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of this century seem never to have looked behind them, and to have considered their own era and their own phraseology as the standard of perfection: hence from the time of Pope's edition, for above twenty years, to alter Shakspeare's text and to restore it, were considered as synonymous terms. During the last thirty years our principal employment'has been to restore, in the true sense of the word; to eject the arbitrary and capricious innovations made by our predecessors from ignorance of the phraseology and customs of the age in which Shakspcare lived.
As on the one hand our poet's text has been described as more corrupt than it really is, so on the other, the labour required to investigate fugitive allusions, to explain and justify obsolete phraseology by parallel passages from contemporary authors, and to form a genuine text by a faithful collation of the original copies, has not perhaps had that notice to which it is entitled; for undoubtedly it is a laborious and a difficult talk: and the due exécution of this it is, which can alone entitle an editor of Shakspeare to the favour of the publick,
I have said that the comparative value of the various ancient copies of Shakspeare's plays has never been precisely ascertained. To prove this, it will be necessary to go into a long and minute discussion, for which, however, no apology is ne cessary: for though to explain and illustrate the writings of our poet is a principal duty of his editor, to ascertain his genuine text, to fix what is to be explained, is his first and immediate object: and till it be established which of the ancient copies is entitled to preference, we have no criterion by which the text can be ascertained.
Fifteen of Shakspeare's plays were printed in quarto antecedent to the first complete collection of his works, which was published by his fellowocomedians in 1623. These plays are. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Loft, Romeo and Fuliet, Hamlet., The Two parts of King Henry IV. King Richard II. King Richard HII. The Merchant of Venice, King Henry V. Much Ado' about Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida , King Lear, and Othello.
The players, when they mention these copies, represent them all as mutilated and imperfect; but this was merely thrown out to give an additional value to their own edition, and is not ftri&ly true of
any but two of the whole number; The Merry Wives of Windsor, and King Henry V.-With respect to the other thirteen copies, though undoubtedly they were all furreptitious, that is, ftolen from the playhouse, and printed without the consent of the author or the proprietors, they in general are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the folio; for this plain reason, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from fome other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late, instead of the earlies, edition; in some inslances with additions and alterations of their own. Thus therefore the first falio, as far as respects the plays above enumerated , labours under the disadvantage of being at least a second, and in some cases a third, edition
of these quartos. I do not however mean to say, that many valuable corrections of passages undoubtedly corrupt in the quartos are not found in the folio copy; or that a single line of these plays should be printed by a careful editor without a mi. nute examination, and collation of both copies ; but those quartos were in general the basis on which the folio editors built, and are entitled to our particular attention and examination as first editions.
It is well known to those who are conversant with the business of the press, that, (unless when the author corrects and revises his own works, ) as editions of books are multiplied, their errors are multiplied also; and that consequently every such edition is more or less correct, as it approaches nearer to or is inore diftant from the first. A few instances of the gradual progress of corruption will fully evince the truth of this affertion.
In the original copy of King Richard II. 4to. 1597, Ad II. sc. ii. are these lines;
66 You promis'd , when you parted with the king,
In a subsequent quarto, printed in 1608, instead of life-harming we find Half-harming; which being perceived by the editor of the folio to be nonsense, he substituted, instead of it, SELF - har, ming heaviness.
In the original copy of King Henry IV. P. I. printed in 1598, Act IV. sc. iy. we find
16 And what with Owen Glendower's absence thence, 66 (Who with them was a rated finew too,)” &c.
In the fourth quarto printed in 1608, the article being omitted by the negligence of the compositor, and the line printed thus,
66 Who with them was rated sinew too,".
the editor of the next quarto, (which was copied by the folio,) instead of examining the first edition, amended the error (leaving the metre still imperfect) by reading
o Who with them was rated firmly too." So, in the same play, A& I. sc. iii. instead of the reading of the earliest copy
66 Why what a candy deal of courtesy -caudy being printed in the first folio instead of candy, by the accidental inversion of the lettern, the editor of the second folio corrected the error by substituting gawdy.
So, in the same play, Act III. sc. i. instead of the reading of the earliest impression,
- The frame and huge foundation of the earth."
in the second and the subsequent quartos, the line by the negligence of the compositor was exhibited without the word huge :
h" and the editor of the folio , finding the metre imperfect, supplied it by reading,
66 The frame and foundation of the earth
66 The frame and the foundation of the earth."
Another line in Act V. sc. ult. is thus exhibited in the quarto , 1598 :
66 But that the earthy and cold hand of death--"
Earth being printed instead of earthy, in the next and the subsequent quarto copies, the editor of the folio amended the line thus:
56 But that the earth and the cold hand of death~."
Again, in the preceding scene, we find in the
6. I was not born a yielder, thou proud Scot.” — instead of which in the fifth quarto, 1613, we have
66 I was not born to yield, thou proud Scot.” This being the copy that was used by the editor of the folio, instead of examining the most ancient impression, he corrected the error according to his own fancy, and probably while the work was palsing through the press, by reading -
66 I was not born to yield, thou haughty Scot.” In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says to her nurse,
• In faith, I am sorry that thou art not well." and this line in the first folio being corruptly exhibited
66 In faith, I am sorry that thou are so well." the editor of the second folio, to obtain some sense, printed ---
66 In faith, I am sorry that thou art fo ill."