fair; but to change in consequence of private conversation) the notes that drew from me those remarks, is to turn my own weapons against me. Surely, therefore, it is
, unnecessary to let me continue building when you are previously determined to destroy my very
foundations. As I observed to you yesterday, the result of this proceeding would be, that such of my strictures as might be just on the first copies of your notes, must often
prove no better than idle cavils when applied to the second and amended edition of them. I know not that any editor has insisted on the very extensive privileges which you have continued to claim. In some parts of my Dissertation on Pericles, I am almost reduced to combat with shadows. We had resolved (as I once imagined) to proceed without reserve on either side through the whole of that controversy, but finally you acquainted me with your resolution (in right of editorship) to have the last word. However, for the future, I beg I may be led to trouble you only with observations relative to notes which are fixed ones. I had that advantage over my predecessors, and you have enjoyed the same over me; but I never yet possessed the means of obviating objections before they could be effectually made, &c. Here the
is the secret developed of the subsequent, unceasing, and unrelenting opposition with which Steevens opposed Malone's notes: their controversies served not to make sport for the world, but to annoy the admirers of Shakspeare, by overloading his page with frivolous contention. Steevens had undoubtedly, as he says of himself on another occasion
“Fallen in the plash his wickedness had made;' and in some instances contested the force and propriety of his own remarks when applied by Malone to parallel passages; or, as Malone observes: They are very good remarks, so far forth as they are his; but when used by me are good for nothing; and the disputed passages become printers' blunders, or Hemingisms and Condelisms. Hence his unremitted censure of the first folio copy, and support of the readings of the second folio, which Malone treats as of no authority ;-his affected contempt for the Poems of Shakspeare, &c.
Mr. Boswell has judiciously characterised Steevens :—With great diligence, an extensive acquaintance with early literature, and a remarkably retentive memory: he was besides, as Mr. Gifford has justly observed, “a wit and a scholar.” But his wit and the sprightliness of his style were too often employed to bewilder and mislead us. His consciousness of his own satirical powers made him much too fond of exercising them at the expense of truth and justice. He was infected to a lamentable degree with the jealousy of authorship; and while his approbation was readily bestowed upon those whose competi
tion he thought he had no reason to dread, he was fretfully impatient of a brother near the throne: his clear understanding would generally have enabled him to discover what was right; but the spirit of contradiction could at any time induce him to maintain what was wrong It would be impossible, indeed, to explain how any one, possessed of his taste and discernment, could have brought himself to advocate so many indefensible opinions, without entering into a long and ungracious history of the motives by which he was influenced.'
Malone was certainly not so happily gifted; though Mr. Boswell's partiality in delineating his friend, presents us with the picture of an amiable and accomplished gentleman and scholar. There seems to have been a want of grasp in his mind to make
proper use of the accumulated materials which his unwearied industry in his favourite pursuit had placed within his reach: his notes on Shakspeare are often tediously circumlocutory and ineffectual: neither does he seem to have been deficient in that jealousy of rivalship, or that pertinacious adherence to his own opinions, which have been attributed to his competitor.