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T H E want of adherence to the old copies,
which has been complained of, in the
text of every modern republication of Shakespeare, 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 most correct, but from the most remote and inaccurate of the four folios. Between the years 1622 and 1685 (the dates of the first and laft) the errors in every play, at least, were trebled. Several pages in each of these ancient editions have been examined, that the assertion might come more fully supported. It may be added, that as every fresh editor continued to make the text
* " I must not (says Mr. Rowe in his dedication to the duke of Somerset) pretend to have restor'd this work to the exactness of the author's original manuscripts : those are lost, or, at least, are gone beyond any inquiry I could make; so that there was nothing left, but to compare the several 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 so before. In some of the editions, especially the last, there were many lines (and in Hamlet one whole scene) lett out together; there are now all supply'd. I fear your grace will find some faults, but I hope they are mostly litteral, and the errors of the press." Would not any one, from this declaration, supe pole that Mr. Rowe (who does not appear to have consulted a finglo quanto) had at least compared the folios with each other?
of his predeceffor the ground-work of his own (never collating but where difficulties occurred) some devi. ations from the originals had been handed down, the number of which are lefsened in the impression before us, as it has been constantly compared with the most authentic copies, whether collation was absolutely necessary for the recovery of sense, or not. The person who undertook this task may have failed by inadvertency, as well as those who preceded him ; but the reader may be assured, that he, who thought it his duty to free an author from such modern and unnecessary innovations as had been censured 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 diversities which the copies exhibit, are pointed out; as near two thirds of them are typographical mistakes, or such a change of infignificant particles, as would crowd the bottom of the page with an oftentation of materials, from which at last nothing useful could be selected.
The dialogue might indeed sometimes be lengthened by other insertions than have hitherto been made, but without advantage either to its spirit or beauty; as in the following instance ;
Kent. I say, yea.
Lear. No, no, they would not,
By the admission of this negation and affirmation, has any new idea been gained?
· The labours of preceding editors have not left room for a boast, that many valuable readings have been retrieved; though it may be fairly asserted, that the text of Shakespeare is restored to the condition in which the author, or rather his first publishers, appear to have left it, such emendations as were absolutely necessary, alone admitted : for where a particle, indispensably necessary to the sense, was wanting, such a supply has been filently adopted from other editions; but where a fyllable, or more, had been added for the sake of the metre only, which at first might have been irregular, such interpolations are here constantly retrenched, sometimes with, and sometimes without notice. Those speeches, which in the elder editions are printed as prose, and from their own construction are incapable of being compressed into verse, without the aid of supplemental syllables, are restored to prose again; and the ineasure is divided afresh in others, where the mass 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 seems to have proposed to himself, Several of his pieces are come down to us, divided into scenes as well as acts. These divisions were probably his own, as they are made on settled principles, which would hardly have been the case, had the task been executed by the players. A change of [cene, with Shakespeare, most commonly implies a change of place, but always, an entire evacuation of
the stage. The custom of distinguishing 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, some apology may be likewise expected. An attempt at brevity is often found to be the source of an imperfect explanation, Where a passage has been constantly misunderstood, or where the jest or pleasantry has been suffered to remain long in obscurity, more instances have been brought to clear the one, or elucidate the other, than appear at first fight to have been necessary, For these, it can only be said, that when they prove that phraseology or source of merriment to have been once general, which at present seems particular, they are not quite impertinently intruded; as they may serve to free the author from a suspicion of having employed an affected fingularity of expression, or indulged himself in allusions to transient customs, which were not of sufficient notoriety to deserve ridicule or reprehension. When examples in favour of contradictory opinions are assembled, though no attempt is made to decide on either part, such neutral collections Thould always be regarded as materials for future critics, who may hereafter apply them with success. Authorities, whether in respect of words, or things, are not always producible from the most celebrated writers *; yet such circumstances as fall below che no
tice tice of history, can only be fought in the jeft-book, the fatire, or the play; and the novel, whose fashion did not outlive a week, is sometimes necessary to throw light on those annals which take in the compass of an age. Those, therefore, who would wish to have the peculiarities of Nym familiarized to their ideas, must excuse the insertion of such an epigram as best suits the purpose, however tedious in itself ; and such as would be acquainted with the propriety of Falstaff's allusion to stewed prunes, should not be disgusted at a multitude of instances, which, when
* Mr. T. Warton in his excellent Remarks on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, offers a similar apology for having introduced illustrations from obsolete literature." I fear (says he) I Thall be censured for quoting too many pieces of this fort. But experience has fa. [E 4 ]
tally proved, that the commentator on Spenser, Jonson, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give specimens of his classical erudition, unless, at the same time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which, though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors respectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allufions and many imitations will either remain obscure, or lose half their beauty and propriety : “ as the figures vanish when the can. vas is decayed.""
« Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of SHAKESPEARE, a sample of
all such READING as was never read. But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which SHAKESPEARE himself had studied; the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain so many difficult allusions and obsolete customs in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood. For want of this sort of literature, Pope tells us that the dreadful Sagittary in Troilus and Creslida, signifies Teucer, so celebrated for his ikill in archery. Had he deigned to consult an old history, called the Destruction of Troy, a book which was the delight of SHAKBPEAR B and of his age, he would have found that this formidabļe archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the Grecian army brought against Troy. If SHAKESPEARE is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for so valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, pot the satire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which so essentially contributes to the service of true caste, deserves a more bouqurable repofitory than The Temple of Dullness.".