Malone's Preface, 1790
In the following work, the labour of eight years, I have endeavoured, with unceasing solicitude, to give a faithful and correct edition of the plays and poems of Shakespeare. Whatever imperfection or errors therefore, may be found in it, (and what work of so great a length and difficulty was ever free from error or imperfection?) will, I trust, be imputed to any other cause than want of zeal for the due execution of the task which I venture to undertake.
The difficulties to be encountered by an editor of the works of Shakespeare, have been so frequently stated, and are so generally acknowledged, that it may seem unnecessary to conciliate the publick favour by this plea : but as these in my opinion have in some particulars, been over-rated, and in others, not sufficiently insisted on, and as the true state of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the pub-lick, I shall consider the subject as if it had not been already discussed by preceding editors.
In the year 1756 Dr. Johnson published the following excellent scheme of a new edition of Shakespeare's dramatick pieces, which he completed in 1765:
Though Dr. Johnson has here pointed out
with his usual perspicuity and vigour, the true course
to be taken by an editor of Shakespeare, some of the
positions which he has laid down may be controverted,
and some are indubitably not true. It is not true that
the plays of this author were more incorrectly printed
than those of any of his contemporaries : for in the
plays of Marlowe, Marston, Fletcher, Massinger, and
others, as many errors may be found. It is not true that
the art of printing was in no other age in so unskilful
hands. Nor is it true, in the latitude in which it is
stated, that " these plays were printed from
compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the
separate parts written for the theatre"; two only of all
his dramas, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," and "King
Henry V.," appear to have been thus thrust into the
world, and of the former it is yet a doubt whether it is
a first sketch or an imperfect copy. I do not believe
that words were then adopted at pleasure from the
neighbouring languages, or that an antiquated diction
was then employed by any poet but Spenser. That the
obscurities of our author, to whatever cause they may be
referred, do not arise from the paucity of contemporary
writers, the present edition may furnish indisputable
evidence. And lastly, if it be true, that " very few of
Shakespeare's lines were difficult to his audience, and
that he used such expressions as were then common," (a
position of which I have not the smallest doubt), it
cannot be true, that " his reader is embarrassed at once
with dead and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness
As on the one hand our poet's text has been described as more corrupt than it really is, so on the other, the labour required to investigate fugitive allusions, to explain and justify obsolete phraseology by parallel passages from contemporary authors, and to form a genuine text by a faithful collation of the original copies, has not perhaps had that notice to which it is entitled; for undoubtedly it is a laborious and a difficult task : and the due execution of this it is, which can Slone entitle an editor of Shakespeare to the favour of the publick.
I have said that the comparative value of the various ancient copies of Shakespeare's plays has never been precisely ascertained. To prove this, it will be necessary to go into a long and minute discussion for which, however, no apology is necessary ; for though to explain and illustrate the writings of our poet is a principal duty of his editor, to ascertain his genuine text, to fix what is to be explained, is his first and immediate object : and till it be established which of the ancient copies is entitled to preference, we have no criterion by which the text can be ascertained.
Fifteen of Shakespeare's plays were printed in quarto
antecedent to the first complete collection of his
works, which was published by his fellow-comedians in
1623. These plays are, " A Midsummer Night's Dream," "
Love's Labour's Lost," " Romeo and Juliet," " Hamlet,"
The Two Parts of "King Henry IV.," "King Richard II.," "
King Richard III.," " The Merchant of Venice," "King
Henry V.," " Much Ado About Nothing," " The Merry Wives
of Windsor," " Troilus and Cressida," " King Lear," and
It is well known to those who are conversant with the business of the press, that (unless when the author corrects and revises his own works) as editions of books are multiplied, their errors are multiplied also ; and that consequently every such edition is more or less correct, as it approaches nearer to or is more distant from the first. A few instances of the gradual progress of corruption will fully evince the truth of this assertion.
So little known indeed was the value of the early impressions of books (not revised or corrected by their authors), that King Charles the First, though a great admirer of our poet, was contented with the second folio edition of his plays, unconscious of the numerous misrepresentations and interpolations by which every page of that copy is disfigured; and in a volume of the quarto plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, which formerly belonged to that king, and is now in my collection, I did not find a single first impression. In like manner, Sir William D'Avenant, when he made his alteration of the play of " Macbeth," appears to have used the third folio printed in 1664.
