Page images

admirable plan of illuftrating Shakspeare by the ftudy of writers of his own time. By following this track, moft of the difficulties of the author have been overcome, his meaning (in many inftances apparently loft) has been recovered, and much wild unfounded conjecture has been happily got rid of. By perfeverance in this plan, he effected more to the elucidation of his author than any if not all his predeceffors, and juftly entitled himself to the dif tinction of being confeffed the best editor of Shakfpeare.

The edition which now folicits the notice of the publick is faithfully printed from the copy given by

"Whofe talents, varying as the diamond's ray,
"Could fascinate alike the grave or gay!

"How oft has pleasure in the focial hour
"Smil'd at his wit's exhilirating power!
"And truth attefted, with delight intense,
"The ferious charms of his colloquial fenfe !
"His genius, that to wild luxuriance fwell'd,
"His large, yet latent, charity excell'd:
"Want with fuch true beneficence he chear'd,
"All that his bounty gave his zeal endear'd.


Learning, as vaft as mental power could feize,
"In fport displaying and with grateful ease,
"Lightly the stage of chequer'd life he trod,
"Careless of chance, confiding in his God!

"This tomb may perifh, but not fo his name
"Who fhed new luftre upon SHAKSPEARE's fame!"

Mr. Steevens to the proprietors of the preceding edition, in his life-time; with fuch additions as, it is prefumed, he would have received, had he lived to determine on them himself. The whole was entrusted to the care of the present Editor, who has, with the aid of an able and vigilant assistant,' and a careful printer, endeavoured to fulfil the truft reposed in him, as well as continued ill health and depreffed fpirits would permit.

By a memorandum in the hand-writing of Mr. Steevens it appeared to be his intention to adopt and introduce into the prolegomena of the present edition fome parts of two late works of Mr. George Chalmers. An application was therefore made to that gentleman for his confent, which was immediately granted; and to render the favour more acceptable, permiffion was given to diveft the extracts of the offenfive afperities of controversy.

The portrait of Shakspeare prefixed to the present edition, is a copy of the picture formerly belonging to Mr. Felton, now to Alderman Boydell, and at present at the Shakspeare Gallery, in Pall Mall. After what has been written on the fubject it will be only neceffary to add, that Mr. Steevens perfevered in his opinion that this, of all the portraits, had the fairest chance of being a genuine likeness of the author. Of the canvas Chandois picture he

remained convinced that it poffeffed no claims to authenticity.

Some apology is due to thofe gentlemen who, during the course of the publication, have obligingly offered the prefent Editor their affifiance, which he fhould thankfully have received, had he confidered himfelf at liberty to accept their favours. He was fearful of loading the page, which Mr. Steevens in fome inftances thought too much crouded already, and therefore confined himself to the copy left to his care by his deceased friend.

But it is time to conclude.-He will therefore detain the reader no longer than just to offer a few words in extenuation of any errors or omiffions that may be discovered in his part of the work; a work which, notwithstanding the utmost exertion of diligence, has never been produced without fome inperfection. Circumftanced as he has been, he is fenfible how inadequate his powers were to the task imposed on him, and hopes for the indulgence of the reader. He feels that "the inaudible and noifelefs foot of time" has

infenfibly brought on that period of life and those attendant infirmities which weaken the attachment to early pursuits, and diminish their importance:

"Superfluous lags the veteran on the ftage."

To the admonition he is content to pay obedience;

and fatisfied that the hour is arrived when "welltimed retreat" is the measure which prudence dictates, and reason will approve, he here bids adieu to SHAKSPEARE, and his Commentators; acknowledging the candour with which very imperfect efforts have been received, and wishing for his fucceffors the fame gratification he has experienced in his humble endeavours to illuftrate the greatest poet the world ever knew.

Staple Inn, May 2, 1803.


« PreviousContinue »