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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 deserve 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 deduction can only be performed by consulting the earliest and intermediate authors.
Enough has already been done to encourage us to do more. Dr. Hickes,3 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 glossaries 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
George Hickes, 1642-1715. An English clergyman who, in addition to some theological works, published Institutiones Grammaticæ Anglo Saxonicæ (1689), and Antique Literaturæ Septentrionalis Thesaurus (1703-5).
the present publication. In the plays it contains, the poet's first thoughts, as well as words, are preserved; the additions made in subsequent 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 show 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 slipped in by mistake, which can pretend to serve no purpose of illustration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minutest variations of the copies, which soon 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 imcompetent judges, such as the players were, to vary at their pleasure what he had set down for the first single editions; and we have better grounds for suspicion that his works did materially suffer from their presumptuous corrections after death.
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 struggling 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 good fortune to have been possessed of two or three different copies of all, when neither editors nor collectors, in the course of nearly fifty years, have been able so much as to obtain the sight 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 was 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 passage 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.
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 works without distinction, or arbitrarily to leave out 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 spurious. 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 so 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 scholiasts, 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 the same not insisted on in respect of an English classick? But if the custom of preserving all whether worthy of it or not, be more honoured in the breach, than the observance, the suppression at least 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 sufficient 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 survivors to make that publick, which they themselves must be