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a renown, established on fo folid a foundation, as to bid defiance to the caprices of fashion, and to the canker of time.
Leaving, therefore, the Author in quiet poffeffion of that fame which neither detraction can leffen nor panegyrick increafe, the Editor will proceed to the confideration of the work now prefented to the Publick.
It contains the laft improvements and corrections of Mr. Steevens,* by whom it was prepared for the
* Of one to whom the readers of Shakspeare are so much obliged, a flight memorial will not here be confidered as mifplaced.
GEORGE STEEVENS was born at Poplar, in the county of Middlesex, in the year 1736. His father, a man of great refpectability, was engaged in a business connected with the Eaft India Company, by which he acquired an handfome fortune. Fortunately for his fon, and for the publick, the clergyman of the place was Dr. Gloucefter Ridley, a man of great literary accomplishments, who is ftyled by Dr. Lowth poeta natus. With this gentleman an intimacy took place that united the two families clofely together, and probably gave the younger branches of each that tafte for literature which both afterwards ardently cultivated. The first part of Mr. Steevens's education he received under Mr. Wooddeson, at Kingston-upon-Thames, where he had for his school-fellows George Keate the ward Gibbon the hiftorian. From this feminary he removed in ian. From there the poet, and Ed1753 to King's College, Cambridge, and entered there under
prefs, and to whom the praise is due of having first adopted, and carried into execution, Dr. Johnson's
the tuition of the Reverend Dr. Barford. After ftaying a few years at the University, he left it without taking a degree, and accepted a commiffion in the Effex militia, in which fervice he continued a few years longer. In 1763 he loft his father, from whom he inherited an ample property, which if he did not leffen he certainly did not increase. From this period he seems to have determined on the courfe of his future life, and devoted himself to literary pursuits, which he followed with unabated vigour, but without any lucrative views, as he never required, or accepted, the flighteft pecuniary recompence for his labours. His first refidence was in the Temple, afterwards at Hampton, and laftly at Hampstead, where he continued near thirty years. In this retreat his life paffed in one unbroken tenor, with scarce any variation, except an occafional vifit to Cambridge, walking to London in the morning, fix days out of feven, for the fake of health and conversation, and returning home in the afternoon of the fame day. By temperance and exercife he continued healthy and active until the last two years of his life, and to the conclufion of it did not relax his attention to the illuftration of Shakspeare, which was the firft object of his regard. He died the 22d of January, 1800, and was buried in Poplar chapel.
To the eulogium contained in the following epitaph by Mr. Hayley, which differs in fome refpect from that infcribed on the monument in Poplar chapel, thofe who really knew Mr. Steevens will readily fubfcribe: shea bavie
nottedLM in un
"Peace to thefe afhes! once the bright attire
admirable plan of illuftrating Shakspeare by the ftudy of writers of his own time. By following this track, moft of the difficulties of the author have been overcome, his meaning (in many inftances apparently loft) has been recovered, and much wild unfounded conjecture has been happily got rid of. By perfeverance in this plan, he effected more to the elucidation of his author than any if not all his predeceffors, and juftly entitled himself to the diftinction of being confeffed the best editor of Shakfpeare,
The edition which now folicits the notice of the publick is faithfully printed from the copy given by
"Whofe talents, varying as the diamond's ray,
"How oft has pleasure in the focial hour
Learning, as vaft as mental power could feize, "In fport difplaying and with grateful ease,
Lightly the stage of chequer'd life he trod, Careless of chance, confiding in his God! Donead adime
"This tomb may perish, but not fo his name "Who fhed new luftre upon SHAKSPEARE'S fame!"
Mr. Steevens to the proprietors of the preceding edition, in his life-time; with fuch additions as, it is prefumed, he would have received, had he lived to determine on them himself. The whole was entrusted to the care of the prefent Editor, who has, with the aid of an able and vigilant affiftant, and a careful printer, endeavoured to fulfil the trust repofed in him, as well as continued ill health and depreffed fpirits would permit.
By a memorandum in the hand-writing of Mr. Steevens it appeared to be his intention to adopt and introduce into the prolegomena of the prefent edition some parts of two late works of Mr. George Chalmers. An application was therefore made to that gentleman for his confent, which was immediately granted; and to render the favour more acceptable, permiffion was given to diveft the extracts of the offenfive afperities of controverfy.
The portrait of Shakspeare prefixed to the prefent edition, is a copy of the picture formerly belonging to Mr. Felton, now to Alderman Boydell, and at prefent at the Shakspeare Gallery, in Pall Mall. After what has been written on the fubject it will be only neceffary to add, that Mr. Steevens perfevered in his opinion that this, of all the portraits, had the fairest chance of being a genuine likeness of the author. Of the canvas Chandois picture he
remained convinced that it poffeffed no claims ta authenticity.
Some apology is due to thofe gentlemen who, during the course of the publication, have obligingly offered the prefent Editor their affiftance, which he fhould thankfully have received, had he confidered himself at liberty to accept their favours. He was fearful of loading the page, which Mr. Steevens in fome inftances thought too much crouded already, and therefore confined himself to the copy left to his care by his deceased friend.
But it is time to conclude. He will therefore detain the reader no longer than just to offer a few words in extenuation of any errors or omiffions that may be difcovered in his part of the work; a work which, notwithstanding the utmost exertion of diligence, has never been produced without fome imperfection. Circumstanced as he has been, he is fenfible how inadequate his powers were to the task impofed on him, and hopes for the indulgence of the reader. He feels that "the inaudible and noiseless foot of time" has infenfibly brought on that period of life and thofe attendant infirmities which weaken the attachment to early purfuits, and diminish their importance:
Superfluous lags the veteran on the flage."
To the admonition he is content to pay obedience;