Page images

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 justly exposed 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 purpofe; for in refpect 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, industry, and learning.

As I have only collected materials for future artists, 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 otherwise, I fhall fubmit with cheerfulness to the cenfure which fhould 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 oldest 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

G. S.

As the foregoing Advertisement appeared when its author was young and uninformed, he cannot now abide by many sentiments expreffed in it: nor would it have been here reprinted, but in compliance with Dr. Johnson's injunction, that all the relative Prefaces fhould continue to attend his edition of our au thor's plays. STEEVENS.



IT T is faid of the oftrich, that she drops her egg at random, to be difpos'd of as chance pleases; either brought to maturity by the fun's kindly warmth, or else crufh'd by beafts and the feet of paffers-by: fuch, at leaft, is the account which naturalifts have given us of this extraordinary bird; and admitting it for a truth, fhe is in this a fit emblem of almoft every great genius they conceive and produce with eafe thofe noble iffues of human understanding; but incubation, the dull work of putting them correctly upon paper and afterwards publishing, is a task they can not away with. If the original state of all fuch authors' writings, even from HOMER downward, could be enquir'd into and known, they would yield proof in abundance of the juftnefs of what is here afferted but the author now before us fhall fuffice for them all; being at once the greatest inftance of genius in producing noble things, and of negligence in providing for them afterwards. This negligence indeed was fo great, and the condition in which

Dr. Johnson's opinion of this performance may be known from the following paffage in Mr. Bofwell's Life of Dr. Johnfon, fecond edit. Vol. III. p. 251: " If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purpose with words, for as it is, he doth gabble monftrously."


his works are come down to us fo very deform'd, that it has, of late years, induc'd feveral gentlemen to make a revifion of them: but the publick feems not to be fatisfy'd with any of their endeavours; and the reafon of it's difcontent will be manifeft, when the state of his old editions, and the methods that they have taken to amend them, are fully lay'd open, which is the first business of this Introduction.

Of thirty-fix plays which Shakspeare has left us, and which compofe the collection that was afterwards fet out in folio; thirteen only were publifh'd in his life-time, that have much resemblance to those in the folio; thefe thirteen are" Hamlet, First and Second Henry IV. King Lear, Love's Labour's Loft, Merchant of Venice, Midfummer-Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard II. and III. Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida." Some others, that came out in the fame period, bear indeed the titles of— "Henry V. King John, Merry Wives of Windfor, and Taming of the Shrew ;"" but are no other than either first draughts, or mutilated and perhaps furreptitious impreffions of thofe plays, but whether of the two is not eafy to determine: King John is

This is meant of the first quarto edition of The Taming of the Shrew; for the fecond was printed from the folio. But the play in this first edition appears certainly to have been a fpurious one, from Mr. POPE's account of it, who feems to have been the only editor whom it was ever feen by: great pains has been taken to trace who he had it of, (for it was not in his collection) but without fuccefs.

[Mr. Capell afterwards procured a fight of this defideratum, a circumftance which he has quaintly recorded in a note annexed to the MS. catalogue of his Shak/periana: "lent by Mr. MaJone, an Irish gentleman, living in Queen Ann Street Eaft."]


certainly a first draught, and in two parts; and fo much another play, that only one line of it is retain'd in the second: there is alfo a first draught of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. published in his life-time under the following title,-" The whole Contention betweene the two famous Houses, Lancafter and Yorke:" and to thefe plays, fix in number, may be added-the first impreffion of Romeo and Juliet, being a play of the fame ftamp: The date of all thefe quarto's, and that of their feveral re-impreffions, may be feen in a table that follows the Introduction. Othello came out only one year before the folio; and is, in the main, the fame play that we have there: and this too is the cafe of the first-mention'd thirteen; notwithstanding there are in many of them great variations, and particularly in Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III. and Romeo and Juliet.

As for the plays, which, we say, are either the poet's firft draughts, or elfe imperfect and ftolen copies, it will be thought, perhaps, they might as well have been left out of the account: but they are not wholly useless; fome lacunæ, that are in all the other editions, have been judiciously fill'd up in modern impreffions by the authority of these copies; and in fome particular paffages of them, where there happens to be a greater conformity than ufual between them and the more perfect editions, there is here and there a various reading that does honour to the poet's judgment, and fhould upon that account be prefum'd the true one; in other refpects, they have neither ufe nor merit, but are meerly curiofities.

Proceed we then to a defcription of the other fourteen. They all abound in faults, though not in equal degree; and thofe faults are fo numerous,

[ocr errors]

and of fo many different natures, that nothing but a perufal of the pieces themselves can give an adequate conception of them; but amongst them are these that follow. Divifion of acts and scenes, they have none; Othello only excepted, which is divided into acts: entries of perfons are extreamly imperfect in them, (fometimes more, fometimes fewer than the fcene requires) and their Exits are very often omitted; or, when mark'd, not always in the right place; and few fcenical directions are to be met with throughout the whole speeches are frequently confounded, and given to wrong perfons, either whole, or in part; and fometimes, instead of the person speaking, you have the actor who prefented him and in two of the plays, (Love's Labour's Loft, and Troilus and Crefsida,) the fame matter, and in nearly the fame words, is fet down twice in fome paffages; which who fees not to be only a negligence of the poet, and that but one of them ought to have been printed? But the reigning fault of all is in the measure: profe is very often printed as verfe, and verfe as profe; or, where rightly printed verfe, that verfe is not always right divided; and in all these pieces, the fongs are in every particular ftill more corrupt than the other parts of them. These are the general and principal defects: to which if you add-tranfpofition of words, fentences, lines, and even speeches; words omitted, and others added without reason; and a punctuation fo deficient, and fo often wrong, that it hardly deferves regard; you have, upon the whole, a true but melancholy picture of the condition of these first printed plays: which bad as it is, is yet better than that of those which came after; or than that of the fubfequent folio im

« PreviousContinue »