The various readings found in the different impressions of the quarto copies are frequently mentioned by the late editors : it is obvious from what has been already stated, that the first edition of each play is alone of any authority, and accordingly to no other have I paid any attention. All the variations in the subsequent quartos were made by accident or caprice. When, however, there are two editions printed in the same year, or an undated copy, it is necessary to examine each of them, because which of them was first, cannot be ascertained ; and being each printed from a manuscript, they carry with them a degree of authority to which a re-impression cannot be entitled. Of the tragedy of " King Lear," there are no less than three copies, varying from each other, printed for the same bookseller, and in the same year.
Of all the plays of which there are no quarto copies extant, the first folio, printed in 1623, is the only authentick edition.
An opinion has been entertained by some that the second impression of that book, published in 1632, has a similar claim to authenticity. " Whoever has any of the folios (says Dr. Johnson), has all, excepting those diversities which mere reiteration of editions will produce. I collated them all at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first, from which (he afterwards adds), the subsequent folios never differ but by accident or negligence." Mr. Steevens, however, does not subscribe to this opinion. " The edition of 1632 (says that gentleman), is not without value ; for though it be in some places more incorrectly printed than the preceding one, it has likewise the advantage of various readings, which are not merely such as reiteration of copies will naturally produce."
What Dr. Johnson has stated, is not quite accurate. The second folio does indeed very frequently differ from the first by negligence or chance ; but much more frequently by the editor's profound ignorance of our poet's phraseology and metre, in consequence of which there is scarce a page of the book which is not disfigured by the capricious alterations introduced by the person to whom the care of that impression was entrusted. This person in fact, whoever he was, and Mr. Pope, were the two great corrupters of our poet's text ; and I have no doubt that if the arbitrary alterations introduced by these two editors were numbered, in the plays of which no quarto copies are extant, they would greatly exceed all the corruptions and errors of the press in the original and only authentick copy of those plays. Though my judgment on this subject has been formed after a very careful examination, I cannot expect that it should be received on my mere assertion: and therefore it is necessary to substantiate it by proof. This cannot be effected but by a long, minute, and what I am afraid will appear to many, an uninteresting disquisition: but let it still be remembered that to ascertain the genuine text of these plays is an object of great importance.
On a revision of the second folio printed in 1632, it will be found, that the editor of that book was entirely ignorant of our poet's phraseology and metre, and that various alterations were made by him, in consequence of that ignorance, which render his edition of no value whatsoever.
Various other instances of the same kind might be produced; but that I may not weary my readers, I will only add, that no person who wishes to peruse the plays of Shakespeare should ever open the Second Folio, or either of the subsequent copies, in which all these capricious alterations were adopted, with many additional errors and innovations.
It may seem strange, that the person to whom the care of supervising the second folio was consigned, should have been thus ignorant of our poet's language; but it should be remembered, that in the beginning of the reign of Charles the First many words, and modes of speech began to be disused, which had been common in the age of Queen Elizabeth. The editor of the second folio was probably a young man, perhaps born in the year 1600. That Sir William D'Avenant, who was born in 1605, did not always perfectly understand our author's language, is manifest from various alterations which he has made in some of his pieces. The successive "Chronicles of English History," which were compiled between the years 1540 and 1630, afford indubitable proofs of the gradual change in our phraseology during that period. Thus a narrative which Hall exhibits in what now appears to us as very uncouth and ancient diction, is again exhibited by Holinshed, about forty years afterwards, in somewhat a less rude form ; and in the chronicles of Speed and Baker in 1611 and 1630, assumes a somewhat more polished air. In the second edition of " Gascoigne's Poems," printed in 1587, the editor thought it necessary to explain many of the words by placing more familiar terms in the margin, though not much more than twenty years had elapsed from the time of their composition: so rapid were at that time the changes in our language.
