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ILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, capital burgess of Stratford-upon
of his body enjoyed and in due time dispersed abroad again his lands, moneys, and personal effects; the heirs of his mind still hold and will convey to their latest representatives the heritage of his writings.
In what manner the heirs or legatees of Shakspeare managed their portions of his worldly goods, it is now bootless, and not material to inquire. But in the following pages we propose examining how his intellectual heirs have hitherto administered their trust. In this inquiry three parties are concerned—the British public, enlightened or unenlightened: editors and critics: and French and German iconoclasts or idolaters.
Heminge and Condell were Shakspeare's immediate executors, inasmuch as they were the first to collect and print a complete edition of his Plays. The famous folio of 1023, the editio princeps, was published by them without note or comment, but with a preface in which they said something of themselves, as well as of their deceased friend and partner. The text of this folio has been the subject of much controversy. By some it is regarded as the faithful of Islam regard the Koran, something too sacred to be tampered with: by others it is pronounced corrupt from the beginning, and the father of lies as respects what the poet wrote.
We are no admirers of the tone of the preface. It smacks too much of the art of puffing. Their deceased comrade, whom the public had long and often crowned with applause, and whom his brother-dramatists confessed their chief, needed no such fulsome eulogy as his editors bestow upon him. And they profess too much and perform too little. For it is by courtesy alone that this folio can be termed an edition. Edited, in any proper sense of the word, it is not. The errors of the printer and the corruptions of the players are put down to Shakspeare's account, nor is there probably any Latin or Greek manuscript more vitiated by sleepy or ignorant copyists than this editio princeps has been by its publishers. In spite of their vaunt
* The Plays of Shakspeare. Edited by Howard Staunton: the Illustrations by John Gilbert, 2 vols. imp. octavo. Routledge and Co. 1858. VOL, II.—No. III.
about using exclusively Shakspeare's manuscripts, it is palpable that they availed themselves, when they could, of the quartos published in the poet's lifetime, the text for which was, to all appearance, obtained surreptitiously, either from copyists before the curtain, or from the prompter or theatrical library behind it. And this negligence is the more inexcusable and provoking, because, according to general tradition, Shakspeare's autographs were models of calligraphy, and Heminge and Condell must have seen and might therefore have printed from them.
Bad as the editing was, the printing of this volume was no better. Verse is printed as prose, prose as verse. Priscian's head is perpetually broken; words are omitted or transposed; the punctuation is such that, had Dogberry and Verges turned compositors for the nonce, they could hardly have made it worse. Nor was advantage taken of a second edition to amend these gross, open, and palpable errors. Some glaring blunders are corrected in the second folio: but new blunders compensate for those which are removed. Of most ancient authors there are three or four copies at least, fortunately not agreeing in their several corruptions, and capable, therefore, of being employed as correctives to one another. But the original text of Shakspeare has no similar privilege: his fairly-written manuscripts have vanished: no specimen of his handwriting, except his signature, exists: and for our Medicean codex, we possess only this precious budget of blunders which his friends and fellowactors consecrated to their deceased copartner's memory.
The earlier editions—we still use the word by courtesy-of Shakspeare unfortunately appeared in an age of remarkably careless printing. When an author, indeed, severely corrected his own proofs, a book, then as now, would come forth from the press in fair condition. * Shakspeare's Poems, for example, are nearly immaculate; for these the favourites, if not the first fruits of his mind, he grudged no parental care. Daniel and Drayton's works are as correct as the volumes published by Messrs. Longman and Murray; and Ben Jonson took as much pains with the correction, as he had bestowed on the composition of his folios of dramatic works. The following examples, however, will show how much it behoved writers to look well to their passage through the press. Heresies have thriven on misreadings not more serious that those which occur in books printed in the first half of the seventeenth century. In a Bible printed in the reign of Charles I. there is this strange commandment, • Thou shalt commit adultery;' an error which caused the learned Selden to tax the king's printers in his place' in the House of Commons, and involved a heavy fine
levied uuder Laud's auspices. In the Bible of 1653 is read (1 Cor. vi. 9.), Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God ? and equally comfortable doctrine is enforced in the singing Psalms (lvii. 2), where some graceless compositor set up
That all the earth may know
The way to worldly wealth: the true reading being Godly! Printing did not improve as the century advanced; for in a small quarto volume published in 1699, and containing numerous transcripts from · Bacon's Essays,' we find precisely such errata as mar the early editions of Shakspeare. At page 75 we have · Young men are fitter for new frolicks than settled business,' an obvious truism : but the right reading is projects,' which is equally true, but infinitely better sense. At page 78 we are told that 'in beauty
that of defect and gracious motion is more than that of favour.' This is a riddle hard to hit; but the word that ought to have been printed is . decent,' which is both verum atque decens. Lastly-for we might easily weary the reader with errors similar to those of the Shakspeare folios--at page 83 it is said: “It is a strange desire to seek poverty, and to lose liberty,' whereas it is power' that is sought. Some of the blunders in the folios are little less portentous than that which once racked Southey's brains. On his proofs he read of an author named · Mules Quince. Neither Watts, Lowndes, nor Brunet acknowledged such a writer, nor indeed does the surname Quince occur, except in the Midsummer Night's Dream,' where it is not Mules, but Peter. The appended extract proved that Montesquieu had been thus transfigured by the compositor. From these unlucky folios and quartos we derive our present text of Shakspeare: by what process we shall attempt to show presently.
