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"But when the beauty arises from some adaptation of the sentiment to customs worn out of use, to opinions not univer sally prevalent, or to any accidental or minute particularity, which cannot be supplied by common understanding, or common observation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend his assistance.
"The notice of beauties and faults thus limited will make no distinct part of the design, being reducible to the explanation of obscure passages.
"The editor does not however intend to preclude himself from the comparison of Shakspeare's sentiments or expression with these of ancient or modern authors, or from the display of any beauty not obvious to the students of poetry; for as he hopes to leave his author better understood, he wishes likewise to procure him more rational approbation.
"The former editors have affected to slight their predecessors: but in this edition all that is valuable will be adopted from every commentator, that posterity may consider it as including all the rest, and exhibit whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the English drama."
Though Dr. Johnson has here pointed out with his usual perspicuity and vigour, the true course to be taken by an editor of Shakspeare, some of the positions which he has laid down may be controverted, and some are indubitably not true. It is not true that the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed than those of any of his contemporaries: for in the plays of Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, Massinger, and others, as many errors may be found. It is not true that the art of printing was in no other age in so unskilful hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is stated, that "these plays were printed from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre:" two only of all his dramas, The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V, appear to have been thus thrust into the world, and of the former it is yet a doubt whether it is a first sketch or an imperfect copy. I do not believe that words were then adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, or that an antiquated diction was then employed by any poet but Spenser. That the obscurities of our author, to whatever cause they may be referred, do not arise from the paucity of contemporary writers, the present edition may furnish indisputable evidence. And lastly, if it be true, that "very few of Shakspeare's lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used such expressions as were then common,' "(a position of which I have not the smallest doubt,) it cannot be true, that "his reader is embarrassed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and innovation."
When Mr. Pope first undertook the task of revising these plays, every anomaly of language, and every expression that was not understood at that time, were considered as errors or corruptions, and the text was altered, or amended, as it was called, at pleasure. The principal writers of the early part of this cen
tury seem never to have looked behind them, and to have considered their own era and their own phraseology as the standard of perfection: hence, from the time of Pope's edition, for above twenty years, to alter Shakspeare's text and to restore it, were considered as synonymous terms. During the last thirty years our principal employment has been to restore, in the true sense of the word; to eject the arbitrary and capricious innovations made by our predecessors from ignorance of the phraseology and customs of the age in which Shakspeare lived.
As on the one hand our poet's text has been described as more corrupt than it really is, so on the other, the labour required to investigate fugitive allusions, to explain and justify obsolete phraseology by parallel passages from contemporary authors, and to form a genuine text by a faithful collation of the original copies, has not perhaps had that notice to which it is entitled; for undoubtedly it is a laborious and a difficult task: and the due execution of this it is, which can alone entitle an editor of Shakspeare to the favour of the publick.
I have said that the comparative value of the various ancient copies of Shakspeare's plays has never been precisely ascertained. To prove this, it will be necessary to go into a long and minute discussion, for which, however, no apology is necessary: for though to explain and illustrate the writings of our poet is a principal duty of his editor, to ascertain his genuine text, to fix what is to be explained, is his first and immediate object: and till it be established which of the ancient copies is entitled to preference, we have no criterion by which the text can be ascertained.
Fifteen of Shakspeare's plays were printed in quarto antecedent to the first complete collection of his works, which was published by his fellow.comedians in 1623. These plays are, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost, Homeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Two Parts of King Henry IV, King Richard II, King Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, King Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, King Lear, and .
The players, when they mention these copies, represent them all as mutilated and imperfect; but this was merely thrown out to give an additional value to their own edition, and is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number; The Merry Wives of Windsor, and King Henry V.-With respect to the other thirteen copies, though undoubtedly they were all surreptitious, that is, stolen from the play-house, and printed without the consent of the author or the proprietors, they in general are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the folio; for this plain rea son, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from some other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late, instead of the earliest, edition; in some instances with additions and alterations of their own. Thus therefore the first
folio, as far as respects the plays above enume merated, labours under the disadvantage of being at least a second, and in some cases a third, edition of these quartos. I do not, however, mean to say, that many valuable corrections of passages undoubtedly corrupt in the quartos are not found in the folio copy; or that a single line of these plays should be printed by a careful editor without a minute examination, and collation of both copies; but those quartos were in general the basis on which the folio editors built, and are entitled to our particular attention and examination as first editions.
It is well known to those who are conversant with the business of the press, that, (unless when the author corrects and revises his own works,) as editions of books are multiplied, their errors are multiplied also; and that consequently every such edition is more or less correct, as it approaches nearer to or is more distant from the first. A few instances of the gradual progress of corruption will fully evince the truth of this asser
In the original copy of King Richard II, 4to. 1597, Act II, sc. ii, are these lines:
"You promis'd, when you parted with the king,
In a subsequent quarto, printed in 1608, instead of life-harming we find HALF-harming; which being perceived by the editor of the folio to be nonsense, he substituted, instead of it,-SELFharming heaviness.
