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Mr. Steevens*, by whom it was prepared for the press, and to whom the praise is due of having first adopted, and
* Of one to whom the readers of Shakspeare are so much obliged, a slight memorial will not here be considered as misplaced.
George Steevens was born at Poplar, in the county of Middlesex, in the year 1736. His father, a man of great respectability, was engaged in a business connected with the East India Company, by which he acquired an handsome fortune. Fortunately for his son, and for the publick, the clergyman of the place was Dr. Gloucester Ridley, a man of great literary accomplishments, who is styled by Dr. Lowth poeta natus. With this gentleman an intimacy took place that united the two families closely together, and probably gave the younger branches of each that taste for literature which both afterwards ardently cultivated. The first part of Mr. Steevens's education he received under Mr. Wooddeson, at Kingston-upon-Thames, where he had for his school-fellows George Keate the poet, and Edward Gibbon the historian. From this seminary he removed in 1753 to King's College, Cambridge, and entered there under the tuition of the Reverend Dr. Barford. After staying a few years at the University, he left it without taking a degree, and accepted a commission in the Essex militia, in which service he continued a few years longer. In 1763 he lost his father, from whom he inherited an ample property, which if he did not lessen he certainly did not increase. From this period he seems to have determined on the course of his future life, and devoted himself to literary pursuits, which he followed with unabated vigour, but without any lucrative views, as he never required, or accepted, the slightest pecuniary recompence for his labours. His first residence was in the Temple, afterwards at Hampton, and lastly at Hampstead, where he continued near thirty years. In this retreat his life passed in one unbroken tenor, with scarce any variation, except an occasional visit to Cambridge, walking to London in the morning, six days out of seven, for the sake of health and conversation, and returning home in the afternoon of the same day. By temperance and exercise he continued healthy and active until the last two years of his life, and to the conclusion of it did not relax his attention to the illustration of Shakspeare, which was the first object of his regard. He died the 22d of January, 1800, and was buried in Poplar chapel.
To the eulogium contained in the following epitaph by Mr. Hayley, which differs in some respect from that inscribed on the monument in Poplar chapel, those who really knew Mr. Steevens will readily subscribe:
"Peace to these ashes! once the bright attire
carried into execution, Dr. Johnson's admirable plan of illustrating Shakspeare by the study of writers of his own time. By following this track, most of the difficulties of the author have been overcome, his meaning (in many instances apparently lost) has been recovered, and much wild unfounded conjecture has been happily got rid of. By perseverance in this plan, he effected more to the elucidation of his author than any if not all his predecessors, and justly entitled himself to the distinction of being confessed the best editor of Shakspeare.
The edition which now solicits the notice of the publick is faithfully printed from the copy given by Mr. Steevens to the proprietors of the preceding edition, in his lifetime; with such additions as, it is presumed, he would have received, had he lived to determine on them himself. The whole was entrusted to the care of the present editor, who has, with the aid of an able and vigilant assistant, and a careful printer, endeavoured to fulfil the trust reposed in him, as well as continued ill health and depressed spirits would permit.
By a memorandum in the hand-writing of Mr. Steevens it appeared to be his intention to adopt and introduce into the prolegomena of the present edition some parts of two late works of Mr. George Chalmers. An application was therefore made to that gentleman for his consent, which was immediately granted; and to render the favour more acceptable, permission was given to divest the extracts of the offensive asperities of controversy.
"Whose talents, varying as the diamond's ray,
"How oft has pleasure in the social hour
"Learning, as vast as mental power could seize,
"This tomb may perish, but not so his name
The portrait of Shakspeare prefixed to the present edition,  is a copy of the picture formerly belonging to Mr. Felton, now to Alderman Boydell, and at present at the Shakspeare Gallery, in Pall Mall. After what has been written on the subject it will be only necessary to add, that Mr. Steevens persevered in his opinion that this, of all the portraits, had the fairest chance of being a genuine likeness of the author. Of the canvas Chandois picture he remained convinced that it possessed no claims to authenticity.
Some apology is due to those gentlemen, who, during the course of the publication, have obligingly offered the present editor their assistance, which he should thankfully have received, had he considered himself at liberty to accept their favours. He was fearful of loading the page, which Mr. Steevens in some instances thought too much crouded already, and therefore confined himself to the copy left to his care by his deceased friend.
