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at the conclusion of his work, whether he had been able to procure them for the service of it, or not.
For these reasons I thought it would not be unacceptable to the lovers of Shakspere to collate all the quartos I could find, comparing one copy with the rest, where there were more than one of the same play; and to multiply the chances of their being preserved, by collecting them into volumes, instead of leaving the few that have escaped, to share the fate of the rest, which was probably hastened by their remaining in the form of pamphlets, their use and value being equally unknown to those into whose hands they fell.
Of some I have printed more than one copy; as there are many persons, who, not contented with the possession of a finished picture of some great master, are desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they may have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first light colouring to the finishing stroke. To such the earlier editions of King John, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Romeo and Juliet, will, I apprehend, not be unwelcome ; since in these we may discern as much as will be found in the hasty outlines of the pencil, with a fair prospect of that perfection to which he brought every performance he took the pains to retouch.
The general character of the quarto editions may more advantageously be taken from the words of Mr. Pope, than from any recommendation of my own.
“ The . “ The folio edition (says he) in which all the plays “ we now receive as his were first collected, was “ published by two players, Heininge and Condell, “ in 1623, seven years after his decease. They de. “ clare that all the other editions were stolen and “ surreptitious *, and affirm theirs to be purged from “ the errors of the former. This is true as to the “ literal errors, and no other; for in all respects else “it is far worse than the quartos.
« First, because the additions of triling and bom“ bast passages are in this edition far more nume“ rous. For whatever had been added since those « quartos by the actors, or had stolen from their «mouths into the written parts, were from thence “ conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charg“ ed upon the author. He himself complained of “ this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes those who play “the clown would speak no more than is set down for them. “ (Act iii. Sc. iv.) But as a proof that he could « not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and “ Fuliet, there is no hint of the mean conceits and “ ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the “ scenes of the mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are “ vastly shorter than at present; and I have seen one
* It may be proper on this occasion to observe, that the actors printed several of the plays in their folio edition from ihe very quarto copies which they are here striving to depreciate ; and additional corruption is the utmost that these copies gained by passing through their hands.
Min particular (which seems to have belonged to the « play-house, by having the parts divided by lines, " and the actors names in the margin) where several “ of those very passages were added in a written “ hand, which since are to be found in the folio. : “In the next place, a number of beautiful passages “ were omitted, which were extant in the first single 16 editions; as it seems without any other reason than « their willingness to shorten some scenes.”
To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having suffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; sometimes to the weakening of the sense, which rather seems to have been their work, who knew that plainness was necessary for the audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the consent of the author: for he would hardly have unnerved a line in his written copy, which they pretend to have transcribed, however he might have permit. ted many to have been familiarized in the representation. Were I to indulge my own private conjecture, I should suppose that his blotted manuscripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to transcribe them; and hence it would easily happen, that words of similar sound, though of senses directly opposite, might be confounded with each other. They themselves declare that Shakspere's time of blotting was past, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be
merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers assure me) were far from being unskilfully executed, and some of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was published at the charge of the same proprietors, whose names we find prefixed to the older copies; and I cannot join with Mr. Pope in acquitting that edition of more literal errors than those which went before it. The particles in it seem to be as fortuitously disposed, and proper names as frequently undistinguished by Italic or capital letters from the rest of the text. The punctuation is equally accidental; nor do I see on the whole any greater marks of a skilful revisal, or the advantage of being printed from unblotted origi, nals in the one, than in the other. One reformation indeed there seems to have been made, and that very laudable ; I mean the substitution of more general terms for a name too often unnecessarily invoked on the stage; but no jot of obscenity is omitted : and their caution against prophaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the judg. ment of the editors of the folio *.
*" And their caution against prophaneness is, in my " opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the o editors of the folio.”
I doubt whether we are so much indebted to the judge ment of the editors of the folio edition, for their caution against prophaneness, as to the statute, 3 Jac. I. c. 21. which prohibits, under severe penalties, the use of the sacred name in any plays or interludes. This occasioned ihe playhouse copies to be altered, and they printed from the playhouse copies, BLACKSTONE,
How much may be done by the assistance of the old copies will now be easily known; but a more difficult task remains behind, which calls for other abilities than are requisite in the laborious collator.
From a diligent perusal of the comedies of contemporary authors, I am persuaded that the meaning of many expressions in Shakspere might be retrieved ; for the language of conversation can only be expected to be preserved in works, which in their time assumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners.
The style of conversation we may suppose to be as much altered as that of books ; and, in consequence of the change, we have no other authorities to recur to in either case. Should our language ever be recalled to a strict examination, and the fashion become general of striving to maintain our old acquisitions, in'stead of gaining new ones, which we shall be at last obliged to give up, or be incumbered with their weight; it will then be lamented that no regular cola lection was ever formed of the old English books ; from which, as from ancient repositories; we might recover words and phrases as often as caprice or wantonness should call for variety; instead of thinking it necessary to adopt new ones, or barter solid strength for feeble splendour, which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.
We wonder that, before the time of Shakspere, we find the stage in a state so barren of productions, but forget that we have hardly any acquaintance with the authors of that period, though some few of their