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to the second edition,
BY MR. REED,
THE mertis of our great dramatick bard, the pride and glory of his country, have been so amply displayed by persons of various and first-rate talents, that it would appear like presumption in any one, and especially in him whose name is subscribed to this advertisement, to imagine himself capable of adding any thing on so exhausted a subject. After the labours of men of such high estimation as Rowe, Pope, Warburton, Johnson, Farmer, and Steevens, with others of inferior name, the rank of Shakspeare in the poetical world is not a point at this time subject to controversy. His pre-eminence is admitted; his superiority confessed. Long ago it might be said of him, as it has been, in the energetick lines of Johnson, of one almost bis equal,
“At length, our mighty bard's victorious lays
“ Yields to renown the centuries to come.” a renown, established on so solid a foundation, as to bid defiance to the caprices of fashion, and to the canker of time.
Leaving, therefore, the author in quiet possession of that fame which neither detraction can lessen nor panegyrick increase, the editor will proceed to the consideration of the work now presented to the publick.
It contains the last improvements and corrections of Mr. Steevens,* by whom it was pepared for the press, and to whom the
* Of one to whom the readers of Shakspeare are so much obliged, a slight memorial will not here be considered as misa placed.
GEORGE STEEVENS was born at Poplar, in the county of Middlesex, in the year 1736. His father, a man of great respectability, was engaged in a business connected with the East India Company, by which he acquired an handsome fortune. Fortunately for his son, and for the publick, the clergyman of the place was Dr. Gloucester Ridley, a man of great literary accomplishments, who is styled by Dr. Lowth poeta natus. With this gentleman an intimacy took place that united the two families closely together, and probably gave the younger branches of each that taste for literature which both afterwards ardently cultivated. The first part of Mr. Steevens's education he recieved under Mr. Wooddeson, at Kingston-upon-Thames, where he had for his school-fellows George Keate the poet, and Edward VOL. I.
praise is due of having first adopted, and carried into execution, Dr. Johnson's 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
Gibbon the historian. From this seminary he removed in 1753 to King's College, Cambridge, and entered there under the tuition of the Reverend Dr. Barford. After staying a few years at the University, he left it without taking a degree, and accepted a commission in the Essex Militia, in which service he continued a few years longer. In 1763 he lost his father, from whom he inherited an ample property, which if he did not lessen he certainly did not increase. From this period he seems to have determined on the course of his future life, and devoted himself 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 Poplarchapel.
To the eulogium contained in the following epitaph by Mr. Hayley, which differs in some respects 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
“Learning, as vast as mental power could seize,
“This tomb may perish, but not so his name