Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to in either case. Should our language ever be recalled to a strict examination, and the fashion become general of striving to maintain our old acquisitions, instead of gaining new ones, which we shall be at last 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 repositories, we might recover words and phrases as often as caprice or wantonnels should call for variety; instead of thinking it necessary to adopt new ones, or barter solid strength for seeble splendour,which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.

We wonder that, before the time of Shakespeare, 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 some few of their dramatick pieces may remain. The same might be almost said of the interval between that age and the age of Dryden, the performances of which, not being preserved in sets, or diffused as now, by the greater number printed, must lapse apace into the same obscurity.

Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
Multi-

And yet we are contentcd, from a few specimens only, to form our opinions of the genius of ages gone before us. Even while we are blaming the taste of that audience which received with applause the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we should consider that the few in pofleffion of our theatre', which would never have been heard a fecond time had they been written now, were probably the best of hundreds which had been dismisled with general censure. The collcetion of plays, interludes, &c. made by Mr. Garrick, with an intent to deposit them hereafter in fome publick library, will be considered as a valuable acquisition; for pamphlets have never yet been examined with a proper -regard to posterity. Most of the obsolete pieces will be found on enquiry to have been introduced into libraries but some few years since; and yet those of the present age, which may one time or other prove as useful, are still entirely neglected. I should be remiss, I am sure, were I to forget my acknowledgments to the gentleman I have just mentioned, to whose benevolence I owe the use of several of the scarceft quartos,

' which

which I could not otherwise have obtained; though I advertised for them, with sufficient offers, as I thought, either to tempt the casual owner to sell, or the curious to communicate them; but Mr. Garrick's zeal would not permit him to with-hold any thing that might ever so remotely tend to {hew the perfections of that author who could only have enabled him to display his own.

It is not merely to obtain justice to Shakespeare, 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 should be diligently reviewed. There is no age which has not produced some works that deserved to be remembered; and as words and phrases are only understood by comparing them in different places, the lower writers must be read for the explanation of the highest. No language can be ascertained and settled, but by deducing its words from their original sources, and tracing them through their successive varieties of signification; and this dedudion can only be performed by consulting 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, seems to have excited a stronger curiosity after old English writers, than ever had appeared before. Many volumes which were mouldering in dust have been collected; many authors which were forgotten have been revived; many laborious catalogues have been formed; and many judicious gloffaries compiled: the literary transactions of the darker ages are now open to discovery; and the language in its intermediate gradations, from the Conquest to the Restoration, is better understood than in any former time.

To incite the continuance, and encourage the extension of this domestick curiosity, is one of the purposes of the prefent publication. In the plays it contains, the poet's first thoughts as well as words are preserved; the additions made in fubsequent impressions distinguished in Italicks, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, such as they were before they fell into the hands of the player-editors. The various readings, which can only be attributed to chance, are set down among the rest, as I did not choose arbitrarily to determine for others which were useless, or which were valuable. And many words differing only by the spelling, or serving merely to shew the difficulties which they to whose lot it first fell to disentangle their perplexities must have encountered, are exhibited with the rest. I must acknowledge that some few readings have flipped in by mistake, which can pretend to ferve no purpose of illustration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minutest variations of the copies, which foon convinced me that the oldest were in general the most correct. Though no proof can be given that the poet superintended 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 so very negligent of his fame, as to permit the most incompetent judges, such as the players were, to vary at their pleafure what he had set down for the first single' editions; and we have better grounds for a fufpicion' that his works did materially suffer from their presumptuous corrections after his death.

words

It is very well known, that before the time of Shakespeare, the art of making title-pages was practised with as much, or perhaps more success than it has been since. Accordingly, to all his plays we find long and descriptive ones, which, when they were first published, were of great service to the venders of them. Pamphlets of every kind were hawked about the streets by a set of people resembling his own Autolycus, who proclaimed aloud the qualities of what they offered to sale, and might draw in many a purchaser by the mirth he was taught to expect from the humours of Corporal Nym, or the swaggering vaine of Auncient Pistoll, who was not to be tempted by the representation of a fact merely historical. The players, however, laid aside the whole of this garniture, not finding it so necessary to procure success to a bulky volume, when the author's reputation was established, as it had been to bespeak attention to a few straggling pamphlets while it was yet uncertain.

