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OF these Remarks the greater part were written during the progress of a collation between the early copies, and that produced by Mr. Steevens, in 1793. The revisal of the manuscript, necessary, in order to adapt the references to the recent edition, by Mr. Reed, and with a view to the probable variations therein, occasioned, in many places, material alterations. The reviser often found himself anticipated, and, of course, obliged to withdraw what had now become superfluous. The new matter introduced in the last commentary, together with reiterated meditations on the text, induced, sometimes, fresh opinions, and, sometimes, chastened those before advanced. But what is principally to be noticed here is, that, so often as the remarker reperused the pages on which he
presumed to comment, the mutilations and corruptions which disfigure them, appeared the
more flagrant; and increased his confidence in the proffered amendments : accordingly, it will be found that he has, sometimes, perhaps too rashly, overstepped the timid bounds which, in the Introduction, he had prescribed to himself, on the ground of conjectural restoration and rejection : this will appear most conspicuously, or, perhaps, most culpably, in Othello, King Lear, and Timon of Athens : the attempt was experimental, and the Author, like other adventurers, too sanguine in their pursuits, must abide the consequence of his temerity. The references apply, immediately, to the last copy of Johnson and Steevens's Shakspeare, edited by Mr. Reed; but they will, it is presumed, sufficiently accord with any other regular edition ; as, to every remark, a note of the respective Act and Scene is annexed.
AFTER the labours of so many acute and judicious men as, during almost a century past, have successively applied their talents to rectify and explain the works of Shakspeare, it might reasonably be supposed, that little room was left for further observation: that an authentic, or, at least, an approved text was firmly established ; that all inaccuracies were repaired or noted; that the viciousness of interpolation, and the ignorance or idleness of transcribers and reciters were no longer to be confounded with the effusions of the poet, and that every passage which had languished in the trammels of obscurity, was at length either redeemed to illustration, or abandoned finally to impervious darkness; but a review of the plays, as they have been presented to the public by the last editor, will shew that such expectations remain, even yet, unfulfilled. It is true, indeed,
the circumstances attending our great dramatist and his productions must ever leave questionable the authority even of the best copies, for, excepting A Midsummer Night's Dream, we shall not, perhaps, find a single play that is not evidently corrupted; and there exists no other rule whereby we can distinguish the genuine from the spurious parts, but that internal evidence which critical discernment may be able to extract from a patient and minute examination of the earliest copies, the consciousness of a peculiar and predominating style, and the sagacious perception of an original design, howsoever adulterated or deranged by innovation or unskilfulness.
On this ground, possibly, a rational hypothesis of purity may be erected, whenever there shall come forth a combination of talents and industry sufficient for the task: this, however, is a latitude of criticism, to which no editor, as yet, has extended his enquiry ; they have all been satisfied with delivering the text of each drama as they found it, with preference occasionally to the readings of different impressions; and if the choice they made be deemed judicious, so much of their undertaking has been performed : but with regard to those anomalies in which the measure, construction, and sense, are often vitiated, they appear to have been strangely negligent; and, sometimes, more strangely mistaken: the want of meaning can never be excused; the disregard of syntax is no less reprehensible, and every poetic ear must be offended by metrical dissonance.
Yet all these faults abound without even a comment in the last edition of Shakspeare's plays. Upon examining the compositions before us, we must presently discern two different kinds of imperfections, one of them the result of haste or idleness; the other of habitual inaccuracy: those which were produced by mere inadvertency, whether of the poet himself or his transcriber; and where concord, prosody, and reason, unite in suggesting the true expression, should at once, perhaps, without scruple or remark, be set right in the text.(a)
The other, more compendious as well as mischievous class of errors, are those indigests of grammar, both in words and