But there is something stranger in the matter than the carelessness of Heminge and Condell and their printers, and that is the indifference of the author himself to the purloining or disguising of his intellectual offspring. Mr. Charles Knight believes that the earliest quartos were printed with Shakspeare's sanction, and were perhaps revised by him. We do not, and we should regret to believe this assertion, since it implies a negligence on his part quite inconsistent with the tenor of his practical wisdom and business habits in worldly matters. From manuscripts with scarcely an erasure the quartos cannot have been printed: from correctly printed quartos the first folio cannot have been compiled. Our
belief in this matter is, that Shakspeare, content with their reception by the public, looked with indifference on the fate of his plays. He cannot, indeed, have been unaware of their worth, and he may have intended to revise them carefully, but unluckily postponed the task. Perhaps he reserved the correction of his plays for the amusement of an old age which he was not permitted to see. If we may reason from the care he bestowed upon them in going through the press, he highly esteemed his Poems, while he viewed his dramatic writings as the means only whereby he lived, and as the enforced, and not the spontaneous, productions of his mind. In such a misconception he would not be singular. Byron was long of opinion that his translation or paraphrase of Horace's Art of Poetry was a better piece of work than · Childe Harold, or · Lara :' Scott ranked his novels below his poems, and his poems below the trees which he planted or the histories which he compiled. Petrarch believed that his patent for immortality was contained in his Latin and not his Italian compositions: Rousseau thought that the • Nouvelle Eloise' would be soon forgotten, while his treatises on Music and Botany would endure for ever: Goethe said science and not literature was his vocation : and Gray and Congreve rejected the title of men of letters. The cause of Shakspeare's indifference to the fate of his plays can only be conjectured, yet there were circumstances in his early life which may lead us to a probable solution of the enigma. A short digression will be necessary for the statement of our theory.
Among the few facts ascertained in his personal history, one is that family misfortunes, rather than his own misconduct, led him to the stage as a profession. John Shakspeare, the poet's father, was a substantial yeoman in his own day: in the present, 'dum fortuna fuit,' he would have ranked as a country gentleman. He married a wife having land, tenements, and money: he was burgess, alderman, and once bailiff of Stratford—a man of worship both within and without his native borough. But he seems to have been given to speculation, trying several trades and succeeding in none. ACcording to Aubrey he was “a butcher;' according to Rowe • a considerable dealer in wool ;' both which callings were compatible with his yeomanship, since he may well have bred the sheep and oxen which he sheared and slaughtered, and moreover have cut gloves, gaiters, and breeches out of their hides and fleeces. Which of these several irons cooled in the furnace, whether he lent money on bad security, or overbuilt or overdrank himself, can never now be known, but certain it is that John Shakspeare fell on evil days, and was no more worshipful in Stratford. Even his Sundays were not secure; he could not go to church for feare of processe for debt. He sold tenements; he mortgaged land: he was excused cess and poor-rate, and those terrors of the laws, writs of capias and distringas had, before the year 1578, entered his dwelling. He had eaten sour grapes and his children's teeth were set on edge. His son William must leave the Grammar-school at Stratford in his sixteenth year, not because of the expense of his education there, for it was gratis, nor because of the ripeness of his learning; but it had become necessary that he should contribute to his own maintenance, and, according to varying traditions, he was an usher in the school where he had lately been a pupil, or a clerk in a notary's office, where he may have learnt to write the fair hand afterwards displayed in the manuscripts of his plays.
How William Shakspeare gave a fresh impulse to his household troubles by an early marriage, and perhaps made Stratford too hot to hold him by reason of certain pranks he played: how he fell into company with some London players, then starring it in the provinces—the Burbages, his fellow-townsmen, being of the troop—are probable, if not certain facts in his early history. He became an actor, and very soon manifested faculties for becoming an author also. Strait and narrow enough was the gate of popular authorship in those days. Newspapers were strictly gazettes ex officio: government property most strictly preserved. Editors however able, or writers however ready, would have speedily found themselves ' among the mutines in the bilbows,' had they hazarded any scandal against Queen Elizabeth or her councillors. Would a poet put money in his purse or pay his printer, he must tickle the ears of some magnifico, climb many stairs, attend in many ante-chambers, and possess his soul in such patience as he could for many months at least, before he gained permission to dedicate, and the guerdon or remuneration of his smooth words. The bitterness of solicitation was felt and described by Edmund Spenser in verses as touching as ever wrong or disappointment suggested to Tasso, or indignation dictated to Dante.
Had Shakspeare, on his first coming to London, sought a patron for his ‘Lucrece or his Venus and Adonis,' he would in all likelihood have drunk to the dregs that bitter cup whose ingredients are ' toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail,' as Samuel Johnson sang and knew well two centuries later. But in the latter half of the seventeenth century there was one avenue to fortune, or to competence at least, comparatively clear of these evils. A success
VOL. II. NO. III,