My late friend, Mr. Tyrwhitt, a man of such candour, accuracy, and profound learning that his death must be considered as an irreparable loss to literature, was of opinion, that in printing these plays the original spelling should be adhered to, and that we never could be sure of a perfectly faithful edition, unless the first folio copy was made the standard, and actually sent to the press, with such corrections as the editor might think proper. By others it was suggested, that the notes should not be subjoined to the text, but placed at the end of each volume, and that they should be accompanied by a complete Glossary. The former scheme (that of sending the first folio to the press), appeared to me liable to many objections ; and I am confident that if the notes were detached from the text, many readers would remain uninformed, rather than undergo the trouble occasioned by perpetual references from one part of a volume to another.
In the present edition I have endeavoured to obtain all the advantages which would have resulted from Mr. Tyrwhitt's plan, without any of its inconveniences. Having often experienced the fallaciousness of collation by the eye, I determined, after I had adjusted the text in the best manner in my power, to have every proof-sheet of my work read aloud to me, while I perused the first folio, for those plays which first appear in that edition ; and for all those which had been previously printed, the first quarto copy, excepting only in the instances of " The Merry Wives of Windsor," and "King Henry V.," which, being either sketches or imperfect copies, could not be wholly relied on ; and "King Richard III." of the earliest edition of which tragedy I was not possessed. I had at the same time before me a table which I had formed of the variations between the quartos and the folio. By this laborious process not a single innovation, made either by the editor of the second folio, or any of the modern editors, could escape me. From the index to all the words and phrases explained or illustrated in the notes, which I have subjoined to this work, every use may be derived which the most copious Glossary could afford ; while the readers who are less intent on philological inquiries, by the notes being appended to the text, are relieved from the irksome task of seeking information in a different volume from that immediately before them.
If it be asked, what has been the fruit of all this labour, I answer, that many innovations, transposi tions, &c. have been detected by this means ; many hundred emendations have been made, and, I trust, a genuine text has been formed. Wherever any deviation is made from the authentick copies, except in the case of mere obvious errors of the press, the reader is apprized by a note; and every emendation that has been adopted, is ascribed to its proper author. When it is considered that there are one hundred thousand lines in these plays, and that it often was necessary to consult six or seven volumes, in order to ascertain by which of the preceding editors, from the time of the publication of the second folio, each emendation was made, it will easily be believed that this was not effected without much trouble.
Whenever I mention the old copy in my notes, if the play be one originally printed in quarto, I mean the first quarto copy ; if the play appeared originally in folio, I mean the first folio ; and when I mention the old copies, I mean the first quarto and first folio, which, when that expression is used, it may be concluded, concur in the same reading. In like manner, the folio always means the first folio, and the quarto, the earliest quarto, with the exceptions already mentioned. In general, however, the date of each quarto is given, when it is cited. Where there are two quarto copies printed in the same year, they are particularly distinguished, and the variations noticed.
The two great duties of an editor are: to exhibit the genuine text of his author, and to explain his obscurities. Both of these objects have been so constantly before my eyes, that, I am confident, one of them will not be found to have been neglected for the other. I can, with perfect truth say, with Dr. Johnson, that " Not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me obscure, which I have not endeavoured to illustrate." I have examined the notes of all the editors, and my own former remarks, with equal rigour; and have endeavoured as much as possible to avoid all controversy, having constantly had in view a philanthropick observation made by the editor above mentioned: " I know not (says that excellent writer), why our editors should, with such implacable anger, persecute their predecessors. ...the dead, it is true, can make no resistance, they may be attacked with great security ; but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure: nor, perhaps, would it be much misbeseem us to remember, amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and the senseless, that we likewise are men ; that debemur morti, and, as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the dead ourselves."
I have, in general,
given the true explication of a passage, by whomsoever
made, without loading the page with the preceding
unsuccessful attempts at elucidation, and by this means,
have obtained room for much additional illustration:
for, as on the one hand, I trust very few superfluous or
unnecessary annotations have been admitted, so on the
other, I believe, that not a single valuable explication
of any obscure passage in these plays has ever appeared,
which will not be found in the following volumes.
