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The present work, including the preface, was ready for the press, and indeed was partly printed, when Mr. N. E. S. A. Hamilton's letter, dated the 22nd of June, 1859, appeared in the Times. From that letter, as well as from others, afterwards published in the same paper, on the subject of Mr. Collier's annotated copy of the second folio of Shakespeare, there is reason to believe that that volume has been unduly tampered with, and moreover that it is not the book which was once possessed by Mr. F. C. Parry. In consequence of the new light thus thrown on this mysterious folio, I was at first in doubt whether I should not modify, if not altogether omit, that portion of my preface
which relates to Mr. Collier's Old Corrector. As, however, the inquiry is scarcely yet brought to a final close, as the circumstances, which at present appear so suspicious, may be hereafter satisfactorily explained, and as, at any rate, most of my observations on Mr. Collier's Old Corrector are applicable to the other Old Correctors, who are known to have annotated other folios, though their labours have as yet been only partially exhibited to the public, I have left that portion of my preface as it originally stood.
It is not superfluous to remark, that, whatever may be the results of the investigation at the British Museum, or of any other investigations, which may be hereafter instituted, they cannot materially affect the criticism of Shakespeare. This is quite a different case from that of the Ireland papers. The latter were partly legal documents with dates, partly literary compositions professedly written with Shakespeare's own hand. Among them (not to mention the play of Vortigern) were autograph copies of all King Lear, and of a small portion of Hamlet. If these papers had been
genuine, they must have been admitted as authorities of the highest possible value: autograph copies must of course supersede all others. But if it should be hereafter shown that the writing in Mr. Collier's annotated folio is not feigned, if palæographers should finally agree that it belongs not to the nineteenth but to the seventeenth century, would that raise the Old Corrector to the rank of an authority ?-should we know any thing more of him then than we know at present, namely that he wrote after 1632, and consequently must have been later than the editor of the second folio, and may have been much later? --would more deference be due to him than to that editor, who yet is not admitted as an authority by the most competent critics ?—should we know more than we do now what was his object in altering the text, whether it was to restore the genuine words of Shakespeare, or to render his plays more intelligible to a later audience by occasionally modernising the phraseology, or whether he had sometimes the former object in view, sometimes the latter ? Surely no competent and
impartial editor could safely adopt his readings except for their intrinsic probability, and it would be his duty to do the same with the most recent conjectures, whether given with the real names of their proposers, or brought forward under an unwarrantable disguise.
W. NANSON LETTSOM.
I Am afraid that Walker's friends must be much surprised, and indeed, it is a source of no small regret to myself, that so long a time has been occupied in preparing the following work for publication. It is now no less than five years since the treatise on Shakespeare's Versification was published, and it may no doubt be reasonably supposed that a much shorter interval would have been amply sufficient to prepare for the press the contents of three duodecimo volumes. The time, however, requisite for such an operation, must depend not merely upon the leisure and qualifications of the editor, or the nature of the work itself, but also upon the state in which it had been left by the author. As to myself, I have not only been repeatedly interrupted by other matters, but have been delayed throughout by my original inexperience, which it required no little time to remove. Any person who had spent his life in the constant habit of literary exertion might have easily performed in a comparatively short time the task which I have got through with difficulty in a long one; if, in particular, he had been