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In preparing the following sheets it has been a main object with me to give an impartial notion of the singular and interesting volume from which the materials have been derived. It is a copy of the folio of “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies,” which was published in 1632: we need hardly say, that that edition was a reprint of a previous impression in the same form in 1623; and that it was again reprinted (with additional plays) in 1664, and for the fourth time in 1685. The reprint of 1632 has, therefore, been usually known as the second folio of the collected plays of Shakespeare.
The singularity and interest of the volume arise out of the fact, that, from the first page to the last, it contains notes and emendations in a hand-writing not much later than the time when it came from the press. Unfortunately it is not perfect : it begins, indeed, with “ The Tempest,” the earliest drama, but it wants four leaves at the end of “ Cymbeline,” the latest drama, and there are several deficiencies in the body of the book', while all the preliminary matter, consisting of dedication, address, commendatory verses, &c., may be said to be wanting, in as much as it has been supplied by a comparatively recent possessor, from another copy of the second folio, and loosely fastened within the
1 It deserves remark that all the defects in the body of the book are in the division of “ Histories,” the plays forming which have been especially thumbed and maltreated.
Without adverting to sundry known mistakes of pagination, it may be stated that the entire volume consists of nearly 900 pages, divided between thirty-six plays; and, besides the correction of literal and verbal errors, as well as lapses of a graver and more extensive kind, the punctuation has been carefully set right throughout. As there is no page without from ten to thirty of these minor emendations, they do not, in the whole, fall short of 20,000: most of them have, of course, been introduced in modern editions, since the plain meaning of a passage often contradicts the old careless and absurd pointing ; but it will be seen hereafter, that in not a few instances the sense of the poet has thus been elucidated in a way that has not been anticipated'. With regard to changes of a different and more important character, where letters are added or expunged, where words are supplied or struck out, or where lines and sentences, omitted by the early printer, have been inserted, together with all other emendations of a similar kind, it is difficult to form any correct estimate of their number. The volume in the hands of the reader includes considerably more than a thousand of such alterations ; but to have inserted all would have swelled its bulk to unreasonable dimensions, and would have wearied the patience of most persons, not merely by the sameness of the information, but by the monotony of the language in which it was necessarily conveyed.
Nothing that was deemed essential has been left out : no striking or valuable emendation has been passed over, and many changes have been mentioned, upon which the writer of the notes seems to have insisted, but in which, in
• As it is not easy to put the explanation of this apparently trifling matter in a short compass, the reader is referred particularly to pp. 111, 117, 325, 399, and 507.
some cases, concurrence must either be withheld, or doubt expressed. Whenever I have seen ground for dissenting from à proposed amendment, or for giving it only a qualified approbation, I have plainly stated my reasons, more particularly in the later portion of the work : I pursued, indeed, the same method, to a certain extent, in the earlier portion ; but while I have there, perhaps, more sparingly questioned the fitness of adopting some changes, I have also noticed others, which, as I proceeded, and as the matter accumulated, might possibly have been omitted'. If subsequent reflection or information appeared to warrant a modification of opinion, such modification will be found in the notes appended to the volume. I can only expect that each suggested alteration should be judged upon its own merits; and though I can, in no respect, be answerable for more than submitting them to critical decision, I have thought myself called upon, where they appeared to deserve support or elucidation, to offer the facts, arguments, or observations that occurred to me in their favour.
In the history of the volume to which I have been thus indebted, I can offer little that may serve to give it authenticity. It is very certain that the manuscript notes in
3 The old corrector of the folio, 1632, has himself allowed some apparent mistakes to escape him : thus, in “ All's Well that Ends Well,” Act III. Scene I., we might have expected that he would alter “the younger of our nature” into “the younger of our nation.” Again, in
Henry IV. Part II.,” Act IV. Scene II., it may seem that "success of mischief” ought to be “successive mischief;" but neither of these variations from the old text is absolutely necessary.
• I am by no means convinced that this copy of the folio, 1632, is an entire novelty in the book-world ; but it is quite certain that its curiosity and importance were never till now understood, nor estimated. Sir Thomas Phillipps, Bart., of Middle Hill (the discoverer of the marriagebond of Shakespeare, who has most readily aided me in my inquiries), recollects to have seen, many years ago, an annotated copy of the folio, 1632, which he has always regretted that he did not purchase; and since the general contents of my volume became known, several gentlemen appear to be in possession of folios with manuscript emendations. I more than suspect, however, that one of these is the edition of 1685,