« AnteriorContinuar »
on the fuppofition, that Shakspeare was originally an author correct in the utmost degree, but maimed and interpolated by the neglect or prefumption of the players. In confequence of this belief, alterations have been proposed wherever a verfe could be harmonized, an epithet exchanged for one more appofite, or a fentiment rendered lefs perplexed. Had the general current of advice been followed, the notes would have been filled with attempts at emendation apparently unneceffary, though fometimes elegant, and as frequently with explanations of what none would have thought difficult. conftant peruser of Shakspeare will fuppofe whatever is eafy to his own apprehenfion, will prove fo to that of others, and confequently may pass over fome real perplexities in filence. On the contrary, if in confideration of the different abilities of every clafs of readers, he should offer a comment on all harsh inverfions of phrase, or peculiarities of expreffion, he will at once excite the difguft and displeasure of fuch as think their own knowledge or fagacity 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 paffages unexplained and unintelligible, which may be reformed, at hazard of whatever licence, for exhibitions on the ftage, in which the pleasure of the audience is chiefly to be confidered; but must remain untouched by the critical editor, whose conjectures are limited by narrow bounds, and who gives only what he at leaft fuppofes his author to have written.`
If it is not to be expected that each vitiated paffage in Shakspeare can be restored, till a greater latitude of experiment fhall be allowed; fo neither can it be fuppofed that the force of all his allufions
will be pointed out, till fuch books are thoroughly examined, as cannot eafily at prefent be collected, if at all. Several of the moft correct lifts of our dramatick pieces exhibit the titles of plays, which are not to be met with in the completeft collections. It is almoft unneceffary to mention any other than Mr. Garrick's, which, curious and extenfive as it is, derives it greatest value from its ac-ceffibility.9
There is reafon 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 directed to the fuppreffing of Many pamphlets, PLAYES, and ballads: that no manner of perfon fhall enterprize to print any fuch, &c. but under certain reftrictions." Vid. Sect. V. This obfervation is taken from Dr. Percy's additions to his Effay on the Origin of the English Stage. It appears likewise from a page at the conclufion of the fecond volume of the entries belonging to the Stationers' Company, that in the 41ft year of Queen Elizabeth, many new restraints on bookfellers were laid. Among these are the following: "That no playes be printed excepte they bee allowed by fuch as have auctoritye." The records of the Stationers, however, contain the entries of fome which have never yet been met with by the moft fuccessful collectors; nor are their titles to be found in any regifters of the stage, whether ancient or modern. It should seem from the fame volumes that it was cuftomary for the Stationers to feize the whole impreffion of any work that had given offence, and burn it publickly at their hall, in obedience to the edicts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, who fometimes enjoyed these literary executions at their respective palaces. Among other works condemned to the flames by thefe difcerning prelates, were the complete Satires of Bifhop Hall.*
Mr. Theobald, at the conclufion of the preface to his first edition of Shakspeare, afferts, that exclufive 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
* Law, Phyfick, and Divinity, bl. 1. may be found on every stall. Plays, poetry, and novels, were deftroyed publickly by the Bishops, and privately by the Puritans. Hence the infinite number of them entirely loft, for which licenses were procured &c. FARMER.
To the other evils of our civil war must be added the interruption of polite learning, and the fuppreffion of many dramatick and poetical names, which were plunged in obfcurity by tumults and revolutions, and have never fince attracted curiofity. The utter neglect of ancient English literature continued fo long, that many books may be fupposed to be loft; and that curiofity, which has been now for fome years increafing among us, wants materials for its operations. Books and pamphlets, printed originally in fmall numbers,
the republication of the fame work, and, I hope, he did fo, through a consciousness of its utter falfhood; for if we except the plays of the authors already mentioned, it would be difficult to discover half the number that were written early enough to ferve the purpose for which he pretends to have perused the ima ginary ftock of ancient literature.
I might add, that the private collection of Mr. Theobald, which, including the plays of Jonfon, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, did not amount to many more than an hundred, remained entire in the hands of the late Mr. Tonfon, 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 intrinfick evidences of fo comprehenfive an examination of our eldest dramatick writers, as he affumes to himself the merit of having made. STEEVENS.
Whatever Mr. Theobald might venture to affert, there is fufficient evidence exifting that at the time of his death he was not poffeffed of more than 295 quarto plays in the whole, and some of thefe, it is probable, were different editions of the fame play. He died fhortly after the 6th of September, 1744. On the 20th of October his library was advertized to be fold by auction, by Charles Corbett, and on the third day was the following lot: "295 Old English Plays in quarto, fome of them so scarce as not to be had at any price to many of which are MSS. notes and remarks by Mr. Theobald, all done up neatly in boards in fingle plays. They will all be fold in one lot." REED.
There were about five hundred and fifty plays printed before the Restoration, exclufive of thofe written by Shakspeare, Jonfon, and Fletcher. MALONE.
being thus neglected, were foon deftroyed; and though the capital authors were preferved, they were preferved to languifh without regard. How little Shakspeare himfelf was once read, may be understood from Tate,' who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, fpeaks of the original as of an obfcure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler having occafion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from D'Avenant's alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost
* In the year 1707 Mr. N. Tate published a tragedy called Injured Love, or the Cruel Husband, and in the title-page calls himself "Author of the tragedy called King Lear."
In a book called The Actor, 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:
"The faints that heard our vows and know our love,
"The reader will pardon us on this and fome other occafions, that where we quote paffages from plays, we give them as the author gives them, not as the butcherly hand of a blockhead prompter may have hopped them, or as the unequal genius of fome bungling critic 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 with he spoke them abfolutely as we give them, that is, as the author gives them."
Perhaps it is unneceffary to inform the reader that not one of the lines above quoted, is to be found in the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare. They are copied from the Caius Marius of Otway. STEEVENS.
every original beauty is either aukwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted. So little were the defects or peculiarities of the old writers known, even at the beginning of our century, that though the custom of alliteration had prevailed to that degree in the time of Shakspeare, that it became contemptible and ridiculous, yet it is made one of Waller's praises by a writer of his life, that he firft introduced this practice into English verfification.
It will be expected that fome notice fhould be taken of the last editor of Shakspeare, and that his merits fhould be estimated with thofe of his predeceffors. Little, however, can be faid of a work, to the completion of which, both a large proportion of the commentary and various readings is as yet wanting. The Second Part of King Henry VI. is the only play from that edition, which has been confulted in the courfe of this work; for as several paffages there are arbitrarily omitted, and as no notice is given when other deviations are made from the old copies, it was of little confequence to examine any further. This circumstance is mentioned, left fuch accidental coincidences of opinion, as may be difcovered hereafter, fhould be interpreted into plagiarifm.
It may occafionally happen, that fome of the remarks long ago produced by others, are offered again as recent difcoveries. It is likewife abfolutely impoffible to pronounce with any degree of certainty, whence all the hints, which furnifh matter for a commentary, have been collected, as they lay fcattered in many books and papers, which were probably never read but once, or the particulars which they contain received only in the courfe of common converfation; nay, what is