Page images
PDF
EPUB

too frequently indulged; but to the injudicious tragical interpolator no degree of favour should be shown, not even to a late Matilda, who, in Mr. Home's Douglas thought fit to change the obscure intimation with which her part should have concluded

fuch a son, " And such a husband, make a woman bold. into a plain avowal, that

such a son, " And such a husband, drive me to my fate. Here 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 fpurious nonfense was heard from the lips of Mrs. Siddons, lips, whose matchless

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, however, 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

[ocr errors]

of comment.

Our fituation has not unaptly resembled that of the fray in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet :

“ While we were interchanging thrusts and blows,

6. Came more and more, and fought on part and part: till, as Hamlet 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 marginal profe 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 deli&ta 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. Noris 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 fuck the verdure out of it.”* — It may be feared too, should we persist in fimilar accumulations of extraneous matter, that our readers will at length be frighted away from Shakspeare, as the soldiers of Cato deserted their comrade when he became bloated with poison -crescens fugêre cadaver. It is our opinion, in short, that every one who opens the page of an ancient Englith 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 fpirit 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 page, are not, on that account, the most estimable criticks. The art of writing notes, as Dr. Johnson has pleasantly observed in his preface, p. 255, + is not of difficult attainment. Additional hundreds might therefore be fupplied; for as often as a various reading, whether serviceable or not, is

Tempeft.

+ See also Addison's Spe&ator, No. 47o.

[ocr errors]

to be found, the discoverer can bestow an immediate reward on his own induftry, 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, here and there, arms and charms,) into 'disfyllables; his contraction of difsyllables (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 folicit 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 predeceffor 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 Gismund i as originally written, the ancient play of 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 fixteen years after his death.

That oral information concerning his works was still accessible, may with similar probability be in ferred; as some of the original and most

* See Mr. Holt White's note on Romeo and Juliet, Vol. XXI. p. 95. n. 6.

+ i. e. as acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1568. See Warton, Vol. III. p. 376. n. g.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »