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earl of Southampton, Shakspere calls it “ The first heir of his invention."
Of all his undisputed plays, the only one omitted on the books of the Stationers-Company, is King John. The same attention to secure a lasting property in the works of Ben Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher, does not appear to have been exerted; as of the former I have inet with no more than seven or eight entries, and of the latter a still less considerable number. Beaumont died in 1615, Fletcher in - 1625, and Jonson in 1637: My researches, however, were not continued below the year 1632, the date of the second folio edition of Shakspere.
Let it, likewise, be added to the praises of our author, that, if he did not 'begin to write till 1593, nor ceased till within three years of his death, which happened in 1616, in the course of twenty years he had produced no less than thirty-five plays, admitting that eight others (among which is to be reckoned Titus Andronicus *) were spurious. I seize this opportunity, however, to express my doubts concerning all but the last mentioned piece, and Locrine. Locrine has only the letters W. S. prefixed to it, and exhibits internal proofs that it was not only the composition of a scholar, but of a pedant. See a note to the list of Plays ascribed to Shakspere by the Editors of the two later folios, or the Compilers of Ancient Catalogues, where the same assertion is more fully supported. See also
* See the notes on this play,
another note at the beginning of Troilus and Cressida, Neither has it ever yet been sufficiently proved, that it was once customary to set the names of celebrated living authors at full length in the title-pages to the works of others, or to enter them, under these false colours, in the books at Stationers-Hall. Such frauds, indeed, have been attempted at a later period, but with little success. The most inconsiderable of all the pieces rejected by the editors of Shakspere, is the Yorkshire Tragedy; and yet, in 1608, it was both registered and published with his name. At this time too, he was probably in London, presiding at the Globe theatre, in consequence of the licence granted by K. James I. to him and his fellow-comedians in 1603. The Yorkshire Tragedy is only one out of four short dramas which were exhibited for the entertainment of a single evening, as the title-page informs us; and, perhaps, would have been forgotten with the other three, but that it was known to have been the work of our celebrated author. Such miscellaneous representations were not uncommon, and the reader will find a specimen of them in the tenth volume of Mr. Sevard's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher. Shakspere, who has expressed such a solicitude, that his clowns should speak no more than was set down for them, would naturally have taken some opportunity to shew his impatience at being rendered answerable, in a still more decisive manner. for entire compositions which were not his own. It is possible, likewise, that the copies of the plays omitted in the first folio,
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 typographical 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 3
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. 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