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press, and to whom the praise is due of having first adopted, and carried into execution, Dr. Johnson's
to literary pursuits, which he followed with unabated vigour, but without any lucrative views, as he never required, or accepted, the slightest pecuniary recompence for his labours. His first residence was in the Temple, afterwards at Hampton, and lastly at Hampstead, where he continued near thirty years. In this retreat his life passed in one unbroken tenor, with scarce any variation, except an occasional visit to Cambridge, walking to London in the morning, six days out of seven, for the sake of health and conversation, and returning home in the afternoon of the same day. By temperance and exercise he continued healthy and active until the last two years of his life, and to the conclusion of it did not relax his attention to the illustration of Shakspeare, which was the first object of his regard. He died the 22d of January, 1800, and was buried in Poplar chapel.
To the eulogium contained in the following epitaph by Mr. Hayley, which differs in some respect from that inscribed on the
monument in Poplar chapel, those who really knew Mr. Steevens
will readily subscribe:
"Peace to these ashes! once the bright attire
"How oft has pleasure in the social hour
admirable plan of illustrating Shakspeare by the study of writers of his own time. By following this track, most of the difficulties of the author have been overcome, his meaning (in many instances apparently lost) has been recovered, and much wild unfounded conjecture has been happily got rid of. By perseverance in this plan, he ef fected more to the elucidation of his author than any if not all his predecessors, and justly entitled himself to the distinction of being confessed the best editor of Shakspeare.
The edition which now solicits the notice of the publick is faithfully printed from the copy given by Mr. Steevens to the proprietors of the preceding edition, in his life-time; with such additions as, it is presumed, he would have received, had he lived to determine on them himself. The whole was entrusted to the care of the present Editor, who has, with the aid of an able and vigilant assistant, and a careful printer, endeavoured to fulfil the trust reposed in him, as well as continued ill health and depressed spirits would permit.
Learning, as vast as mental power could seize,
"This tomb may perish, but not so his name "Who shed new lustre upon SHAKSPEARE'S fame!"
By a memorandum in the hand-writing of Mr. Steevens it appeared to be his intention to adopt and introduce into the prolegomena of the present edition some parts of two late works of Mr. George Chalmers. An application was therefore made to that gentleman for his consent, which was immediately granted; and to render the favour more acceptable, permission was given to divest the extracts of the offensive asperities of controversy.
The portrait of Shakspeare prefixed to the present edition, is a copy of the picture formerly belonging to Mr. Felton, now to Alderman Boydell, and at present at the Shakspeare Gallery, in Pall Mall. After what has been written on the subject it will be only necessary to add, that Mr. Steevens persevered in his opinion that this, of all the portraits, had the fairest chance of being a genuine likeness of the author. Of the canvas Chandois picture he remained convinced that it possessed no claims to authenticity.
Some apology is due to those gentlemen who, during the course of the publication, have obligingly offered the present Editor their assistance, which he should thankfully have received, had he. considered himself at liberty to accept their favours. He was fearful of loading the page, which Mr. Steevens in some instances thought too much crouded already, and therefore confined himself to the copy left to his care by his deceased friend.
But it is time to conclude.-He will therefore detain the reader no longer than just to offer a few words in extenuation of any errors or omissions that may be discovered in his part of the work; a work which, notwithstanding the utmost exertion of diligence, has never been produced without some imperfection. Circumstanced as he has been, he is sensible how inadequate his powers were to the task imposed on him, and hopes for the indulgence of the reader. He feels that "the inaudible and noiseless foot of time" has insensibly brought on that period of life and those attendant infirmities which weaken the attachment to early pursuits, and diminish their importance: Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage."
To the admonition he is content to pay obedience, and satisfied that the hour is arrived when " welltimed retreat" is the measure which prudence dictates, and reason will approve, he here bids adieu to SHAKSPEARE, and his Commentators; acknowledging the candour with which very imperfect efforts have been received, and wishing for his successors the same gratification he has experienced in his humble endeavours to illustrate the greatest poet the world ever knew.
Staple Inn, May 2, 1803.