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all this to show, but that every man is more dull at one time than another? a fact which the world would easily have admitted, without asking any proofs in its support that might be destructive to an author's reputation.
To conclude; if the work, which this publication was meant to facilitate, has been already performed, the satisfaction of knowing it to be so may be obtained from hence; if otherwise, let those who raised expectations of correctness, and through negligence defeated them, be justly exposed by future editors, who will now be in possession of by far the greatest part of what they might have enquired after for years to no purpose; for in respect of such a number of the old quartos as are here exhibited, the first folio is a common book. This advantage will at least arise, that future editors having equally recourse to the same copies, can challenge distinction and preference only by genius, capacity, industry, and learning.
As I have only collected materials for future artists, I consider what I have been doing as no more than an apparatus for their use. If the publick is inclined to receive it as such, I am amply rewarded for my trouble; if otherwise, I shall submit with cheerfulness to the censure which should equitably fall on an injudicious attempt; having this consolation, however, that my design amounted to no more than a wish to encourage others to think of preserving the oldest editions of the English writers, which are growing scarcer every day; and to afford the world all the assistance or pleasure it can receive from the most authentick copies extant of its NOBLEST POET*.
* As the foregoing Advertisement appeared when its author was young and uninformed, he cannot now abide by many sentiments expressed in it: nor would it have been here reprinted, but in compliance with Dr. Johnson's injunction, that all the relative Prefaces should continue to attend his edition of our author's plays. STEEVEns.
IT is said of the ostrich, that she drops her egg at random, to be dispos'd of as chance pleases; either brought to maturity by the sun's kindly warmth, or else crush'd by beasts and the feet of passers-by: such, at least, is the account which naturalists have given us of this extraordinary bird; and admitting it for a truth, she is in this a fit emblem of almost every great genius: they conceive and produce with ease those noble issues of human understanding; but incubation, the dull work of putting them correctly upon paper and afterwards publishing, is a task they cannot away with. If the original state of all such authors' writings, even from Homer downward, could be enquir'd into and known, they would yield proof in abundance of the justness of what is here asserted: but the author now before us shall suffice for them all; being at once the greatest instance of genius in producing noble things, and of negligence in providing for them afterwards. This negligence indeed was so great, and the condition in which his works are come down to us so very deform'd, that it has, of late years, induc'd several gentlemen to make a revision of them: but the publick seems not to be satisfy'd with any of their endeavours; and the reason of it's discontent will be manifest, when the state of his old editions, and the methods that they have taken to amend them, are fully lay'd open, which is the first business of this Introduction.
* Dr. Johnson's opinion of this performance may be known. from the following passage in Mr. Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson, second edit. vol. iii. p. 251: "If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purpose with words, for as it is, he doth gabble monstrously." STEEvens.
Of thirty-six plays which Shakspeare has left us, and which compose the collection that was afterwards set out in folio; thirteen only were publish'd in his life-time, that have much resemblance to those in the folio; these thirteen are" Hamlet, First and Second Henry IV. King Lear, Love's Labour's Lost, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer-Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard II. and III. Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida." Some others, that came out in the same period, bear indeed the titles of-" Henry V. King John, Merry Wives of Windsor, and Taming of the Shrew*; but are no other than either first draughts, or mutilated and perhaps surreptitious impressions of those plays, but whether of the two is not easy to determine: King John is certainly a first draught, and in two parts; and so much another play, that only one line of it is retain'd in the second there is also a first draught of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. published in his life-time under the following title, The whole Contention betweene the two famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke: and to these plays, six in number, may be added the first impression of Romeo and Juliet, being a play of the same stamp: The date of all these quarto's, and that of their several re-impressions, may be seen in a table that follows the Introduction. Othello came out only one year before the folio; and is, in the main, the same play that we have there and this too is the case of the first-mention'd thirteen; notwithstanding there are in many of them great variations, and particularly in Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III. and Romeo and Juliet.
