Page images

the work, like its companion, into Articles, yet other portions, which consisted of short observations on particular passages, led to an exactly opposite conclusion. I noticed, however, that when Walker directed additions to be made to certain previous portions without specifying the page where the latter were to be found, he almost always referred to the subject, scarcely ever to the act and scene of a play. Occasionally, indeed, he was vague enough in this matter, sometimes referring merely to "a former note,” sometimes to a page, leaving a gap for the number. I at last determined, after a good deal of doubt, to take the Dersification for a model, as far as was practicable, in arranging the present work. I divided into one hundred and nineteen Articles all that part which treats of general matters, and added from a separate paper another Article, which seemed well adapted to form part of this treatise. As to the short notes on particular passages, which were scattered almost at random through every part of the manuscript, I separated them from the rest, and arranged them according to acts and scenes, following the order of the plays as given in the first folio. Some valuable general observations have been placed at the head of the notes on the plays to which they respectively relate. These separate notes form the third volume of this work; the other two are dedicated to the one hundred and twenty Articles. At the end of the second I have adıled, in a supplement, an account of some other remains of Walker's, which, for various reasons, it was unadvisable to publish at full. Though I have thus done a good deal in the way of arrangement, I have effected but little in the way of retrenchment. I found it impossible to do more in the latter respect without completely altering the character of the work, and, in my humble opinion, materially diminishing its value. Some readers, indeed, may suppose that, as Walker frequently quotes passages that others have quoted, and refers to emendations that others have made, occasionally even, through inadvertence, producing the latter as conjectures of his own, I might have cut away such portions of the work, not merely without injury, but even with positive advantage. It will, however, I believe, be found that such quotations and conjectures are essential either to support Walker's own positions, or to confirm the opinions of his predecessors ; that he has either placed them in a new light, or given them quite a novel application. We have a remarkable instance of this in the wellknown passage from Antony and Cleopatra, i. 5,

“ Who neigh'd so high, that what I would have spoke

Was beastly dumb’d by him," where dumb'd, the emendation of Theobald, has been received by most editors in the place of dumbe, the reading of the folio. Walker has placed this passage at the head of Article lxii., one of the most important in his work. In this article he has shown how frequently old copies confound the e and d, particularly at the ends of words. From the frequency and peculiarity of this error, he has inferred that there must have been something

remarkable in the old handwriting, which would account for such a result. This, indeed, was the case, as any one may perceive by examining the facsimile of Massinger's writing placed opposite to p. 593, vol. iv., of Gifford's second edition of that poet's works. And Walker here traced out the truth, not by poring over old manuscripts, but by exercising critical sagacity; while others, who possessed the special knowledge which he wanted, but could afford to dispense with, were unable to apply it with the same effect. Nor is the proneness of the old printers to confound these letters a trifling matter, however it may seem so to uncritical readers. Some of the blunders, indeed, which proceed from this cause (as, for example, white beares for white beards) are so palpably ridiculous, that in these cases the most scrupulous editors have altered the old printed text. In other instances, aud particularly in one most important class, in which the blunder merely produces a certain awkwardness by changing the tense, the earlier editors usually altered the text for the sake of correct grammar, while their successors have restored the expelled reading, out of deference to the old copies. Thus (not to mention innumerable other instanccs) in The Tempest, i. 2,

the fire, and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring, the most mighty Neptune

Seeme to besiege,”
and in Much Ado &c., iv. 1,-

" You seeme to me Diane in her Orbe,

where most of the earlier editors read seem'd, the majority of the recent ones have reinstated seem; though it is clear from the context, that in both passages


present tense is altogether out of place. It is true we are told by some critics, that Shakespeare and his contemporaries were excessively irregular and licentious in their style, and confounded the active and passive, the past and present, ancient idioms and modern ones, in the most extraordinary manner. The truth, I suspect, is, that they had little regard for the rules of artificial grammar, but followed the dictates of natural grammar more faithfully than ourselves. I am afraid that too frequently our modern editors, with all their professed reverence for our old poets, ascribe to them incorrect phraseology, to save the credit of blundering printers. At any rate, on such points as that now under consideration, and on several others, the authority of the old copies is weak indeed : it would not, perhaps, be too much to say, that it is scarcely worth a straw.

The mention of old copies, and of early and recent editors, reminds me that it is now time to say something of the various editions of Shakespeare. I would rather leave for future notice the subject of the old copies, and confine myself for the present to giving a cursory account of those editions that bear the name of an editor. The first of these was published in 1709, by Rowe. He is said to have followed the text of the fourth folio, and this may have been the case in general, though in his dedication he


complains of that edition, and certainly has restored some passages by the aid of the quartos. This part of his task, however, he seems to have discharged with great carelessness and inconsistency. Thus, for instance, he has inserted from the quartos all that part of Hamlet, iv. 4, which the folios omit; but he has followed the latter in omitting the whole of the beautiful scene, King Lear, iv.3, which the quartos have preserved. We are indebted to him for several elegant emendations, but as his edition, like the old copies, is without notes, it can scarcely be called a critical one.

It appears from Mr. Dyce's notes, that Rowe's second edition contains emendations not found in the first; consequently, as I am acquainted only with the latter, I may, in my notes to Walker's work, have attributed to Pope, conjectures that are the property of Rowe.

The first really critical edition was Pope's. This great man has shown in his remarkable preface that he had formed a just idea of the duties of an editor, and had estimated far more correctly than some recent critics have done the value of the old authorities for the text of his author. Unfortunately, his practice was too frequently not in accord with his professions. Instead of acting “with a religious abhorrence of all innovation, and without any indulgence to his private sense or conjecture,” instead of altering nothing, except “ ex fide codicum, upon authority," he has made repeated use of conjecture, sometimes, I admit, with great propriety, at other times in the

« PreviousContinue »