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particles in it seem to be as fortuitoufly difpofed, and proper names as frequently undistinguished 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 fkilful 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 ftage; but no jot of obfcenity is omitted: and their caution against profaneness 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 easily 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 preferved in works, which in their time affumed the merit of being pictures of men and manners. The ftyle of converfation we may suppose to be as much altered as that of
9—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 statute 3 Jac. I. c. 21, which prohibits under fevere 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. BLACKSTONE,
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; instead of thinking it neceffary to adopt new ones, or barter folid ftrength for feeble splendour, which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.
We wonder that, before the time of Shakspeare, 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 fome few of their dramatick pieces may remain. The fame might be almost 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, must lapse apace into the fame obfcurity.
"Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
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 tafte of that audience which received with applause the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we fhould 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 best 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 those of the prefent age, which may one time or other prove as ufeful, are ftill entirely neglected. I fhould be remifs, I am fure, were I to forget my acknowledgments to the gentleman I have juft mentioned, to whofe benevolence I owe the ufe of feveral of the scarcest quartos, which I could not otherwise have obtained; though I advertised for them, with fufficient 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 interest of English literature, and the attention due to our own language and history, require that our ancient writings fhould be diligently reviewed. There is no age which has not produced fome works that deserved to be remembered; and as words and phrafes are only understood 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 afcertained 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 study 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 tranfactions 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 prefent 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 themfelves 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 whofe lot it first fell to difentangle their perplexities muft
have encountered, are exhibited with the reft. I muft acknowledge that fome few readings have flipped in by mistake, which can pretend to serve no purpose of illuftration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minuteft variations of the copies, which foon convinced me that the oldeft were in general the moft correct. Though no proof can be given that the poet fuperintended the publication of any one of these himself, yet we have little reason to suppose that he who wrote at the command of Elizabeth, and under the patronage of Southampton, was fo very negligent of his fame, as to permit the most incompetent judges, fuch as the players were, to vary at their pleasure what he had fet down for the firft fingle editions ; and we have better grounds for fufpicion that his works did materially fuffer from their prefumptuous corrections after his death.
It is very well known, that before the time of Shakspeare, the art of making title-pages was practifed with as much, or perhaps more fuccefs than it has been fince. Accordingly, to all his plays we find long and defcriptive ones, which, when they were first published, were of great fervice to the venders of them. Pamphlets of every kind were hawked about the ftreets by a fet of people refembling his own Autolycus, who proclaimed aloud the qualities of what they offered to fale, and might draw in many a purchafer by the mirth he was taught to expect from the humours of Corporal Nym, or the fwaggering vaine of Auncient Piftoll, who was not to be tempted by the reprefentation of a fact merely historical. The players, however, laid afide the whole of this garniture, not finding it fo neceffary to procure fuccefs to a bulky volume,