Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

play, from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.

Particular passages 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 subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book which he has too diligently studied.

Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed ; there is a kind of intellectual re-, motenets necessary for the comprehension of any great work in its full design and in its true propora tions ; clofe approach shows the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is discerned no longer.

It is not very grateful to consider how little the fucceffion of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, ftudied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and negle& could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not re&tified, nor his allusions understood; yet the n did Dryden pronounce, so that Shakspeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehenlive

Sa

foul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily : when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Thofe, who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation ; he was naturally learned ; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: 'no man can fay, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,

Quantum lenta folent inter viburna cuprefli." It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want a commentary; that his language should be come obfolete, or his sentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things; that which must happen to all, has happened to Shakspeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer fince the use of types, has been suffered 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 those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and explaining.

[ocr errors]

Among these candidates of inferior fame, I am now to stand 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 should feel little folicito de about the sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.

Of what has been performed in this revisal,' 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 selfapprobation, without deviating from modesty or truth.6 JOHNSON.

This paragraph relates to the edition published in 1773, by George S:eevens, Esq. MALONE.

6 All prefatory matters being in the present edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally ap. peared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnson refers to, will be found immediately after Mr. Capell's Introduction,

[merged small][ocr errors]

Τ Ο Τ Η Ε

R E E

A DE E R.

( 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 so often

republished, with every seeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of any thing beyond the illustration of some few dark passages. Modes of expression must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who shall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expressions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for ny own part, I cannot believe but that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain, that the instances of obscurity from this fource are

very few.

Some have been of opinion that even a particular syntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that sentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.

In his time indeed a different arrangement of syllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Ascham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the sentence; but in Shakspeare no marks of it are discernible: and though the rules of syntax were more ftri&tly observed 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 conversation 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, transcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their possession; when, at the same 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 professes to have made use of no more than he had really seen, and has annexed a list of such to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclusion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the service of it or not.

For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspeare to collate

« ZurückWeiter »