Page images

It were eafy to add abundance of other arguments in favour of thefe quarto's ;-Such as, their exact affinity to almost all the publications of this fort that came out about that time; of which it will hardly be afferted by any reasoning man, that they are all clandeftine copies, and publifh'd without their authors' confent: next, the high improbability of fuppofing that none of these plays were of the poet's own fetting-out: whofe cafe is render'd fingular by fuch a fuppofition; it being certain, that every other author of the time, without exception, who wrote any thing largely, publifh'd fome of his plays himself, and Ben Jonfon all of them: nay, the very errors and faults of these quarto's,―of fome of them at least, and those such as are brought against them by other arguers, are, with the editor, proofs of their genuinenefs; for from what hand, but that of the author himself, could come thofe feemingly-ftrange repetitions which are spoken of at p. 329 ? thofe imperfect exits, and entries of perfons who have no concern in the play at all, neither in the scene where they are made to enter, nor in any other part of it? yet fuch there are in feveral of these quarto's; and fuch might well be expected in the hafty draughts of fo negligent an author, who neither faw at once all he might want, nor, in some instances, gave himself fufficient time to confider the fitness

Newly imprinted and enlarged to almoft as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie :" now though no prior copy has yet been produc'd, it is certain there was fuch by the teftimony of this title-page: and that the play was in being at least nine years before, is prov'd by a book of Doctor Lodge's printed in 1596; which play was perhaps an imperfect one; and not unlike that we have now of Romeo and Juliet, printed the year after; a fourth instance too of what the note advances. VOL. I.

[ocr errors]

of what he was then penning. Thefe and other like arguments might, as is faid before, be collected, and urg'd for the plays that were first publish'd in the quarto's; that is, for fourteen of them, for the other fix are out of the question: but what has been enlarg❜d upon above, of their being follow'd by the folio, and their apparent general likeness to all the other plays that are in that collection, is fo very forcible as to be fufficient of itself to fatisfy the unprejudic'd, that the plays of both impreffions fpring all from the fame ftock, and owe their numerous imperfections to one common origin and cause, the too-great negligence and hafte of their over-careless producer.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But to return to the thing immediately treated,the state of the old editions. The quarto's went through many impreffions, as may be feen in the Table: and, in each play, the laft is generally taken from the impreffion next before it, and fo onward to the firft; the few that come not within this rule, are taken notice of in the Table: and this further is to be obferv'd of them: that, generally speaking, the more diftant they are from the original, the more they abound in faults; 'till, in the end, the corruptions of the laft copies become fo exceffive, as to make them of hardly any worth. The folio too had it's re-impreffions, the dates and notices of which are likewife in the Table, and they tread the fame round as did the quarto's: only that the third of them has feven plays more, (see their titles below,4) in which it is follow'd by

4 Locrine; The London Prodigal; Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Puritan, or, the Widow of Watling Street; Sir John Oldcafile; Thomas Lord Cromwell; and The Yorkshire Tragedy: And the imputed ones, mention'd a little above, are these ;The Arraignment of Paris; Birth of Merlin; Fair Em; Ed

the laft; and that again by the firft of the modern impreffions, which come now to be spoken of.

If the ftage be a mirror of the times, as undoubtedly it is, and we judge of the age's temper by what we fee prevailing there, what must we think of the times that fucceeded Shakspeare? Jonfon, favour'd by a court that delighted only in mafques, had been gaining ground upon him even in his life-time; and his death put him in full poffeffion of a poft he had long afpir'd to, the empire of the drama: the props of this new king's throne, were-Fletcher, Shirley, Middleton, Masfinger, Broome, and others; and how unequal they all were, the monarch and his fubjects too, to the poet they came after, let their works testify: yet they had the vogue on their fide, during all those bleffed times that preceded the civil war, and Shakspeare was held in difesteem. The war, and medley government that follow'd, swept all these things away but they were reftor'd with the king;

ward III. Merry Devil of Edmonton; Mucedorus; and The Two Noble Kinfmen: but in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Rowley is call'd his partner in the title-page; and Fletcher, in The Two Noble Kinsmen. What external proofs there are of their coming from Shakspeare, are gather'd all together, and put down in the Table; and further it not concerns us to engage: but let those who are inclin'd to difpute it, carry this along with them that London, in Shakspeare's time, had a multitude of playhouses; erected fome in inn-yards, and fuch like places, and frequented by the loweft of the people; fuch audiences might have been seen fome years ago in Southwark and Bartholomew, and may be seen at this day in the country; to which it was alfo a cuftom for players to make excurfion, at wake times and feftivals and for fuch places, and fuch occafions, might these pieces be compos'd in the author's early time; the worst of them fuiting well enough to the parties they might be made for :-and this, or fomething nearly of this fort, may have been the cafe too of fome plays in his great collection, which shall be spoken of in their place.


and another stage took place, in which Shakspeare had little fhare. Dryden had then the lead, and maintain'd it for half a century: though his government was fometimes difputed by Lee, Tate, Shadwell, Wytcherley, and others; weaken'd much by The Rehearsal; and quite overthrown in the end by Otway, and Rowe: what the caft of their plays was, is known to every one: but that Shakfpeare, the true and genuine Shakspeare, was not much relifh'd, is plain from the many alterations of him, that were brought upon the stage by some of those gentlemen, and by others within that period.

But, from what has been faid, we are not to conclude that the poet had no admirers: for the contrary is true; and he had in all this interval no inconfiderable party amongst men of the greatest understanding, who both faw his merit, in despite of the darkness it was then wrapt up in, and spoke loudly in his praise; but the ftream of the publick favour ran the other way. But this too coming about at the time we are speaking of, there was a demand for his works, and in a form that was more convenient than the folio's: in confequence of which, the gentleman laft mentioned was fet to work by the bookfellers; and, in 1709, he put out an edition in fix volumes octavo, which, unhappily, is the bafis of all the other moderns: for this editor went no further than to the edition nearest to him in time, which was the folio of 1685, the laft and worst of thofe impreffions: this he republifh'd with great exactnefs; correcting here and there fome of it's groffeft miftakes, and dividing into acts and scenes the plays that were not divided before.

[ocr errors]

But no fooner was this edition in the hands of

the publick, than they faw in part its deficiencies, and one of another fort began to be required of them; which accordingly was fet about fome years after by two gentlemen at once, Mr. Pope and Mr. Theobald. The labours of the first came out in 1725, in fix volumes quarto: and he has the merit of having first improv'd his author, by the infertion of many large paffages, fpeeches, and fingle lines, taken from the quarto's; and of amending him in other places, by readings fetch'd from the fame but his materials were few, and his collation of them not the moft careful; which, join'd to other faults, and to that main one-of making his predeceffor's the copy himself follow'd, brought his labours in difrepute, and has finally funk them in neglect.

His publication retarded the other gentleman, and he did not appear 'till the year 1733, when his work too came out in feven volumes, octavo. The oppofition that was between them feems to have enflam'd him, which was heighten'd by other motives, and he declaims vehemently against the work of his antagonist: which yet ferv'd him for a model; and his own is made only a little better, by his having a few more materials; of which he was not a better collator than the other, nor did he excel him in ufe of them; for, in this article, both their judgments may be equally call'd in queftion; in what he has done that is conjectural, he is rather more happy; but in this he had large affiftances.

But the gentleman that came next, is a critick of another ftamp: and pursues a track, in which it is greatly to be hop'd he will never be follow'd in the publication of any authors whatfoever for this were, in effect, to annihilate them,

« PreviousContinue »