« PředchozíPokračovat »
circumstances 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 wish to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, must excuse the infertion of such an epigram as best
trations from obfolete literature. "I fear (fays he) I shall 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, unless, at the fame time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with thofe books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common ufe and high repute about the time in which his authors refpectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these 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 thefe ftrange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKSPEARE himself had ftudied: the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain fo many different allufions and obfolete cuftoms in his poet, which otherwise 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 fkill in archery. Had he deigned to confult an old history, 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 researches used for fo valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the fatire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which fo effentially contributes to the service of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dullness." STEEVENS,
fuits the purpose, however tedious in itself; and fuch as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allusion to stewed 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 lose half the praise which he might have claimed, had he dealt in allufions lefs temporary, or cleared up for himself those difficulties which lapfe of time muft inevitably create.
The author of the additional notes has rather been defirous to support old readings, than to claim the merit of introducing new ones. He defires to be regarded as one, who found the task he undertook more arduous than it seemed, 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 himself the power to rectify a few mistakes 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 ftrictly complied with the terms exhibited in his propofals, having appropriated all fuch affif tances, as he received, to the ufe of the prefent editor, whofe judgment has, in every inftance, determined on their respective merits. While he enumerates his obligations to his correfpondents, it is neceffary that one comprehenfive remark fhould be made on fuch 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 Dd
on the fuppofition, that Shakspeare 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. conftant peruser of Shakspeare will fuppofe whatever is eafy 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 class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harfh inverfions of phrafe, or peculiarities of expreffion, he will at once excite the difguft and displeasure 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 stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be confidered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least 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 latitude 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 examined, as cannot eafily 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 extensive as it is, derives it greatest value from its acceffibility."
There is reason 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 suppressing of Many pamphlets, PLAYES, and ballads that no manner of perfon fhall enterprize to print any fuch, &c. but under certain restrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This obfervation is taken from Dr. Percy's additions to his Efay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclufion of the fecond volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers' Company, that in the 41ft year of Queen Elizabeth, many new restraints 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 fuccessful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should feem from the fame volumes that it was customary 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 these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these difcerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bifhop Hall.*
Mr. Theobald, at the conclufion of the preface to his first 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
*Law, Phyfick, and Divinity, bl. 1. may be found on every stall. Plays, poetry, and novels, were deftroyed publickly by the Bishops, and privately by the Puritans. Hence the infinite number of them entirely loft, for which Licenses were procured &c. FARMER.
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the fuppreffion of many dramatick and poetical names, which were plunged in obfcurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never fince attracted curiofity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued fo long, that many books may be fuppofed to be loft; and that curiofity, which has been now for fome years increafing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in fmall numbers,
the republication of the fame work, and, I hope, he did fo, through a consciousness of its utter falfhood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to ferve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused the imaginary ftock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonfon, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained entire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonfon, till the time of his death. It does not appear that any other collection but the Harleian was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edition contain any intrinfick evidences of fo comprehenfive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he affumes to himself the merit of having made. STEEVENS.
Whatever Mr. Theobald might venture to affert, there is fufficient evidence exifting that at the time of his death he was not poffeffed of more than 295 quarto plays in the whole, and fome of thefe, it is probable, were different editions of the fame play. He died fhortly after the 6th of September, 1744. On the 20th of October his library was advertized to be fold by auction, by Charles Corbett, and on the third day was the following lot: "295 Old English Plays in quarto, fome of them so scarce as not to be had at any price: to many of which are MSS. notes and remarks by Mr. Theobald, all done up neatly in boards in fingle plays. They will all be fold in one lot." REED.
There were about five hundred and fifty plays printed before the Restoration, exclufive of those written by Shakspeare, Jonfon, and Fletcher. MALONE.