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comprehensive remark should be made on such com. munications as are omitted in this edition, though they might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator. The majority of these were founded on the supposition, that Shakspere was, originally, an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpulated by the neglect or presumption of the players. In consequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verse could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more apposite, or a sentiment rendered less perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been filled with attempts at emen. dation, apparently unnecessary, though sometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. A constant peruser of Shakspere will suppose whatever is easy to his own apprehension, will prove so to that of others, and consequently may pass over some real perplexities in silence. On the contrary, if in consideration of the different abilities of every class of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inversions of phrase, or peculiarities of expression, he will at once excite the disgust and displeasure of such as think their own knowledge or sagacity undervalued. It is difficult to fix a medium between doing too little and too much in the task of mere explanation. There are yet many passages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the stage, in which the pleasure of
the the audience is chiefly to be considered ; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose con. jectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at least supposes his author to have written.
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated passage in Shakspere can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment shall be allowed; so neither can it be supposed that the force of all his allusions will be pointed out, till such books are thoroughly examined, as cannot easily at present be collected, if at all. Several of the most correct lists of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completest collections. It is almost unnecessary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extensive as it is, deriyes its greatest value from its accessibility *,
* There is reason to think, that about the time of the Reformation, great numbers of plays were printed, though few of that age are now to be found; for part of queen Elizabeth's INJUNCTIONs in 1559, are particularly directe ed to the suppressing of so many pamphlets, PLAYES, and ballads: that no manner of person shall enterprize to print any such, &c. but under certain restrictions.” Vide Sect. V. This observation is taken from Dr. Percy's Additions to his Essay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears, likewise, from a page at the conclusion of the second volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers' company, that in the 41st year of queen Elizabeth, many new rem
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the suppression of many dramatick and poetical names, which were · plunged in obscurity by tumults and revolutions, and
straints on booksellers were laid. Among these are the following, “ That no plaies be printed, excepte they bee allowed by such as have auctoritye.” The records of the Stationers, however, contain the entries of some which have never yet been met with by the most successful cole lectors; nor are their titles to be found in any registers of the stage, whether ancient or modern, It should seem, from the same volumes, that it was customary for the Stationers to seize the whole impression of any work that had given offence, and buin it publickly at their hall, in chedience to the edicts of the archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishop of London, who sometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by these discerning prelates, were the complete satires of bishop Hall.
Mr. Theobald, at the conclusion of the preface to his first edition of Shakspere, asserts, that, exclusive of the dramas of Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, he had read “ above 800 of old English plays.” He omitted this assertion, however, on the republication of the same work, and, I hope, he did so, through a consciousness of its utter falsehood; for, if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to disa cover half the number, that were written early enough to serve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused this imaginary stock of ancient literature,
have never since attracted curiosity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued so long, that many books may be supposed to be lost ; and that curiosity, which has been now for some years increasing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in small numbers, being thus neglected, were soon destroyed; and though the capital authors were preserved, they were preserved to languish without regard. How little Shakspere himself was once read, may be understood from Tate *, who, in his dedication to the altered
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakspere, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained entire, in the hands of the late Mr. Tonson, till the time of his death. It does not appear, that any other collection but the Harleian, was at that time formed; nor does Mr. Theobald's edition contain any intrinsick evidences of so comprehensive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he assumes to himself the merit of having made.
* In the year 1707, Mr. N. Tate published a tragedy called Injured Love, or the Cruel Husband, and in the titlepage of it calls himself, “ Author of the tragedy called King Lear.”
In a book called The Aftor, or a Treatise on the Art of Playing, 12mo. published in 1750, and imputed to Dr. Hill, is the following pretended extract from Romeo and Juliet, with the author's remark on it;
play of King Lear, speaks of the original, as of an. obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend ; and the author of the Tatler, having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them
" The saints that heard our vows, and know our love,
" The reader will pardon us on this and some other occasions, that where we quote passages from plays, we give them as the author gives them, not as the butcherly hand of a blockhead prompter may have lopped them, or as the unequal genius of some bungling critick may have attempted to mend them. Whoever remembers the merit of the player's speaking the things we celebrate them for, we are pretty confident, will wish he spoke them absolutely as we give them, that is, as the author gives them.”
Perhaps it is unnecessary to inform the reader, that not one of the lines above quoted is to be found in the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspere. They are copied from the Caius Marius of Otway. How little Shakspere himself was once read, &c.]