Page images

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 moft vigilant faculties of fight 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 future hoftilities. The office of "devifing brave punishments" for faithlefs editors, is therefore ftrenuoufly declined, even though their guilt should equal that of one of their number, (Mr. Steevens,) who ftands convicted of having given winds instead of wind, flables instead of table, fefsions inftead of fefsion, fins inftead of fin, and (we fhudder while we recite the accufation) my instead of mine.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

fo long, in truth, that any further pursuit of them is here renounced, together with all triumphs founded on the detection of harmlefs fynonymous particles that accidentally may have deferted 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 withing to depreciate exactnefs, yet cannot perfuade ourselves but that a fingle lucky conjecture or illuftration, fhould out→ weigh a thousand fpurious haths depofed in favour of legitimate has's, and the like infignificant recoveries, which may not too degradingly be termed

[ocr errors]

2 See Mr. Malone's Preface.

the haberdashery of criticifmn; that" ftand 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 fea."

We shall venture alfo to affert, that, on a minute fcrutiny, every editor, in his turn, may be charged with omiffion of fome preferable reading; fo that he who drags his predeceffor to juftice on this fcore, will have good luck if he efcapes ungalled by recri'mination.

If fomewhat, therefore, in the fucceeding volumes has been added to the correction and illuftration of our author, the purpose of his prefent editors is completely answered. On any thing like perfection in their labours they do not prefume, being too well convinced that, in defiance of their beft efforts, their own incapacity, and that of the original quarto and folio-mongers, have still left fufficient work for a race of commentators who are yet unborn. Nos, (fays Tully, in the second Book of his Tufculan Queftions,) qui fequimur probabilia, nec ultra quàm id quod verifimile occurrerit, progredi pofsumus; et refellere fine pertinacia, et refelli fine iracundia, parati fumus.

Be it remembered alfo, that the affiftants and adverfaries of editors, enjoy one material advantage over editors themfélves. They are at liberty to felect their objects of remark:.

et quæ

Defperant tractata nitefcere poffe, relinquunt.

The fate of the editor in form is lefs propitious.

He is expected to combat every difficulty from which his auxiliaries and opponents could fecure an honourable retreat. It should not, therefore, be wondered at, if fome of his enterprizes are unfuccefsful.

Though the foregoing Advertisement has run out into an unpremeditated length, one circumftance remains to be mentioned.-The form and fubftance of the commentary attending this republication having been materially changed and enlarged fince it first appeared, in compliance with ungrateful cuftom 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 diftinction which malevolence cannot obscure, nor flattery transfer to any other candidate for publick favour.

It may poffibly be expected, that a lift of Errata fhould attend fo voluminous a work as this, or that cancels fhould apologize for its more material inaccuracies. Neither of these measures, however, has in the present inftance been adopted, and for reafons now fubmitted to the publick.

In regard to errata, it has been cuftomary with not a few authors to acknowledge fmall mistakes,

that they might escape the fufpicion of greater,3 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 expofed (with very few exceptions) to the candour and perfpicacity 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 muft occafionally have been overwatched, and the readiest knowledge intercepted. The fight of the editors, indeed, was too much fatigued to encourage their engagement in fo laborious a revifion; and they are likewife convinced that fubftitutes are not always qualified for their task; but instead of pointing out real mistakes, would have fuppofed the existence of fuch as were merely founded 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 fuperintendance. He whofe bufinefs it is to offer this unusual apology, very well remembers to have been fitting with Dr. Johnson, when an agent from a neighbouring prefs brought in the proof fheet of a republication, requesting to know whether a particular word in it was not corrupted. "So far from it, Sir, (replied the Doctor, with fome harshness,) that the word you fufpect and would difplace, is confpicuously beautiful where it stands, and is the only one that could have done the duty expected from it by Mr. Popé."

As for cancels, it is in the power

3 the hofpitable door


every care

"Expos'd a matron, to avoid worse rape."

Paradife Loft, B. I. v. 504.

lefs binder to defeat their purpose; for they are fo feldom lodged with uniformity in their proper places, that they as often ferve to render copies imperfect, as to fcreen an author from the charge of ignorance or inattention. The leaf appropriated to one volume, is fometimes fhuffled into the correfponding page of another; and fometimes the faulty leaf is withdrawn, and no other fubftituted in its room. Thefe circumstances might be exemplified; but the fubject is scarcely of confequence enough to be more than generally stated to the reader, whose indulgence is again folicited on account of blemishes which in the course of an undertaking like this are unavoidable, and could not, at its conclufion, have been remedied but by the hazard of more extenfive mischief;-an indulgence, indeed, that will more readily be granted, and especially for the fake of the compofitors, when it is understood, that, on an average, every page of the prefent work, including fpaces, quadrats, points, and letters, is (to speak technically) compofed of 2680 diftinct pieces of


4 Number of letters, &c. in a page of Shakspeare, 1793.

[blocks in formation]

From this calculation it is clear, that a common page, admitting it to confift of 1-3d text, and 2-3ds notes, contains

« PreviousContinue »