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crable a heap of nonsense, under the name of commentaries, as hath been lately given us on a certain satirick poet, of the last age, by his editor and coadjutor.
I am sensible how unjustly the very best classical criticks have been treated. It is faid, that our great philofopher spoke with much contempt of the two fineit scholars of this age, Dr. Bentley and Bishop Hare, for squabbling, as he expressed it, about an old play-book; meaning, I luppose, Terence's comedies. But this story is unworthy of him; though well enough suiting the fanatick turn of the wild writer that relates it; such censures are amongst the follies of men immoderately given over to one science, and ignorantly undervaluing all the rest. Those learned criticks might, and perhaps did, laugh in their turn (though still, sure, with the same indecency and indiscretion) at that incomparable man, for wearing out a long life in poring through a telescope. Indeed, the weaknesses of such are to be mentioned with reverence.
But who can bear, without indignation, the fashionable cant of every trifling writer, whose insipidity passes, with himself, for politeness, for pretending to be shocked, forsooth, with the rude and savage air of vulgar criticks; meaning such as Muretus, Scaliger, Casaubon, Salmasius, Spanheim, Bentley. When, had it not been for the deathless labours of such as these, the western world, at the revival of letters, had foon fallen back again into a ftate of ignorance and barbarity, as deplorable as that from which Providence had just redeemed it.
To conclude with an observation of a fine writer and great philosopher of our own; which I would gladly bind, though with all honour, as a phylactery, on the brow of every awful grammarian, to teach him at once the use and limits of his art: WORDS ARE THE MONEY OF FOOLS, AND THE COUNTERS OF WISE MEN,
A D V E R T I SEMENT
R E A D : E R.
[Prefixed to Mr. Steevens's Edition of Twenty of the
old Quarto Copies of SHAKESPEARE, &c. in 4 Vols. 8vo. 1766.]
HE plays of SHAKESPEARE have been fo often re
published, with every seeming advantage which the joint labours of men of the first abilities could procure for them, that one would hardly imagine they could ftand in need of any thing beyond the illuitration of some few dark passages. Modes of expreffion must remain in obscurity, or be retrieved from time to time, as chance may throw the books of that age into the hands of criticks who fhall make a proper use of them. Many have been of opinion that his language will continue difficult to all those who are unacquainted with the provincial expressions which they fuppose him to have used; but, for my own part, I cannot believe but that those which are now local may once have been universal, and must have been the language of those persons before whom his plays were represented. However, it is certain that the initances of obfcurity from this source are very few.
Some have been of opinion that even a particular syntax prevailed in the time of Shakespeare; but, as I do not recollect that any proofs were ever brought in support of that sentiment, I own I am of the contrary opinion.
In his time indeed a different arrangement of syllables had been introduced in imitation of the Latin, as we find in Al
cham; cham; and the verb was very frequently kept back in the sentence; but in Shakespeare no marks of it are discernible: and though the rules of syntax were more strictly observed by the writers of that age than they have been fince, he of all the number is perhaps the most ungrammatical. To make his meaning intelligible to his audience feems to have been his only care, and with the ease of conversation he has adopted its incorrectness.
The past cditors, eminently qualified as they were by genius and learning for this undertaking, wanted industry; to cover which they publithed catalogues, transcribed at random, of a greater number of old copies than ever they can be supposed to have had in their pofseflion ; when, at the same time, they never examined the few which we know they had, with any degree of accuracy. The last editor alone has dealt fairly with the world in this particular; he professes to have made use of no more than he had really seen, and has annexed a list of such to every play, together with a complete one of those supposed to be in being, at the conclusion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the service of it or nct.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakespeare to collate all the quartos I could find, comparing one copy with the rest, where there were more than one of the same play; and to multiply the chances of their being preserved, by collecting them into volumes, instead of leaving the few that have escaped, to share the fate of the rest, which was probably haftened by their remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whose hands they sell.
Of some I have printed more than one copy; as there are many persons, who, not contented with the poilcision of a finished picture of some great master, are desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first light colouring to the finishing stroke. To such the earlier editions of King fohn, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windfor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, not be unwelcome; since in these we may difcern as much as will be found in the hafty outlines of the pencil, with a fair prospect of that perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch. The general character of the quarto editions may more [L 3]
advantageously be taken from the words of Mr. Pope, than from any recommendation of my own.
“ The folio edition (fays he) in which all the plays we now receive as his were first collected, was published by two players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, feven
years after his decease. They declare that all the other « éditions were stolen 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 respects " else it is far worse than the quartos.
“ Firit, because the additions of triling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For what
ever had been added since those quartos by the actors, or “ had kolen from their mouths into the written parts, were “ from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand
charged upon the author. He himself complained of “ this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes those who play the “ clowns would speak no more than is sit down for them (Act iii. “ Sc. 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 present; and I have seen one in “ particular (which seems to have belonged to the play“ house, by having the parts divided by lines, and the act
ors names in the margin) where several of those very paf“ fages were added in a written hand, which fince are to be “ found in the folio.
“ In the next place, a number of beautiful passages were « omitted, which were extant in the airft single editions; as “ it seems without any other reason than their willingness
to thorten some scenes.”
To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having suffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; sometimes to the weakening of the sense, which rather seems to have been their work, who knew that plainness was necessary for the
* It may be proper on this occafion to observe, that the actors printed several of the plays in their folio edition from the very quarto copies which they are here striving to depreciate; and ad. ditional depravation is the utmost that these copies gained by passing through their hands,
audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the consent 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 representation. Were i to indulge my own private conjecture, I hould suppose that his blotted manuscripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to transcribe them; and hence it would easily happen, that words of fimilar sound, though of senses directly opposite, might be confounded with cach other. They themselves declare that Shakespeare's time of blotting was past, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers assure me) were far from being unskilfully executed, and some of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was published at the charge of the same 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 particles in it seem to be as fortuitously disposed, and proper names as frequently undistinguished by Italick or capital letters from the rest of the text. . The punčtuation is equally accidental; nor do I fee on the whole any greater marks of a fkilful revisal, or the advantage of being printed from unblotted originals in the one, than in the other. One reformation indeed there feems to have been made, and that very laudable; I mean the fubftitution of more general terms for a name too often unnecefsarily invoked on the ftage; but no jot of obscenity is omitted: and their caution against prophaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio.
How much may be done by the affistance of the old ccpies will now be easily known; but a more difficult talk remains behind, which calls for other abilities than are requisite in the laborious collator.
From a diligent perufal of the comedies of contemporary authors, I am persuaded that the meaning of many expresfions in Shakespeare might be retrieved; for the language of conversation can only be expected to be preserved in works, which in their time allumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners.
The stile of conversation we may fuppose to be as much altered as that of books; and in consequence of the change, we have no other authorities to recur [L 4]