« AnteriorContinuar »
when the author's reputation was established, as it had been to bespeak attention to a few ftraggling pamphlets while it was yet uncertain.
The fixteen plays which are not in these volumes, remained unpublifhed till the folio in the year 1623, though the compiler of a work called Theatrical Records, mentions different fingle editions of them all before that time. But as no one of the editors could ever meet with fuch, nor has any one else pretended to have feen them, I think myself at liberty to fuppofe the compiler fupplied the defects of the lift out of his own imagination; fince he must have had fingular good fortune to have been poffeffed of two or three different copies of all, when neither editors nor collectors, in the course of near fifty years, have been able fo much as to obtain the fight of one of the number.8
At the end of the last volume I have added a tragedy of King Leir, published before that of Shakspeare, which it is not improbable he might have feen, as the father kneeling to the daughter, when she kneels to afk his bleffing, is found in it; a circumstance two poets were not very likely to have hit on separately; and which feems borrowed by the latter with his usual judgment, it being the
"It will be obvious to every one acquainted with the ancient English language, that in almoft all the titles of plays in this catalogue of Mr. William Rufus Chetwood, the fpelling is conftantly overcharged with fuch a fuperfluity of letters as is not to be found in the writings of Shakspeare or his contemporaries. A more bungling attempt at a forgery was never obtruded on the publick. See the British Theatre, 1750; reprinted by Dodsley in 1756, under the title of "Theatrical Records, or an Account of English Dramatick Authors, and their Works," where all that is faid concerning an Advertisement at the end of Romeo and Juliet, 1597, is equally falfe, no copy of that play having been ever published by Andrew Wife.
moft natural paffage in the whole play; and is introduced in fuch a manner, as to make it fairly his own. The ingenious editor of The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry having never met with this play, and as it is not preferved in Mr. Garrick's collection, I thought it a curiofity worthy the notice of the publick.
I have likewife reprinted Shakspeare's Sonnets, from a copy published in 1609, by G. Eld, one of the printers of his plays; which, added to the confideration that they made their appearance with his name, and in his life-time, feems to be no flender proof of their authenticity. The fame evidence might operate in favour of feveral more plays which are omitted here, out of respect to the judgment of those who had omitted them before.3
It is to be wished that fome method of publication most favourable to the character of an author were once established; whether we are to fend into the world all his works without diftinction, or arbitrarily to leave out what may be thought a dif grace to him. The first editors, who rejected Pericles, retained Titus Andronicus; and Mr. Pope, without any reafon, named The Winter's Tale, a play that bears the strongest marks of the hand of Shakspeare, among thofe which he supposed to be fpurious. Dr. Warburton has fixed a ftigma on the three parts of Henry the Sixth, and fome others :
"Inde Dolabella, eft, atque hinc Antonius ;"
and all have been willing to plunder Shakspeare,
3. Locrine, 1595. Sir John Oldcastle, 1600. London Prodigal, 1605, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1609. Puritan, 1600. Thomas Lord Cromwell, 1613. Yorkshire Tragedy, 1608.
or mix up a breed of barren metal with his pureft
Joshua Barnes, the editor of Euripides, thought every scrap of his author fo facred, that he has preserved with the name of one of his plays, the only remaining word of it. The fame reafon indeed might be given in his favour, which caused the prefervation of that valuable trifyllable; which is, that it cannot be found in any other place in the Greek language. But this does not feem to have been his only motive, as we find he has to the full as carefully published several detached and broken fentences, the gleanings from fcholiafts, which have no claim to merit of that kind; and yet the author's works might be reckoned by fome to be incomplete without them. If then this duty is expected from every editor of a Greek or Roman poet, why is not the fame infifted on in refpect of an English claffick? But if the custom of preferving all, whether worthy of it or not, be more honoured in the breach, than the obfervance, the fuppreffion at least should not be confidered as a fault. The publication of fuch things as Swift had written merely to raise a laugh among his friends, has added something to the bulk of his works, but very little to his character as a writer. The four volumes that came out fince Dr. Hawkesworth's edition, not to look on them as a tax levied on the publick, (which I think one might without injuftice,) contain not more than fufficient to have made one of real value; and there is a kind of difingenuity, not to give it a harsher title, in exhibiting what the author never meant should see the light;
1 Volumes XIII. XIV. XV. and XVI. in large 8vo. Nine more have fince been added.
for no motive, but a fordid one, can betray the furvivors to make that publick, which they themfelves must be of opinion will be unfavourable to the memory of the dead.
Life does not often receive good unmixed with evil. The benefits of the art of printing are depraved by the facility with which scandal may be diffufed, and fecrets revealed; and by the temptation by which traffick folicits avarice to betray the weakneffes of paffion, or the confidence of friendfhip.
I cannot forbear to think these pofthumous publications injurious to fociety. A man confcious of literary reputation will grow in time afraid to write with tenderness to his fifter, or with fondness to his child; or to remit on the flightest occafion, or moft preffing exigence, the rigour of critical choice, and grammatical feverity. That efteem which preferves his letters, will at laft produce his difgrace; when that which he wrote to his friend or his daughter fhall be laid open to the publick.
There is perhaps fufficient evidence, that most of the plays in queftion, unequal as they may be to the reft, were written by Shakspeare; but the reafon generally given for publishing the lefs correct pieces of an author, that it affords a more impartial view of a man's talents or way of thinking, than when we only fee him in form, and prepared for our reception, is not enough to condemn an editor who thinks and practices otherwife. For what is all this to fhow, but that every man is more dull at one time than another? a fact which the world would eafily have admitted, without asking any proofs in its fupport that might be destructive to an author's reputation.
To conclude; if the work, which this publica
tion was meant to facilitate, has been already performed, the fatisfaction of knowing it to be fo may be obtained from hence; if otherwife, let thofe who raised expectations of correctnefs, and through negligence defeated them, be juftly expofed by future editors, who will now be in poffeffion of by far the greatest part of what they might have enquired after for years to no purpose; for in respect of fuch a number of the old quartos as are here exhibited, the first folio is a common book. This advantage will at least arise, that future editors having equally recourse to the fame copies, can challenge diftinction and preference only by genius, capacity, induftry, and learning.
As I have only collected materials for future artifts, I confider what I have been doing as no more than an apparatus for their ufe. If the publick is inclined to receive it as fuch, I am amply rewarded for my trouble; if otherwife, I fhall fubmit with cheerfulness to the cenfure which should equitably fall on an injudicious attempt; having this confolation, however, that my design amounted to no more than a wifh to encourage others to think of preferving the oldeft editions of the English writers, which are growing scarcer every day; and to afford the world all the affiftance or pleasure it can receive from the most authentick copies extant of its NOBLEST POET.5
s As the foregoing Advertisement appeared when its author was young and uninformed, he cannot now abide by many fentiments expreffed in it: nor would it have been here reprinted, but in compliance with Dr. Johnson's injunction, that all the relative Prefaces should continue to attend his edition of our author's plays. STEEVENS.