During the era of conjectural criticism and capricious innovation, notes were indeed evils ; while one page was covered with ingenious sophistry in support of some idle conjecture, and another was wasted in its over-throw, or in erecting a new fabrick equally unsubstantial as the former. But this era is now happily past away ; and conjecture and emendation have given place to rational explanation. We shall never, I hope, again be told, that " as the best guesser was the best diviner, so he may be said in some measure to be the best editor of Shakespeare. "Let me not, however, be supposed an enemy to all conjectural emendation ; sometimes undoubtedly, we must have recourse to it ; but, like the machinery of the ancient drama, let it not be resorted to except in cases of difficulty ; nisi dignus vindici nodes. " I wish (says Dr. Johnson) we all conjectured less, and explained more." 'When our poet's entire library shall have been discovered, and the fables of all his plays traced to their original source, when every temporary allusion shall have been pointed out, and every obscurity elucidated, then, and not till then, let the accumulation of notes be complained of. I scarcely remember ever to have looked into a book of the age of Queen Elizabeth, in which I did not find somewhat that tended to throw a light on these plays. While our object is, to support and establish what the poet wrote, to illustrate his phraseology by comparing it with that of his con-temporaries, and to explain his fugitive allusions to customs long since disused and forgotten, while this object is kept steadily in view, if even every line of his plays were accompanied with a comment, every intelligent reader would be indebted to the industry of him who produced it. Such uniformly has been the object of the notes now presented to the publick. Let us, then hear no more of this barbarous jargon concerning Shakespeare's having been elucidated into obscurity, and buried under the load of his commentators. Dryden is said to have regretted the success of his own instructions, and to have lamented that at length, in consequence of his critical prefaces, the town had become too skilful to he easily satisfied. The same observation may be made with respect to many of these objectors, to whom the meaning of some of our poet's most difficult passages is now become so familiar, that they fancy they originally understood them " Without a prompter," and with great gravity exclaim against the unnecessary illustrations furnished by his Editors : nor ought we much to wonder at this ; for our poet himself has told us,
I have constantly made it a rule in revising the notes of former editors, to compare such passages as they have cited from any author, with the book from which the extract was taken, if I could procure it ; by which some inaccuracies have been rectified. The incorrect extract made by Dr. Warburton from Saviola's treatise on "Honour and Honourable Quarrels," to illustrate a passage in " As You Like It," fully proves the propriety of such a collation.
At the end of the tenth volume I have added an Appendix, containing corrections, and supplementary observations, made too late to be annexed to the plays to which they belong. Some object to an Appendix ; but in my opinion, with very little reason. No book can be the worse for such a supplement ; since the reader, if such be his caprice, need not examine it. If the objector means that he wishes that all the information contained in an appendix, were properly disposed in the preceding volumes, it must be acknowledged that such an arrangement would be extremely desirable : but as well might be required from the elephant the sprightliness and agility of the squirrel, or from the squirrel the wisdom and strength of the elephant, as expect that an editor's latest thoughts suggested by discursive reading while the sheets that compose his volumes were passing through the press, should form a part of his original work ; that information acquired too late to be employed in its proper place, should yet be found there.
That the very few stage-directions which the old copies
exhibit, were not taken from our author's manuscripts,
but furnished by the players, is proved by one in "
Macbeth," Act IV., sc. 1, where " A show of eight kings
" is directed, " and Banquo last, with a glass in his
hand " ; though from the very words which the poet has
written for Macbeth, it is manifest that the glass ought
to be borne by the eighth king, and not by Banquo. All
the stage directions, therefore, through-out this work,
I have considered as wholly in my power, and have
regulated them in the best manner I could. The reader
will also, I think, be pleased to find the place in
which every scene is supposed to pass, precisely
ascertained; a species of information, for which, though
it often throws light on the dialogue, we look in vain
in the ancient copies, and which has been too much
neglected by the modern editors.
It has long been thought, that " Titus Andronicus " was not written originally by Shakespeare ; about seventy years after his death, Ravenscroft having mentioned that he had been " told by some anciently conversant with the stage, that our poet only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters." The very curious papers lately discovered in Dulwich College, from which large extracts are given at the end of the " History of the Stage," prove, what I long since suspected, that this play, and the First Part of " King Henry VI." were in possession of the scene when Shakespeare began to write for the stage; and the same manuscripts show, that it was then very common for a dramatick poet to alter and amend the work of a preceding writer. The question, there-fore, is now decisively settled; and undoubtedly some additions were made to both these pieces by Shakespeare. It is observable that the second scene of the third act of "Titus Andronicus," is not found in the quarto copy printed in 1611. It is, therefore, highly probable, that this scene was added by our author ; and his hand may be traced in the preceding act, as well as in a few other places. The additions which he made to " Pericles " are much more numerous, and therefore more strongly entitled it to a place among the dramatick pieces which he has adorned by his pen.
