Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

too, should we persist in similar accumulations of extra.. neous matter, that our readers will at length be frighted away from Shakspeare, as the foldiers of Cato deserted their comrade when he became bloated with poisoncrefcens fugere cadaver. It is our opinion, in short, that every one who opens the page of an ancient English writer, should bring with him some knowledge; and yec he by whom a thoufand minutiæ remain to be learned, needs not to close our author's volume in despair, for his spirit and general drift are always obvious, though his language and allusions are occasionally obfcure."

Fully impressed with the force of this admonition, the late excellent Edition has been made the groundwork of the present, and the Text of it most scrupulously adopted ; and if in the selection of the Notes (a talk more delicate and difficult than may in general be imagined) some superAuities are even yet retained, it must be attributed solely to a with to preserve the various sentiments of the ingenious Commentators, whose labours are attentively abridged, though their language and fignatures are uniformly preferve

It would be unjust, however, to Mr. SteEVENS, were we not to present to our readers some extracts from his Preface,

" In this republication, a considerable number of fresh remarks are both adopted and fupplied by the present editors. They have persisted in their former track of reading for the illuftration of their author, and cannot help observing that those who receive the benefit of expla. natory extracts from anciert writers, little know at what expence of time and labour fuch atoms of intelligence have been collected.-That the foregoing information, however, may communicate no alarm, or induce the reader to fuppose we have • bestowed our whole tediousness' on him, we should add, that many notes have likewise been with drawn. A few, manifeftly erroneous, are indeed retained, to show how much the tone of Shaksperian criticism is changed, or on account of the skill displayed in their confutation ; for surely every editor in his turn is occasionally entitled to be seen, as he would have shown himself, with his vanquished adversary at his feet. We have therefore

been

been fometimes willing to bring a corollary, rather than want a spirit. Nor, to confess the truth, did we always think it justifiable to fhrink our predecessors to pigmies, that we ourselves, by force of comparison, might assume the bulk of giants.

“ The present editors must also acknowledge, that unless in particular instances, where the voice of the publick had decided against the remarks of Dr. JOHNSON, they have hesitated to displace them; and had rather be charged with superstitious reverence for his name, than censured for a presumptuous disregard of his opinions.

As a large proportion of Mr. Monck Mason's stric. tures on a former edition of SHAKSPEARE are here inserted, it has been thought necessary that as much of his Preface as was designed to introduce them, should accompany their second appearance. Any formal recommendation of them is needless, as their own merit is sure to rank their author among the most diligent and fagacious of our celebrated Poet's annotators. It

may proper, indeed, to observe that a few of these remarks are omitted because they had been anticipated ; and that a few others have excluded themselves by their own immoderate length; for he who publishes a series of comments unattended by the text of his author, is apt to • overflow the measure' allotted to marginal criticism. In these cases, either the commentator or the poet must give way, and no reader will patiently endure to fee

Alcides beaten by his page.'-Inferior volat umbra deo.Mr. M. Mason will also forgive us if we add, that a small number of his proposed amendments are fuppressed through honest commiseration. • 'Tis much he dares, and he has a wisdom that often guides his valour to act in safety ;' yet occasionally he forgets the prudence that should attend conjecture, and therefore, in a few instances, would have been produced only to be perfecuted.--May it be subjoined, that the freedom with which the fame gentleman has treated the notes of others, seems to have authorized an equal degree of licence respecting his own ? And yet, though the fword inay have been drawn against him, he shall not com

be

[blocks in formation]

on

plain that its point is unbated and envenomed;' for the conductors of this undertaking do not scruple thus openly to express their wishes that it may have merit enough to provoke a revision from the acknowledged learning and perspicacity of their Hibernian coadjutor.-Every re-impression of our great dramatick master's works must be considered in some degree as experimental ; for their corruptions and obscurities are still fo numerous, and the progress of fortunate conjecture fo tardy and uncertain, that our remote descendants may be perplexed by passages that have perplexed us; and the readings which have hitherto difunited the opinions of the learned, may continue to disunite them as long as ENGLAND and SHAKSPEARE have a name. In short, the peculiarity once ascribed to the poetick isle of Delos, may be exemplified in our author's text, which, account of readings alternately received and reprobated, must remain in an unsettled state, and float in obedience to every gale of contradictory criticifm.-Could a perfect and decisive edition of the following scenes be produced, it were to be expected only (though we fear in vain) from the hand of Dr. FARMER, whose more serious avocations forbid him to undertake what every readler would delight to possess.

“ 'This impression of the Plays of SHAKSPEARE must not iffue into the world without particular and ample acknowledgements of the benefit it has derived from the labours of Mr. Malone, whose attention, diligence, and spirit of enquiry, have very far exceeded thofe of the whole united phalanx of his predecessors. His additions to our author's Life, his attempt to ascertain the Order in which his plays were written, together with his account of our ancient Stage, &c. are here re-published o; and every reader will concur in withing that a gentleman who has produced such intelligent combinations from very few materials, had fortunately been possessed of more.

“ The play of Pericles has been added to this collection, by the advice of Dr. FARMER. To make room for it, Titus Andronicus might have been omitted ; but our proprietors are of opinion that fome ancient prejudices in its favour may still exit, and for that reason only it is preserved. c That is, in the Octavo Edition of Mr. STEEVENS.

« The

“ 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 be proper to observe that the learned Commentator whose name appears in the title-page is under no responsibility for the present edition. The press has been wholly corrected under the fuperintendance of Mr. BALDWIN; by whose attention the late very correct and elegant edition of Mr. Steeven's was fo handsomely introduced to the publick, For the selection of the Notes, -which has been performed with fome industry and much impartiality, no one is answerable but Dec, 20, 1796.

J. NICHOLS, PREFACE TO MR. M. Mason's COMMENTS, &c.

1785.

Not thoroughly satisfied with any of the former editions of Shakspeare, even that of Johnson, I had resolved to venture upon one of my own, and had actually collected materials for the purpose, when that“, which is the subject of the following Observations, made its appearance; in which I found that a considerable part of the amendments and explanations I had intended to propose were anticipated by the labours and eccentrick reading of Steevens, the in. genious researches of Malone, and the fagacity of Tyr. whitt

...will fairly confess that I was somewhat mortified at this discovery, which compelld me to relinquish a favourite pursuit, from whence I had vainly expected to derive fome degree of credit in the literary world. This, however, was a fecondary confideration; and my principal porpose will be answered to my wish, if the Comments, which I now submit to the publick shall, in any other hands, contribute materially to a more complete edition of our inimitable poet.

If we may judge from the advertisement prefixed to his Supplement, Malone feems to think that no other edition can hereafter be wanted ; as in speaking of the last, he says, t's The text of the author feems now to be finally settled, the great abilities and unwearied researches of the editor having left little obscure or unexplained e."

Though I cannot subscribe to this opinion of Malone, with respect to the final adjustment of the text, I shall willingly join in his encomium on the editor, who deserves the applause and gratitude of the publick, not only for his industry and abilities, but also for the zeal with which he has prosecuted the object he had in view, which prompted

him, d Edit. 1778.

© As I was never vain enough to suppose the edit. 1778 was entitled to this encomium, I can find no difficulty in allowing that it has been properly recalled by the gentleman who bestowed it. See his Preface ; and his Letter to the Reverend Dr. Farmer, p. 7. and 8. STEEVENS.

« PreviousContinue »