« PreviousContinue »
tunes 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. 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, indeed, 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
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 "ill-roasted egg" in As You Like It, which was done only on one side."-If, in the mean time, some critical arithmetician can be found, who will impartially and intelligently ascertain by way of D' and C 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 text,* and pointed out
* 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. viii. p. 153, n. 5.
† Amounting to (as we are informed by a very accurate compositor who undertook to count them) 186.
Instances wherein Mr. Malone has admitted the Corrections of the Second Folio.
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 value whatever," and afterwards of" not being worth-three shillings *." See Mr. Malone's Preface, and List of Editions of Shakspeare.
*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 sold for three guineas; and that in the sale of Mr. Allen's library, April 15th, 1799, at Leigh and Sotheby's, York Street, Covent Garden, the four folio editions of our author's plays were disposed of at the following prices :
1460 1st folio.
61 2d do.
62 3d do.
63 4th do.
5 10 0
5 15 6
3 13 6
Our readers, it is hoped, will so far honour us as to observe, that the foregoing opinions were not suggested and defended through an ambitious spirit of contradiction. Mr. Malone's Preface, indeed, will absolve us from that censure; for he allows them to be of a date previous to his own edition. He, therefore, on this subject, is the assailant, and not the conductors of the present republication.
But though, in the course of succeeding strictures, several other of Mr. Malone's positions may be likewise controverted, some with seriousness, and some with levity, (for our discussions are not of quite so solemn a turn as those which involve the interests of our country,) we feel an undissembled pleasure in avowing, that his remarks are at once so numerous and correct, that when criticism has done its worst," their merit but in a small degree can be affected. We are confident, however, that he himself will hereafter join. with us in considering no small proportion of our contested readings as a mere game at literary push-pin; and that if Shakspeare looks down upon our petty squabbles over his mangled scenes, it must be with feelings similar to those of Lucan's hero: ridetque sui ludibria trunci.
In the Preface of Mr. Malone, indeed, a direct censure has been levelled at incorrectness in the text of the edition 1778. The justice of the imputation is unequivocally allowed; but, at the same time, might not this acknowledgement be seconded by somewhat like a retort? For is it certain that the collations, &c. of 1790 are wholly secure from similar charges? Are they accompanied by no unauthorized readings, no omission of words, and transpositions? Through all the plays, and especially those of which there is only a single copy, they have been with some diligence retraced, and the frailties of their collator, such as they are, have been ascertained. They shall not, however, be ostentatiously pointed out, and for this only reason:-That as they decrease but little, if at all, the vigour of Shakspeare, the critick who in general has performed with accuracy one of the heaviest of literary tasks, ought not to be molested by a display of petty faults, which might have eluded the most vigilant faculties of sight and hearing that were ever placed as spies over the labours of each other. They are not VOL. I.