With respect to the other contested plays, " Sir John Oldcastle," " The London Prodigal," &c., which have now for near two centuries been falsely ascribed to our author, the manuscripts above-mentioned completely clear him from that imputation ; and prove that while his great modesty made him set but little value on his own inimitable productions, he could patiently endure to have the miserable trash of other writers publickly imputed to him, without taking any measure to vindicate his fame. " Sir John Oldcastle," we find from indubitable evidence, though ascribed in the title-page to " William Shakspeare," and printed in the year 1600, when his fame was in its meridian, was the joint-production of four other poets ; Michael Drayton, Anthony Mundy, Richard Hathaway, and Robert Wilson.
In the Dissertation annexed to the three parts of " King Henry the Sixth," I have discussed at large the question concerning their authenticity ; and have assigned my reasons for thinking that the second and third of those plays were formed by Shakespeare, on two elder dramas now extant. Any disquisition, therefore, concerning these controverted pieces is here unnecessary.
Some years ago I published a short essay on the economy and usages of our old theatres. The "Historical Account of the English Stage," which has been formed on that essay, has swelled to such a size, in con¬sequence of various researches since made, and a great accession of very valuable materials, that it is become almost a new work. Of these, the most important are the curious papers which have been discovered at Dulwich, and the very valuable " Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels to King James and King Charles the First," which have contributed to throw much light on our dramatick history, and furnished some singular anecdotes of the poets of those times.
Twelve years have elapsed since the essay on the order of time in which the plays of Shakespeare were written, first appeared. A re-examination of these plays since that time has furnished me with several particulars in confirmation of which I had formerly suggested on this subject. On a careful revisal of that essay, which, I hope, is improved as well as considerably enlarged, I had the satisfaction of observing that I had found reason to attribute but two plays to an era widely distant from that to which they had been originally ascribed; and to make only a minute change in the arrangement of a few others. Some information, however, which has been obtained since that essay was printed in its present form, inclines me to think, that one of the two plays which I allude to, " The Winter's Tale," was a still later production than I have supposed ; for I now have good reason to believe, that it was first exhibited in the year 1613 ; and that consequently it must have been one of our poet's latest works.
Though above a century and a half has elapsed since the death of Shakespeare, it is somewhat extraordinary, (as I observed on a former occasion), that none of his various editors should have attempted to separate his genuine poetical compositions from the spurious performances with which they have been long intermixed; or have taken the trouble to compare them with the earliest and most authentick copies. Shortly after his death, 2 a very incorrect impression of his poems was issued out, which in every subsequent edition, previous to the year 1780, was implicitly followed. They have been carefully revised, and with many additional illustrations, are now a second time faithfully printed from the original copies, excepting only "Venus and Adonis," of which I have not been able to procure the first impression. The second edition, printed in 1596, was obligingly transmitted to me by the late Reverend Thomas Warton, of whose friendly and valuable correspondence I was deprived by death, when these volumes were almost ready to be issued from the press. It is painful to recollect how many of (I had almost said) my coadjutors have died since the present work was begun: the elegant scholar, and ingenious writer, whom I have just mentioned; Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Tyrwhitt: men, from whose approbation of my labours I had promised myself much pleasure, and whose stamp could give a value and currency to any work.
With the materials which I have been so fortunate as to obtain, relative to our poet, his kindred, and friends, it would not have been difficult to have formed a new Life of Shakespeare, less meagre and imperfect than that left us by Mr. Rowe: but the information which I have procured having been obtained at very different times, it is necessarily dispersed, partly in the copious notes subjoined .to " Rowe's Life," and partly in the " Historical Account of Our Old Actors." At some future time I hope to weave the whole into one uniform and connected narrative.
