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change of place, but always, an entire evacuation of the stage. The custom of distinguishing 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, some apology may be likewise expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the source of an imperfect explanation. Where a passage has been constantly misunderstood, where the jest or pleasantry has been suffered to remain long in obscurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than. appear at first sight to have been necessary. For these, it can only be said, that when they prove that phraseology or source of merriment to have been once general, which at present seems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a suspicion of having employed an affected singularity of expression, or indulged himself in allusions to transient customs, which were not of fufficient notoriety to deserve ridicule or reprehension. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are assembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, such neutral collections should always be regarded as materials for future critics, who may hereafter apply them with success. Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers; yet such circumstances as fall below the notice of history, can only be fought in the jest-book, the satire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not outlive a week, is sometimes necessary to throw
light throw light on those annals which take in the compass of an age. Those, therefore, who would wish to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, must excuse the insertion of such an epigram as best suits the purpose, however tedious in itself ; and such as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allusion to stewed prunes, should not be disgufted at a multitude of instances, which, when the point is once known to be established, may be diminished by any future editor. An author, who catches (as Pope expresses it) at the Cynthia of a minute, and does not furnish notes to his own works, is sure to lose half the praise which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allusions less temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapse of time must inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been desirous to support old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He desires to be regarded as one, who found the task 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 dilcovered in himself the power to rectify a few mistakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all diffi. culties must yield to the efforts of future labour ; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at last.
Mr. Steevens desires it may be observed, that he has strictly complied with the terms exhibited in his proposals, having appropriated all such aslistances,
as he received, to the use of the present editor, whose judgment has, in every instance, determined on their, respective merits. While he enumerates his obligations to his correspondents, it is necessary that ong comprehensive remark should be made on such conmunications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were founded on the supposition, that Shakespeare wag originally an author correct in the utmost degree, buo maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alte. rations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A constant peruser of Shakespeare will suppofe whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in filence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrase, or peculiarities of expreslion, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or fagacity undervalued.' It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many passages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhi
bitions bitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be considered ; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shakespeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; so neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatic pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, derives its greatest value from its accessibility.
To the other evils of our civil war, must be added the interruption of polite literature, and the supprefsion of many dramatic and poetical names, which were plunged in obscurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never since attracted curiosity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued so long, that many books may be supposed to be loft ; and that curiosity, which has been now for some years increasing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in small numbers, being thus neglected, were soon de. stroyed; and though the capital authors were pre
served. served, they were preserved to languish without regard. How little Shakespeare himself was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as of an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend ; and the author of the Tatler, having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from Betterton's alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost every original beauty is either aukwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted. So little were the defects or peculiarities of the old writers known, even at the beginning of our century, that though the custom of alliteration had prevailed to that degree in the time of Shakespeare, that it became contemptible and ridiculous, yet it is made one of Waller's praises by a writer of his life, that he first introduced this practice into English versification.
It will be expected that some notice should be taken of the last editor of Shakespeare, and that his merits should be estimated with those of his predecessors. Little, however, can be said of a work, to the completion of which, both the commentary and a large proportion of the various readings, are as yet wanting. The Second Part of King Henry VI. is the only play from that edition, which has been consulted in the course of this work; for as several passages there are arbitrarily omitted, and as no notice is given when other deviations are made from the old copies, it was of little consequence to examine any further. This