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ORIGINAL AND SELECTED, AND INTRODUCTORY REMARKS TO EACH PLAY,
SAMUEL WELLER SINGER, F. S. A.
A LIFE OF THE POET,
CHARLES SYMMONS, D. D.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
GEORGE DEARBORN, PUBLISHER,
SOLD BY B. & S. COLLINS, NEW-YORK; DESILVER, JR., THOMAS & CO.
'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 rivai 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. When these explanations are mere transcripts or abridgments of the labours of 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 which have so unnecessarily swelled the comments on Shakspeare, that it has been thought not unwor thy of the reader's attention. The letter has no date:
Sir, I am at present so much harassed with private business that it is not in my power to afford you the long and regular answer which your letter 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 burlesque air. Such was my single motive for the change, and I hope you will do me the honour to believe I had no other design in it.
'As it is some time since my opinions have had the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least matter of consequence, I begin to think so indiffe rently of my own judgment, that I am ready to give it up without reluctance on the present occasion.You are at liberty to leave out whatever parts of my note you please. However we may privately disagree, there is no reason why we should make sport for the world, for such is the only effect of public controversies; neither should I have leisure at present to pursue such an undertaking. I only meant to do justice to myself; and as I had no opportunity of replying to your reiterated contradic tions in their natural order, on account of your per petual additions to them; I thought myself under the necessity of observing, that I ought not to be suspected of being impotently silent in regard to objections which I had never read till it was too late for any replication on my side to be made. You rely much on the authority of an editor; but till I am convinced that volunteers are to be treated with less indulgence than other soldiers, I shall still think I have some right at least to be disgusted; especially after I had been permitted to observe that truth, not victory, was the object of our critical warfare.
'As for the note at the conclusion of The Puritan, since it gives so much offence, (an offence as undesigned as unforeseen,) I will change a part of it, and subjoin reasons for my & sent both from you
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 have made a very singular combut you Fallen in the plash his wickedness had made ;' you; 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 sup puted. I cannot, however, help adding, that had I port of the readings of the second folio, which Ma followed 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 have pursued my Observations on Shakspeare's Will and his Sonnets, you at least would not have found your undertaking a very comfortable one. I was then an editor, and indulged you with even a printed foul copy of your work, which you enlarged as long as you thought fit.-The arrival of people on business prevents me from adding more than that I hope to be still indulged with the correction of my own notes on the Yorkshire] T[ragedy]. I expect almost 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,
Mr. Boswell has judiciously characterized Steevens :- With great diligence, an extensive acquaintance with early literature, and a remarkably retentive memory: he was besides, as Mr. Gifford has justly observed, "a wit and a scholar." But his wit and the sprightliness of his style were too often employed to bewilder and mislead us. His consciousness of his own satirical powers made him much too fond of exercising them at the expense of truth and justice. He was infected to a 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 imper- and accomplished gentleman and scholar. There tinence from several booksellers have been my re- seems to have been a want of grasp in his mind to ward for conducting two laborious editions, both of make proper use of the accumulated materials which which, except a few copies, are already sold.' his unwearied industry in his favourite pursuit had placed within his reach: his notes on Shakspeare are often tediously circumlocutory and ineffectual: 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, Steevens 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 charac teristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weign his excellencies and defects in equal scales stuffed full of swelling figures and sonorous epithets,'-will, for obvious reasons, form no part of this publication. His brie
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.
'Quid valet ad surdas si cantet Phemius aures? Quid cæcum Thamyram picta tabella juvat?'
The text of the present edition is formed upon those of Steevens and Malone, occasionally com pared with the early editions; and the satisfaction arising from a rejection of modern unwarranted deviations from the old copies has not unfrequently been the reward of this labour.
The preliminary remarks to each play are augmented with extracts from the more recent writers upon Shakspeare, and generally contain brief critical observations which are in many instances opposed to the dictum of Dr. Johnson. Some of these are extracted from the Lectures on the Drama, by the distinguished German critic, A. W. Schleghel, a writer to whom the nation is deeply indebted, for having pointed out the characteristic excellencies of the great Poet of nature, in an eloquent and philosophical spirit of criticism; which, though it may tical enthusiasm, has dealt out to Shakspeare his sometimes be thought a little tinctured with mys due meed of praise; and has, no doubt, tended to dissipate the prejudices of some neighbouring nations who have been too long wilfully blind to his
It has been the studious endeavour of the Editor to avoid those splenetic and insulting reflections upon the errors of the commentators, where it has been his good fortune to detect them, which have been sometimes too captiously indulged in by labourers in this field of verbal criticism. Indeed it would ill become him to speak contemptuously of those who, vour the public with an edition of Shakspeare: how Mr. Gifford, as it appears, once proposed to fawith all their defects, have deserved the gratitude of admirably that excellent critic would have performthe age; for it is chiefly owing to the labours of Tyr-ed the task the world need not now be told. The whitt, Warton, Percy, Steevens, Farmer, and their Editor, who has been frequently indebted to the successors, that attention has been drawn to the remarks on the language of our great Poet which mine of wealth which our early literature affords; occur in the notes to the works of Ben Jonson and and no one will affect to deny that a recurrence to Massinger, may be permitted to anticipate the pubit has not been attended with beneficial effects, if it lic regret that these humble labours were not preThe plan pursued in the selection, abridgment, console himself with having used his best endeavour sented by that more skilful hand. As it is, he must and concentration of the notes of others, precluded to accomplish the task which he was solicited to the necessity of affixing the names of the commen-undertake; had his power equalled his desire to tators from whom the information was borrowed; render it useful and acceptable, the work would and, excepting in a few cases of controversial dis- have been more worthy of the public favour, and of cussion, and of some critical observations, authori- the Poet whom he and all unite in idolizingties 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.
has not raised us in the moral scale of nations.
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.'
The bard of every age and clime,
JUVENAL, SAT. VII. Mr. Gifford's Translation,
Dec. 3, 1825.