My inquiries having been carried on almost to the very moment of publication, some circumstances relative to our poet were obtained too late to be introduced into any part of the present work. Of these due use will be made hereafter.
The prefaces of Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, I have not retained, because they appeared to me to throw no light on our author or his works: the room which they would have taken up, will, I trust be found occupied by more valuable matter.
As some of the preceding editors have justly been condemned for innovation, so perhaps, (for of objections there is no end), I may be censured for too strict an adherence to the ancient copies. I have constantly had in view the Roman sentiment adopted by Dr. Johnson, that " it is more honourable to save a citizen than to destroy an enemy," and, like him, " have been more careful to protect than to attack." "I do not wish the reader to forget, (says the same writer), that the most commodious (and he might have added, the most forcible and elegant), is not always the true reading." On this principle I have uniformly proceeded, having resolved never to deviate from the authentick copies, merely because the phraseology was harsh or uncommon. Many passages, which have heretofore been considered as corrupt, and are now supported by the usage of contemporary writers, fully prove the propriety of this caution.
The rage for innovation till within these last thirty years was so great, that many words were dismissed from our poet's text, which in his time were current in every mouth. In all the editions since that of Mr. Rowe, in the Second Part of " King Henry IV." the word channel has been rejected, and kennel substituted in its room, though the former term was commonly employed in the same sense in the time of our author; and the learned Bishop of Worcester has strenuously endeavoured to prove that in 0° Cymbeline " the poet wrote—not shakes, but shuts or checks, " all our buds from growing"; though the authenticity of the original reading is established beyond all controversy by two other passages of Shakespeare. Very soon, indeed, after his death, this rage for innovation seems to have seized his editors ; for in the year 1616 an edition of his " Rape of Lucrece " was published, which was said to be newly revised and corrected; but in which, in fact, several arbitrary changes were made, and the ancient diction rejected for one somewhat more modern. Even in the first complete collection of his plays published in 1623, some changes were undoubtedly made from ignorance of his meaning and phraseology. They had, I suppose, been made in the playhouse copies after his retirement from the theatre. Thus in " Othello," Brabantio is made to call to his domesticks to raise " some special officers of might," instead of " officers of night "; and the phrase " of all loves," in the same play, not being understood, " for loves sake," was substituted in its room. So, in " Hamlet," we have ere ever for or ever, and rites instead of the more ancient word, crants. In " King Lear," Act I., sc. 1, the substitution of—" Goes thy heart with this? "instead of —" Goes this with thy heart? "without doubt arose from the same cause. In the plays of which we have no quarto copies, we may be sure that similar innovations were made, though we have now no certain means of detecting them.
After what has been proved concerning the
sophistications and corruptions of the Second Folio, we
cannot be surprized that when these plays were
republished by Mr. Rowe in the beginning of this century
from a later folio, in which the interpolations of the
former were all preserved, and many new errors added,
almost every page of his work was disfigured by
accumulated corruptions. In Mr. Pope's edition our
author was not less misrepresented ; for though by
examining the oldest copies he detected some errors, by
his numerous fanciful alterations the poet was so
completely modernized, that I am confident, that had he
" re-visited the glimpses of the moon," he would not
have understood his own works. From the quartos indeed a
few valuable restorations were made; but all the
advantage that was thus obtained, was outweighed by
arbitrary changes, transpositions, and interpolations.
Of Sir Thomas Hanmer it is only necessary to say, that he adopted almost all the innovations of Pope, adding to them whatever caprice dictated.
To him succeeded Dr. Warburton, a critick, who (as hath been said of Salmasius) seems to have erected his throne on a heap of stones, that he might have them at hand to throw at the heads of all those who passed by. His unbounded licence in substituting his own chimerical conceits in the place of the author's genuine text, has been so fully shown by his revisers, that I suppose no critical reader will ever again open his volumes. An hundred strappadoes, according to an Italian comick writer, would not have induced Petrarch, were he living, to subscribe to the meaning which certain commentators after his death had by their glosses extorted from his works. It is a curious speculation to consider how many thousand would have been requisite for this editor to have inflicted on our great dramatick poet for the same purpose. The defence which has been made for Dr. Warburton on this subject, by some of his friends, is singular. " He well knew," it has been said, " that much the greater part of his notes do not throw any light on the poet of whose works he undertook the revision, and that he frequently imputed to Shakespeare a meaning of which he never thought ; but the editor's great object was to display his own learning, not to illustrate his author, and this end he obtained; for in spite of all the clamour against him, his work added to his reputation as a scholar." Be it so then ; but let none of his admirers ever dare to unite his name with that of Shakespeare; and let us at least be allowed to wonder, that the learned editor should have had so little respect for the greatest poet that has appeared since the days of Homer, as to use a commentary on his works merely as " a stalking-horse, under the presentation of which he might shoot his wit."
