Imágenes de páginas

written hand, which fince are to be found in the folio.

"In the next place, a number of beautiful paffages were omitted, which were extant in the first single editions; as it seems without any other reason than their willingness to shorten fome scenes."

To this I must add, that I cannot help looking on the folio as having fuffered other injuries from the licentious alteration of the players; as we frequently find in it an unusual word changed into one more popular; fometimes to the weakening of the fenfe, which rather feems to have been their work, who knew that plainnefs was neceffary for the audience of an illiterate age, than that it was done by the confent 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 permitted many to have been familiarized in the representation. Were I to indulge my own private conjecture, I fhould fuppofe that his blotted manufcripts were read over by one to another among those who were appointed to transcribe them; and hence it would eafily happen, that words of fimilar found, though of fenfes directly oppofite, might be confounded with each other. They themselves declare that Shakspeare's time of blotting was paft, and yet half the errors we find in their edition could not be merely typographical. Many of the quartos (as our own printers affure me) were far from being unskilfully executed, and fome of them were much more correctly printed than the folio, which was published at the charge of the fame proprietors, whofe names we find prefixed to the older copies; and I cannot join with Mr. Pope in acquitting that edition of more literal errors than thofe which went before it. The

particles in it seem to be as fortuitoufly difpofed, and proper names as frequently undiftinguifhed by Italick or capital letters from the reft of the text. The punctuation is equally accidental; nor do I fee on the whole any greater marks of a skilful revifal, or the advantage of being printed from unblotted originals in the one, than in the other. One reformation indeed there feems to have been made, and that very laudable; I mean the fubftitution of more general terms for a name too often unneceffarily invoked on the stage; but no jot of obfcenity is omitted: and their caution against profanenefs is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio.9

How much may be done by the affiftance of the old copies will now be eafily known; but a more difficult task remains behind, which calls for other abilities than are requifite in the laborious collator.

From a diligent perufal of the comedies of contemporary authors, I am perfuaded that the meaning of many expreffions in Shakspeare might be retrieved; for the language of converfation can only be expected to be preserved in works, which in their time affumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners. The ftyle of converfation we may fuppofe to be as much altered as that of

and their caution against profaneness is, in my opinion, the only thing for which we are indebted to the editors of the folio.] I doubt whether we are fo much indebted to the judgment of the editors of the folio edition, for their caution against profaneness, as to the ftatute 3 Jac. I. c. 21, which prohibits under severe penalties the use of the facred name in any plays or interludes. This occafioned the playhouse copies to be altered, and they printed from the playhouse copies.


books; and, in confequence of the change, we have no other authorities to recur to in either cafe. Should our language ever be recalled to a strict examination, and the fashion become general of ftriving to maintain our old acquifitions, inftead of gaining new ones, which we fhall be at laft obliged to give up, or be incumbered with their weight; it will then be lamented that no regular collection was ever formed of the old English books; from which, as from ancient repofitories, we might recover words and phrafes as often as caprice or wantonness should call for variety; inftead of thinking it neceffary to adopt new ones, or barter folid ftrength for feeble fplendour, which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.

We wonder that, before the time of Shakspeare, we find the flage in a ftate fo barren of productions, but forget that we have hardly any acquaintance with the authors of that period, though fome few of their dramatick pieces may remain. The fame might be almoft faid of the interval between that age and the age of Dryden, the performances of which, not being preferved in fets, or diffufed as now, by the greater number printed, muft lapfe apace into the fame obscurity.

[merged small][ocr errors]

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 applaufe the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we should confider that the few in poffeffion of our theatre, which would never have been heard a fecond time had they been written now, were pro

bably the beft of hundreds which had been difmiffed with general cenfure. The collection of plays, interludes, &c. made by Mr. Garrick, with an intent to depofit them hereafter in fome publick library," will be confidered as a valuable acquifition; for pamphlets have never yet been examined with a proper regard to pofterity. Most of the obfolete pieces will be found on enquiry to have been introduced into libraries but fome few years fince; and yet thofe of the prefent age, which may one time or other prove as ufeful, are ftill entirely neglected. I thould be remifs, I am fure, were I to forget my acknowledgments to the gentleman I have juft mentioned, to whofe benevolence I owe the use of several of the scarceft quartos, which I could not otherwise have obtained; though I advertised for them, with sufficient offers, as I thought, either to tempt the cafual owner to fell, or the curious to communicate them; but Mr. Garrick's zeal would not permit him to withhold any thing that might ever fo remotely tend to fhow the perfections of that author who could only have enabled him to display his own.

It is not merely to obtain juftice to Shakspeare, that I have made this collection, and advise others to be made. The general intereft of English literature, and the attention due to our own language and hiftory, require that our ancient writings fhould be diligently reviewed. There is no age which has not produced fome works that deferved to be remembered; and as words and phrafes are only underftood by comparing them in different places, the lower writers must be read for the explanation of

7 This collection is now, in pursuance of Mr. Garrick's Will, placed in the British Museum. REED.

the higheft. No language can be ascertained and fettled, but by deducing its words from their original fources, and tracing them through their fucceffive varieties of fignification; and this deduction can only be performed by confulting the earliest and intermediate authors.

Enough has been already done to encourage us to do more. Dr. Hickes, by reviving the ftudy of the Saxon language, feems to have excited a stronger curiofity after old English writers, than ever had appeared before. Many volumes which were mouldering in duft have been collected; many authors which were forgotten have been revived; many laborious catalogues have been formed; and many judicious gloffaries compiled; the literary transactions of the darker ages are now open to discovery; and the language in its intermediate gradations, from the Conqueft to the Restoration, is better understood than in any former time.

To incite the continuance, and encourage the extenfion of this domeftick curiofity, is one of the purposes of the present publication. In the plays it contains, the poet's firft thoughts as well as words are preferved; the additions made in fubfequent impreffions, diftinguished in Italicks, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, fuch as they were before they fell into the hands of the player-editors. The various readings, which can only be attributed to chance, are fet down among the reft, as I did not choose arbitrarily to determine for others which were useless, or which were valuable. And many words differing only by the fpelling, or ferving merely to fhow the difficulties which they to whole lot it firft fell to difentangle their perplexities muft

« AnteriorContinuar »