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as any man whatsoever; yet, I own, the primrose path is still more pleasing than the Fosse or the Watling-street :
“ Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale
“ Its infinite variety." And when I am fairly rid of the dust of topographical antiquity, which hath continued much longer about me than I expected; you may very probably be troubled again with the ever fruitful subject of Shakspeare and his Commentators.
By a mistake, for which I must offer an apology to the reader, in giving out the copy to the printer, the following note by Mr. Steevens, and Dr. Farmer's two prefaces, were omitted in their former places, before his essay. They are here subjoined. Boswell.
Though our commentaries on the following Plays have been enriched by numerous extracts from this celebrated Essay, the whole of it is here reprinted. I shall hazard no contradiction relative to the value of its contents, when I add
-prosunt singula, juncta juvant. Steevens.
THE SECOND EDITION, 1767.
THE author of the following Essay was solicitous only for the honour of Shakspeare : he hath however, in his own capacity, little reason to complain of occasional criticks, or criticks by profession. The very few, who have been pleased to controvert any part of his doctrine, have favoured him with better manners, than arguments; and claim his thanks for a further opportunity of demonstrating the futility of theoretick reasoning against matter of fact. It is indeed strange, that any real friends of our immortal Poet should be still willing to force him into a situation, which is not tenable: treat him as a learned man, and what shall excuse the most gross violations of history, chronology, and geography ?
Oj weldes, $8 mv welons, is the motto of every polemick: like his brethren at the amphitheatre, he holds it a merit to die hard; and will not say, enough, though the battle be decided. “ Were it shown, (says some one) that the old bard borrowed all his allusions from English books then published, our Essayist might have possibly established his system.”—In good time ! This had scarcely been attempted by Peter Burman himself, with the library of Shakspeare before him—" Truly, (as Mr. Dogberry says,) for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find in my heart to bestow it all on this subject : but where should I meet with a reader ?-When the main pillars are taken away, the whole building falls in course : Nothing hath been, or can be, pointed out, which is not easily removed; or rather which was not virtually removed
before: a very little analogy will do the business. I shall therefore have no occasion to trouble myself any further; and may venture to call my pamphlet, in the words of a pleasant declaimer against sermons on the thirtieth of January, an answer to every thing that shall hereafter be written on the subject.”
But “ this method of reasoning will prove any one ignorant of the languages, who hath written when translations were extant.”. Shade of Burgersdicius !-does it follow, because Shakspeare's early life was incompatible with a course of education—whose contemporaries, friends and foes, nay, and himself likewise, agree in his want of what is usually called literature-whose mistakes from equivocal translations, and even typographical errors, cannot possibly be accounted for otherwise,—that Locke, to whom not one of these circumstances is applicable, understood no Greek?-I suspect, Rollin's opinion of our philosopher was not founded on this argument.
Shakspeare wanted not the stilts of languages to raise him above all other men. The quotation from Lilly in The Taming of the Shrew, if indeed it be his, strongly proves the extent of his reading : had he known Terence, he would not have quoted erroneously from his Grammar. Every one hath met with men in common life, who, according to the language of the Water-poet, “ got only from possum to posset,” and yet will throw out a line occasionally from their Accidence or their Cato de Moribus with tolerable propriety.--If, however, the old editions be trusted in this passage, our author's memory somewhat failed him in point of concord.
The rage of parallelisms is almost over, and in truth nothing can be more absurd. « This was stolen from one classick,-That from another;"—and had I not stept into his rescue, poor Shakspeare had been stript as naked of ornament, as when he first held horses at the door of the playhouse.
The late ingenious and modest Mr. Dodsley declared himself
“ Untutor'd in the lore of Greece or Rome." yet let us take a passage at a venture from any of his performances, and a thousand to one, it is stolen. Suppose it to be his celebrated compliment to the ladies, in one of his earliest pieces, The Toy-shop: “ A good wife makes
the cares of the world sit easy, and adds a sweetness to its pleasures; she is a man's best companion in prosperity, and his only friend in adversity; the carefullest preserver of his health, and the kindest attendant in his sickness; a faithful adviser in distress, a comforter in affliction, and prudent manager in all his domestick affairs.” Plainly, from a fragment of Euripides preserved by Stobæus :
Γυν γαρ εν κακoίσι και νόσοις πόσει
Yuxny megisão'!--Par. 4to. 1623. Malvolio, in the Twelfth-Night of Shakspeare, hath some expressions very similar to Alnaschar in the Arabian Tales : which perhaps may be sufficient for some criticks to prove his acquaintance with Arabic!
It seems, however, at last, that “ Taste should determine the matter.” This, as Bardolph expresses it, is a word of exceeding good command: but I am willing, that the standard itself be somewhat better ascertained before it be opposed to demonstrative evidence.-Upon the whole, I may consider myself as the pioneer of the commentators : I have removed a deal of learned rubbish, and pointed out to them Shakspeare's track in the everpleasing paths of nature. This was necessarily a previous inquiry; and I hope I may assume with some confidence, what one of the first criticks of the age was pleased to declare on reading the former edition, that “ The question is now for ever decided.”
* I may just remark, lest they be mistaken for Errata, that the word Catherine in the 329th page is written, according to the old Orthography for Catharine; and that the passage in the 332d page is copied from Upton, who improperly calls Horatio and Marcellus in Hamlet, « the Centinels.”