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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 marginal 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 the readers will at length be frighted away from Shakspeare, as the soldiers of Cato deserted their comrade when he became bloated with poison-crescens fugère 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 obscure.
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 estiinable criticks. The art of writing notes, as Dr. Johnson has pleasantly ob
served 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 issue 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 phalanx of his predecessors.-His additions to our author's Life, his attempt to ascertain the Order in which his Plays were written, together with his Account of our ancient Stage, &c. are here re-published; and every reader will concur in wishing that a gentleman who has produced such intelligent combinations from very few materials, had fortunately been possessed of more.
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 monosyllables (like burn, sworn, worn, nere and there, arms, and charms,) into dissyllables; his contraction 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 ourselves 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 manuscriptst or authentick information.
That such manuscripts should have remained, can excite
• See also Addison's Spectator, No. 470. + See Mr. Holt White's note on Romeo and Juliet, vol. vi.
p. 90, n. 4.
no surprize. The good fortune that, till this present hour, has preserved the Chester and Coventry Mysteries, Tancred and Gismund * as originally written, the ancient play Timon, the 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 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 reimpression 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 Holinshed, &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.
i. e. as acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1568. See Warton, Hist. of Poet. vol. iii. p. 376, n. g.
Such too, in these more enlightened days, when few compositors are unskilled in orthography and punctuation, would be the event, were complicated works of fancy submitted to no other superintendance than their own. More attentive and judicious 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, iudeed, which could not have occurred, had every printingoffice, 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?
* Abraham Fleming supervised, corrected, and enlarged the second edition of Holinshed's Chronicle, in 1585.
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 folio; 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 conversant with a printing-house; a description mortifying enough - to the present editors, who, after an acquaintance of many years with typographical mysteries, would be loath to weigh their own amendments against those which this second folio, with all its blunders, has displayed.
The same gentleman also see his Preface, p. 209) speaks with some confidence of having proved his assertions relative to the worthlessness of this book. But