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writer who has best illustrated the principles of taste, that “ the pride of science is always meek and humble compared with the pride of ignorance.” He, who at this day can entirely comprehend the writings of Shakspeare without the aid of a comment, and frequently of laborious illustration, may be said to possess a degree of inspiration almost commensurate with that of the great bard himself. Mr. Steevens has indeed summed up every necessary argument in his assertion that “ if Shakspeare is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for so valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the satire of prejudice and ignorance.”
The indefatigable exertions of Messrs. Steevens, Malone, Tyrwhitt, and Mason, will ever be duly appreciated by the true and zealous admirers of Shakspeare's pages. If the name of á celebrated critic'and moralist be not included
this occasion, it is because he was certainly unskilled in the knowledge of obsolete customs and expressions. His explanatory notes there
fore are, generally speaking, the most controvertible of any; but no future editor will discharge his duty to the public who shall omit a single sentence of this writer's masterly preface, or of his sound and tasteful characters of the plays of Shakspeare. Of all the commentators Dr. Warburton was surely the worst. timents indeed have been seldom exhibited in modern editions but for the purpose of confuting them.
The wide dispersion of those materials which are essential to the illustration of inquiries like the present, will necessarily frustrate every endeavour at perfection ; a circumstance that alone should teach every one discussing these difficult and obscure subjects, to speak of them with becoming diffidence. The present writer cannot flatter himself that he has uniformly paid a strict attention to this rule; the ardour of conjecture may have sometimes led him, in common with others, to forget the precepts he had himself laid down.
It may be thought by some, and even with great justice, that several of the corrections are trifling and unimportant; but even these may perhaps be endured wherever it shall be manifest that their object, and it is hoped their effect, has been to remove error and establish truth; a matter undoubtedly of some consequence in the school of criticism. One design of these volumes has been to augment the knowledge of our popular customs and antiquities, in which respect alone the writings of Shakspeare have suggested better hints, and furnished ampler materials than those of any one besides. Other digressions too have been introduced, as it was conceived that they might operate in diminishing that tedium which usually results from an attention to matters purely critical ; and that whilst there was almost a certainty of supplying some amusement, there might even be a chance of conveying instruction. Sometimes there has been a necessity for stepping in between two contending critics; and for showing, as in the case of many other disputes, that both parties are in the wrong.
Some excuse may seem necessary for obtruding on the reader so many passages from what Mr. Steevens has somewhere called “ books too mear to be formally quoted.” And yet the wisest among us may be often benefited by the meanest productions of human intellect, if, like medicinal poisons, they be administered with skill. It had escaped the recollection of the learned and accomplished commentator that he had himself condescended to examine a multitude of volumes of the above class, and even to use them with advantage to his readers in the course of his notes.
With respect to what is often absurdly denominated black letter learning, the taste which prevails in the present times for this sort of read. ing wherever true scholarship and a laudable curiosity are found united, will afford the best reply to the hyper-criticisms and impotent sarcasms of those who, having from indolence or . ignorance neglected to cultivate so rich a field of knowledge, exert the whole of their endeavours to depreciate its value. Are the earlier labours of our countrymen, and especially the copious stores of information that enriched the long and Aourishing reign of Elizabeth, to be rejected be
cause they are recorded in a particular typography ?
Others again have complained of the redundancy of the commentators, and of an affected display of learning to explain terms and illustrate matters of obvious and easy comprehension. This may sometimes have been the case; but it were easier to show that too little, and not too much, has been attempted on many of these occasions. An emi- . nent critic has declared that “ if every line of Shakspeare's plays were accompanied with a comment, every intelligent reader would be indebted to the industry of him who produced it.” Shakspeare indeed is not more obscure than contemporary writers; but he is certainly much better worth illustrating. The above objectors, affectedly zealous to detect the errors of other men, but more frequently betraying their own self-sufficiency and over-weening importance, seem to forget that comments and illustrations are designed for the more ignorant class of readers, who are always the most numerous; and that very few