But it is time to conclude.-He will therefore detain the reader no longer than just to offer a few words in extenuation of any errors or omissions that may be discovered in his part of the work; a work which, notwithstanding the utmost exertion of diligence, has never been produced without some imperfection. Circumstanced as he has been, he is sensible how inadequate his powers were to the task imposed on him, and hopes for the indulgence of the reader. He feels that "the inaudible and noiseless foot of time" has insensibly brought on that period of life and those attendant infirmities which weaken the attachment to early pursuits, and diminish their import
Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage."
To the admonition he is content to pay obedience; and satisfied that the hour is arrived when "well-timed retreat" is the measure which prudence dictates, and reason will approve, he here bids adieu to Shakspeare, and his Commentators; acknowledging the candour with which very imperfect efforts have been received, and wishing for his successors the same gratification he has experienced in his humble endeavours to illustrate the greatest poet the world ever knew. ISAAC REED.
Staple Inn, May 2, 1803.
PREFIXED TO EDITION 1803.
WHEN I said I would die a bachelor, (cries Benedick,) I did not think I should live till I were married." The present editor of Shakspeare may urge a kindred apology in defence of an opinion hazarded in his Prefa'tory Advertisement; for when he declared his disbelief in the existence of a genuine likeness of our great Dramatick Writer, he most certainly did not suppose any por"trait of that description could have occurred, and much 'less that he himself should have been instrumental in producing it. He is happy, however, to find he was mistaken in both his suppositions; and consequently has done his utmost to promote the appearance of an accurate and finished engraving, from a picture which had been unfaithfully as well as poorly imitated by Droeshout and Marshall †.
*See Mr. Richardson's Proposals.
+"Martin Droeshout. One of the indifferent engravers of the last century. He resided in England, and was employed by the booksellers. His portraits, which are the best part of his works, have nothing but their scarcity to recommend them. He engraved the head of Shakspeare, John Fox, the martyrologist, John Howson, Bishop of Durham," &c.
Strutt's Dictionary of Engravers, vol. i. p. "William Marshall. He was one of those laborious artists whose engravings were chiefly confined to the ornamenting of books. And indeed his patience and assiduity is all we can admire when we turn over his prints, which are prodigiously numerous. He worked with the graver only, but in a dry tasteless style; and from the similarity which appears in the design of all his portraits, it is supposed that he worked from his own drawings after the life, though he did not add the words ad vivum, as was common upon such occasions. But if we grant this to be
Of the character repeatedly and deliberately bestowed by the same editor on the first of these old engravers, not a single word will be retracted; for, if the judgment of experienced artists be of any value, the plate by Droeshout now under consideration has (in one instance at least) established his claim to the title of "a most abominable imitator of humanity."
Mr. Fuseli has pronounced, that the portrait described in the proposals of Mr. Richardson, was the work of a Flemish hand. It may also be observed, that the verses in praise of Droeshout's performance, were probably written as soon as they were bespoke, and before their author had found opportunity or inclination to compare the plate with its original. He might previously have known that the picture conveyed a just resemblance of Shakspeare; took it for granted that the copy would be exact; and, therefore, rashly assigned to the engraver a panegyrick which the painter had more immediately deserved. It is lucky indeed for those to whom metrical recommendations are necessary, that custom does not require they should be delivered upon oath.
It is likewise probable that Ben Jonson had no intimate acquaintance with the graphick art, and might not have been over-solicitous about the style in which Shakspeare's lineaments were transmitted to posterity.
N. B. The character of Shakspeare as a poet; the condition of the ancient copies of his plays; the merits of his respective editors, &c. &c. have been so minutely investigated on former occasions, that any fresh advertisement of similar tendency might be considered as a tax on the reader's patience.
It may be proper indeed to observe, that the errors we have discovered in our last edition are here corrected; and that some explanations, &c. which seemed to be wanting, have likewise been supplied.
To these improvements it is now become our duty to add the genuine portrait of our author. For a particular
the case, the artist will acquire very little additional honour upon that account; for there is full as great a want of taste manifest in the design, as in the execution of his works on copper," &c. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 125.