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'CAN it be wondered at (says Mr. Gifford) that the task he undertook, was chiefly instrumental m Shakspeare should swell into twenty or even increasing the evil. He has indeed been happily twice twenty volumes, when the latest editor (like designated the Puck of commentators:' he fre the wind Cecias) constantly draws round him the quently wrote notes, not with the view of illustrafloating errors of all his predecessors?' Upwards of ting the Poet, but for the purpose of misleading Matwenty years ago, when the evil was not so great lone, and of enjoying the pleasure of turning against as it has since become, Steevens confessed that him that playful ridicule which he knew so well how there was an 'exuberance of comment,' arising from to direct. Steevens, like Malone, began his career the ambition in each little Hercules to set up pillars as an Editor of Shakspeare with scrupulous attenascertaining how far he had travelled through the tion to the old copies, but when he once came to dreary wilds of black letter;' so that there was entertain some jealousy of Malone's intrusion into some danger of readers being frighted away from his province, he all at once shifted his ground, and Shakspeare, as the soldiers of Cato deserted their adopted maxims entirely opposed to those which comrade when he became bloated with poison-guided his rival editor. Upon a recent perusal of a crescens fugere cadaver.' He saw with a prophetic eye that the evil must cure itself, and that the time would arrive when some of this ivy must be removed, which only served to hide the princely trunk, and suck the verdure out of it.'
This expurgatory task has been more than once undertaken, but has never hitherto, it is believed, been executed entirely to the satisfaction of the admirers of our great Poet: and the work has even now devolved upon one who, though not wholly unprepared for it by previous studies, has perhaps manifested his presumption in undertaking it with weak and unexamined shoulders.' He does not, however, shrink from a comparison with the labours of his predecessors, but would rather solicit that equitable mode of being judged; and will patiently, and with all becoming submission to the decision of a competent tribunal, abide the result.
As a new candidate for public favour, it may be expected that the Editor should explain the ground of his pretensions. The object then of the present publication is to afford the general reader a correct edition of Shakspeare, accompanied by an abridged commentary, in which all superfluous and refuted explanations and conjectures, and all the controversies and squabbles of contending critics should be omitted; and such elucidations only of obsolete words and obscure phrases, and such critical illustrations of the text as might be deemed most generally useful be retained. To effect this it has been necessary, for the sake of compression, to condense in some cases several pages of excursive discussion into a few lines, and often to blend together the information conveyed in the notes of several commentators into one. mere transcripts or abridgments of the labours of When these explanations are his predecessors, and are unaccompanied by any observation of his own, it will of course be understood that the Editor intends to imply by silent 'acquiescence that he has nothing better to propose.' Fortune, however, seems to have been propitious to his labours, for he flatters himself that he has been enabled in many instances to present the reader with more satisfactory explanations of difficult passages, and with more exact definitions of obsolete words and phrases, than are to be found in the notes to the variorum editions.
The causes which have operated to overwhelm the pages of Shaskpeare with superfluous notes are many; but Steevens, though eminently fitted for
considerable portion of the correspondence between them, one letter seemed to display the circumstances which led to the interruption of their intimacy in so clear a light, and to explain the causes thy of the reader's attention. The letter has no which have so unnecessarily swelled the comments date:on Shakspeare, that it has been thought not unwor
private business that it is not in my power to afford you the long and regular answer which your letter Sir, I am at present so much harassed with deserves. Permit me, however, to desert order and propriety, replying to your last sentence first.I assure you that I only erased the word friend because, considering how much controversy was to follow, that distinction seemed to be out of its place, and appeared to carry with it somewhat of a change, and I hope you will do me the honour to believe I had no other design in it. burlesque air. Such was my single motive for the
the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least
Steevens had undoubtedly, as he says of himself on another occasion
and Mr. Tyrwhitt. You cannot surely suspect me | of having wished to commence hostilities with either of you; but you have made a very singular com- Fallen in the plash his wickedness had made ;' ment on this remark indeed. Because I have said and in some instances contested the force and proI could overturn some of both your arguments on priety of his own remarks when applied by Malone other occasions with ease, you are willing to infer to parallel passages; or, as Malone observes: that I meant all of them. Let me ask, for instance They are very good remarks, so far forth as they sake, what would become of his "undertakers,' are his; but when used by me are good for nothing; &c. were I to advance all I could on that subject. and the disputed passages become printers' blunI will not offend you by naming any particular posi-ders, or Hemingisms and Condelisms.' Hence his tion of your own which could with success be dis- unremitted censure of the first folio copy, and supputed. cannot, however, help adding, that had I port of the readings of the second folio, which Mafollowed every sentence of your attempt to ascer- lone treats as of no authority;-his affected contain the order of the plays, with a contradiction tempt for the Poems of Shakspeare, &c. sedulous and unremitted as that with which you Mr. Boswell has judiciously characterized Steehave pursued my Observations on Shakspeare's vens :-'With great diligence, an extensive acWill and his Sonnets, you at least would not have quaintance with early literature, and a remarkably found your undertaking a very comfortable one. I was retentive memory: he was besides, as Mr. Gifford then an editor, and indulged you with even a printed has justly observed, “a wit and a scholar." But foul copy of your work, which you enlarged long his wit and the sprightliness of his style were too as you thought fit.