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hoast, that many valuable readings have been retrieved; though it may be fairly asserted, that the text of Shakspeare is restored to the condition in which the author, or rather his first publishers, appear to have left it, such emendations as were absolutely necessary, alone admitted: for where a particle, indispensably necessary to the sense was wanting, such a supply has been si. lently adopted from other editions; but where a syllable, or more, had been added for the sake of metre only, which at Arst might have been irregular,* such interpolations are here constantly retrenched, sometimes with, and sometimes without notice. Those speeches, which in the elder editions are printed as prose, and from their own construction are incapable of be. ing compressed into verse, without the aid of supplemental syllables, are restored to prose again; and the measure is divided afresh in others, where the mass of words had been inharmoniously separated into lines.
The scenery, throughout all the plays, is regulated in confor. mity to a rule, which the poet, by his general practice seems to have proposed to himself. Several of his pieces are come down to us, divided into scenes as well as acts. These divisions were probably his own, as they are made on settled principles, which would hardly have been the case, had the task been executed by the players. A change of scene, with Shakspeare, most commonly implies a change of place, but always an entire evacuation of the stage. The custom of distinguishing every entrance or exit by a fresh scene, was adopted, perhaps very idly, from the French theatre.
For the length of many notes, and the accumulation of examples in others, some apology may be likewise expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the source of an imperfect explanation. Where a passage has been constantly misun. derstood, or where the jest or pleasantry has been suffered to remain long in obscurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at first sight to have been necessary. For these, it can only be said, that when they prove that phraseology or source of merriment to have been once general, which at present seems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a suspicion of having employed an affected singu. larity of expression, or indulged himself in allusions to transient customs, which were not of sufficient notoriety to deserve ridicule or reprehension. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are assembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, such neutral collections should always be regard. ed as materials for future criticks, who may hereafter apply them with success. Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers;t
* I retract this supposition, which was too hastily formed. See note on The Tempest, Vol. II, p. 57, n. 4. Steevens.
get such circumstances as fall below the notice of history, can only be sought in the jest-book, the satire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not outlive a week, is sometimes necessary to throw light on those annals which take in the com. pass of an age. Those, therefore, who would wish to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, must excuse the insertion of such an epigram as best suits the purpose, however tedious in itself; and such as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allusion to stewed prunes, should not be disgusted at a multitude of instances, which, when the point is once known to be established, may be diminished by any future editor. An author who catches (as Pope expresses it) at the Cynthia of a minute, and does not furnish notes to his own works, is sure to lose half the praise which he might have claimed,
+ Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, offers a similar apology for having introduced illus. trations from obsolete literature. “I fear (says he) I shall be censured for quoting too many pieces of this sort. But experience has fatally proved, that the commentator on Spenser, Jonson, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give speci. mens of his classical erudition, unless at the same time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors respec. tively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allusions and many imitations will either remain obscure, or lose half their beauty and propriety: 'as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.'
“ Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakspeare, a sample of
all such READING as was never read. But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKSPEARE himself had studied; the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain so many difficult allusions and obsolete customs in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood. For want of this sort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Cressida, signifies Teucer, so celebrated for his skill in archery. Had he deigned to consult an old histo. ry, called The Destruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKSPEARE and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the Grecian army brought against Troy. If SHAKSPEARE is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for so valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the satire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which so essentially contributes to the service of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dulness.” Steevens,
had he dealt in allusions less temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapse of time must inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been desirous to support old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He desires to be regarded as one, who found the task he undertook more arduous than it seemed, while he was yet feeding his vanity with the hopes of introducing himself to the world as an editor in form. He, who has discovered in himself the power to rectify a few mistakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all difficulties must yield to the efforts of future labour; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at last.
Mr. Steevens desires it may be observed, that he has strictly complied with the terms exhibited in his proposals, having appropriated all such assistances, as he received, to the use of the present editor, whose judgment has, in every instance, determined on their respective merits. While he enumerates his obe ligations to his correspondents, it is necessary that one compre. bensive remark should be made on such communications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were founded on the supposition, that Shakspeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A con. stant perusal of Shakspeare will suppose whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in silence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of eve. ry class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh in ventions of phrase, or peculiarities of expression, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or sagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many passages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of what. ever licence, for exhibitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be considered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shak. speare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; so neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, derives its greatest value from its accessibility.*
* There is reason to think that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of Queen Elizabeth's inJUNCTIONs in 1559, are particularly directed to the suppressing of “Many pamphlets, PLAYes, and ballads: that no man. ner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c. but under certain restrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This observation is taken from Dr. Percy's additions to his Essay on the Origin of the Eng. lish Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclusion of the second volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers' Company, that in the 41st year of Queen Elizabeth, many new restraints on booksellers were laid. Among these are the following: “That no playes be printed excepte they bee allowed by such as have auctoritye.” The records of the Stationers, however, contain the entries of some which have never yet been met with by the most successful collectors; nor are their titles 80 be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should seem from the same volumes that it was cus. tomary for the Stationers to seize the whole impression of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, who sometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bishop Hall.
Mr. Theobald, at the conclusion of the preface to his first edition of Shakspeare, asserts, that exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, he had read “ above 800 of old English plays.” He omitted this assertion, however, on the republication of the same work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falshood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to serve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused this imaginary stock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained en.
† Law, Physick, and Divinity, bl. 1. may be found on every stall. Plays, poetry, and novels, were destroyed publickly by the Bishops and privately by the Puritans. Hence the infinite number of them entirely lost, for which licenses were procured &c. Farmer.
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the suppression of many dramatick and poetical names, which were plunged in obscurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never since attracted curiosity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued so long, that many books may be supposed to be lost; and that curiosity, which has been now for some years increasing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in small numbers, being thus neglected, were soon destroyed; and though the capital authors were preserved, they were preserved to languish without regard. How little Shakspeare himself was once read, may be understood from Tate,* who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear,
tire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonson, till the time of his death. It does not appear that any other collection but the Harleian was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edition contain any intrinsick evidences of so comprehensive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he assumes to him. self the merit of having made. Steevens.
Whatever Mr. Theobald might venture to assert, there is suf. ficient evidence existing that at the time of his death he was not possessed of more than 295 quarto plays in the whole, and some of these, it is probable, were different editions of the same play. He died shortly after the 6th of September, 1744. On the 20th of October his library was advertized to be sold by auction, by Charles Corbett, and on the third day was the following lot: “295 Old English plays in quarto, some of them so scarce as not to be had at any price: to many of which are MSS. notes and remarks by Mr. Theobald, all done up neatly in boards in single plays. They will all be sold in one lot.” Reed.
There were about five hundred and fifty plays printed before the Restoration, exclusive of those written by Shakspeare, Jonson, and Fletcher. Malone.
* In the year 1707 Mr. N. Tate published a tragedy called Injured Love, or the Cruel Husband, and in the title-page calls him. self “ Author of the tragedy called King Lear.”
In a book called The Actor, or a Treatise on the Art of Playing, 12mo. published in 1750, and imputed to Dr. Hill, is the following pretended extract from Romeo and Juliet, with the author's remark on it:
“ The saints that heard our vows and know our love,
Upon my knees I'll ask them every day
“ And want a place to rest my weary head on,