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fervices, rather than to exhibit a true flate of the queflion. The reason why we have difcovered a greater proportion of errors in the former than in the latter, is because we have fought after them with a greater degree of diligence; for let it be remembered, that it was no more the practice of other writers than of Shakspeare, to correct the prefs for themselves. Ben Jonfon only (who, being verfed in the learned languages, had been taught the value of accuracy,) appears to have fuperintended the publication of his own dramatick pieces; but were thofe of Lyly, Chapman, Marlow, or the Heywoods, to be revised with equal industry, an editor would meet with as frequent opportunity for the exertion of his critical abilities, as in these quartos which have been fo repeatedly cenfured by those who never took the pains to collate them, or justify the many valuable readings they contain; for when the character of them which we have handed down, was originally given, among typographical blunders, &c. were enumerated all terms and expreffions which were not ftrictly grammatical, or not eafily understood. As yet we had employed in our attempts at explanation only fuch materials as cafual reading had supplied; but how much more is requifite for the complete explanation of an early writer, the last edition of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer may prove a fufficient witnefs; a work which in refpect of accuracy and learning is without a rival, at least in any commentary on an English poet. The reader will forgive me if I defert my fubject for a moment, while I exprefs an ardent wifh that the fame editor may find leifure and inclination to
afford us the means of reading the other works of the father of our poetry, with advantages which we cannot derive from the efforts of thofe who have lefs deeply and successfully penetrated into the receffes of ancient Italian, French, and English literature. -An author has received the highest mark of diftinction, when he has engaged the fervices of fuch
The reader may perhaps be defirous to know by whom thefe quartos of Shakspeare are fuppofed to have been fent into the world. To fuch a curiofity no very adequate gratification can be afforded; but yet it may be observed, that as thefe elder copies poffefs many advantages over thofe in the fubfequent folio, we fhould decide perverfely were we to pronounce them fpurious. They were in all probability iffued out by fome performer, who, deriving no benefit from the theatre except his falary, was uninterested in that retention of copies, which was the chief concern of our ancient managers. We may fuppofe too that there was nothing criminal in his proceeding; as fome of the persons whose names appear before these publications, are known to have filled the higheft offices in the company of Stationers with reputation, bequeathing legacies of confiderable value to it at their deccafe. Neither do I difcover why the first manufcripts delivered by fo carelefs a writer to the actors, fhould prove lefs correct than thofe which he happened to leave behind him, unprepared for the prefs, in the poffeffion of the fame fraternity. On the contrary, after his plays had paffed for twenty years through the hands of a fucceffion of ignorant tranfcribers, they were more likely to become maimed and
corrupted, than when they were printed from papers lefs remote from the originals. It is true that Heminge and Condell have called these copies furreptitious, but this was probably faid with a view to enhance the value of their own impreffion, as well as to revenge themselves as far as poffible on those who had in part anticipated the publication of works from which they expected confiderable gleanings of advantage, after their first harvest on the ftage was over. I mean to except from this general character of the quartos, the author's rough draughts of The Merry Wives of Windfor and Romeo and Juliet; together with the play of King Henry V. and the two parts of King Henry VI.; for the latter carry all the marks of having been imperfectly taken down by the ear, without any affiftance from the originals belonging to the playhouses in which they were first represented.
A fucceeding table of thofe ancient copies of the plays of Shakspeare which his commentators have really met with and confulted, if compared with the earliest of thefe entries on the books already mentioned, may tempt the reader to suppose that fome quartos have not yet been found, from which future affistance may be derived. But I fear that no fuch resources remain; as it feems to have been the practice of the numerous theatres in the time of Shakspeare, to cause some bookseller to makę immediate entries of their new pieces, as à fecurity against the encroachments of their rivals, who always confidered themselves as juflified in the exhibition of fuch dramas as had been enfranchifed by the prefs. Imperfect copies, but for thefe precautions, might have been more frequently VOL. II.
obtained from the repetition of hungry actors invited for that purpose to a tavern; or fomething like a play might have been collected by attentive. auditors, who made it their business to attend fucceeding representations with a like defign. By
these means, without any intent of hafty publica
tion, one company of players was ftudious to prevent the trefpaffes of another.' Nor did their policy conclude here; for I have not unfrequently met with registers of both tragedies and comedies, of which the titles were at fome other time to be declared. Thus, July 26, 1576, John Hunter enters "A new and pleasant comedie or plaie, after the manner of Common Condycions ;" and one Fiel der, in Sept. 1581, prefers his right to four others, "Whereof he will bring the titles." "The famous Tragedy of the Rich Jewe of Malta," by Chriftopher Marlow, is ascertained to be the property of Nich. Ling and Tho. Millington, in May, 1594, though it was not printed by Nich. Vavafour till 1633. as Tho. Heywood, who wrote the preface to it, informs us. In this manner the contending theatres were prepared to affert a priority of title to any copies of dramatick performances; and thus were they affifted by our ancient ftationers, who ftrengthened every claim of literary property, by entries fecured in a manner which was then fuppofed to be obligatory and legal.
2 See the notes of Mr. Collins and Mr. Malone at the end of the Third Part of King Henry VI.
3 From the year 1570 to the year 1629, when the playhoufe in White Friars was finished, it appears that no less than feventeen theatres had been built,
I may add, that the difficulty of procuring licences was another reason why fome theatrical publications were retarded and others entirely fuppreffed. As we cannot now difcover the motives which influenced the conduct of former Lord Chamberlains and Bishops, who ftopped the fale of several works, which nevertheless have escaped into the world, and appear to be of the most innocent nature, we may be tempted to regard their feverity as rather dictated by jealousy and caprice, than by judgement and impartiality. See a note to my Advertisement, p. 358.
The publick is now in poffeffion of as accurate an account of the dates, &c. of Shakspeare's works as perhaps will ever be compiled. This was by far the moft irkfome part of my undertaking, though facilitated as much as poffible by the kindness of Mr. Longman, of Pater-nofter Row, who readily furnished me with the three earliest volumes of the records of the Stationers' Company, together with accommodations which rendered the perufal of them convenient to me though troublesome to himself. STEEVENS.