-The arrival of people on busi- often employed to bewilder and mislead us. His ness prevents me from adding more than that I hope consciousness of his own satirical powers made to be still indulged with the correction of my own him much too fond of exercising them at the exnotes on the Yorkshire] T[ragedy]. I expect al-pense of truth and justice. He was infected to a most every one of them to be disputed, but assure you that I will not add a single word by way of reply. I have not returned you so complete an answer as I would have done had I been at leisure. You have, however, the real sentiments of your most humble servant,
lamentable degree with the jealousy of authorship; and while his approbation was readily bestowed upon those whose competition he thought he had no reason to dread, he was fretfully impatient of a brother near the throne: his clear understanding would generally have enabled him to discover what was right; but the spirit of contradiction could at any time induce him to maintain what was wrong. It would be impossible, indeed, to explain how any one, possessed of his taste and discernment, could have brought himself to advocate so many indefensible opinions, without entering into a long and ungracious history of the motives by which he was influenced.'
The temper in which this letter was written is obvious. Steevens was at the time assisting Malone in preparing his Supplement to Shakspeare, and had previously made a liberal present to him of his valuable collection of old plays; he afterwards called himself'a dowager editor, and said he would never more trouble himself about Shakspeare. This is gathered from a memorandum by Malone, but Steevens does in effect say in one of his letters; Malone was certainly not so happily gifted; adding, Nor will such assistance as I may be able though Mr. Boswell's partiality in delineating his to furnish ever go towards any future gratuitous pub-friend, presents us with the picture of an amiable lication of the same author: ingratitude and impertinence from several booksellers have been my reward for conducting two laborious editions, both of which, except a few copies, are already sold.'
and accomplished gentleman and scholar. There seems to have been a want of grasp in his mind to make proper use of the accumulated materials which his unwearied industry in his favourite pursuit had placed within his reach: his notes on Shakspeare
neither does he seem to have been deficient in that jealousy of rivalship, or that pertinacious adherence to his own opinions, which have been attributed to his competitor.
In another letter, in reply to a remonstrance about the suspension of his visits to Malone, Stee-are often tediously circumlocutory and ineffectual: vens says:-I will confess to you without reserve the cause why I have not made even my business submit to my desire of seeing you. I readily allow that any distinct and subjoined reply to my remarks on your notes is fair; but to change (in conse- It is superfluous here to enlarge on this topic, quence of private conversation) the notes that drew for the merits and defects of Johnson, Steevens, and from me those remarks, is to turn my own weapons Malone, as commentators on Shakspeare, and the against me. Surely, therefore, it is unnecessary to characters of those who preceded them, the reader let me continue building when you are previously will find sketched with a masterly pen in the Biodetermined to destroy my very foundations. As I graphical Preface of Dr. Symmons, which accomobserved to you yesterday, the result of this pro- panies this edition. The vindication of Shakspeare ceeding would be, that such of my strictures as from idle calumny and ill founded critical animadmight be just on the first copies of your notes, must version, could not have been placed in better hands often prove no better than idle cavils, when applied than in those of the vindicator of Milton; and his to the second and amended editions of them. I eloquent Essay must afford pleasure to every lover know not that any editor has insisted on the very of our immortal Bard. It should be observed that extensive privileges which you have continued to the Editor, in his adoption of readings, differs in claim. In some parts of my Dissertation on Peri- opinion on some points from his able coadjutor, with cles, I am almost reduced to combat with shadows. whom he has not the honour of a personal acquaintWe had resolved (as I once imagined) to proceed ance. It is to be regretted that no part of the work without reserve on either side through the whole of was communicated to Dr. Symmons until nearly that controversy, but finally you acquainted me with the whole of the Plays were printed; or the Editor your resolution (in right of editorship) to have the and the Public would doubtless have benefited by last word. However, for the future, I beg I may his animadversions and suggestions in its progress be led to trouble you only with observations relative through the press. The reader will not therefore to notes which are fixed ones. I had that advan-be surprised at the preliminary censure of some tage over my predecessors, and you have enjoyed the same over me; but I never yet possessed the means of obviating objections before they could be effectually made,' &c.
