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too, fhould we perfift in fimilar accumulations of extraneous matter, that our readers will at length be frighted away from Shakspeare, as the foldiers of Cato deferted their comrade when he became bloated with poifoncrefcens fugere cadaver. It is our opinion, in fhort, that every one who opens the page of an ancient English writer, fhould bring with him fome knowledge; and yet he by whom a thoufand minutiæ remain to be learned, needs not to close our author's volume in defpair, for his fpirit and general drift are always obvious, though his language and allufions are occafionally obfcure."
Fully impreffed with the force of this admonition, the late excellent Edition has been made the groundwork of the prefent, and the Text of it moft fcrupuloufly adopted; and if in the selection of the Notes (a task more delicate and difficult than may in general be imagined) fome fuperfluities are even yet retained, it must be attributed folely to a wish to preserve the various fentiments of the ingenious Commentators, whofe labours are attentively abridged, though their language and fignatures are uniformly preferved.
It would be unjuft, however, to Mr. STEEVENS, were we not to prefent to our readers fome extracts from his Preface, "In this republication, a confiderable number of fresh remarks are both adopted and fupplied by the prefent editors. They have perfifted in their former track of reading for the illuftration of their author, and cannot help obferving that thofe who receive the benefit of explanatory extracts from ancient 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the reader to fuppofe we have bestowed our whole tedioufnefs' on him, we fhould add, that many notes have likewife been withdrawn. A few, manifeftly erroneous, are indeed retained, to fhow how much the tone of Shakfperian criticism is changed, or on account of the skill difplayed in their confutation; for furely every editor in his turn is occafionally entitled to be feen, as he would have shown himself, with his vanquished adverfary at his feet. We have therefore
been fometimes willing to bring a corollary, rather than want a fpirit.' Nor, to confefs the truth, did we always think it juftifiable to fhrink our predeceffors to pigmies, that we ourselves, by force of comparifon, might affume the bulk of giants.
"The prefent editors muft alfo acknowledge, that unless in particular inftances, where the voice of the publick had decided against the remarks of Dr. JOHNSON, they have hefitated to difplace them; and had rather be charged with fuperftitious reverence for his name, than cenfured for a prefumptuous difregard of his opinions.
"As a large proportion of Mr. MONCK MASON's ftric tures on a former edition of SHAKSPEARE are here inferted, it has been thought neceffary that as much of his Preface as was defigned to introduce them, fhould accompany their fecond appearance. Any formal recommendation of them is needlefs, as their own merit is fure to rank their author among the moft diligent and fagacious of our celebrated Poet's annotators.
"It may be proper, indeed, to obferve 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 meafure' allotted to marginal criticism. In thefe cafes, either the commentator or the poet muft 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 propofed amendments are fuppreffed through honeft commiferation. 'Tis much he dares, and he has a wisdom that often guides his valour to act in fafety;' yet occafionally he forgets the prudence that should attend conjecture, and therefore, in a few inftances, would have been produced only to be perfecuted.--May it be fubjoined, that the freedom with which the fame gentleman has treated the notes of others, feems to have authorized an equal degree of licence refpecting his own? And yet, though the fword may have been drawn against him, he shall not com
plain that its point is unbated and envenomed;' for the conductors of this undertaking do not fcruple thus openly to express their wishes that it may have merit enough to provoke a revifion from the acknowledged learning and perfpicacity of their Hibernian coadjutor.-Every re-impreffion of our great dramatick master's works must be confidered in fome degree as experimental; for their corruptions and obfcurities are ftill fo numerous, and the progrefs of fortunate conjecture fo tardy and uncertain, that our remote defcendants may be perplexed by paffages 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 fhort, the peculiarity once afcribed to the poetick ifle of Delos, may be exemplified in our author's text, which, on account of readings alternately received and reprobated, must remain in an unfettled ftate, and float in obedience to every gale of contradictory criticifm.-Could a perfect and decifive edition of the following fcenes be produced, it were to be expected only (though we fear in vain) from the hand of Dr. FARMER, whofe more serious avocations forbid him to undertake what every reader would delight to poffefs.
"This impreffion of the Plays of SHAKSPEARE Muft not iffue into the world without particular and ample acknowledgements of the benefit it has derived from the labours of Mr. MALONE, whofe attention, diligence, and fpirit of enquiry, have very far exceeded thofe of the whole united phalanx of his predeceffors.-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; and every reader will concur in wishing that a gentleman who has produced fuch intelligent combinations from very few materials, had fortunately been poffeffed 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 exift, and for that reafon only it is preserved.
That is, in the Octavo Edition of Mr. STEEVENS.
"The form and fubftance of the commentary attending this republication having been materially changed and enlarged fince 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 obfcure, nor flattery transfer to any other candidate for publick favour."
IT may be proper to obferve that the learned Commentator whofe name appears in the title-page is under no refponfibility for the prefent edition. The prefs has been wholly corrected under the fuperintendance of Mr. BALDWIN; by whofe attention the late very correct and elegant edition of Mr. STEEVEN'S was fo handfomely introduced to the publick. For the felection of the Notes, which has been performed with fome induftry and much impartiality, no one is anfwerable but
Dec. 20, 1796.
PREFACE TO MR. M. MASON'S COMMENTS, &C. 1785.
Not thoroughly satisfied with any of the former editions of Shakspeare, even that of Johnfon, I had refolved to venture upon one of my own, and had actually collected materials for the purpose, when that, which is the fubject of the following Obfervations, made its appearance; in which I found that a confiderable part of the amendments and explanations I had intended to propofe were anticipated by the labours and eccentrick reading of Steevens, the ingenious researches of Malone, and the fagacity of Tyrwhitt. I will fairly confefs that I was fomewhat mortified at this difcovery, which compell'd me to relinquish a favourite purfuit, 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 purpose will be anfwered to my wifh, if the Comments, which I now fubmit to the publick fhall, 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 laft, he fays, "The text of the author feems now to be finally fettled, the great abilities and unwearied researches of the editor having left little obfcure or unexplained e."
Though I cannot fubfcribe to this opinion of Malone, with respect to the final adjustment of the text, I fhall willingly join in his encomium on the editor, who deferves the applaufe and gratitude of the publick, not only for his industry and abilities, but also for the zeal with which he has profecuted the object he had in view, which prompted him,
d Edit. 1778.
e As I was never vain enough to fuppofe 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.