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Jere we perceive that Fate, the old post-horse of tragedy, has been saddled to expedite intelligence which was meant to be delayed till the necessary moment of its disclosure. Nay, further: the prompter's book being thus corrupted, on the first night of the revival of this beautiful and interesting play at Drury lane, the same spurious nonsense was heard from the lips of Mrs. Siddons, lips, whose matchlesss powers should be sacred only to the task of animating the purest strains of dramatick poetry. -Many other instances of the same presumption might have been subjoined, had they not been withheld through tenderness to performers now upon the stage.--Similar interpolations, how. ever, in the text of Shakspeare, can only be suspected, and therefore must remain unexpelled.
To other defects of our late editions may be subjoined, as not the least notorious, an exuberance of comment. Our situation has not unaptly resembled that of the fray in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet :
“While we were interchanging thrusts and blows,
“ Came more and more, and fought on part and part:” till, as Ilamlet has observed, we are contending
for a plot “ Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause." Indulgence to the remarks of others, as well as partiality to our own; an ambition in each little Hercules to set up pillars, ascertaining how far he had travelled through the dreary wilds of black letter; and perhaps a reluctance or inability to decide between contradictory sentiments, have also occasioned the appearance of more annotations than were absolutely wanted, unless it be thought requisite that our author, like a Dauphin Classick, should be reduced to margnial prose for the use of children; that all his various readings (assembled by Mr. Capell) should be enumerated, the genealogies of all his real personages deduced; and that as many of his plays as are founded on Roman or British history, should be attended by complete transcripts from their originals in Sir Thomas North’s Plutarch, or the Chronicles of Hall and Holinshed.--These faults, indeed,-si quid prodest delicta fateri,-within half a century, (when the present race of voluminous criticks is extinct) cannot fail to be remedied by a judicious and frugal selection from the labours of us all. Nor is such an event to be deprecated even by ourselves; since we may be certain that some ivy of each individual's growth will still adhere to the parent oak, though not enough, as at present, to “ hide the princely trunk, and suck the verdure out of it.”* -It may be feared too, should we persist in similar accumulations of extraneous matter, that our readers will at length be frighted away from Shakspeare, as the soldiers of Cato de. serted their comrade when he became bloated with poisoncrescens fugére cadaver. It is our opinion, in short, that every
one who opens the page of an ancient English writer, should bring with him some knowledge; and yet he by whom a thousand minutiæ remain to be learned, needs not to close our author's volume in despair, for his spirit and general drift are always obvious, though his language and allusions are occasionally ob
We may subjoin (alluding to our own practice as well as that of others) that they whose remarks are longest, and who seek the most frequent opportunities of introducing their names at the bottom of our author's pages are not, on that account, the most estimable criticks. The art of writing notes, as Dr. Johnson has pleasantly observed in his preface, is not of difficult attainment.* Additional hundreds might therefore be supplied; for as often as a various reading, whether serviceable or not, is to be found, the discoverer can bestow an immediate reward on his own industry, by a display of his favourite signature. The same advantage may be gained by opportunities of appropriating to ourselves what was originally said by another person, and in another place.
Though our adoptions have been slightly mentioned already, our fourth impression of the Plays of Shakspeare must not is. sue into the world without particular and ample acknowledgements of the benefit it has derived from the labours of the last editor, whose attention, diligence, and spirit of enquiry, have very far exceeded those of the whole united phalans of his predecessors.
Of his notes on particular passages a great majority is here: adopted. True it is, that on some points we fundamentally disagree; for instance, concerning his metamorphosis of monosyl. lables (like burn, sworn, worn, here and there, arms, and charms,) into dissyllables; his contradiction of dissyllables (like neither, rather, reason, lover, &c.) into monosyllables; and his sentiments respecting the worth of the variations supplied by the second folio.-On the first of these contested matters we commit our. selves to the publick ear; on the second we must awhile solicit the reader's attention.
The following conjectural account of the publication of this second folio (about which no certainty can be obtained) perhaps is not very remote from truth.
When the predecessor of it appeared, some intelligent friend or admirer of Shakspeare might have observed its defects, and corrected many of them in its margin, from early manuscripts, or authentick information.
That such manuscripts should have remained, can excite no surprize. The good fortune that, till this present hour, has preserved the Chester and Coventry Mysteries, Tancred and Gismundt as originally written, the ancient play of Timon, the
* See also Addison's Spectator, No. 470.
Witch of Middleton, with several older as well as coëval dramas (exclusive of those in the Marquis of Lansdowne's library) might surely have befriended some of our author's copies in 1632, only sixteen years after his death.
That oral information concerning his works was still accessible, may with similar probability be inferred; as some of the original and most knowing performers in his different pieces were then alive (Lowin and Taylor, for instance,); and it must be certain, that on the stage they never uttered such mutilated lines and unintelligible nonsense as was afterwards incorporated with their respective parts, in both the first quarto and the folio editions,
The folio therefore of 1623, corrected from one or both the authorities above mentioned, we conceive to have been the basis of its successor in 1632,
At the same time, however, a fresh and abundant series of errors and omissions was created in the text of our author; the natural and certain consequence of every re-impression of a work which is not overseen. by other eyes than those of its printer.
Nor is it at all improbable that the person who furnished the revision of the first folio, wrote a very obscure hand, and was much cramped for room, as the margin of this book is always narrow. Such being the case, he might often have been compelled to deal in abbreviations, which were sometimes imperfectly deciphered, and sometimes wholly misunderstood.
