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of mankind. He is many times flat and infipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his ferious fwelling into bombaft. But he is always great, when fome great occafion is prefented to him: no man can fay, he ever had a fit fubject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the reft of poets,
'Quantum lenta folent inter viburna cupreffi."
It is to be lamented, that fuch a writer fhould want a commentary; that his language should become obfolete, or his fentiments obfcure. But it is vain to carry withes beyond the condition of human things; that which muft happen to all, has happened to Shakspeare, by accident and time; and more than has been fuffered by any other writer fince the use of types, has been fuffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that fuperiority of mind, which defpifed its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged thofe works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of reftoring and explaining.
Among thefe candidates of inferior fame, I am now to ftand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I fhould feel little folicitude about the fentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
Of what has been performed in this revifal," an
This paragraph relates to the edition publifhed in 1773, by George Steevens, Efq. MALONE.
account is given in the following pages by Mr. Steevens, who might have spoken both of his own diligence and fagacity, in terms of greater felfapprobation, without deviating from modefty or truth. JOHNSON.
[Prefixed to Mr. STEEVENS'S Edition of Twenty of the old Quarto Copies of SHAKSPEARE, &c, in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]
THE plays of Shakspeare have been so often republifhed, with every feeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could ftand in need of any thing beyond the illuftration of fome few dark paffages. Modes of expreffion must remain in obfcurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may
7 All prefatory matters being in the prefent edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally appeared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnfon refers to, will be found immedi ately after Mr. Capell's Introduction. STEEVENS,
throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper ufe of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for my own part, I cannot believe but that thofe which are now local may once have been univerfal, and must have been the language of those perfons before whom his plays were reprefented. However, it is certain, that the inftances of obfcurity from this fource are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in fupport of that sentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Ascham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the fentence; but in Shakfpeare no marks of it are difcernible; and though the rules of fyntax were more ftrictly observed by the writers of that age than they have been fince, he of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the ease of conversation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted induftry; to cover which they published catalogues, tranfcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be fuppofed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know
they had, with any degree of accuracy. The last editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he profeffes to have made ufe of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a lift of fuch to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclufion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the fervice of it or not.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspeare to collate all the quartos I could find, comparing one copy with the reft, where there were more than one of the fame play; and to multiply the chances of their being preferved, by collecting them into volumes, inftead of leaving the few that have escaped, to fhare the fate of the reft, which was probably haftened by their remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whofe hands they fell.
Of fome I have printed more than one copy; as there are many perfons, who, not contented with the poffeffion of a finished picture of fome great mafter, are defirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleafure of tracing the progrefs of the artift from the firft light colouring to the finishing stroke.
fuch the earlier editions of King John, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windfor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, not be unwelcome; fince in thefe we may difcern as much as will be found in the hafty outlines of the pencil, with a fair profpect of that perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch.
The general character of the quarto editions may more advantageoufly be taken from the words
of Mr. Pope, than from any recommendation of my
"The folio edition (fays he) in which all the plays we now receive as his were firft collected, was published by two players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, feven years after his decease. They declare that all the other editions were ftolen and furreptitious," and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is true, as to the literal errors, and no other; for in all respects elfe it is far worse than the quartos.
"Firft, because the additions of trifling and bombaft paffages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added fince thofe quartos by the actors, or had ftolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this ufage in Hamlet, where he wishes thofe who play the clowns would speak no more than is fet down for them, (Act III. fc. iv.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet, there is no hint of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others the scenes of the mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vaftly fhorter than at prefent; and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided by lines, and the actors names in the margin,) where feveral of those very paffages were added in a
8 It may be proper on this occafion to obferve, that the actors printed feveral of the plays in their folio edition from the very quarto copies which they are here ftriving to depreciate; and additional corruption is the utmost that thefe copies gained by paffing through their hands.