« PreviousContinue »
THE merits of our great dramatick Bard, the pride and glory of his country, have been so amply displayed by perfons of various and first-rate talents, that it would appear like prefumption in any one, and especially in him whofe name is fubfcribed to this Advertisement, to imagine himself capable of adding any thing on fo exhausted a fubject. After the labours of men of fuch high estimation as Rowe, Pope, Warburton, Johnson, Farmer, and Steevens, with others of inferior name, the rank of Shakspeare in the poetical world is not a point at this time subject to controverfy. His pre-eminence is admitted; his fuperiority confeffed. Long ago it might be faid of him, as it has been, in the energetick lines of Johnfon, of one almost his equal,
"At length, our mighty bard's victorious lays
And baffled fpite, with hopeless anguish dumb, 4 Yields to renown the centuries to come."
a renown, established on fo folid a foundation, as to bid defiance to the caprices of fashion, and to the canker of time.
Leaving, therefore, the Author in quiet poffeffion of that fame which neither detraction can leffen nor panegyrick increase, the Editor will proceed to the confideration of the work now prefented to the Publick.
It contains the last improvements and corrections of Mr. Steevens,* by whom it was prepared for the
* Of one to whom the readers of Shakspeare are so much obliged, a flight memorial will not here be confidered as mifplaced.
GEORGE STEEVENS was born at Poplar, in the county of Middlesex, in the year 1736. His father, a man of great refpectability, was engaged in a bufinefs connected with the Eaft India Company, by which he acquired an handsome fortune. Fortunately for his fon, and for the publick, the clergyman of the place was Dr. Gloucefter Ridley, a man of great literary accomplishments, who is ftyled by Dr. Lowth poeta natus. With this gentleman an intimacy took place that united the two families clofely together, and probably gave the younger branches of each that taste for literature which both afterwards ardently cultivated. The first part of Mr. Steevens's education he received under Mr. Wooddefon, at Kingfton-upon-Thames, where he had for his school-fellows George Keate the poet, and Edward Gibbon the hiftorian. From this feminary he removed in 1753 to King's College, Cambridge, and entered there under
prefs, and to whom the praife is due of having first adopted, and carried into execution, Dr. Johnfon's
the tuition of the Reverend Dr. Barford. After ftaying a few years at the University, he left it without taking a degree, and accepted a commiffion in the Effex militia, in which service he continued a few years longer. In 1763 he lost his father, from whom he inherited an ample property, which if he did not leffen he certainly did not increase. From this period he feems to have determined on the course of his future life, and devoted himself to literary pursuits, which he followed with unabated vigour, but without any lucrative views, as he never required, or accepted, the flightest pecuniary recompence for his labours. His first refidence was in the Temple, afterwards at Hampton, and laftly at Hampstead, where he continued near thirty years. In this retreat his life paffed in one unbroken tenor, with scarce any variation, except an occafional vifit to Cambridge, walking to London in the morning, fix days out of feven, for the fake of health and conversation, and returning home in the afternoon of the fame day. By temperance and exercise he continued healthy and active until the last two years of his life, and to the conclufion of it did not relax his attention to the illuftration of Shakspeare, which was the first object of his regard. He died the 22d of January, 1800, and was buried in Poplar chapel.
To the eulogium contained in the following epitaph by Mr. Hayley, which differs in fome refpect from that infcribed on the monument in Poplar chapel, those who really knew Mr. Steevens will readily fubfcribe:
"Peace to these afhes! once the bright attire
admirable plan of illuftrating Shakspeare by the study of writers of his own time. By following this track, moft of the difficulties of the author have been overcome, his meaning (in many instances 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
"Whose talents, varying as the diamond's ray,
"How oft has pleasure in the focial hour
"Learning, as vaft as mental power could feize,
"This tomb may perish, but not so his name "Who fhed new luftre upon SHAKSPEARE's fame !"