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My cordial thanks are due to
The Editor of 'The Times Literary Supplement' for permission to include in this book articles of mine which first appeared in his pages.
The Editor of 'The Birmingham Post' for a similar courtesy.
Professor Alfred W. Pollard, whose valuable mono-
Sir Israel Gollancz, Mr. W. J. Lawrence of Dublin, and
R. C. R.
THE PIOUS FELLOWS OF SHAKESPEARE
ON November 8th, 1623 was entered in the Hall-Book of the Company of Printers and Stationers, now commonly called the Stationers' Register, a volume under the title of Mr. William Shakespeares Comedyes, Histories and Tragedyes.' It was then already in print, and, according to the custom of the time, the first copies would be on sale within two days. The author had been dead for more than seven years, and the task of collecting and publishing his remains had been undertaken by his two old friends and fellows John Heminge and Henry Condell. Leonard Digges in a copy of verses printed with the plays, wrote:
Shakespeare, at length thy pious fellows give
His 'pious fellows' spoke modestly of their labours in two introductory letters: the Epistle Dedicatorie, and the Address to the Great Variety of Readers. From these letters their scattered statements may be arranged as a mosaic :
We pray you do not envie his Friends the office and care to have collected and published these remains of your servant Shakespeare. It had bene a thing we confesse worthie to have been wished that the Author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings, but he by death hath departed from that right. We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his orphanes, Guardians; without ambition of Selfe-profit or fame, only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare. May the reputation be his and the
faults ours, if any be committed by a payre so carefull to show their gratitude both to the living and the dead.
These are modest words, and manly, and how have they been answered? The only contemporary tribute to the pious fellows of Shakespeare, other than that of Leonard Digges, is one small copy of verses which lay hidden and lost for three centuries, until it was discovered in 1921 by Sir Israel Gollancz.1 The author, almost certainly Sir Henry Salusbury of Lleweni in Denbighshire, wrote thus:
To my good friends Mr. John Heminge and Henry Condell.
To you that jointly with undaunted pains
But you have pleased the living, loved the dead,
After this quaint tribute came a century of silence, then two centuries of disparagement and abuse, varied by a little mild patronage. For generations men of letters have answered their petition by envying the friends of Shakespeare their office, by denying their care and pain, by charging his pious fellows with ambition of self-profit and fame. Only one of their wishes has been respected, the faults have been all theirs, the reputation all Shakespeare's.
Of all living men the office of collecting and publishing the plays of William Shakespeare must perforce have fallen most justly to John Heminge and Henry Condell.
1See 'Contemporary Lines to Heminge and Condell ' by Sir Israel Gollancz in The Times Literary Supplement, Jan. 26, 1922.