Here then is the secret developed of the subsequent, unceasing, and unrelenting opposition with which Steevens opposed Malone's notes: their controversies served not to make sport for the world,' but to annoy the admirers of Shakspeare, by overloading his page with frivolous contention.
readings which are still retained in the text.
Dr. Johnson's far famed Preface-which has so long hung as a dead weight upon the reputation of our great Poet, and which has been justly said to look like 'a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and weiga mis excenencies and defects in equal scales stuffed full of swelling figures and sonorous epithets,'-will, for obvious reasons, form no part of this publication. His bric
strictures at the end of each play have been retained in compliance with custom, but not without an Occasional note of dissent. We may suppose that Johnson himself did not estimate these observations very highly, for he tells us that 'in the plays which are condemned there may be much to be praised, and in those which are praised much to be condemned!' Far be it from us to undervalue or speak slightingly of our great moralist; but his most strenuous admirers must acknowledge that the construction of his mind incapacitated him from forming a true judgment of the creations of one who was of imagination all compact,' no less than his physical defects prevented him from relishing the beautiful and harmonious in nature and art.
has not raised us in the moral scale of nations.
The plan pursued in the selection, abridgment, and concentration of the notes of others, precluded the necessity of affixing the names of the commentators from whom the information was borrowed; and, excepting in a few cases of controversial discussion, and of some critical observations, authorities are not given. The very curious and valuable Illustrations of Shakspeare by Mr. Douce have been laid under frequent contribution; the obligation has not always been expressed; and it is therefore here acknowledged with thankfulness.
It will be seen that the Editor has not thought, with some of his predecessors, that the text of Shakspeare was 'fixed' in any particular edition beyond the hope or probability of future amendment. He has rather coincided with the opinion of Mr. Gifford, that those would deserve well of the public who should bring back some readings which Steevens discarded, and reject others which he has dopted.'
HEREVER any extraordinary display of hu- tory outline, we must have recourse to the vague W man intellect has been made, there will human reports of unsubstantial tradition, or to the still curiosity, at one period or the other, be busy to ob- more shadowy inferences of lawless and vagabond tain some personal acquaintance with the distin-conjecture. Of this remarkable ignorance of one guished mortal whom Heaven had been pleased to of the most richly endowed with intellect of the endow with a larger portion of its own ethereal human species, who ran his mortal race in our own energy. If the favoured man walked on the high country, and who stands separated from us by no places of the world; if he were conversant with very great intervention of time, the causes may not courts; if he directed the movements of armies or be difficult to be ascertained. William Shakspeare of states, and thus held in his hand the fortunes and was an actor and a writer of plays; in neither of the lives of multitudes of his fellow-creatures, the which characters, however he might excel in them, interest, which he excites, will be immediate and could he be lifted high in the estimation of his constrong he stands on an eminence where he is the temporaries. He was honoured, indeed, with the mark of many eyes; and dark and unlettered in- friendship of nobles, and the patronage of monarchs : deed must be the age in which the incidents of his his theatre was frequented by the wits of the meeventful life will not be noted, and the record of tropolis; and he associated with the most intellecthem be preserved for the instruction or the enter- tual of his times. But the spirit of the age was tainment of unborn generations. But if his course against him; and, in opposition to it, he could not were through the vale of life: if he were unmingled become the subject of any general or comprehenwith the factions and the contests of the great: if sive interest. The nation, in short, knew little and the powers of his mind were devoted to the silent cared less about him. During his life, and for some pursuits of literature-to the converse of philo-years after his death, inferior dramatists outran him sophy and the Muse, the possessor of the ethereal treasure may excite little of the attention of his contemporaries; may walk quietly, with a veil over his glories, to the grave; and, in other times, when the expansion of his intellectual greatness has filled the eyes of the world, it may be too late to inquire for his history as a man. The bright track of his genius indelibly remains; but the trace of his mortal footstep is soon obliterated for ever. Homer is now only a name-a solitary name, which assures us, that, at some unascertained period in the annals of mankind, a mighty mind was indulged to a human being, and gave its wonderful productions to the perpetual admiration of men, as they spring in succession in the path of time. Of Homer himself we actually know nothing; and we see only an arm of immense power thrust forth from a mass of impenetrable