At length the task of revising these plays was under taken by one, whose extraordinary powers of mind, as they rendered him the admiration of his contemporaries, will transmit his name to posterity as the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century ; and will transmit it without competition, if we except a great orator, philosopher, and statesman, now living, 3 whose talents and virtues are an honour to human nature. In 1765, Dr. Johnson's edition, which had long been impatiently expected, was given to the publick. His admirable preface, (perhaps the finest composition in our language), his happy, and in general just, characters of these plays, his refutation of the false glosses of Theobald and Warburton, and his numerous explications of involved and difficult passages, are too well known to be here enlarged upon ; and therefore, I shall only add, that his vigorous and comprehensive under-standing threw more light on his author than all his predecessors had done.
In one observation, however, concerning our poet, I do not entirely concur with him. " It is not (he remarks) very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this author's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him."
He certainly was read, admired, studied, and imitated, at the period mentioned; but surely not in the same degree as at present. The succession of editors has effected this ; it has made him understood; it has made him popular; it has shown everyone who is capable of reading, how much superior he is not only to Jonson and Fletcher, whom the bad taste of the last age from the time of the Restoration to the end of the century set above him, but to all the dramatick poets of antiquity:
Every author who pleases must surely please more as he is more understood, and there can be no doubt that Shakespeare is now infinitely better understood than he was in the last century. To say nothing of the people at large, it is clear that Dryden himself, though a great admirer of our poet, and D'Avenant, though he wrote for the stage in the year 1627, did not always understand him. The very books which are necessary to our author's illustration, were of so little account in their time, that what now we can scarce procure at any price, was then the furniture of the nursery or stall. In fifty years after our poet's death Dryden mentions that he was then become "a little obsolete." In the beginning of the present century Lord Shaftesbury complains of his " rude unpolished stile, and his ANTIQUATED phrase and wit " ; and not long afterwards Gildon informs us that he had been rejected from some modern collections of poetry on account of his obsolete language. Whence could these representations have proceeded, but because our poet, not being diligently studied, not being compared with the contemporary writers was not understood? If he had been " read, admired, studied, and imitated," in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of someone or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make some enquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life.
But no such person was found; no anxiety in the pub-lick sought out any particulars concerning him after the Restoration (if we except the few which were collected by Mr. Aubrey), though at that time the history of his life must have been known to many ; for his sister, Joan Hart, who must have known much of his early years, did not die till 1646: his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, lived till 1619; and his second daughter, Judith, was living at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the beginning of the year 1662. His grand-daughter, Lady Barnard, did not die till 1670. Mr. Thomas Combe, to whom Shakespeare bequeathed his sword, survived our poet above forty years, having died at Strat¬ford in 1657. His elder brother, William Combe, lived till 1667. Sir Richard Bishop, who was born in 1585, lived at Bridgetown near Stratford till 1672: and his son, Sir William Bishop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these persons without doubt many circumstances relative to Shakespeare might have been obtained; but that was an age as deficient in literary curiosity as in taste.
It was remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five editions only of his plays were published ; which probably consisted of not more than three thousand copies. During the same period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of those of Jonson had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 1716 to the present time, that is, in seventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been issued from the press ; while about thirty thousand copies of Shakespeare have been dispersed through England. That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonson as of Shakespeare should have been demanded in the last century, will not appear surprising, when we recollect what Dryden has related soon after the Restoration : that " others were then generally preferred before him." By others Jonson and Fletcher were meant. To attempt to show to the readers of the present day the absurdity of such a preference, would be an insult to their understandings.
