« ZurückWeiter »
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 exactness, 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 re-. motenefs neceffary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full design and in its true proportions; a clofe approach fhows the fmaller 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 pleafing. 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 flil prefent to him, and he drew them not laborioufly, but luckily when he describes 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 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 fhould do him injury to compare him with the greateft 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 these candidates of inferior fame, I am now to fland the judgment of the publick; and wish 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 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.
This paragraph relates to the edition publifhed in 1773, by George Steevens, Efq. MALONE.
6 All prefatory matters being in the prefent edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally ap peared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnfon refers to, will be found immediately after Mr. Capell's Introduction.
[Prefixed to Mr. STEEVENS'S Edition of Twenty of the old Quarto Copies of SHAKSPEARE, &C. in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]
THE plays of Shakspeare have been fo often
republifhed, with every feeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the firft abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand 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 throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all thofe who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for my own part, 1 cannot believe but that thofe which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons 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 fupport 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 fentence; but in Shakspeare no marks of it are difcernible: and though the rules of fyntax were more flrictly 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 seems to have been his only care, and with the ease of converfation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past 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 supposed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any degree of accuracy. The last editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he profeffes to have made use of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a list of such to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclufion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the fervice of it or not.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspeare to collate