As for the plays, which, we say, are either the poet's first draughts, or else imperfect and stolen copies, it will
* This is meant of the first quarto edition of The Taming of the Shrew; for the second was printed from the folio. But the play in this first edition appears certainly to have been a spurious one, from Mr. Pope's account of it, who seems to have been the only editor whom it was ever seen by: great pains has been taken to trace who he had it of, (for it was not in his collection) but without success.
[Mr. Capell afterwards procured a sight of this desideratum, a circumstance which he has quaintly recorded in a note annexed to the MS. catalogue of his Shaksperiana: "-lent by Mr. Malone, an Irish gentleman, living in Queen Ann Street East."
be thought, perhaps, they might as well have been left out of the account: but they are not wholly useless; some lacuna, that are in all the other editions, have been judiciously fill'd up in modern impressions by the authority of these copies; and in some particular passages of them, where there happens to be a greater conformity than usual between them and the more perfect editions, there is here and there a various reading that does honour to the poet's judgment, and should upon that account be presum❜d the true one; in other respects, they have neither use nor merit, but are merely curiosities.
Proceed we then to a description of the other fourteen. They all abound in faults, though not in equal degree; and those faults are so numerous, and of so many different natures, that nothing but a perusal of the pieces them→ selves can give an adequate conception of them; but amongst them are these that follow. Division of acts and scenes, they have none; Othello only excepted, which is divided into acts: entries of persons are extremely imperfect in them (sometimes more, sometimes fewer than the scene requires), and their Exits are very often omitted; or, when mark'd, not always in the right place; and few scenical directions are to be met with throughout the whole speeches are frequently confounded, and given to wrong persons, either whole, or in part; and sometimes, instead of the person speaking, you have the actor who presented him: and in two of the plays, (Love's Labour's Lost, and Troilus and Cressida,) the same matter, and in nearly the same words, is set down twice in some passages; which who sees not to be only a negligence of the poet, and that but one of them ought to have been printed? But the reigning fault of all is in the measure: prose is very often printed as verse, and verse as prose; or, where rightly printed verse, that verse is not always right divided: and in all these pieces, the songs are in every particular still more corrupt than the other parts of them. These are the general and principal defects: to which, if you add-transposition of words, sentences, lines, and even speeches; words omitted, and others added without reason; and a punctuation so deficient, and so often wrong, that it hardly deserves regard; you have, upon the whole, a true but melancholy picture of the condition of these first printed plays: which, bad as it is, is yet better than that of those which came after; or than that of the sub
sequent folio impression of some of these which we are now speaking of.
This folio impression was sent into the world, seven years after the author's death, by two of his fellow-players; and contains, besides the last mention'd fourteen, the true and genuine copies of the other six plays, and sixteen that were never publish'd before*: the editors make great professions of fidelity, and some complaint of injury done to them and the author by stolen and maim'd copies; giving withal an advantageous, if just, idea of the copies which they have follow'd: but see the terms they make use of. "It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have bene wished, that the author himselfe had liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publish'd them; and so to have publish'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd with diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos'd them: even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His minde and hand went together: and what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that wee have scarse received from him a blot in his papers." Who now does not feel himself inclin❜d to expect an accurate and good performance in the edition of these prefacers? But alas, it is nothing less for (if we except the six spurious ones, whose places were then supply'd by true and genuine copies) the editions of plays preceding the folio, are the very basis of
There is yet extant in the books of the Stationers' Company, an entry bearing date-Feb. 12, 1624, to Messrs. Jaggard and Blount, the proprietors of this first folio, which is thus worded: "Mr. Wm. Shakespear's Comedy's History's & Tragedy's so many of the said Copy's as bee not enter'd to other men?" and this entry is follow'd by the titles of all those sixteen plays that were first printed in the folio: The other twenty plays (Othello, and King John, excepted; which the person who furnished this transcript, thinks he may have overlook'd,) are enter'd too in these books, under their respective years; but to whom the transcript says not.