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'CAN it be wondered at (says Mr. Gifford) that the task he undertook, was chiefly instrumental to
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 tree the wind Cecias) constantly draws round him the quently wrote notes, not with the view of illustraBoating errors of all his predecessors ?? Upwards of ting the Poct, but for the purpose of misleading Ma. twenty 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 ihat 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 allenascertaining how far he bad 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 considerable portion of the correspondence between eye that the evil must cure itself, and that the them, one letter seemed to display the circumtime would arrive when some of this ivy must be stances which led to the interruption of their intiremoved, which only served to hide the princely macy in so clear a light, and to explain the causes trunk, and suck the verdure out of it.'
which have so unnecessarily swelled the comments This expurgatory task has been more than once on Shakspeare, that it has been thought not unwor. undertaken, but has never bitherio, it is believed, thy of the reader's attention. The letter has no been executed entirely to the satisfaction of the ad- date : mirers of our great Poet: and the work has even Sir,-I am at present so much harassed with now devolved upon one who, though not wholly private business that it is not in my power to afford unprepared for it by previous studies, has perhaps you the long and regular answer which your letter manifested his presumption in undertaking it with deserves. Permit me, however, to desert order weak and unexamined shoulders.' He does not, and propriety, replying to your last sentence first.however, shrink from a comparison with the labours 1 assure you that I only erased tbc word friend boof his predecessors, but would rather solicit that cause, considering how much controversy was to equitable mode of being judged ; and will patiently, follow, that distinction seemed to be out of its and with all becoming submission to the decision of place, and appeared to carry with it somewhat of a a competent tribunal, abide the result.
burlesque air. Such was my single motive for the As a new candidate for public favour, it may be change, and I hope you will do me the honour to expected that the Editor should explain the ground believe I had no other design in it. of his pretensions. The object then of the present * As it is some time since my opinions have had publication is to afford the ger.er u reader a correct the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least odition of Shakspeare, accompanied by an abridged matter of consequence, I begin to think so inditii commentary, in which all superfluous and refuted rently of my own judgment, that I am ready to give explanations and conjectures, and all the controver- it up without reluctance on the present occasion.sies and squabbles of contending critics should be You are at liberty to leave out whatever parts of omitted; and such elucidations only of obsolete my note you please. However we may privately words and obscure phrases, and such critical illus- disagree, there is no reason why we should mako trations of the text as might be deemed most gene- sport for the world, for such is the only effect of rally useful be retained. To effect this it has been public controversies ; neither should I have leisure necessary, for the sake of compression, to condense at present to pursue such an undertaking: I only in some cases several pages of excursive discussion meant to do justice to myself; and as I had no into a few lines, and often to blend together the in- opportunity of replying to your reiterated contradice formation conveyed in the notes of several com- tions in their natural order, on account of your oer mentators into one. When these explanations are petual additions to them; 'I thought myself under mere transcripts or abridgments of the labours of the necessity of observing, that I oughé not 10 be his predecessors, and are unaccompanied by any suspected of being imporently silent in regard to observation of his own, it will of course be under objections which I had never read till it was ioo late stood that the Editor intends to imply by silent for any replication on my side 1o be made. You acquiescence that he has nothing betier to pro-rely much on the authority of an editor ; but till! pose. Fortune, however, scems to have been pro- am convinced that volunteers are to be treated with pitious to his labours, for he flatters himself that he less indulgence than other soldiers, I shall still has been enabled in many instances io present the think I have some right at least to be disgusted reader with more satisfactory explanations of diffi- cspecially afier I had been permitied to observe cult passages, and with more exact definitions of that truth, not viciory, was the object of our criti obsolele words and phrases, than are to be found in cal warfare. the notes to the variorum editions.
"As for the note at the concasion of The Puri. The causes which have operated to overwhelmtan, since it gives so much offence, (an offencu as the pages of Shaskpeare with superfluous notes are undesigned as unforeseen,) i all change a part of many; but Sleevens, though eminently fitted for it, and subjoin reasons for my c went both from you
and Mr. Tyrwhitt. You cannot surely suspect me | Steevens had undoubtedly, as he says of himself on of having wished to commence hostilities with either another occasionof 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 instanceThey 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' blude I will not offend you by naming any particular posi- ders, or Heiningisms and Condelisms.' Hence his tion of your own which could with success be dis- unremitted censure of the first folio copy, and supputed. 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 aifected contain the order of the plays, with a contradiction tempt for the Poems of Shakspeare, &c. sedulous and unremitted as that with which you Dir. Boswell has judiciously characterized Stechave 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 as 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 ex. notes on the Yorkshire] T[ragedy). I expect al- pense of truth and justice. He was infected to a most every one of them io be disputed, but assure lamentable degree with the jealousy of authorship ; you that I will not add a single word by way of re- and while his approbation was readily bestoned ply. I have not returned you so complete an an- upon those whose competition he thought he had swer as I would have done had I been at leisure. no reason to dread, he was fretfully impatient of a You have, however, the real sentiments of your brother near the throne : his clear understanding most humble servant,
G. STEEVENS.' would generally have enabled him to discover what The temper in which this letter was wriuen is was right; but the spirit of contradiction could at obvious. Sicevens was at the time assisting Ma- any time induce him to maintain what was wrong. lone in preparing his Supplement to Shakspeare, It would be impossible, indeed, to explain how any and had previously made a liberal present to him of one, possessed of his taste and discemment, could his valuable collection of old plays; he afterwards have brought himself to advocate so many indefencalled himself a dowager editor,' and said he would sible opinions, without entering into a long and unnever more trouble himself about Shakspeare. This gracious history of the motives by which he was inis gathered from a memorandum by Malone, but iluenced.' 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 amiahle 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 wluch which, except a few copies, are already sold.' his unwearied industry in his favourite pursuit had
In another letter, in reply to a remonstrance placed within his reach : his notes on Shakspeare about the suspension of his visits to Malone, Stee- are often tediously circumlocutory and ineffectuał: vens says:- I will confess to you without reserve neither does he seem to have been dehcient in that the cause why I have not made even my business jealousy of rivalship, or that pertinacious adherence submit to my desire of seeing you. I readily allow to his own opinions, which have been attributed to that any distinct and subjoined reply to my remarks his competitor. 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 Bio. determined to destroy my very foundations. As I graphical Preface of Dr. Symmons, which accoraobserved 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 acquaint. We 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 ihe 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 Inst 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 note's which are fixed ones. I had that advan- be surprised at the preliminary censure of some lage over my predecessors, and you have enjoyed readings which are still retained in the text. the saine over me; but I never yet possessed the Dr. Johnson's far famed Preface which has so means of obviating objections before they could be long hung as a dead weight upon the reputation of ellectually made,' &c.
our great Poet, and which has been justly said to Here then is the secret developed of the subse look like 'a laborious attempt to bury the characquent, unceasing, and unrelenting opposition with teristic merits of his autho: under a oaa of cumwhich Steevens opposed Malone's notes: thoir brous phraseology, anu so weign mis excomencies controversies served not to make sport for the and defects in equal scales stuffed full of swelling
uring but to annoy the admirers of Bhakspeare, figures and sonorous epithets,' --will, for obvious by uverioading his page with frivolous contention. reasons, form no part of this publication. His bries