Page images

account is given in the following pages by Mr. Steevens, who might have spoken both of his own diligence and fagacity, in terms of greater felfapprobation, without deviating from modefty or truth." JOHNSON.




[Prefixed to Mr. STEEVENS'S Edition of Twenty of the old Quarto Copies of SHAKSPEARE, &c. in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]


'HE plays of Shakspeare have been so often republifhed, with every feeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the firft abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could stand in need of any thing beyond the illustration of fome few dark paflages. Modes of expreffion must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may

All prefatory matters being in the prefent edition printed according to the order of time in which they originally appeared, the Advertisement Dr. Johnson refers to, will be found immedi ately after Mr. Capell's Introduction. STEEVENS,


throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper ufe of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expreffions which they suppose him to have used; yet, for my own part, I cannot believe but that thofe which are now local may once have been univerfal, and muft have been the language of those perfons before whom his plays were reprefented. However, it is certain, that the inftances of obscurity from this source are very few.

Some have been of opinion that even a particular fyntax prevailed in the time of Shakspeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in fupport of that fentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.

In his time indeed a different arrangement of fyllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Afcham; and the verb was frequently kept back in the fentence; but in Shakfpeare no marks of it are difcernible; and though the rules of fyntax were more ftrictly obferved by the writers of that age than they have been fince, he of all the number is perhaps the moft ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the ease of converfation he has adopted its incorrectness.

The paft editors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted induftry; to cover which they published catalogues, tranfcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be fuppofed to have had in their poffeffion; when, at the fame time, they never examined the few which we know

they had, with any degree of accuracy. The laft editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he profeffes to have made ufe of no more than he had really feen, and has annexed a lift of fuch to every play, together with a complete one of those fuppofed to be in being, at the conclufion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the fervice of it or not.

For these reafons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspeare to collate all the quartos I could find, comparing one copy with the reft, where there were more than one of the fame play; and to multiply the chances of their being preferved, by collecting them into volumes, inftead of leaving the few that have efcaped, to share the fate of the reft, which was probably haftened by their remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whofe hands they fell.

Of fome I have printed more than one copy; as there are many perfons, who, not contented with the poffeffion of a finifhed picture of fome great mafter, are defirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleafure of tracing the progrefs of the artift from the firft light colouring to the finishing stroke. To fuch the earlier editions of King John, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windfor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, not be unwelcome; fince in thefe we may difcern as much as will be found in the hafty outlines of the pencil, with a fair profpect of that perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch.

The general character of the quarto editions may more advantageoufly be taken from the words

of Mr. Pope, than from


any recommendation of my

"The folio edition (fays he) in which all the plays we now receive as his were firft collected, was published by two players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his deceafe. They declare that all the other editions were ftolen and furreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is true as to the literal errors, and no other; for in all refpects elfe it is far worse than the quartos.

"First, because the additions of trifling and bombaft paffages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added fince those quartos by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all ftand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this ufage in Hamlet, where he wishes thofe who play the clowns would speak no more than is fet down for them, (A&t III. fc. iv.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet, there is no hint of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others the scenes of the mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vaftly shorter than at prefent; and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the play-house, by having the parts divided by lines, and the actors names in the margin,) where feveral of thofe very paffages were added in a

It may be proper on this occafion to obferve, that the actors printed feveral of the plays in their folio edition from the very quarto copies which they are here striving to depreciate; and additional corruption is the utmoft that thefe copies gained by paffing through their hands.

written hand, which fince are to be found in the folio.

"In the next place, a number of beautiful paffages were omitted, which were extant in the first fingle editions; as it seems without any other reason than their willingness to fhorten fome fcenes."

To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having fuffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; fometimes to the weakening of the fenfe, which rather feems to have been their work, who knew that plainnefs was neceflary for the audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the confent of the author: for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy, which they pretend to have transcribed, however he might have permitted many to have been familiarized in the reprefentation. Were I to indulge my own private conjecture, I fhould fuppofe that his blotted manuscripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to tranfcribe them; and hence it would eafily happen, that words of fimilar found, though of fenfes directly oppofite, might be confounded with each other. They themselves declare that Shakspeare's time of blotting was paft, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers affure me) were far from being unfkilfully executed, and some of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was publifhed at the charge of the fame proprietors, whose names we find prefixed to the older copies; and I cannot join with Mr. Pope in acquitting that edition of more literal errors than those which went before it. The

« PreviousContinue »