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very clear and an elegant hand; but as his memory was far from tenacious, when any thing occurred which he thought might prove of use, he was in the habit of using the first
, scrap of paper which presented itself, and marking down his memoranda in a species of short hand, of which no one, who was not accustomed to his manner, could readily comprehend the meaning. I am far from pretending to say that, with all the advantages I enjoyed, I can hope to remedy the many imperfections which must unavoidably occur, when the mind which collected information can no longer superintend its disclosure ; and in some of the most important parts of his investigations, a chasm must be left which I am unable to supply; yet still I can, with confidence, assert, that enough will remain to justify the publick expectation, and gratify the admirers of our greatest poet. Whatever may be the defects that shall be discovered in that portion of the work which has devolved upon me, which, I am aware, are many, and fear that more may be found, yet I trust to the candour of the reader, that he will keep in his recollection the circumstances which I have stated, and will not consider me as having thrust myself upon this employment from any over-weening confidence in my own abilities; but as having undertaken it as a task in compliance with the last wishes of an ever dear friend. While the merits of this edition are to be ascribed to Mr. Malone, I need scarcely add that I am not responsible for the erroneous opinions which it contains, if such there be. There were several points upon which I was so far from coinciding with my late friend, that they have frequently led us into friendly controversy. I have felt myself bound to exhibit his sentiments, whether I thought them right or wrong, and should not have deemed myself justified in imposing upon the reader, when I laid before him what purported to be the work of Mr. Malone, a critick of high and established fame, by substituting opinions of my own; nor have I, in general, added to these commentaries, too voluminous already, by expressing my dissent; yet I confess that in the course of the long labours which I have had to undergo, I have not been able entirely to refrain from occasionally appearing in my own person; but I trust that in this respect I shall not be found to have been'unreasonably or ostentatiously obtrusive. According to the plan laid down by Mr. Malone, I have inserted all the notes of his predecessors, although I am ready to admit that some of them might well have been spared. And here again I request it may be understood that my passing them over in silence, is not to be considered as acquiescing in their propriety. When, for instance, Mr. Ritson observes, that the reading of the quarto in Hamlet's celebrated soliloquy,
“ And enterprizes of great pitch and moment," is better: I should not wish it to be thought that I adopt his explanation, " The allusion is to the pitching or throwing the bar—a manly exercise used in country villages.” In a very few instances I have ventured to take the liberty of expunging a note where Shakspeare has, I think, most perversely and injuriously been charged with an irreverent allusion to Scripture. When Proteus, in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, says to Speed, among many quibbles upon the word sheep, “ Nay, in that you are astray; 'twere best pound you !” what but the very cacoethes of commenting could lead any one to suppose, with Dr. Henley, that the poet had in view the general confession of sins in the liturgy? I am confident that it is from illustrations such as these that Shakspeare has laid under the heavy imputation of prophaneness, much more than from any offences of that kind of which he has really been guilty ; but even if such had been his meaning, it is surely much better that it should be passed over than pointed out. There are some annotations reprehensible in another point of view, which I should gladly have omitted, but they have so long retained their places, that such an expurgatory liberty seemed to me to be going beyond the bounds
of my “ limited service.” I have, however, been scrupu
” lous in not adding to their number.