Mr. Malone, indeed, frequently points his artillery at a personage whom we cannot help regarding as a phantom; we mean the Editor of the second folio; for perhaps no such literary agent as an editor of a poetical work,, unaccompanied by comments, was at that period to be found. This office, if any where, was vested in the printer, who transferred it to his compositors; and these worthies discharged their part of the trust with a proportionate mixture of ignorance and inattention. We do not wish to soften our expression; for some plays, like The Misfortunes of Arthur, and many books of superior consequence, like Fox's Martyrs, and the second edition of the Chronicles of Ho. linshed, &c. were carefully prepared for the publick eye by their immediate authors, or substitutes qualified for their undertaking.* But about the year 1600, the era of total incorrectness commenced, and works of almost all kinds appeared with the disadvantage of more than their natural and inherent imperfections.
Such too, in these more enlightened days, when few compositors are unskilled in orthography and punctuation, would be
fi. e. as acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1568. See Warton, Vol. III, p. 376, n. g.
* Abraham Fleming supervised, corrected, and enlarged the second edition of Holinshed's Chronicle, in 1585.
the event, were complicated works of fancy submitted to no other superintendance than their own. More attentive and judi. cious artists than were employed on our present edition of Shakspeare, are, I believe, no where to be found; and yet had their proofs escaped correction from an editor, the text of our author in many places would have been materially changed. And as all these changes would have originated from attention for a moment relaxed, interrupted memory, a too hasty glance at the page before them, and other incidental causes, they could not have been recommended in preference to the variations of the second folio, which in several instances have been justly reprobated by the last editor of. Shakspeare. What errors then might not have been expected, when compositors were wholly unlettered and careless, and a corrector of the press an officer unknown? To him who is inclined to dispute our grounds for this last assertion, we would recommend a perusal of the errata at the ends of multitudes of our ancient publications, where the reader's indulgence is entreated for “faults escaped on account of the author's distance from the press ;" faults, indeed, which could not have occurred, had every print. ing-office, as at present, been furnished with a regular and literary superintendant of its productions.--How then can it be expected that printers who were often found unequal to the task of setting forth even a plain prose narrative, consisting of a few sheets, without blunders innumerable, should have done justice to a folio volume of dramatick dialogues in metre, which required a so much greater degree of accuracy?
But the worth of our contested volume also seems to be questioned, because the authority on which even such changes in it as are allowed to be judicious, is unknown. But if weight were granted to this argument, what support could be found for ancient Greek and Roman MSS. of various descriptions? the names of their transcribers are alike undiscovered; and yet their authority, when the readings they present are valuable, will seldom fail to be admitted,
Nay, further :-it is on all hands allowed, that what we style a younger and inferior MS. will occasionally correct the mistakes and supply the deficiencies of one of better note, and higher antiquity.—Why, therefore, should not a book printed in 1632 be allowed the merit of equal services to a predecessor in 1623?
Such also, let us add, were the sentiments of a gentleman whose name we cannot repeat without a sigh, which those who were acquainted with his value, will not suspect of insincerity: we mean our late excellent friend, Mr. Tyrwhitt. In his library was this second folio of our author's plays. He always stood forward as a determined advocate for its authority, on which, we believe, more than one of his emendations were formed. At least, we are certain that he never attempted any, before he had consulted it.
He was once, indeed, offered a large fragment of the first folo; but in a few days he returned it, with an assurance that he did not perceive any decided superiority it could boast over its immediate successor, as the metre, imperfect in the elder, was often restored to regularity in the junior impression.
Mr. Malone, however, in his letter to Dr. Farmer, has styled these necessary corrections such “
as could not escape a person of the most ordinary capacity, who had been one month conver. sant with a printing-house;" a descrir tion mortifying enough to the present editors, who, after an acquaintance of many years with typographical mysteries, would be loth to weigh their own amendments against those which this second folio, with all its blunders, has displayed.
The same gentleman also (see his Preface) speakswith some confidence of having proved his assertions relative to the worthlessness of this book. But how are these assertions proved! by exposing its errors (some of which nevertheless are of a very questionable shape) and by observing a careful silence about its deserts.* The latter surely should have been stated as well as the former. Otherwise, this proof will resemble the “illroasted egg” in As you Like it, which was done only side.”—If, in the mean time, some critical arithmetician can be found, who will impartially and intelligently ascertain by way of Dr and Cr the faults and merits of this book, and thereby prove the former to have been many, and the latter scarce any at all, we will most openly acknowledge our misapprehension, and subscribe (a circumstance of which we need not be ashamed) to the superior sagacity and judgment of Mr. Malone.
To conclude, though we are far from asserting that this republication, generally considered, is preferable to its original, we must still regard it as a valuable supplement to that work; and no stronger plea in its favour can be advanced, than the frequent use made of it by Mr. Malone. The numerous corrections from it admitted by that gentleman into his textet and pointed out in his notes, will, in our judgment, contribute to its eulogium; at least cannot fail to rescue it from his prefatory imputations of—“being of no valne whatever,” and afterwards of-"not being worth--three shillings.”#
* Thus (as one instance out of several that might be produced) when Mr. Malone, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, very judiciously restores the uncommon word-ging, and supports it by instances from The New Inn and The Alchemist, he forbears to mention that such also is the reading of the second, though not of the first folio. See Vol. III, p 122, n. 2.
† Amounting to (as we are informed by a very accurate compositor who undertook to count them) 186.
# This doctrine, however, appears to have made few proselytes: at least, some late catalogues of our good friends the booksellers, have expressed their dissent from it in terms of uncommon force. I must add, that on the 34th day of the auction of the late Dr. Farmer's library, this proscribed volume was