George Steevens 1736-1800

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George STEEVENS 1736-1800

Biographical Note

Born at Poplar, London, son of George Steevens, a ship's captain. Matriculated at King's College, Cambridge 1753, but did not graduate. On his father's death in 1763 he inherited enough to buy a house in Hampstead, where he remained for the rest of his life pursuing literary activities. He made his name as an editor of Shakespeare, helping to edit Samuel Johnson's edition of the plays, and publishing his own edition in 1766. He became a well-known figure in the literary life of the time, although he was noted for perpetrating various hoaxes which earned him enemies. He was however also known for generosity on other occasions, and he cemented a permanent reputation as an important 18th-century editor of Shakespeare. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1767, and a member of The Club (sometimes known as Samuel Johnson's Literary Club) in 1774.


Steevens accumulated a significant library throughout his life, and his daily routine, walking from Hampstead into central London, included regular visits to booksellers. In 1779 he had printed a small edition of the Shakespeare holdings of Edmund Capell. His library was auctioned in London, beginning 13 May 1800, and attracted much interest; buyers at the sale included Richard Heber, Francis Douce, Edmund Malone, the Marquess of Bute and George III. The catalogue comprised 1943 lots, including 346 classics (of which 34 were 16th-century Aldine editions); 120 French books (alongside books in Italian and Spanish); 169 history and topography; and 393 English poetry and miscellaneous (which included sections on Old Romances, and Theatrical History and Criticism). He owned 148 quarto plays by Shakespeare and other authors of that time; his copy of the Shakespeare First Folio was sold for £22.

Characteristic Markings

Steevens regularly used an ink stamp in his books, "G.STEEVENS", and often inscribed his name also.


  • Clarke, Stephen, The libraries of twelve early members of The Club: part 9: George Steevens, The Book Collector 71 (2022), 708-12.
  • De Ricci, S., English collectors of books and manuscripts, Cambridge, 1930, 62-3.
  • Sherbo, Arthur. "Steevens, George (1736–1800), literary editor and scholar." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Sherbo, Arthur, The achievement of George Steevens, New York, 1990.
  • West, A. J., The Shakespeare First Folio ... volume II, Oxford, 2003, nos. 17, 30, 91.