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MR. M. MASON'S COMMENTS, &c.
NOT thoroughly fatisfied with any of the for
mer editions of Shakspeare, even that of Johnson, I had refolved to venture upon one of my own, and had actually collected materials for the purpose, when that,5 which is the fubject of the following Obfervations, made its appearance; in which I found that a confiderable part of the amendments and explanations I had intended to propose were anticipated by the labours and eccentrick reading of Steevens, the ingenious researches of Malone, and the fagacity of Tyrwhitt.-I will fairly confefs that I was fomewhat mortified at this discovery, which compell'd me to relinquish a favourite pursuit, from whence I had vainly expected to derive fome degree of credit in the literary world. This, however, was 'a fecondary confideration; and my principal purpose will be answered to my wifh, if the Comments, which I now fubmit to the publick fhall, in any other hands, contribute materially to a more complete edition of our inimitable poet.
If we may judge from the advertisement prefixed
s Edit. 1778.
to his Supplement, Malone feems to think that no other edition cam hereafter be wanted; as in fpeaking of the laft, he fays, "The text of the author feems now to be finally fettled, the great abilities and unwearied researches of the editor having left little obfcure or unexplained."
Though I cannot fubfcribe to this opinion of Malone, with refpect to the final adjustment of the text, I fhall willingly join in his encomium on the editor, who deferves the applause and gratitude of the publick, not only for his induftry and abilities, but alfo for the zeal with which he has profecuted the object he had in view, which prompted him, not only to the wearifome task of collation, but alfo to engage in a peculiar courfe of reading, neither pleafing nor profitable for any other purpofe.
But I will venture to affert, that his merit is more confpicuous in the comments than the text; in the regulation of which he feems to have acted rather from eaprice, than any fettled principle; admitting alterations, in fome paffages, on very infufficient authority, indeed, whilft in others he has retained the antient readings, though evidently corrupt, in preference to amendments as evidently juft; and it frequently happens, that after pointing out to us the true reading, he adheres to that which he himself has proved to be falfe. Had he regulated the text in every place according to his own judgment, Malone's obfervation would have been nearer to the truth; but as it now ftands, the
As I was never vain enough to fuppofe the edit. 1778 was entitled to this encomium, I can find no difficulty in allowing that it has been properly recalled by the gentleman who bestowed it. See his Preface; and his Letter to the Reverend Dr. Farmer, P. 7 and 8. STEEVENS.
laft edition has no fignal advantage, that I cant perceive, over that of Johnfon, in point of correctnefs.
But the object that Steevens had moft at heart, was the illuftration of Shakspeare, in which it must be owned he has clearly furpaffed all the former editors. If without his abilities, application, or reading, I have happened to fucceed in explaining fome paffages, which he mifapprehended, or in fuggefting amendments that efcaped his fagacity, it is owing merely to the minute attention with which I have ftudied every line of thefe plays, whilft the other commentators, I will not except even Steevens himself, have too generally confined their obfervation and ingenuity to thofe litigated paffages, which have been handed down to them by former editors, as requiring either amendment or explanation, and have fuffered many others to pass unheeded, that in truth, were equally erroneous or obfcure. It may poffibly be thought that I have gone too far in the other extreme, in pointing out trifling miftakes in the printing, which every reader perceives to be fach, and amends as he reads; but where correctnefs is the object, no inaccuracy, however immaterial, fhould efcape unnoticed.
There is perhaps no fpecies of publication whatever, more likely to produce diverfity of opinion than verbal criticifms; for as there is no certain criterion of truth, no established principle by which we can decide whether they be juftly founded or not, every reader is left to his own imagination, on which will depend his cenfure or applause. I have not therefore the vanity to hope that all thefe obfervations will be generally approved of; fome of them, I confefs, are not thoroughly fatisfactory even to myself, and are ha
zarded, rather than relied on :-But there are others which I offer with fome degree of confidence, and I flatter myself that they will meet, upon the whole, with a favourable reception from the admirers of Shakspeare, as tending to elucidate a number of paffages which have hitherto been misprinted or misunderstood.
In forming thefe comments, I have confined myself folely to the particular edition which is the object of them, without comparing it with any other, even with that of Johnfon: not doubting but the editors had faithfully ftated the various readings of the first editions, I refolved to avoid the labour of collating; but had I been inclined to undertake that tafk, it would not have been in my power, as few, if any, of the ancient copies can be had in the country where I refide.
I have felected from the Supplement, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, because it is fuppofed by fome of the commentators to have been the work of Shakfpeare, and is at least as faulty as any of the rest. The remainder of the plays which Malone has published are neither, in my opinion, the production of our poet, or fufficiently incorrect to require any comment. M. MASON.
BEFORE THE THIRD EDITION, 1785.
THE works of Shakspeare, during the laft twenty years, have been the objects of publick attention more than at any former period. In that time the various editions of his performances have been examined, his obfcurities illuminated, his defects pointed out, and his beauties difplayed, fo fully, fo accurately, and in fo fatisfactory a manner, that it might reasonably be presumed little would remain to be done by either new editors or new commentators: yet, though the diligence and fagacity of thofe gentlemen who contributed towards the laft edition of this author may seem to have almost exhaufted the fubject, the fame train of enquiry has brought to light new discoveries, and accident will probably continue to produce further illuftrations, which may render fome alterations neceffary in every fucceeding republication.
Since the last edition of this work in 1778, the zeal for elucidating Shakspeare, which appeared in most of the gentlemen whofe names are affixed to the notes, has fuffered little abatement. The fame perfevering spirit of enquiry has continued to exert itself, and the fame laborious fearch into the literature, the manners, and the customs of the times, which was formerly fo fuccefsfully employed, has