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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
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 then 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 competition 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 à 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.
It is superfluous here to enlarge on this topic, for the merits and defects of Johnson, Steevens, and Malone, as commentators on Shakspeare, and the characters of those who preceded them, the roader will find sketched with a masterly pen in the Biographical Preface of Dr. Symmons, which accompanies this edition. The vindication of Shakspeare from idle calumny and ill founded critical animadversion, could not have been placed in better hands than in those of the vindicator of Milton; and his eloquent Essay must afford pleasure to every lover of our immortal Bard. It should be observed that the Editor, in his adoption of readings, differs in opinion on some points from his able coadjutor, with whom he has not the honour of a personal acquaintance. It is to be regretted that no part of the work was communicated to Dr. Symmons until nearly the whole of the Plays were printed; or the Editor and the Public would doubtless have benefited by his animadversions and suggestions in its progress through the press. The reader will not therefore be surprised at the preliminary censure of some readings which are still retained in the text.
Dr. Johnson's far famed Preface—which has so long hung as a dead weight upon the reputation of our great Poet, and which has been justly said to look like 'a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh his excellencies and defects in equal scales stuffed full of swelling figures and sonorous epithets,'—will, for obvious reasons, form no part of this publica
tion. His brief strictures at the end of each play have been retained in compliance with custom, but not without an occasional note of dissent. We may suppose that Johnson himself did not estimate these observations very highly, for he tells us that in the plays which are condemned there may be much to be praised, and in those which are praised much to be condemned?! Far be it from us to undervalue or speak slightingly- of our great moralist; but his most strenuous admirers must acknowledge that the construction of his mind incapacitated him from forming a true judgment of the creations of one who was of imagination all compact,' no less than his physical defects prevented him from relishing the beautiful and harmonious in nature and art.
• Quid valet ad surdas si cantet Phemius aures ?
It has been the studious endeavour of the Editor to avoid those splenetic and insulting reflections upon the errors of the commentators, where it has been his good fortune to detect them, which have been sometimes too captiously indulged in by labourers in this field of verbal criticism. Indeed it would ill become him to speak contemptuously of those who, with all their defects, have deserved the gratitude of the age; for it is chiefly owing to the labours of Tyrwhitt,