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dramatick pieces may remain. The same might be almost said of the interval between that age and the age of Dryden, the performances of which, not being preserved in sets, or diffused as now, by the greater number printed, must lapse apace into the same obsurity.
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And yet we are contented, from a few specimens only, to form our opinions of the genius of ages gone before us. Even while we are blaming the taste of that audience which received with applause the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we should consider that the few in possession of our theatre, which would never have been heard a second time had they been written now, were probably the best of hundreds which had been dismissed with general censure. The collection of plays, interludes, &c. made by Mr. Garrick, with an intent to deposit them hereafter in some public library *, will be considered as a valuable acquisition; for pamphlets have never yet been examined with a proper regard to posterity. Most of the obsolete pieces will be found on inquiry to have been introduced into libraries but some few years since ; and yet those of the present age, which may
;** This collection is now, in pursuance of Mr. Garrick's Will, placed in the British Museum. REED.
one time or other prove as useful, are still entirely neglected. I should be remiss, I am sure, were I to forget my acknowledgments to the gentleman I have just mentioned, to whose benevolence I owe the use of several of the scarcest quartos, which I could not otherwise have obtained; though I advertised for them, with sufficient offers, as I thought, either to attempt the casual owner to sell, or the curious to communicate them; but Mr. Garrick's zeal would not permit him to with-hold any thing that night ever so remotely tend to shew the perfections of that author who could only have enabled him to dis. play his own.
It is not merely to obtain justice to Shakspere, that I have made this collection, and advise others to be made. The general interest of English literature, and the attention due to our own language and history, require that our ancient writings should be diligently reviewed. There is no age which has not produced some works that deserved to be remembered ; and as words and phrases are only understood by comparing them in different places, the lower writers must be read for the explanation of the highest. No language can be ascertained and settled, but by de. ducting its words from their original sources, and tracing them through their successive varieties of signification ; and this deduction can only , be performed by consulting the earliest and intermediate authors,
Enough has been already done to encourage us to do more. Dr. Hickes, by reviving the study of the Saxon language, seems to have excited a stronger curiosity after old English writers, than ever had appeared before. Many volumes, which were mouldering in dust, have been collected; many authors, which were forgotten, have been revived; many laborious catalogues have been formed; and many judicious glossaries compiled : the literary transactions of the darker ages are now open to discovery ; and the language in its intermediate gradations, from the Conquest to the Restoration, is better understood than in any former time..
To incite the continuance, and encourage the extension of this domestick curiosity, is one of the purposes of the present publication. In the plays it contains, the poet's first thoughts, as well as words, are preserved; the additions made in subsequent impressions distinguished in Italicks, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, such as they were before they fell into the hands of the player-editors. The various readings, which can only be attributed to chance, are set down among the rest, as I did not chuse arbitrarily to determine: for others which were useless, or which were valuable. And many words differing only by the spelling, or serving merely to shew the difficulties which they to whose lot it first fell to disentangle their perplexities must have encountered, are exhibited with the rest. I must acknowledge that some few readings
have slipped in by mistake, which can pretend to serve no purpose of illustration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minutest variations of the copies, which soon convinced me that the oldest were in general the most correct. Though no proof can be given that the poet superintended the publi. cation of any one of these himself, yet we have little reason to suppose that he who wrote at the command of Elizabeth, and under the patronage of Southampton, was so very negligent of his fame, as to permit the most incompetent judges, such as the players were, to vary at their pleasure what he had set down for the first single editions ; and we have better grounds for a suspicion, that his works did materially suffer from their presumptuous corrections after his death.
It is very well known, that before the time of Shakspere, the art of making title-pages was practised with as much, or perhaps more success than it has been since. Accordingly, to all his plays we find long and descriptive ones, which, when they were first published, were of great service to the venders of them. Pamphlets of every kind were hawked about the streets by a set of people resembling his own Autolycus, who proclaimed aloud the qualities of what they offered to sale, and might draw in many a purchaser by the mirth he was taught to expect from the humours of Corporal Nym, or the swaggering vaine of Auncient Pistoll, who was not to be tempted by the represen
tation of a fact merely historical. The players, however, laid aside the whole of this garniture, not find. ing it so necessary to procure success to a bulky volumne, when the author's reputation was established, as it had been to bespeak attention to a few straggling pamphlets while it was yet uncertain.
The sixteen plays, which are not in these volumes, remained unpublished till the folio in the year 1623, though the compiler of a work, called Theatrical Records, mentions different single editions of them all before that time. But as no one of the editors could ever meet with such, nor has any one else pretended to have seen them, I think myself at liberty to sup. pose the compiler supplied the defects of the list out of his own imagination ; since he must have had singular and good fortune to have been possessed of two or three different copies of all, when neither editors nor collectors, in the course of near fifty years, have been able so much as to obtain the sight of one of the number *
* It will be obvious to every one acquainted with the an. cient English language, that in almost all the titles of plays in this catalogue of Mr. William Rufus Chitwood, the spelling is constantly overcharged with such a superfluity of letters as is not to be found in the writings of Shakspere or his contemporaries. A more bungling attempt at a forgery was never obtruded on the publick. Sce the British Theatre 1750 ; reprinted by Dodsley in 1756, under the title of '* 'Theatrical Records, or an Account of English Dramatick