« PreviousContinue »
even mentioned here as a covert mode of attack, or as a "note of preparation" for future hostilities. The office of "devising brave punishments" for faithless editors, is therefore strenuously declined, even though their guilt should equal that of one of their number, (Mr. Steevens,) who stands convicted of having given winds instead of wind, stables instead of stable, sessions instead of session, sins instead of sin, and (we shudder while we recite the accusation) my instead of mine*.
so long, in truth, that any further pursuit of them is here
"As is the morn-dew on the myrtle leaf
We shall venture also to assert, that, on a minute scrutiny,
If somewhat, therefore, in the succeeding volumes has been added to the correction and illustration of our author, the purpose of his present editors is completely answered. On any thing like perfection in their labours they do not presume, being too well convinced that, in defiance of their best efforts, their own incapacity, and that of the original quarto and folio-mongers, have still
* See Mr. Malone's Preface.
left sufficient work for a race of commentators who are yet unborn. "Nos," says Tully, in the second book of his Tusculan Questions," qui sequimur probabilia, nec ultra quàm id quod verisimile occurrerit, progredi possumus; et refellere sine pertinacia, et refelli sine iracundia, parati
Be it remembered also, that the assistants and adversaries of editors, enjoy one material advantage over editors themselves. They are at liberty to select their objects of remark :
Desperant tractata nitescere posse, relinquunt.
The fate of the editor in form is less propitious. He is expected to combat every difficulty from which his auxiliaries and opponents could secure an honourable retreat. It should not, therefore, he wondered at, if some of his enterprizes are unsuccessful.
Though the foregoing Advertisement has run out into an unpremeditated length, one circumstance remains to be mentioned.-The form and substance of the commentary attending this republication having been materially changed and enlarged since it first appeared, in compliance with ungrateful custom the name of its original editor might have been withdrawn: but Mr. Steevens could not prevail on himself to forego an additional opportunity of recording in a title-page that he had once the honour of being united in a task of literature with Dr. Samuel Johnson. This is a distinction which malevolence cannot obscure, nor flattery transfer to any other candidate for publick favour.
It may possibly be expected, that a list of errata should attend so voluminous a work as this, or that cancels should apologize for its more material inaccuracies. Neither of these measures, however, has in the present instance been adopted, and for reasons now submitted to the publick.
In regard to errata, it has been customary with not a few authors to acknowledge small mistakes, that they
might escape the suspicion of greater *, or perhaps to intimate that no greater could be detected. Both little and great (and doubtless there may be the usual proportion of both) are here exposed (with very few exceptions) to the candour and perspicacity of the reader, who needs not to be told that in fifteen volumes octavo, of intricate and variegated printing, gone through in the space of about twenty months, the most vigilant eyes must occasionally have been overwatched, and the readiest knowledge intercepted. The sight of the editors, indeed, was too much fatigued to encourage their engagement in so laborious a revision; and they are likewise convinced that substitutes are not always qualified for their task; but instead of pointing out real mistakes, would have supposed the existence of such as were merely founded on their own want of acquaintance with the peculiarities of ancient spelling and language; for even modern poetry has sometimes been in danger from the chances of their superintendance. He whose business it is to offer this unusual apology, very well remembers to have been sitting with Dr. Johnson, when an agent from a neighbouring press brought in the proof sheet of a republication, requesting to know whether a particular word in it was not corrupted. "So far from it, Sir, (replied the Doctor, with some harshness,) that the word you suspect and would displace, is conspicuously beautiful where it stands, and is the only one that could have done the duty expected from it by Mr. Pope."
As for cancels, it is in the power of every careless binder to defeat their purpose; for they are so seldom lodged with uniformity in their proper places, that they as often serve to render copies imperfect, as to screen an author from the charge of ignorance or inattention. The leaf appropriated to one volume, is sometimes shuffled into the corresponding page of another; and sometimes the faulty leaf is withdrawn, and no other substituted in its room. These circumstances might be exemplified; but the subject is scarcely of consequence enough to be more than generally stated to the reader, whose indulgence is again solicited on account of blemishes which in
the hospitable door
"Expos'd a matron, to avoid worse rape."
Paradise Lost, b. i. v. 504.
the course of an undertaking like this are unavoidable, and could not, at its conclusion, have been remedied but by the hazard of more extensive mischief;-an indulgence, indeed, that will more readily be granted, and especially for the sake of the compositors, when it is understood, that, on an average, every page of the present work, including spaces, quadrats, points, and letters, is (to speak technically) composed of 2680 distinct pieces of metal *.
As was formerly therefore observed, he who waited till the river should run dry, did not act with less reason than the editors would do, who should suspend a voluminous and complicated publication, in the vain hope of rendering it absolutely free from literary and typographical
* Number of letters, &c. in a page of Shakspeare, 1793.
From this calculation it is clear, that a common page, admitting it to consist of 1-3d text, and 2-3ds notes, contains about 2680 distinct pieces of metal; which multiplied by 16, the number of pages in a sheet, will amount to 42,880-the misplacing of any one of which would inevitably cause a blunder.
PREFIXED BY MR. REED TO EDITION 1803.
THE merits of our great dramatick Bard, the pride and glory of his country, have been so amply displayed by persons of various and first-rate talents, that it would appear like presumption in any one, and especially in him whose name is subscribed to this Advertisement, to imagine himself capable of adding any thing on so exhausted a subject. After the labours of men of such high estimation as Rowe, Pope, Warburton, Johnson, Farmer, and Steevens, with others of inferior name*, the rank of Shakspeare in the poetical world is not a point at this time subject to controversy. His pre-eminence is admitted; his superiority confessed. Long ago it might be said of him, as it has been, in the energetick lines of Johnson, of one almost his equal,
"At length, our mighty bard's victorious lays
a renown, established on so solid a foundation, as to bid defiance to the caprices of fashion, and to the canker of time.
Leaving, therefore, the Author in quiet possession of that fame which neither detraction can lessen nor panegyrick increase, the editor will proceed to the consideration of the work now presented to the publick.
It contains the last improvements and corrections of
* It would not be easy to produce a stronger instance of a writer acting in the character of a partisan than this passage furnishes. When Mr. Reed was enumerating the criticks on Shakspeare, who were of "high estimation," was Mr. Malone forgotten? or was he meant to be classed with "others of inferior name?" BOSWELL.