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ORIGINAL AND SELECTED, AND INTRODUCTORY REMARKS TO EACH PLAY
SAMUEL WELLER SINGER, F.S. A.
A LIFE OF THE POET,
CHARLES SYMMONS, D.D.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS,
NO. 82 CLIFF-STREET.
'CAN it be wondered at (says Mr. Gifford) that the task he undertook, was chiefly instrumental m '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 tre the wind Cecias) constantly draws round him the quently wrote notes, not with the view of illustra floating errors of all his predecessors?' Upwards of ting the Poct, but for the purpose of misleading Matwenty 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 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 attenascertaining 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 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 on Shakspeare, that it has been thought not unwor thy of the reader's attention. The letter has no date :
This expurgatory task has been more than once undertaken, but has never hitherto, it is believed, been executed entirely to the satisfaction of the admirers of our great Poet: and the work has even now devolved upon one who, though not wholly unprepared for it by previous studies, has perhaps manifested his presumption in undertaking it with weak and unexamined shoulders.' He does not, however, shrink from a comparison with the labours of his predecessors, but would rather solicit that equitable mode of being judged; and will patiently, and with all becoming submission to the decision of a competent tribunal, abide the result.
As a new candidate for public favour, it may be expected that the Editor should explain the ground of his pretensions. The object then of the present publication is to afford the ger.er il reader a correct edition of Shakspeare, accompanied by an abridged commentary, in which all superfluous and refuted explanations and conjectures, and all the controversies and squabbles of contending critics should be omitted; and such elucidations only of obsolete words and obscure phrases, and such critical illustrations of the text as might be deemed most generally useful be retained. To effect this it has been necessary, for the sake of compression, to condense in some cases several pages of excursive discussion into a few lines, and 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 Shaskpeare with superfluous notes are many; but Steevens, though eminently fitted for
'Sir, I am at present so much harassed 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 had the good fortune to coincide with yours in the least matter of consequence, I begin to think so indiffe rently 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 public 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 er petual 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 criti cal warfare.
'As for the note at the concasion of The Puritan, since it gives so much offence, (an offence as undesigned as unforeseen,) I vill change a part of it, and subjoin reasons for my went both from you
Steevens had undoubtedly, as he says of himself on another occasion
Fallen in the plash his wickedness had made ;' and in some instances contested the force and propriety of his own remarks when applied by Malone to parallel passages; or, as Malone observes: They are very good remarks, so far forth as they are his; but when used by me are good for nothing; and the disputed passages become printers' biunders, or Heiningisms and Condelisms.' Hence his unremitted censure of the first folio copy, and support of the readings of the second folio, which Ma lone treats as of no authority;-his affected contempt for the Poems of Shakspeare, &c.
and Mr. Tyrwhitt. You cannot surely suspect me | of having wished to commence hostilities with either of 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 Mr. Boswell has judiciously characterized Steehave 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 exnotes on the Yorkshire] T[ragedy]. I expect al- pense of truth and justice. He was infected to a most every one of them to 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 bestowed 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 was right; but the spirit of contradiction could at any time induce him to maintain what was wrong. It would be impossible, indeed, to explain how any one, possessed of his taste and discernment, could have brought himself to advocate so many indefensible opinions, without entering into a long and ungracious history of the motives by which he was influenced.'
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 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 amiable lication 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.'
and accomplished gentleman and scholar. There seems to have been a want of grasp in his mind to make proper use of the accumulated materials which his unwearied industry in his favourite pursuit had placed within his reach: his notes on Shakspeare
neither does he seem to have been deficient in that jealousy of rivalship, or that pertinacious adherence to his own opinions, which have been attributed to his competitor.
In another letter, in reply to a remonstrance about the suspension of his visits to Malone, Stee-are often tediously circumlocutory and ineffectual: vens 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 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 Biodetermined to destroy my very foundations. As I graphical Preface of Dr. Symmons, which accom observed 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 acquaintWe 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 the whole of that controversy, but finally you acquainted me with your resolution (in right of editorship) to have the last word. However, for the future, I beg I may be led to trouble you only with observations relative to notes which are fixed ones. I had that advantage over my predecessors, and you have enjoyed the same over me; but I never yet possessed the means of obviating objections before they could be effectually made,' &c.
Here then is the secret developed of the subsequent, unceasing, and unrelenting opposition with which Steevens opposed Malone's notes: their controversies served not to make sport for the world,' but to annoy the admirers of Shakspeare, by overloading his page with frivolous contention.
was communicated to Dr. Symmons until nearly the whole of the Plays were printed; or the Editor and the Public would doubtless have benefited by his animadversions and suggestions in its progress through the press. The reader will not therefore be surprised at the preliminary censure of some readings which are still retained in the text.
Dr. Johnson's far famed Preface-which has so long hung as a dead weight upon the reputation of our great Poet, and which has been justly said to look like 'a laborious attempt to bury the charac teristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and weign his excenencies and defects in equal scales stuffed full of swelling figures and sonorous epithets,'-will, for obvious reasons, form no part of this publication. His brie.