Sidor som bilder

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 Shakspeare with superfluous notes are many; but Steevens, though eminently fitted for the task he undertook, was chiefly instrumental in increasing the evil. He has indeed been happily designated • the Puck of commentators:' he frequently wrote notes, not with the view of illustrating the Poet, but for the purpose of misleading Malone, and of enjoying the pleasure of turning against him that playful ridicule which he knew so well how to direct. Steevens, like Malone, began his career as an editor of Shakspeare with scrupulous attention to the old copies, but when he once came to enter

[ocr errors]

tain some jealousy of Malone's intrusion into his province, he all at once shifted his ground, and adopted maxims entirely opposed to those which guided his rival editor. Upon a recent perusal of a 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 unworthy of the reader's attention. The letter has no date:

Sir,-I am at present so much harrassed 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 bad the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least matter of consequence, 1 begin to think so indifferently 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 publick 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 contradictions in their natural order, on account of your perpetual 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 dissent both from you and Mr. Tyrwhitt. You cannot surely suspect me of having wished to commence hostilities with either of

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

you; but you have made a very singular comment on this remark indeed. Because I have said I could overturn some of both your arguments on other occasions with ease, you are willing to infer that I meant all of them. Let me ask, for instance sake, what would become of his “undertakers," &c. were I to advance all I could on that subject. I will not offend you by naming any particular position of your own which could with success be disputed. I cannot, however, help adding, that had I followed every sentence of your attempt to ascertain the order of the plays, with a contradiction 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 Y[orkshire] 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,


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 so in one of his letters; adding, Nor will such assistance as I may be able to furnish ever go towards any future gratuitous publication 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.'

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 consequence of private conversation) the notes that drew from me those remarkş, is to turn my own weapons against me. Surely, therefore, it is unnecessary to let me continue building when you are previously determined

« FöregåendeFortsätt »