But while I am ready to acknowledge with Mr. Steevens (who, by the way, at the very time when he made this remark, was adding more copiously to his notes, and indulging to a greater extent in collateral discussions, than any other critick), that among the defects of the later editions of Shakspeare, may be reckoned an exuberance of comment; yet I cannot but think that this charge has been advanced with too much exaggeration. We have been told by a distinguished contemporary, that passages are explained in which no man, woman, or child, could have found
any difficulty. But if we look to the editions of Pope and Johnson, we shall frequently meet with mistakes which would be obvious to persons of the slightest acquirements in the present day. It will certainly not be maintained that the great mass of mankind are endowed with more natural perspicacity than the two illustrious individuals whom I have named; and hence their superior intelligence must be attributed to their having access to new sources of information in the collected labours of those who have since investigated the poet's works; and therefore, even if in a few instances, somewhat more information has been bestowed than was absolutely required, it is rather an ungrateful return, on the part of living readers, to speak with contempt of criticks, by whose assistance they have been elevated above those so much their superiors in natural size. It has also been objected, that illustrations of obsolete phrases and manners from Shakspeare's contemporaries, have been too lavishly brought forward ; but it may admit of a question whether this has not been, in some degree, compensated by the effect which it has had no small share in producing on the general literature of the country, by drawing the attention of the publick, much more than was generally the case at any former period, to the neglected writers of an early age. The slightest reference which
can be drawn from the works of Shakspeare to a forgotten poet, has had the effect of a stone thrown from the hand of Deucalion, and raised him at once into life. This may perhaps have been carried too far, and the zeal which has been exerted in collecting all the remains of the Elizabethan age, may perhaps, in some cases, have been inordinate; but it is surely preferable to the ignorance which prevailed on this subject not more than a century ago, when the knowledge of our literature was confined within so narrow a compass, that as far as intellectual eminence was concerned, we appeared to be a nation of yesterday. Our early writers, with all the faults of an untutored taste, had merits sufficient to redeem them from the oblivion to which they had been consigned. They were marble in the
quarry, it is true, but still they were marble, and formed of those durable materials, which have at length obtained for English genius, that rank in Europe which the feebler muse of France had so long exclusively and unjustly usurped.
It was the object of Mr. Malone, from which he never deviated, to furnish the reader, as far as it was possible, with the author's unsophisticated text. In acting upon this principle he had at first the concurrence and even the example of Mr. Steevens to guide him. They both professed to follow the old copies with scrupulous fidelity, except where a clear necessity compelled them to depart from the readings which they supplied. To this plan it will be found Mr. Malone has still steadily adhered, while his rival critick has latterly adopted maxims directly contrary to the opinions which he formerly maintained. Corruptions have been supposed to exist in the phraseology of Shakspeare, which, in some instances, are not altogether obsolete in the present day; and the free versification of the poet has been lengthened or curtailed as suited the commentator's caprice, to bring it within the strict regularity which has been enjoined by the school of Pope. In proposing these corrections, as Mr. Steevens endeavours to represent them, and in pointing out the fancied errors of the earlier copies, he has generally had recourse to ridicule, a weapon of which he was as fond, as he was skilful in its use. This mode of discussion gave him great advantages when the passages upon which it arose were scattered throughout a number of volumes, from which a great proportion of readers would be unwilling to take the pains of collecting a system of criticism for themselves; but would rather be content with acquiescing in opinions so pleasantly and humorously conveyed. Mr. Malone, to obviate this effect (in some measure, I believe, at my recommendation), determined to bring these topicks into one connected view, and therefore prepared materials for an express Essay on the Metre and Phraseology of Shakspeare, in which he had made considerable progress, but which, I am sorry to say, he did not live to complete. I have taken some pains upon this subject, and have ventured to add the result of my reading to what my friend has left behind him. In another department of this work I have put myself to a good deal of unnecessary trouble, if the decision of Mr. Steevens should be considered as well founded, where he has ridiculed the notion that any advantage was to be derived from further and more accurate collation of the text; but upon this subject I must presume to say, that I cannot consider him as the best authority. Whatever were the qualities necessary for an editor which he possessed, and it would not be easy to point out a man who had more, yet he laboured under a marked deficiency in this respect, from the very first commencement of his critical career. His republication of the early quartos of Shakspeare in 1766, is one of the most grossly incorrect performances that I have ever seen; and his edition of our poet's plays, in conjunction with Dr. Johnson in 1773, was scarcely less objectionable. The following passage from the advertisement which he then prefixed, see p. 173, will show his notions of the unimportance of collation; and will enable me to apprize