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Our readers, it is hoped, will so far honour us as to observe, that the foregoing opinions were not suggested and defended through an ambitious spirit of contradiction. Mr. Malone's preface, indeed, will absolve us from that censure; for he allows them to be of a date previous to his own edition. He, therefore, on this subject, is the assailant, and not the conductors of the present republication.
But though, in the course of succeeding strictures, several other of Mr. Malone's positions may be likewise controverted, some with seriousness, and some with levity, (for our discus. sions are not of quite so solemn a turn as those which involve the interests of our country) we feel an undissembled pleasure in avowing, that his remarks are at once so numerous and cor. rect, that when criticism “has done its worst,” their merit but in a small degree can be affected. We are confident, however, that he himself will hereafter join with us in considering no small proportion of our contested readings as a mere game at literary push-pin; and that if Shakspeare looks down upon our petty squabbles over his mangled scenes, it must be with feelings similar to those of Lucan's hero:
- ridetque sui ludibria trunci. In the preface of Mr. Malone, indeed, a direct censure has been levelled at incorrectness in the text of the edition 1778. The justice of the imputation is unequivocally allowed; but, at the same time, might not this acknowledgement be seconded by somewhat like a retort? For is it certain that the collations, &c. of 1790 are wholly secure from similar charges? Are they accompanied by no unauthorized readings, no omission of words, and transpositions? Through all the plays, and especially those of which there is only a single copy, they have been with some diligence retraced, and the frailties of their collator, such as they are, have been ascertained. They shall not, however, be ostentatiously pointed out, and for this only reason:-That as they decrease but little, if at all, the vigour of Shakspeare, the critick who in general has performed with accuracy one of the heaviest of literary tasks, ought not to be molested by a display of petty faults, which might have eluded the most vigilant fa. culties of sight and hearing that were ever placed as spies over the labours of each other. They are not even mentioned here as a covert mode of attack, or as a “note of preparation” for
sold for THREE GUINEAS; and that in the sale of Mr. Allen's library, April the 15th, 1799, at Leigh and Sotheby's, York street, Covent Garden, the four folio editions of our author's plays were disposed of at the following prices: Sale No. 1460. first folio
£40 19 0. 61. 2d do.
5 10 0. 62. 3d do.
5 15 6. 63. 4th do.
3 13 6,
future hostilities. The office of "devising brave punishments" for faithless editors, is therefore strenuously declined, even though their guilt should equal that of one of their number, (Mr. Steevens) who stands convicted of having given winds in. stead of wind, stables instead of stable, sessions instead of session, sins instead of sin, and (we shudder while we recite the accusation) my instead of mine.*
such small deer “ Have been our food for many a year;" so long, in truth, that any further pursuit of them is here re. nounced, together with all triumphs founded on the detection of harmless synonymous particles that accidentally may have deserted their proper places and wandered into others, without injury to Shakspeare.—A few chipped or disjointed stones will not impair the shape or endanger the stability of a pyramid. We are far from wishing to depreciate exactness, yet cannot persuade ourselves but that a single lucky conjecture or illustration, should outweigh a thousand spurious haths deposed in favour of legi. timate has's, and the like insignificant recoverie not too degradingly be termed
the haberdashery of criticism ; that “stand in number, though in reckoning none;" and are as. unimportant to the poet's fame,
“As is the morn-dew on the myrtle-leaf
“To his grand sea.” We shall venture also to assert, that, on a minute scrutiny, every editor, in his turn, may be charged with omission of some preferable reading; so that he who drags his predecessor to justice on this score, will have good luck if he escapes ungalled by recrimination.
If somewhat, therefore, in the succeeding volumes has been added to the correction and illustration of our author, the purpose of his present editors is completely answered. On any thing like perfection in their labors they do not presume, being too well convinced that, in defiance of their best efforts, their own incapacity, and that of the original quarto and folio-mongers, have still left sufficient work for a race of commentators who are yet unborn. Nos, (says Tully, in the second Book of his Tusculan Questions,) qui sequimur probabilia, nec ultra quam id quod verisimile occurrerit, progredi possimus, et refellere sine pertinacia, et refelli sine iracundia, parati suinus.
Be it remembered also, that the assistants and adversaries of editors, enjoy one material advantage over editors themselves. They are at liberty to select their objects of remark:
Desperant tractata nitescere posse, relinquunt. The fate of the editor in form is less propitious. He is ex. pected to combat every difficulty from which his auxiliaries and
* See Mr. Malone's preface.
opponents could secure an honourable retreat. It should not, therefore, be wondered at, if some of his enterprizes are unsuccessful.
