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DRAMATIC WORKS AND POEMS
ORIGINAL AND SELECTED, AND INTRODUCTORY REMARKS TO EACH PLAY
C'AN it be wondered at (says Mr. Gifford) that the task he undertook, was chefly instrumental in V'Shakspeare should swell into twenty or even increasing the evil. He has indeed been happily wice twenty volumes, when the latest editor (like designated the Puck of commentators ;' he tre. he wind Cecias) constantly draws round him the quently wrote notes, not with the view of illustraloating 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 agains! 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 atter
aining 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 considerable portion of the correspondence between eve 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.'
ul 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 hitherto, it is believed, thy of the reader's attention. The letter has no been executed entirely to the satisfaction of the ad date: inirers 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 I assure you that I only erased the word of 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 it.. and with all becoming submission to the decision of place, and appeared to carry with it somewhat of a a competent tribunal, abide the
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 gererıl reader a correct the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least edition of Shakspeare, accompanied by an abridged matter of consequence, I begin to think so indifir.. 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 make rations 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
ssion, 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 contradicformation conveyed in the notes of several com- tions in their natural order, on account of your her
lanations are 1 petual additions to them; I thought myself uncier mere transcripts or abridgments of the labours of the necessity of observing, that I ought not to be his predecessors, and are unaccompanied by any suspected of being impotently silent in regard to observation of his own, it will of course be under objections which I had never read till it was too late stood that the Editor intends to imply by silent for any replication on my side to be made. You
acquiescence that he has nothing better to pro- rely much on the authority of an editor : but till I pose' Fortune, however, seems 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 to present the think I have some right at least to be disgusted reader with more satisfactory explanations of diffi- especially after I had been permitted to observe cult passages, and with more exact definitions of that truth, not victory, was the object of our criti obsolete words and phrases, than are to be found in cal warfare. the notes to the variorum editions.
1 "As for the note at the conciusion of The Puri. The causes which have operated to overwhelm tan, since it gives so much offence, (an offence as the pages of Shaskpeare with superfluous notes are undesigned as unforeseen,) I. ill change a part can many; but Steevens, though eminently fitted for l it, and subjoin reasons for mye Xent both from you
necessary, for the sake