« FöregåendeFortsätt »
depreciate a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, from the Bishop of Aleria 5 to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient authors have, in the exercife of their fagacity, many affiftances, which the editor of Shakspeare is condemned to want. They are employed upon grammatical and fettled languages, whofe conftruction contributes fo much to perfpicuity, that Homer has fewer paffages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the choice. There are commonly more manufcripts than one; and they do not often confpire in the fame mistakes. Yet Scaliger could confefs to Salmafius how little fatisfaction his emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecturæ, quarum nos pudet, pofteaquam in meliores codices incidimus. And Lipfius could complain, that criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, when mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Lipfius, notwithstanding their wonderful fagacity and erudition, are often vague and difputable, like mine or Theobald's.
Perhaps I may not be more cenfured for doing, wrong, than for doing little; for raifing in the
the Bishop of Aleria-] John Andreas. He was fecretary to the Vatican Library during the papacies of Paul II. and Sixtus IV. By the former he was employed to fuperintend fuch works as were to be multiplied by the new art of printing, at that time brought into Rome. He published Herodotus, Strabo, Livy, Aulus Gellius, &c. His fchool-fellow, Cardinal de Cufa, procured him the bishoprick of Accia, a province in Corfica; and Paul II. afterwards appointed him to that of Aleria in the same island, where he died in 1493. See Fabric. Bibl. Lat. Vol. III. 894. STEEVENS.
publick expectations, which at laft I have not anfwered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to fatisfy those who know not what to demand, or those who demand by defign what they think impoffible to be done. I have indeed difappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no flight folicitude. Not a fingle paffage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to reftore; or obfcure, which I have not endeavoured to illuftrate. In many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, I have retreated, and confeffed the repulfe. I have not paffed over, with affected fuperiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where I could not inftruct him, have owned my ignorance. I might eafily have accumulated a mafs of feeming learning upon easy scenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was neceflary, nothing has been done, or that, where others have faid enough, I have faid no more.
Notes are often neceffary, but they are neceffary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakspeare, and who defires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every 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 ftoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is ftrongly engaged, let it difdain alike to turn afide to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightnefs and obfcurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preferve his comprehenfion of the dialogue and his intereft in
the fable. And when the pleafures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.
Particular paffages 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 fubject; the reader is weary, he fufpects not why; and at laft throws away the book which he has too diligently ftudied.
Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been furveyed; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness neceffary for the comprehenfion of any great work in its full defign and in its true proportions; a close approach fhows the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the whole is difcerned no longer.
It is not very grateful to confider how little the
fucceffion of editors has added to this author's power of pleafing. He was read, admired, ftudied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allufions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce, " that Shakspeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehenfive foul. All the images of nature were ftill present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily when he defcribes 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 fpectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot fay he is every where alike; were he fo, I fhould do him injury to compare him with the greatest
of mankind. He is many times flat and infipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his ferious fwelling into bombaft. But he is always great, when fome great occafion is prefented to him: no man can say, he ever had a fit fubject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the reft of poets,
'Quantum lenta folent inter viburna cupreffi."
It is to be lamented, that fuch a writer fhould want a commentary; that his language should become obfolete, or his fentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry withes 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 fuffered 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 preferved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of reftoring and explaining.
Among thefe candidates of inferior fame, I am now to ftand the judgment of the publick; and with 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 fhould feel little folicitude about the fentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
Óf what has been performed in this revisal, an
This paragraph relates to the edition published in 1773, by George Steevens, Efq. MALONE.
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 felfapprobation, without deviating from modefty or truth." JOHNSON.
[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 fo often republifhed, with every feeming 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 illuftration of fome few dark paffages. Modes of expreffion muft remain in obfcurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may
"All prefatory matters being in the prefent edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally appeared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnson refers to, will be found immedi ately after Mr. Capell's Introduction. STEEVENS,