Though the foregoing advertisement has run out into an unpremeditated length, one circumstance remains to be mentioned. --The form and substance of the commentary attending this republication having been materially changed and enlarged since it first appeared, in compliance with ungrateful custom the name of its original editor might have been withdrawn: but Mr. Steevens could not prevail on himself to forego an additional opportunity of recording in a title-page that he had once the honour of being united in a task of literature with Dr. SAMUEL JOHNSON. This is a distinction which malevolence cannot ob. scure, nor flattery transfer to any other candidate for publick favour.
It may possibly be expected, that a list of errata should at. tend so voluminous a work as this, or that cancels should apo, logize for its more material inaccuracies. Neither of these mea. sures, however, has in the present iristance been adopted, and for reasons now submitted to the publick.
In regard to errata, it has been customary with not a few au. thors to acknowledge small mistakes, that tliey might escape the suspicion of greaier, * or perhaps to intimate that no greater could be detected. Both little and great (and doubtless there may be the usual proportion of both) are here exposed (with very few exceptions) to the candour and perspicacity of the reader, who needs not to be told that in fifteen volumes octavo, of intricate and variegated printing, gone through in the space of about twenty months, the most vigilant eyes must occasionally have been overwatched, and the readiest knowledge intercepted. The sight of the editors, indeed, was too much fatigued to encourage their engagement in so laborious a revision; and they are likewise convinced that substitutes are not always qualified for their task; but instead of pointing out real mistakes, would have supposed the existence of such as were merely found. ed on their own want of acquaintance with the peculiarities of ancient spelling and language; for even modern poetry has sometimes been in danger from the chances of their superintendance. He whose business it is to offer this unusual apology, very well remembers to have been sitting with Dr. Johnson, when an agent from a neighbouring press brought in the proof sheet of a re. publication, requesting to know whether a particular word in it was not corrupted. “So far from it, Sir, (replied the Doctor, with some harshness,) that the word you suspect and would displace,
the hospitable door
Paradise Lost, B. I, v. 504, is conspicuously beautiful where it stands, and is the only one that could have done the duty expected from it by Mr. Pope.”
As for cancels, it is in the power of every careless binder to defeat their purpose; for they are so seldom lodged with uniformity in their proper places, that they as often serve to render copies imperfect, as to screen an author from the charge of ignorance or inattention. The leaf appropriated to one volume, is sometimes shuffled into the corresponding page of another; and sometimes the faulty leaf is withdrawn, and no other substi. tuted in its room. These circumstances might be exemplified; but the subject is scarcely of consequence enough to be more than generally stated to the reader, whose indulgence is again solicited on account of blemishes which in the course of an undertaking like this are unavoidable, and could not, at its conclusion, have been remedied but by the hazard of more extensive mischief;-an indulgence, indeed, that will more readily be granted, and especially for the sake of the compositors, when it is understood, that, on an average, every page of the present work, including spaces, quadrats, points, and letters, is (to speak technically) composed of 2680 distinct pieces of metal.
As was formerly therefore observed, he who waited till the river should run dry, did not act with less reason than the edi. tors would do, who should suspend a voluminous and complicated publication, in the vain hope of rendering it absolutely free from literary and typographical errors.
WRITTEN BY MR. ROWE.
IT seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of ex. cellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver some account of themselves, as well as their works, to posterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, make, and features, have been the subject of critical inquiries. How trifling soever this curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described even to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may sometimes conduce to the beiter understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may seem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Strat. ford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, in April, 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool,* had so large a family, ten children in all, that though he
* His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool,] It appears that he had been an officer and bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon; and that he enjoyed some hereditary lands and tenements, the reward of his grandfather's faithful and approved services to King Henry VII. See the extract from the Herald's Office.
Theobald. The chief magistrate of the body corporate of Stratford, now distinguished by the title of Mayor, was in the early char. ters called the high bailiff. This office Mr. John Shakspeare filled in 1569, as appears from the following extracts from the books of the corporation, with which I have been favoured by the Rev. Mr. Davenport, Vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon:
“ Jan. 10, in the 6th year of the reign of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, John Shakspeare passed his Chamberlain's accounts. VOL. I.