In the original copy of King Henry IV, P. I, printed in 1598, Act VI, sc. iv, we find—
"And what with Owen Glendower's absence thence,
In the fourth quarto printed in 1608, the article being omitted by the negligence of the compositor, and the line printed thus,— "Who with them was rated sinew too,"
the editor of the next quarto, (which was copied by the folio,) instead of examining the first edition, amended the error (leaving the metre still imperfect) by reading
"Who with them was rated firmly too."
So, in the same play, Act I, sc. iii, instead of the reading of the earliest copy
"Why what a candy deal of courtesy —"
caudy being printed in the first folio instead of candy, by the accidental inversion of the letter n, the editor of the second fo. lio corrected the error by substituting gawdy.
So, in the same play, Act III, sc. i, instead of the reading of the earliest impression,
"The frame and huge foundation of the earth in the second and the subsequent quartos, the line by the neg ligence of the compositor was exhibited without the word huge:
"The frame and foundation of the earth —”
and the editor of the folio, finding the metre imperfect, supplied it by reading,
"The frame and the foundation of the earth."
Another line in Act V, sc. ult. is thus exhibited in the quarto, 1598:
"But that the earthy and cold hand of death” Earth being printed instead of earthy, in the next and the subsequent quarto copies, the editor of the folio amended the line thus:
"But that the earth and the cold hand of death-." Again, in the preceding scene, we find in the first copy, "I was not born a yielder, thou proud Scot -." instead of which, in the fifth quarto, 1613, we have"I was not born to yield, thou proud Scot."
This being the copy that was used by the editor of the folio, instead of examining the most ancient impression, he corrected the error according to his own fancy, and probably while the work was passing through the press, by reading
"I was not born to yield, thou haughty Scot.” In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says to her Nurse,
"In faith, I am sorry that thou art not well." and this line in the first folio being corruptly exhibited— "In faith, I am sorry that thou art so well."
the editor of the second folio, to obtain some sense, printed“In faith, I am sorry that thou art so ill."
In the quarto copy of the same play, published in 1599, we find
O happy dagger,
"This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die." In the next quarto, 1609, the last line is thus represented: ""Tis is thy sheath," &c."
The editor of the folio, seeing that this was manifestly wrong, absurdly corrected the error thus:
""Tis in thy sheath; there rust, and let me die."
Again, in the same play, quarto, 1599, mishav'd being corruptly printed for misbehav'd,
"But like a mishav'd and sullen wench- "9
the editor of the first folio, to obtain something like sense, reads
"But like a mishap'd and sullen wench —.”
and instead of this, the editor of the second folio, for the sake of metre, gives us
"But like a mishap'd and a sullen wench-."
Again, in the first scene of King Richard III, quarto, 1597, we find this line:
"That tempers him to this extremity."
In the next quarto, and all subsequent, tempts is corruptly printed instead of tempers. The line then wanting a syllable, the editor of the folio printed it thus:
"That tempts him to this harsh extremity."
Not to weary my reader, I shall add but two more instances, from Romeo and Juliet:
says Romeo, when provoked by the appearance of his rival. Instead of this, which is the reading of the quarto, 1597, the line, in the quarto, 1599, is thus corruptly exhibited:
"And fire end fury be my conduct now!"
In the subsequent quarto copy and was substituted for end; and accordingly in the folio the poet's fine imagery is entirely lost, and Romeo exclaims,
And fire and fury be my conduct now!"
The other instance in the same play is not less remarkable. In the quarto, 1599, the Friar, addressing Romeo, is made to say,
"Thou puts up thy fortune, and thy love."
The editor of the folio perceiving here a gross corruption, substituted these words:
"Thou puttest up thy fortune, and thy love;"
not perceiving that up was a misprint for upon, and puts for pouts, (which according to the ancient mode was written instead of powt'st,) as he would have found by looking into another copy without a date, and as he might have conjectured from the corresponding line in the original play printed in 1597, had he ever examined it:
"Thou frown'st upon thy fate, that smiles on thee." So little known indeed was the value of the early impressions of books, (not revised or corrected by their authors) that King Charles the First, though a great admirer of our poet, was contented with the second folio edition of his plays, unconscious of the numerous misrepresentations and interpolations by which every page of that copy is disfigured; and in a volume of the quarto plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, which formerly belonged to that king, and is now in my collection, I did not find a single first impression. In like manner, Sir William D'Avenant when he made his alteration of the play of Macbeth, appears to have used the third folio printed in 1664.*