When we endeavour to trace anything like a ground for this preposterous taste, we are told of Fletcher's ease, and Jonson's learning. Of how little use his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has shown with that vigour and animation for which he was distinguished. " Jonson, in the serious drama, is as much an imitator as Shakespeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampson was very strong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. We see nothing of Jonson, nor indeed of his admired (but also murdered), ancients ; for what shone in the historian is a cloud on the poet, and 'Catiline' might have been a good play, if Sallust had never written.
"Who knows whether Shakespeare might not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under /Etna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire ; yet possibly he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatick province required ; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books unknown to many of the profoundly read, though books which the last conflagration alone can destroy ; the book of nature, and that of man." ["Conjectures on Original Composition," by Dr. Edward Young].
To this and the other encomiums on our great poet which will be found in the following pages, I shall not attempt to make any addition. He has justly observed, that
Let me, however, be permitted to remark, that beside all his other transcendent merits, he was the great refiner and polisher of our language. His compound epithets, his bold metaphors, the energy of his expressions, the harmony of his numbers, all these render the language of Shakespeare one of his principal beauties. Unfortunately none of his letters, or other prose com-positions, not in a dramatick form, have reached posterity; but if any of them ever shall be discovered, they will, I am confident, exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. " Words and phrases," says Dryden, " must of necessity receive a change in succeeding ages ; but it is almost a miracle, that much of his language remains so pure ; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonson tells us, without learning, should by the force of his own genius perform so much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who come after him."
In these prefatory observations my principal object was, to ascertain the true state and respective value of the ancient copies, and to mark out the course which has been pursued in the editions now offered to the publick. It only remains, that I should return my very sincere acknowledgments to those gentlemen, to whose good offices I have been indebted in the progress of my work. My thanks are particularly due to Francis Ingram, of Ribbisford in Worcestershire, Esq., for the very valuable " Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert," and several other curious papers, which formerly belonged to that gentleman; to Penn Asheton Curzon, Esq., for the use of the very rare copy of " King Richard III.," printed in 1597; to the Master, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, librarian, of Dulwich College, for the Manuscripts relative to one of our ancient theatres, which they obligingly transmitted to me; to John Kipling, Esq., keeper of the rolls in Chancery, who in the most liberal manner directed every search to be made in the Chapel of the Rolls that I should require, with a view to illustrate the history of our poet's life; and to Mr. Richard Clark, registrar of the diocese of Worcester, who with equal liberality, at my request, made many searches in his office for the wills of various persons. I am also in a particular manner indebted to the kindness and attention of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, who most obligingly made every inquiry in that town and the neighbourhood, which I suggested as likely to throw any light on the Life of Shakespeare.
deliver my book to the world not without anxiety ;
conscious, however, that I have strenuously endeavoured
to render it not unworthy the attention of the publick.
If the researches which have been made for the
illustration of our poet's works, and for the
dissertations which accompany the present edition, shall
afford as much entertainment to others, as I have
derived from them, I shall consider the time expended on
it as well employed. Of the dangerous ground on which I
tread, I am fully sensible. "Multa sunt in his
studiis (to use the words of a venerable fellow-labourer
in the mines of Antiquity) cineri supposita, doloso.
Errata possint esse multa a memoria. Quis enim in
memoriw thesauro omnia simul sic complectatur, ut pro
arbitratu suo possit expromere ? Errata possint esse
plura ab imperitia. Quis enim tam peritus, ut in cceco
hoc antiquitatis marl, cum tempore colluctatus, scopulis
non allidatur ? Haec tamen a te, humanissime lector, tua
humanitas, mea industria, patrice charitas, et
SHAKSPEARI dignitas, mihi exorent, ut quid mei sit
judicii, sine aliorum prcejudicio libere proferani; ut
eadem via qua alii in his studiis solent, insistam; et
ut erratis, si ego agnoscam, to ignoscas."
Those who are the warmest admirers of our great poet,
and most conversant with his writings, best know the
difficulty of such a work, and will be most ready to
pardon its defects ; remembering that in all arduous
undertakings, it is easier to conceive than to
accomplish; that " the will is infinite, and the
execution confined; that the desire is boundless, and
the act a slave to limit."