Abbildungen der Seite

services, rather than to exhibit a true state of the question. The reason why we have discovered a greater proportion of errors in the former than in the latter , is because we have fought after them with a greater degree of diligence ; for let it be remembered, that it was no more the practice of other writers than of Shakspeare, to correct the press for themselves.

Ben Jonson only (who, being versed in the learned languages, had been taught the value of accuracy,) appears to have superintended the publication of his own dramatick pieces; but were those of Lyly, Chapman, Marlow, or the Heywoods, to be revised with equal industry, an editor would meet with as frequent opportunity for the exertion of his critical abili, ties, as in these quartos which have been so repeatedly censured by those who never took the pains to collate them, or justify the many valuable readings they contain; for when the character of them which we have handed down, was originally given, among typographical blunders, &c. were enumerated all terms and expressions which were not ftri&tly grammatical, or not easily understood. As yet we had employed in our attempts at explanation only such materials as casual reading had supplied; but how much more is requisite for the complete explanation of an early writer, the last edition of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer may prove a sufficient witness; a work which in respect of accuracy and learning is without a rival, at least in any commentary on an English poet. The reader will forgive me if I desert my subject for a moment, while I express an ardent wish that the same editor 'may find leisure and inclination to afford us the means of reading the other works of the father of our poetry, with advantages which we cannot derive from the efforts of those who have lefs deeply and successfully penetrated into the recesses of ancient Italian, French, and English literature.

- An author has received the higheit mark of distinction, when he has engaged the services of such a commentator,

The reader may perhaps be desirous to know by whom these quartos of Shakspeare are supposed to have been sent into the world. To such a curiosity no very adequate gratification can be afforded; but yet it may be observed, that as these elder copies poffefs many advantages over those in the fubfequent folio, we should decide perversely were we to pronounce them fpurious. They were in all probability issued out by fome performer, who, deriving no benefit from the theatre except his falary, was uninterested in that retention of copies, which was the chief concern of our ancient managers. We may suppose too that there was nothing criminal in his proceeding; as some of the persons whose names appear before these publications, are known to have filled the highest offices in the company of Stationers with reputation, bequcathing legacies of considerable value to it at their decease. Neither do I discover why the first manufcripts delivered by so careless a writer to the actors, should prove less correct than those which he happened to leave behind him, unprepared for the press, in the pofleffion of the same fraternity. On the contrary, after his plays had pafled for twenty years through the hands of a fucceision of ignorant transcribers, they were more likely to become maimed and corrupted, than when they were printed from papers less remote from the originals. It is true that Heminge and Condell have called these copies furreptitious, but this was probably said with a view to enhance the value of their own impression, as well as to revenge theinselves as far as poflible on those who had in part anticipated the publication of works from which they expected considerable gleanings of advantage, after their first harvest on the stage was over. ---I mean to except from this general character of the quartos, the author's rough draughts of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Rimeo and Juliet; together with the play of King Henry V. and the two parts of King Henry VI.; for the latter carry all the marks of having been imperfectly taken down by the ear, without any assistance from the originals belonging to the playhouses in which they were first represented.

A succeeding table of those ancient copies of the plays of Shakspeare which his commentators have really met with and consulted, if compared with the earliest of these entries on the books already mentioned, may tempt the reader to suppose that some quartos have not yet been found, from which future assistance may be derived. But I fear that no such resources remain; as it seems to have been the practice of the numerous theatres in the time of Shakspeare; to cause some bookseller to make immediate entries of their new pieces, as a security against the encroachments of their rivals, who always considered themselves as justified in the exhibition of such drarnas as had been enfranchised by the press. Imperfect copies, but for thefe precautions, might have been more frequently VOL. II.


obtained from the repetition of hungry actors invited for that purpose to a tavern; or something like a play might have been collected by attentive auditors, who made it their business to attend succeeding representations with a like design. By these means, without any intent of hasty publication, one company of players was studious to prevent the trespasses of another. 3 Nor did their policy conclude here; for I have not unfrequently met with registers of both tragedies and comedies, of which the titles were at some other time to be declared. Thus, July 26, 1576, John Hunter enters “ A new and pleasant comedie or plaie, after the manner of Common Condycions ;" and one Fiel. der, in Sept. 1581, prefers his right to four others, " Whereof he will bring the titles.” “The famous Tragedy of the Rich Jewe of Malta,” by Christopher Marlow, is ascertained to be the property of Nich. Ling and Tho. Millington, in May, 1594, though it was not printed by Nich. Vavasour till 1633. as Tho. Heywood, who wrote the preface to it, informs us. In this manner the contending theatres were prepared to assert a priority of title to any copies of dramatick performances; and thus were they assisted by our ancient stationers, who ftrengthened every claim of literary property, by entries secured in a manner which was then supposed to be obligatory and legal.

2 See the notes of Mr. Collins and Mr. Malone at the end of the Third Part of King Henry VI.

3. From the year 1570 to the year 1629, when the playhouse in White Friars was finished, it appears that no less than seventeen theatres had been built,

I may add, that the difficulty of procuring licences was another reason why fome theatrical public cations were retarded and others entirely suppressed. As we cannot now discover the motives which influenced the conduct of former Lord Chamberlains and Bishops, who stopped the sale of several works, which nevertheless have escaped into the world, and appear to be of the most innocent nature, we may be tempted to regard their feverity as rather dictated by jealousy and caprice, than by judgement and impartiality. See a note to my Advertisement, p. 358.

The publick is now in possession of as accurate an account of the dates, &c. of Shakspeare's works as perhaps will ever be compiled. This was by far the most irksome part of my undertaking, though facilitated as much as possible by the kindness of Mr. Longman, of Pater-nofter Row, who readily furnished me with the three earliest volumes of the records of the Stationers' Company, together with accommodations which rendered the perusal of them convenient to me though troublesome to himself. STEEVENS.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »