Page images

-So far from understanding the power of an ellipsis, we may venture to affirm that the very name of this figure in rhetorick never reached the ears of our ancient editors. Having on this subject the support of Dr. Farmer's acknowledged judgment and experience, we shall not shrink from controversy with those who maintain a different opinion, and refuse to acquiesce in modern suggestions if opposed to the authority of quartos and folios, consigned to us by a set of people who were wholly uninstructed in the common forms of style, orthography, and punctuation. -We do not therefore hesitate to affirm, that a blind fidelity to the eldest printed copies, is on some occasions a confirmed treason against the sense, spirit, and versification of Shakspeare.

All these circumstances considered, it is time, instead of a timid and servile adherence to ancient copies, when (offending against sense and metre) they furnish no real help, that a future editor, well acquainted with the phraseology of our author's age, should be at liberty to restore some apparent meaning to his corrupted lines, and a decent flow to his obstructed versification. The latter (as already has been observed) may be frequently effected by the expulsion of useless and supernumerary syllables, and an occasional supply of such as might fortuitously have been omitted, notwithstanding the declaration of Hemings and Condell, whose fraudulent preface asserts that they have published our author's plays "as absolute in their numbers as he conceived them." Till somewhat resembling the process above suggested be authorized, the publick will ask in vain for a commodious and pleasant text of Shakspeare. Nothing will be lost to the world on account of the measure recommended, there being folios and quartos enough remaining for the use of antiquarian or critical travellers, to whom a jolt over a rugged pavement may be more delectable than an easy passage over a smooth one, though they both conduct to the same object.

To a reader unconversant with the licenses of a theatre, the charge of more material interpolation than that of mere

Acts of Hamlet, and in Othello. The length of this prefatory advertisement has precluded their exemplification, which was here meant to have been given.—We wish, however, to impress the foregoing circumstance on the memory of the judicious reader.

syllables, will appear to want support; and yet whole lines and passages in the following plays incur a very just suspicion of having originated from this practice, which continues even in the present improved state of our dramatick arrangements; for the propensity of modern performers to alter words, and occasionally introduce ideas incongruous with their author's plan, will not always escape detection. In such vagaries our comedians have been much 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

[ocr errors][merged small]

"And such a husband, make a woman bold.—

into a plain avowal, that

[ocr errors]

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 spurious nonsense 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 of comment. Our situation has not unaptly resembled that of the fray in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet:

[ocr errors]

"While we were interchanging thrusts and blows, "Came more and more, and fought on part and part:" till, as Hamlet has observed, we are contending

[ocr errors]

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 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 fugêre 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 estimable criticks. The art of writing notes, as Dr. Johnson has pleasantly ob

* Tempest.

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 manuscripts+ 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 coeval 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 Misfor

* i. e. as acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1568. See Warton, Hist. of Poet. vol. iii. p. 376, n. g..

« PreviousContinue »