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publick expectations, which at laft I have not anfwered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to fatisfy thofe who know not what to demand, or those who demand by defign what they think impoffible to be done. I have indeed difappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my tafk with no flight folicitude. Not a fingle paffage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to restore; or obfcure, which I have not endeavoured to illuftrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confeffed the repulfe. I have not paffed over, with affected fuperiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not inftruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might eafily have accumulated a mafs of feeming learning upon eafy fcenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was neceffary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have faid enough, I have faid no more.
Notes are often neceffary, but they are neceffary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakspeare, and who defires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play, from the firft fcene to the laft, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not ftoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is ftrongly engaged, let it difdain alike to turn afide to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obfcurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preferve his comprehenfion of the dialogue and his intereft in
the fable. And when the pleafures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactnefs, and read the commentators.
Particular paffages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal fubject; the reader is weary, he fufpects not why; and at laft throws away the book which he has too diligently ftudied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been furveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness neceffary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full defign and in its true proportions; a close approach fhows the finaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is difcerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to confider how little the fucceffion of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, ftudied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allufions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce, "that Shakspeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehenfive foul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily when he defcribes any thing, you more than fee it, you feel it too. Thofe, who accufe him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation; he was naturally learned; he needed not the fpectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot fay he is every where alike; were he fo, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest
of mankind. He is many times flat and infipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his ferious fwelling into bombaft. But he is always great, when fome great occafion is prefented to him: no man can fay, he ever had a fit fubject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the reft of poets,
• Quantum lenta folent inter viburna cupreffi."
It is to be lamented, that fuch a writer fhould want a commentary; that his language fhould become obfolete, or his fentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry wifhes beyond the condition of human things; that which muft happen to all, has happened to Shakspeare, by accident and time; and more than has been fuffered by any other writer fince the use of types, has been fuffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that fuperiority of mind, which defpifed its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged thofe works unworthy to be preferved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of reftoring and explaining.
Among thefe candidates of inferior fame, I am now to ftand the judgment of the publick; and with that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I fhould feel little folicitude about the fentence, were it to be pronounced only by the fkilful and the learned.
Of what has been performed in this revifal, an
This paragraph relates to the edition published in 1773, by George Steevens, Efq. MALONE.
account is given in the following pages by Mr. Steevens, who might have spoken both of his own diligence and fagacity, in terms of greater felfapprobation, without deviating from modefty or truth." JOHNSON.
[Prefixed to Mr. STEEVENS's Edition of Twenty of the old Quarto Copies of SHAKSPEARE, &C. in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]
THE 'HE plays of Shakspeare have been so often republifhed, with every feeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could ftand in need of any thing beyond the illuftration of fome few dark paffages. Modes of expreffion muft remain in obfcurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may
7 All prefatory matters being in the prefent edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally appeared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnfon refers to, will be found immedi ately after Mr. Capell's Introduction. STEEVENS.
throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper ufe of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they fuppofe him to have used; yet, for my own part, I cannot believe but that thofe which are now local may once have been univerfal, and must have been the language of those perfons before whom his plays were reprefented. However, it is certain, that the inftances of obfcurity from this fource are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that fentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Afcham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the sentence; but in Shakspeare no marks of it are discernible; and though the rules of fyntax were more ftrictly obferved by the writers of that age than they have been fince, he of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the ease of converfation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The paft editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted industry; to cover which they published catalogues, tranfcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be fuppofed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know