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had been already disposed of to proprietors, .out of whose hands they could not be redeemed ; or if Heminge and Condell were discerning friends to the reputation of their associate, conscious as they might have been that such pieces were his, they would have omitted them by design, as inferior to his other productions. From this inferiority, and from a cast of style occasionally different, nothing relative to their authenticity can, with exactness, be inferred; for, as Dr. Johnson very justly observes on a similar occasion, " There is little resemblance between the first works of Raphael and the last.” But could it even be proved, that these rejected pieces were not among the earliest effusions of Shakspere, such proof would by no means affect their authenticity, as both Dryden and Roue, after having written their best plays, are known to have produced others, which reflect a very inconsiderable degree of honour on their memory.
It has hitherto been usual to represent the ancient quartos of our author as by far more incorrect than those of his contemporaries ; but I fear that this representation has been continued by many of us, with a design to magnify our own services, rather than to exhibit a true state of the question. The reason why we have discovered a greater proportion of errors in the former than in the latter, is, because we have sought after them with a greater degree of diligence; for let it be remembered, that it was no more the practice of other writers than of Shakspere, to correct the press for themselves. Ben Jonson only (who, Bb
being versed in the learned languages, had been taught the value of accuracy) appears to have superintended the publication of his own dramatick pieces; but were those of Lily, Chapman, Marlow, or the Heywoods, to be revised with equal industry, an editor would meet with as frequent opportunities for the exertion of his critical abilities, as in these quartos, which have been so repeatedly censured by those who never took the pains to collate them, or justify the many valuable readings they contain ; for when the character of them which we have handed down, was originally given, among typographica} blunders, &c. were enumerated all terms and expressions which were not strictly grammatical, or not easily understood. As yet we had employed in our attempts at explanation only such materials as casual reading had supplied; but how much more is requisite for the complete explanation of an early writer, the last edition of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer may prove a sufficient witness; a work which, in respect of accuracy and learning, is without a rival, at least in any commentary on an English poet. The reader will forgive me, if I desert my subject for a moment, while I express an ardent wish, that the same editor may find leisure and inclination to afford us the means of reading the other works of the father of our poetry, with advantages which we cannot derive from the efforts of those who have less deeply and successfully penetrated into the recesses of ancient Italian, French, and English literature.-An author has received the
highest mark of distinction, when he has engaged the services of such a commentator.
The reader may, perhaps, be desirous to know, by whom these quartos of Shakspere are supposed to have been sent into the world. To such a curiosity no very adequate gratification can be afforded ; but yet it may be observed, that as these elder copies possess many advantages over those in the subsequent folio, we should decide perversely were we to pronounce them spurious. They were, in all probability, issued out by some performer, who, deriving no benefit from the theatre, except his salary, was uninterested in that retention of copies, which was the chief concern of our ancient managers. We may suppose too, that there was nothing criminal in his proceeding; as some of the persons whose names appear before these publications, are known to have filled the highest offices in the company of Stationers with reputation, bequeathing legacies of considerable value to it at their decease. Neither do I discover why the first manuscripts, delivered by so careless a writer to the actors, should prove less correct than those which he happened to leave behind him, unprepared for the press, in the possession of the same fraternity. On the contrary, after his plays had past for twenty years through the hands of a succession of ignorant transcribers, they were more likely to become maimed and corrupted, than when they were printed from papers less remote from the originals. It is true, that Heminge and Condell have called these
copies surreptitious; but this was probably said with a view to enhance the value of their own impression, as well as to revenge themselves, as far as possible, on those who had in part anticipated the publication of works from which they expected considerable glean. ings of advantage, after their first harvest on the stage was over.--I mean to except from this general character of the quartos, the author's rough draughts of the Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo and Juliet; together with the play of King Henry V. and the two parts of King Henry VI. for these latter carry all the marks of having been imperfectly taken down by the ear, without any assistance from the originals belonging to the playhouses in which they were first represented.
A preceding table of those ancient copies of the plays of Shakspere, which his commentators have really met with and consulted, if compared with the earliest of these entries on the books already men. tioned, may tempt the reader to suppose that some quartos have not yet been found, from which future. assistance may be derived. But I fear that no such resources remain; as it seems to have been the practice of the numerous theatres in the time of Shakspere, to cause some Bookseller to make immediate entries of their new pieces, as a security against the encroachments of their rivals, who always considered themselves as justified in the exhibition of such dramas as had been enfranchised by the press. Imperfect copies, but for these precautions, might have been more
d with frequently obtained from the repetition of hungry ssion, á actors, invited for that purpose to a tavern; or someible, et thing like a play might have been collected by attenction de tive auditors, who made it their business to attend
succeeding representations with a like design *. By these means, without any intent of hasty publication, one company of players was studious to prevent the trespasses of anothert. Nor did their policy conclude
here; for I have not unfrequently met with registers etko of both tragedies and comedies, of which the titles
were. at some other time to be declared. Thus, July 26, 1576, John Hunter enters "A new and pleasant comedie or plaie, after the manner of Com. ·mon Condycyons ;” and one Fielder, in Sept. 1581,
prefers his right to four others, " Whereof he will bring the titles.” “ The famous Tragedy of the Rich Jewe of Malta," by Christopher Marlow, is
ascertained to be the property of Nich. Ling and 121
Tho. Millington, in May 1594, though it was not printed by Nich. Vavasour till 1633, as Tho. Heywood, who wrote the preface to it, informs us. In this manner the contending theatres (seventeen in
* See the notes of Mr. Collins and Mr. Malone at the end of the third part of K. Henry VI.
+ From the year 1570 to the year 1629, when the playhouse in White-Friars was finished, it appears that no less than seventeen theatres had been built.