The sixteen plays, which are not in these volumes, remained unpublished till the folio in the year 1623, though the compiler of a work, called Theatrical Records, mentions different single editions of them all before that time. But as no one of the editors could ever meet with such, nor has any one else pretended to have seen them, I think myself at liberty to suppose the compiler supplied the defects of the list out of his own imagination; since he must have had

singular

fingular good fortune to have been pofseffed 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*.

At the end of the last volume I have added a tragedy of King Leir, published before that of Shakespeare, which it is not improbable he might have seen, as the father kneeling to the daughter, when she kneels to ask his blessing is found in it; a circumstance two poets were not very likely to have hit on separately; and which seems borrowed by the latter with his usual judgment, it being the most natural parsage in the whole play; and is introduced in such 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 preserved in Mr. Garrick's collection, I thought it a curiosity worthy the notice of the publick.

I have likewise reprinted Shakespeare's Sonnets, from a copy published in 1609, by G. Eld, one of the printers of his plays; which, added to the consideration that they made their appearance with his name, and in his life-time, seems to be no slender proof of their authenticity. The same evidence might operate in favour of several more plays which are omitted here, out of respect to the judgment of those who had omitted them before f.

It is to be wished that some method of publication most favourable to the character of an author were once established; whether we are to send into the world all his

* It will be obvious to every one acquainted with the ancient English language, that in almost all the titles of plays in this catalogue of Mr. William Rufus Chetwood, the spelling is constantly overcharged with such a superfluity of letters as is not to be found in the writings of Shakespeare or his contemporaries. A more bungling attempt at a forgery was never obtruded on the public. See the British Theatre 1750, reprinted by Dodsley in 1756, under the title of “ Theatrical Records, or an Account of English Dramatic Authors, and their Works,” where all that is said concerning an advertisement at the end of Romeo and Juliet 1597 is equally false, no copy of that play having been ever published by Andrew Wife.

* Locrine, 1595. Sir John Oldcastle, 1600. London Prodigal, 1605. Pericles Prince of Tyre, 1609. Puritan, 1600. Thomas Lord Cromwell, 1613. Yorkshire Tragedy, 1608.

works works without distinction, or arbitrarily to leave ont what may be thought a disgrace to him. The first editors, who rejected Pericles, retained Titus Andronicus; and Mr. Pope, without any reason, named The Winter's Tale, a play that bears the strongest marks of the hand of Shakespeare, among those which he supposed to be fpurious. Dr. Warburton has fixed a stigma on the three parts of Henry the Sixth, and some others :

Inde Dolabella est, atque hinc Antonius;

and all have been willing to plunder Shakespeare, or mix up a breed of barren metal with his purest ore.

Joshua Barnes, the editor of Euripides, thought every scrap of his author fo sacred, that he has preserved with the name of one of his plays, the only remaining word of it. The same reason indeed might be given in his favour, which caused the preservation of that valuable trisyllable: which is, that it cannot be found in any other place in the Greek language. But this does not seem to have been his only motive, as we find he has to the full as carefully published several detached and broken sentences, the gleanings from fcholiasts, which have no claim to merit of that kind; and yet the author's works might be reckoned by some to be incomplete without them. If then this duty is expected from every editor of a Greek or Roman poet, why is not the same insisted on in respect of an English classick?' But if the cuftom of preserving all, whether worthy of it or not, be more honourid in the breach than the observance, the suppression at leaft should not be considered as a fault. The publication of such 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 since Dr. Hawkesworth's edition, not to look on them as a tax levied on the publick (which I think one might without injustice) contain not more than fufficient to have made one of real value; and there is a kind of disingenuity, not to give it a harsher title, in exhibiting what the author never meant should see the light; for no motive, but a sordid one, can betray the lurvivors to make that publick, which they themselves must be of opinion will be unfavourable to the memory of the dead.

« AnteriorContinuar »