darkness, and holding up the hero of his song to the applauses of never-dying fame. But it may be supposed that the revolution of, perhaps, thirty centuries has collected the cloud which thus withdraws the father of poesy from our sight. Little more than two centuries has elapsed since William Shakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod the selfsame soil with ourselves; and if it were not for the records kept by our Church in its registers of births, marriages, and burials, we should at this moment be as personally ignorant of the "sweet swan of Avon" as we are of the old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That William Shakspeare was born in Stratford upon Avon; that he married and had three children; that he wrote a certain number of dramas; that he died before he had attained to old age, and was buried in his native town, are positively the only facts, in the personal history of this extraordinary man, of which we are certainly possessed; and, if we should be solicitous to fill up this bare and most unsatisfac
in the race of popularity; and then the flood of puritan fanaticism swept him and the stage together into temporary oblivion. On the restoration of the monarchy and the theatre, the school of France' perverted our taste, and it was not till the last century was somewhat advanced that William Shakspeare arose again, as it were, from the tomb, in all his proper majesty of light. He then became the subject of solicitous and learned inquiry: but inquiry was then too late; and all that it could recover, from the ravage of time, were only a few human fragments, which could scarcely be united into a man. To these causes of our personal ignorance of the great bard of England, must be added his own strange indifference to the celebrity of genius. When he had produced his admirable works, ignorant or heedless of their value, he abandoned them with perfect indifference to oblivion or to fame. It surpassed his thought that he could grow into the admiration of the world; and, without any refer ence to the curiosity of future ages, in which he could not conceive himself to possess an interest, he was contented to die in the arms of obscurity, as an unlaurelled burgher of a provincial town. To this combination of causes are we to attribute the scantiness of our materials for the Life of William Shakspeare. His works are in myriads of hands: he constitutes the delight of myriads of readers: his renown is coextensive with the civilization of man; and, striding across the ocean from Europe, it occupies the wide region of transatlantic empire: but he is himself only a shadow which disappoints our grasp; an undefined form which is rather intimated than discovered to the keenest searchings of our eye. Of the little however, questionable or certain, which can be told of him, we must now proceed to make the best use in our power, to write what by courtesy may be called
his ife; and we have only to lament that the result | gious faith, has recently been made the subject of
of our labour must greatly disappoint the curiosity which has been excited by the grandeur of his reputation. The slight narrative of Rowe, founded on the information obtained, in the beginning of the last century, by the inquiries of Betterton, the famous actor, will necessarily supply us with the greater part of the materials with which we are to work.
controversy. According to the testimony of Rowe, grounded on the tradition of Stratford, the father of our Poet was a dealer in wool, or, in the provincial vocabulary of his country, a wool-driver; and such he has been deemed by all the biographers of his son, till the fact was thrown into doubt by the result of the inquisitiveness of Malone. Finding, in an old and obscure MS. purporting to record the proceedings of the bailiff's court in Stratford, our WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, or SHAKSPERE, (for John Shakspeare designated as a glover, Malone the floating orthography of the name is properly exults over the ignorance of poor Rowe, and asattached to the one or the other of these varieties,) sumes no small degree of merit to himself as the was baptized in the church of Stratford upon Avon, discoverer of a long sought and a most important as is ascertained by the parish register, on the 26th historic truth. If he had recollected the remark of of April, 1564; and he is said to have been born on the clown in the Twelfth Night,* that "a sentence the 23d of the same month, the day consecrated to is but a cheverel glove to a good wit. How quickly the tutelar saint of England. His parents, John the wrong side may be turned outwards !" he would, and Mary Shakspeare, were not of equal ranks in doubtless, have pressed the observation into his serthe community; for the former was only a respect-vice, and brought it as an irresistible attestation of able tradesman, whose ancestors cannot be traced the veracity of his old MS. into gentility, whilst the latter belonged to an ancient and opulent house in the county of Warwick, being the youngest daughter of Robert Arden of Wilmecote. The family of the Ardens (or Ardernes, as it is written in all the old deeds,) was of considerable antiquity and importance, some of them having served as high sheriffs of their county, and two of them (Sir John Arden and his nephew, the grandfather of Mrs. Shakspeare,) having enjoyed each a station of honour in the personal establishment of Henry VII. The younger of these Ardens was made, by his sovereign, keeper of the park of Aldercar, and bailiff of the lordship of Codnore. He obtained, also, from the crown, a valuable grant in the lease of the manor of Yoxsal, in Staffordshire, consisting of more than 4,600 acres, at a rent of 421. Mary Arden did not come dowerless to her plebeian husband, for she brought to him a small freehold estate called Asbies, and the sum of 6l. 138. 4d. in money. The freehold consisted of a house and fifty-four acres of land; and, as far as it appears, it was the first piece of landed property which was ever possessed by the Shakspeares. Of this marriage the offspring was four sons and four daughters; of whom Joan (or, according to the orthography of that time, Jone,) and Margaret, the eldest of the children died, one in infancy and one at a somewhat more advanced age; and Gilbert, whose birth immediately succeeded to that of our Poet, is supposed by some not to have reached his maturity, and by others, to have attained to considerable longevity. Joan, the eldest of the four remaining children, and named after her deceased sister, married William Hart, a hatter in her native town; and Edmund, the youngest of the family, adopting the profession of an actor, resided in St. Saviour's parish in London; and was buried in St. Saviour's Church, on the last day of December, 1607, in his twenty-eighth year. Of Anne and Richard, whose births intervened between those of Joan and Edmund, the parish register tells the whole history, when it records that the former was buried on the 4th of April, 1579, in the eighth year of her age, and the latter on the 4th of February, 1612-13, when he had nearly completed his thirty
Whatever may have been the trade of John Shakspeare, whether that of wool-merchant or of glover, it seems, with the little fortune of his wife, to have placed him in a state of casy competence. In 1569 or 1570, in consequence partly of his alliance with the Ardens, and partly of his attainment of the prime municipal honours of his town, he obtained a concession of arms from the herald's office, a grant, which placed him and his family on the file of the gentry of England; and, in 1574, he purchased two houses, with gardens and orchards annexed to them, Henley Street, in Stratford. But before the year 1578, his prosperity, from causes not now ascertainable, had certainly declined; for in that year, as we find from the records of his borough, he was excused, in condescension to his poverty, from the moiety of a very moderate assessment of six shillings and eigh pence, made by the members of the corporation on themselves; at the same time that he was a.together exempted from his contribution to the relief of the poor. During the remaining years of his life, his fortunes appear not to have recovered themselves; for he ceased to attend the meetings of the corporation hall, where he had once presided; and, in 1586, another person was substituted as alderman in his place, in consequence of his magisterial inefficiency. He died in the September of 1601, when his illus trious son had already attained to high celebrity; and his wife, Mary Shakspeare, surviving him for seven years, deceased in the September of 1608, the burial of the former being registered on the eighth and that of the latter on the ninth of this month, in each of these respective years.
On the 30th of June, 1564, when our Poet had not yet been three months in this breathing world, his native Stratford was visited by the plague; and, during the six succeeding months, the ravaging disease is calculated to have swept to the grave more than a seventh part of the whole population of the place. But the favoured infant reposed in security in his cradle, and breathed health amid an atmosphere of pestilence. The Genius of England may be supposed to have held the arm of the destroyer, and not to have permitted it to fall on the conse crated dwelling of his and Nature's darling. The In consequence of a document, discovered in the disease, indeed, did not overstep his charmed thresyear 1770, in the house in which, if tradition is to hold; for the name of Shakspeare is not to be found be trusted, our Poet was born, some persons having in the register of deaths throughout that period of concluded that John Shakspeare was a Roman accelerated mortality. That he survived this desoCatholic, though he had risen, by the regular gra-lating calamity of his townsmen, is all that we know dation of office, to the chief dignity of the corpora- of William Shakspeare from the day of his birth tion of Stratford, that of high bailiff; and, during till he was sent, as we are informed by Rowe, to the the whole of this period, had unquestionably con- free-school of Stratford; and was stationed there formed to the rites of the Church of England. The in the course of his education, till, in consequence asserted fact seemed not to be very probable; and of the straitened circumstances of his father, he the document in question, which, drawn up in a was recalled to the paternal roof. As we are not testamentary form and regularly attested, zealously told at what age he was sent to school, we cannot professes the Roman faith of him in whose name it form any estimate of the time during which he respeaks, having been subjected to a rigid examina-mained there. But if he was placed under his tion by Malone, has been pronounced to be spurious. The trade of John Shakspeare, as well as his reli
* Act iii. sc. &