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the stage. The custom of distinguishing every en-
in zen the 7 in
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 paffage has been constantly misunderstood, or where the jest or pleasantry has been suffered to 10 main long in obscurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at first fight to have been neceffary, 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 ema ployed an affected fingularity of expression, or indulged himself in allusions to tranfient 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 regarded as naterials for future critics, who may hereafter apply them with success, Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers * ; yet such circumstances as fall below the no
* Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, offers a fimilar apology for having introduced illustrations from obsolete literature. “I fear (says he) I shall be censured for quoting too many pieces of this fort. But experience has fa[E4]
tice of history, can only be sought in the jeft-book, the satire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not outlive a week, is sometimes necessary to throw light on those anrials which take in the compass of an age. Toose, 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 allufon to stewed prunes, should not be disgusted at a multitude of instances, which, when
tally proved, that the commentator on Spenter, Jonson, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give specimens 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 respectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allu. hons and many imitations will either remain obscure, or lose half their beauty and propriery : “ as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed."
“ Pope' laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of SHAKESPEARE, 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 SHAKESPEARE 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, fignifies Teucer, fo celebrated for his skill in archery. Had he deigned to consult an old history, called the Desitruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKEPEARE and of his age, he would have found that this forinidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the Grecian army brought against Troy. It SHAKESPEARE 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 fatire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which so essentially contribuies to the service of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dullnejs."
on to afs
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, had he dealt in allusions less temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapse of time must inevitably create.
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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 obligations to his correspondents, it is necessary that one comprehensive 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 Shakespeare was originally an author correct in the u'most degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been propose À 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 conftant peruser of Shakespeare 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 filence. On the contrary, if in confideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions 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 whatever 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.
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If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shakespeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; fo 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 dramatic 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 realon to think that about the time of the Reforma. tion, 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 manner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c. but under certain restrictions.” Vid. Sect. V. This obfervation is taken from Dr. Percy's Additions to his Essay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclufion of the second vol. of the entries belonging to the Stationers' company, that in the 41st year of queen Elizabeth, many new reltraints on bookfellers were laid. Among these are the following,
“ That no plaies be printed excepte they bee allowed by such as have auc
The records of the Stationers however contain the ene tries of some which have never yet been met with by the most fuccessful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should seem from the faine volumes that it was customary for the Stationers to seize the whole impresfion 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 fometimes enjoyed thefe literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete fatires of bifhop Halí.
Mr. Theobald, at the conclufion of the preface to his first edition of Shakespeare, asserts, that exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and B. and Fletcher, he had read “ above 800 of old Englich plays." He omitted this affertion, however, on the