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than appear at firft fight to have been neceffary. For thefe, it can only be faid, that when they prove that phrafeology or fource of merriment to have been once general, which at prefent feems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a suspicion of having employed an affected fingularity of expreffion, or indulged himself in allufions to tranfent customs, which were not of fufficient notoriety to deferve ridicule or reprehenfion. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are affembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, fuch neutral collections fhould always be regarded as materials for future criticks, who may hereafter apply them with fuccefs. Authorities, whether in refpect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers; yet
5 Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Faer Queen of Spenser, offers a fimilar apology for having introduced illuftrations from obfolete literature. I fear (fays he) Ifhall be cenfured for quoting too many pieces of this fort. But experience has fatally proved, that the commentator on Spenfer, Jonfon, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give fpecimens of his claffical erudition, unlefs, at the fame time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with thofe books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors refpectively wrote, and which they confequently muft have read. While thefe are unknown, many allufions and many imitations will either remain obfcure, or lofe half their beauty and propriety: as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.
Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakspeare, a fample of
all fuch READING as was never read.
But these ftrange and ridiculous books which Theobald
fuch circumftances as fall below the notice of hiftory, can only be fought in the Jeft-book, the fatire, or the play; and the novel, whofe fashion did not outlive a week, is fometimes neceffary to throw light on those annals which take in the compafs of an age. Thofe, therefore, who would wifh to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, muft excufe the infertion of fuch an epigram as best fuits the purpose, however tedious in itself; and fuch as would be acquainted with the propriety of Faiftaff's allufion to ftewed prunes, fhould not be difgufted at a multitude of inftances, which, when the point is once known to be established, may be diminished by any future editor. An author who catches (as Pope expreffes it) at the Cynthia of a minute, and does not furnish notes to his own works, is fure to lofe half the praise which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allufions lefs temporary, or cleared
quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKSPEARE himself had ftudied; the knowledge of which enabled that ufetul editor to explain fo many difficult allufions and obsolete cuftoms in his poet, which otherwife could never have been understood. For want of this fort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Creffida, fignifies Teucer, fo celebrated for his skill in archery. Had he deigned to confult an old hiftory, called The Deftruction of“ Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKSPEARE and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beaft, which the Grecian army brought againft Troy. If SHAKSPEARE is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the refearches ufed for fo valuable and elegant a purpofe, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the fatire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which fo effentially contributes to the fervice of true tafte, deferves a more honourable repofitory than The Temple of Dullness." STEEVENS..
up for himself thofe difficulties which lapfe of time must inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been defirous to fupport old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He defires to be regarded as one, who found the tafk he under took more arduous than it feemed, while he was yet feeding his vanity with the hopes of introducing himself to the world as an editor in form He, who has difcovered in himfelf the power to rectify a few mislakes with ease, is naturally led to imagine, that all difficulties muft yield to the efforts of future labour; and perhaps feels a reluctance to be undeceived at laft.
Mr. Steevens defires it may be obferved, that he has frictly complied with the terms exhibited in his propofals, having appropriated all such affistances, as he received, to the use of the present editor, whofe judgment has, in every instance, determined on their refpective merits. While he enumerates his obligations to his correfpondents, it is neceffary that one comprehenfive remark fhould be made onfuch communications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were founded on the fuppofition, that Shakfpeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or prefumption of the players. In confequence of this belief, alterations have been propofed wherever a verfe could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more appofite, or a fentiment rendered lefs perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been
filled with attempts at emendation apparently unneceffary, though fometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A conflant perufer of Shakspeare will fuppose whatever is easy to his own apprehenfion, will prove fo to that of others, and confequently may pafs over fome real perplexities in filence. On the contrary, if in confideration of the different abilities of every clafs of readers, he fhould offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrafe, or peculiarities of expreffion, he will at once excite the disgust and difpleasure of fuch as think their own knowledge or fagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many paffages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the flage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be confidered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whofe conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at leaft fuppofes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated paffage in Shakspeare can be restored, till a greater latįtude of experiment fhall be allowed; fo neither can it be fuppofed that the force of all his allufions will be pointed out, till fuch books are thoroughly exa mined, as cannot easily at prefent be collected, if at all. Several of the moft correct lifts of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completeft collections. It is almost unneceffary to mention any other than
Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extenfive as it is, derives its greateft value from its acceffibility.
6 There is reafon to think that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of Queen Elizabeth's INJUNCTIONS in 1559, are particularly directed to the fuppreffing of Many pamphlets, PLAYES, and ballads: that no manner of perfon fhall enterprize to print any fuch, &c. but under certain reftrictions. Vid. Sect. V. This obfervation is taken from Dr. Percy's Additions to his Effay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewife from a page at the conclufion of the fecond Vol. of the entries belonging to the Stationers' company, that in the 41ft year of Queen Elizabeth, many new reftraints on bookfellers were laid. Among these are the following, That no playes be printed excepte they bee allowed by fuch as have auctoritye. "The records of the Stationers however contain the entries of fome which have never yet been met with by the moft fuccefsful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any regifters of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It fhould feem from the fame volumes that it was cuftomary for the Stationers to feize the whole impreffion of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, who fometimes enjoyed thefe literary executions at their refpective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by thefe difcerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bishop Hall.
Mr. Theobald, at the conclufion of the preface to his firft edition of Shakspeare, afferts, that exclufive of the dramas of Ben Jonfon, and Beaumont and Fletcher, he had read, above 800 of old English plays." He omitted this affertion, however, on the republication of the fame work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falfhood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to difcover half the number that were written early enough to ferve the purpofe for which he pretends to have perufed this imaginary ftock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonfon, Fletcher, and Shak