Page images






HE want of adherence to the old copies, which has been complained of, in the text of every modern republication of Shakspeare, is fairly deducible from Mr. Rowe's inattention to one of the first duties of an editor." Mr. Rowe did not print from the earliest and moft correct, but from the most remote and inaccurate of the four folios. Between the years 1623 and 1685 (the dates of the

5 First printed in 1773. MALONE.

"I must not (fays Mr. Rowe in his dedication to the Duke of Somerset) pretend to have reftor'd this work to the exactness of the author's original manufcripts: thofe, are loft, or, at leaft, are gone beyond any enquiry I could make; fo that there was nothing left, but to compare the feveral editions, and give the true reading as well as I could from thence. This I have endeavour'd to do pretty carefully, and render'd very many places intelligible, that were not fo before. In fome of the editions, efpecially the laft, there were many lines (and in Hamlet one whole scene) left out together; these are now all fupply'd. I fear your grace will find some faults, but I hope they are moftly literal, and the errors of the press.' Would not any one, from this declaration, fuppofe that Mr. Rowe (who does not appear to have confulted a fingle quarto) had at least compared the folios with each other? STEEVENS.

[ocr errors]

first and last) the errors in every play, at least, were trebled. Several pages in each of thefe ancient editions have been examined, that the affertion might come more fully fupported. It may be added, that as every fresh editor continued to make the text of his predeceffor the ground-work of his own (never collating but where difficulties occurred) fome deviations from the originals had been handed down, the number of which are lesfened in the impreffion before us, as it has been conftantly compared with the most authentick copies, whether collation was abfolutely neceffary for the recovery of fenfe, or not. The perfon who undertook this task may have failed by inadvertency, as well as thofe who preceded him; but the reader may be affured, that he, who thought it his duty to free an author from fuch modern and unneceffary innovations as had been cenfured in others, has not ventured to introduce any of his own.

It is not pretended that a complete body of various readings is here collected; or that all the diverfities which the copies exhibit, are pointed out; as near two thirds of them are typographical mittakes, or fuch a change of infignificant particles, as would croud the bottom of the page with an ofientation of materials, from which at last nothing ufeful could be felected.

The dialogue might indeed fometimes be lengthened by other infertions than have hitherto been made, but without advantage either to its spirit or beauty as in the following inftance:

"Lear. No.

"Kent. Yes.

"Lear. No, I fay. "Kent. I fay, yea."

Here the quartos add:

"Lear. No, no, they would not.
"Kent. Yes, they have."

By the admiffion of this negation and affirmation, has any new idea been gained?

The labours of preceding editors have not left room for a boaft, that many valuable readings have been retrieved; though it may be fairly afferted, that the text of Shakspeare is restored to the condition in which the author, or rather his first publifhers, appear to have left it, fuch emendations as were abfolutely neceffary, alone admitted for where a particle, indifpenfably neceffary to the fense was wanting, fuch a fupply has been filently adopted from other editions; but where a fyllable, or more, had been added for the fake of the metre only, which at firft might have been irregular," fuch interpolations are here conftantly retrenched, fometimes with, and fometimes without notice. Those speeches, which in the elder editions are printed as profe, and from their own conftruction are incapable of being compreffed into verse, without the aid of fupplemental fyllables, are reftored to profe again; and the meafure is divided afresh in others, where the mafs of words had been inharmoniously separated into lines.

The scenery, throughout all the plays, is regulated in conformity to a rule, which the poet, by his general practice feems to have propofed to himfelf. Several of his pieces are come down to us, divided into fcenes as well as acts. Thefe divifions were probably his own, as they are made on fettled

? I retract this fuppofition, which was too hastily formed. See note on The Tempejt, Vol. IV. p. 73. STEEVENS.

principles, which would hardly have been the cafe, had the task been executed by the players. A change of scene, with Shakspeare, most commonly implies a change of place, but always an entire evacuation of the ftage. The custom of diftinguishing every entrance or exit by a fresh scene, was adopted, perhaps very idly, from the French theatre.

For the length of many notes, and the accumulation of examples in others, fome apology may be likewise expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the fource of an imperfect ex planation. Where a paffage has been conftantly misunderstood, or where the jeft or pleasantry has been suffered to remain long in obfcurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at firft fight to have been neceffary. For thefe it can only be faid, that when they prove that phrafeology or fource of merriment to have been once general, which at prefent feems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a fufpicion of having employed an affected fingularity of expreffion, or indulged himself in allufions to tranfient customs, which were not of fufficient notoriety to deserve ridicule or reprehenfion. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are affembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, fuch neutral collections fhould always be regarded as materials for future criticks, who may hereafter apply them with fuccefs. Authorities, whether in refpect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers; yet fuch

8 Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, offers a fimilar apology for having introduced illuf

circumftances as fall below the notice of hiftory, can only be fought in the jeft-book, the fatire, or the play; and the novel, whofe fashion did not outlive a week, is fometimes neceffary to throw light on those annals which take in the compafs of an age. Thofe, therefore, who would with to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, muft excuse the infertion of fuch an epigram as best

trations from obfolete literature. "I fear (fays he) I shall be cenfured for quoting too many pieces of this fort. But experience has fatally proved, that the commentator on Spenfer, Jonfon, and the reft of our elder poets, will in vain give fpecimens of his classical erudition, unless, at the fame time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common ufe and high repute about the time in which his authors refpectively wrote, and which they confequently muft have read. While thefe are unknown, many allufions and many imitations will either remain obfcure, or lose half their beauty and propriety: as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.'

"Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakspeare, a fample of

all fuch READING as was never read.

But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKSPEARE himself had ftudied: the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain fo many different allufions and obfolete cuftoms in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood. For want of this fort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Creffida, fignifies Teucer, fo celebrated for his fkill in archery. Had he deigned to confult an old hiftory, called The Deftruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKSPEARE and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the Grecian army brought againft Troy. If SHAKSPEARE is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for fo valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the fatire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which fo effentially contributes to the service of true tafte, deferves a more honourable repository than The Temple of Dullness." STEEVENS

« PreviousContinue »