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on the supposition, that Shakspeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A constant peruser of Shakspeare will suppose whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in silence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrase, or peculiarities of expression, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or sagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many passages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be considered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shakspeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; so neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions
will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, derives its greatest value from its accessibility."
9 There is reason to think that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of Queen Elizabeth's INJUNCTIONS in 1559, are particularly directed to the suppressing of "Many pamphlets, PLAYES, and ballads: that no manner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c. but under certain restrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This observation is taken from Dr. Percy's additions to his Essay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclusion of the second volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers' Company, that in the 41st year of Queen Elizabeth, many new restraints on booksellers were laid. Among these are the following: "That no playes be printed excepte they bee allowed by such as have auctoritye." The records of the Stationers, however, contain the entries of some which have never yet been met with by the most successful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should seem from the same volumes that it was customary for the Stationers to seize the whole impression of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, who sometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bishop Hall.*
Mr. Theobald, at the conclusion of the preface to his first edition of Shakspeare, asserts, that exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, he had read "above 800 of old English plays." He omitted this assertion, however, on
*Law, Physick, and Divinity, bl. 1. may be found on every stall. Plays, poetry, and novels, were destroyed publickly by the Bishops, and privately by the Puritans. Hence the infinite number of them entirely lost, for which licenses were procured, &c. FARMER.
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the suppression of many dramatick and poetical names, which were plunged in obscurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never since attracted curiosity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued so long, that many books may be supposed to be lost; and that curiosity, which has been now for some years increasing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in small numbers,
the republication of the same work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falshood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to serve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused the imaginary stock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained entire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonson, till the time of his death. It does not appear that any other collection but the Harleian was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edition contain any intrinsick evidences of so comprehensive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he assumes to himself the merit of having made. STEEVENS.
Whatever Mr. Theobald might venture to assert, there is sufficient evidence existing that at the time of his death he was not possessed of more than 295 quarto plays in the whole, and some of these, it is probable, were different editions of the same play. He died shortly after the 6th of September, 1744. On the 20th of October his library was advertized to be sold by auction, by Charles Corbett, and on the third day was the following lot: 295 Old English Plays in quarto, some of them so scarce as not to be had at any price: to many of which are MSS. notes and remarks by Mr. Theobald, all done up neatly in boards in single plays. They will all be sold in one lot." REED.
There were about five hundred and fifty plays printed before the Restoration, exclusive of those written by Shakspeare, Jonson, and Fletcher. MALONE.
being thus neglected, were soon destroyed; and though the capital authors were preserved, they were preserved to languish without regard. How little Shakspeare himself was once read, may be understood from Tate,' who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as of an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler, having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from D'Avenant's alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost
1 In the year 1707 Mr. N. Tate published a tragedy called Injured Love, or the Cruel Husband, and in the title-page calls himself" Author of the tragedy called King Lear."
In a book called The Actor, or a Treatise on the Art of Playing, 12mo. published in 1750, and imputed to Dr. Hill, is the following pretended extract from Romeo and Juliet, with the author's remark on it:
"The saints that heard our vows and know our love,
"Will sure take care, and let no wrongs annoy thee.
"How my kind Juliet does; and every night,
"As I perhaps shall wander through the desert,
"The reader will pardon us on this and some other occasions, that where we quote passages from plays, we give them as the author gives them, not as the butcherly hand of a blockhead prompter may have lopped them, or as the unequal genius of some bungling critic may have attempted to mend them. Whoever remembers the merit of the player's speaking the things we celebrate them for, we are pretty confident will wish he spoke them absolutely as we give them, that is, as the author gives them."
Perhaps it is unnecessary to inform the reader that not one of the lines above quoted, is to be found in the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare. They are copied from the Caius Marius of Otway. STEEVENS.
every original beauty is either aukwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted. So little were the defects or peculiarities of the old writers known, even at the beginning of our century, that though the custom of alliteration had prevailed to that degree in the time of Shakspeare, that it became contemptible and ridiculous, yet it is made one of Waller's praises by a writer of his life, that he first introduced this practice into English versifi
It will be expected that some notice should be taken of the last editor of Shakspeare, and that his merits should be estimated with those of his predecessors. Little, however, can be said of a work, to the completion of which, both a large proportion of the commentary and various readings is as yet wanting. The Second Part of King Henry VI. is the only play from that edition, which has been consulted in the course of this work; for as several passages there are arbitrarily omitted, and as no notice is given when other deviations are made from the old copies, it was of little consequence to examine any further. This circumstance is mentioned, lest such accidental coincidences of opinion, as may be discovered hereafter, should be interpreted into plagiarism.
It may occasionally happen, that some of the remarks long ago produced by others, are offered again as recent discoveries. It is likewise absolutely impossible to pronounce with any degree of certainty, whence all the hints, which furnish matter for a commentary, have been collected, as they lay scattered in many books and papers, which were probably never read but once, or the particulars which they contain received only in the course of common conversation; nay, what is