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to his Supplement, Malone feems to think that no other edition can hereafter be wanted; as in fpeaking of the last, he fays, "The text of the author feeins now to be finally settled, the great abilities and unwearied researches of the editor having left little obfcure or unexplained."
Though I cannot fubfcribe 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 deferves the applause and gratitude of the publick, not only for his industry and abilities, but alfo for the zeal with which he has profecuted the object he had in view, which prompted him, not only to the wearifome tafk of collation, but alfo to engage in a peculiar courfe of, reading, neither pleafing nor profitable for any other purpofe.
But I will venture to affert, that his merit is more confpicuous in the comments than the text; in the regulation of which he seems to have acted rather from caprice, than any fettled principle; admitting alterations, in fome paffages, on very infufficient authority, indeed, whilft in others he has retained the antient readings, though evidently corrupt, in preference to amendments as evidently juft; and it frequently happens, that after pointing out to us the true reading, he adheres to that which he himself has proved to be falfe. Had he regulated the text in every place according to his own judgment, Malone's obfervation would have been nearer to the truth; but as it now ftands, the
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.
laft edition has no fignal advantage, that I can perceive, over that of Johnson, in point of correctness.
But the object that Steevens had most at heart, was the illuftration of Shakspeare, in which it must be owned he has clearly furpaffed all the former editors. If without his abilities, application, or reading, I have happened to fucceed in explaining fome paffages, which he misapprehended, or in fug gefting amendments that escaped his fagacity, it is owing merely to the minute attention with which I have studied every line of these plays, whilft the other commentators, I will not except even Steevens himself, have too generally confined their obfervation and ingenuity to thofe litigated paffages, which have been handed down to them by former editors, as requiring either amendment or explanation, and have suffered many others to pass unheeded, that in truth, were equally erroneous or obfcure. It may poffibly be thought that I have gone too far in the other extreme, in pointing out trifling mistakes in the printing, which every reader perceives to be fuch, and amends as he reads; but where correctnefs is the object, no inaccuracy, however immaterial, fhould efcape unnoticed.
There is perhaps no fpecies of publication whatever, more likely to produce diversity of opinion than verbal criticifms; for as there is no certain criterion of truth, no established principle by which we can decide whether they be juftly founded or not, every reader is left to his own imagination, on which will depend his cenfure or applaufe. I have not therefore the vanity to hope that all these obfervations will be generally approved of; fome of them, I confefs, are not thoroughly fatisfactory even to myself, and are ha
zarded, rather than relied on :-But there are others which I offer with fome degree of confidence, and I flatter myself that they will meet, upon the whole, with a favourable reception from the admirers of Shakspeare, as tending to elucidate a number of paffages which have hitherto been misprinted or misunderstood.
In forming these comments, I have confined myself folely to the particular edition which is the object of them, without comparing it with any other, even with that of Johnfon: not doubting but the editors had faithfully ftated the various readings of the first editions, I refolved to avoid the labour of collating; but had I been inclined to undertake that talk, it would not have been in my power, as few, if any, of the ancient copies can be had in the country where I refide.
I have felected from the Supplement, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, because it is fuppofed by fome of the commentators to have been the work of Shakfpeare, and is at least as faulty as any of the rest. The remainder of the plays which Malone has published are neither, in my opinion, the production of our poet, or fufficiently incorrect to require any comment. M. MASON.
THE works of Shakspeare, during the laft twenty years, have been the objects of publick attention more than at any former period. In that time the various editions of his performances have been examined, his obfcurities illuminated, his defects pointed out, and his beauties difplayed, fo fully, fo accurately, and in fo fatisfactory a manner, that it might reasonably be presumed little would remain to be done by either new editors or new commentators: yet, though the diligence and fagacity of thofe gentlemen who contributed towards the last edition of this author may seem to have almost exhaufted the fubject, the fame train of enquiry has brought to light new difcoveries, and accident will probably continue to produce further illuftrations, which may render fome alterations neceffary in every fucceeding republication.
Since the laft edition of this work in 1778, the zeal for elucidating Shakspeare, which appeared in most of the gentlemen whofe names are affixed to the notes, has fuffered little abatement. The same perfevering fpirit of enquiry has continued to exert itself, and the fame laborious fearch into the lite rature, the manners, and the cuftoms of the times, which was formerly fo fuccefsfully employed, has
remained undiminished. By these aids fome new information has been obtained, and fome new materials collected. From the affiftance of fuch writers, even Shakspeare will receive no difcredit.
When the very great, and various talents of the laft editor, particularly for this work, are confidered, it will occafion much regret to find, that having fuperintended two editions of his favourite author through the prefs, he has at length declined the laborious office, and committed the care of the prefent edition to one who laments with the rest of the world the feceffion of his predeceffor; being confcious, as well of his own inferiority, as of the injury the publication will fuftain by the change.
As fome alterations have been made in the prefent edition, it may be thought neceffary to point them out. These are of two kinds, additions and omiffions. The additions are fuch as have been fupplied by the laft editor, and the principal of the living commentators. To mention thefe affiftances, is fufficient to excite expectation; but to fpeak any thing in their praise will be fuperfluous to those who are acquainted with their former labours. Some remarks are alfo added from new commentators, and fome notices extracted from books which have been published in the courfe of a few years paft.
Of the omiffions, the most important are fome notes which have been demonftrated to be ill founded, and fome which were fuppofed to add to the fize of the volumes without increafing their value. It may probably have happened that a few are rejected which ought to have been retained; and in that cafe the prefent editor, who has been the occafion of their removal, will feel fome con