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knowing performers in his different .pieges were then alive (Lowin and Taylor, for instance,); and it must be certain, that on the stage they never uttered such mutilated lines and unintelligible nonsense as was afterwards incorporated with their respective parts, in both the first quarto and folio editions.
The folio therefore of 1623, corrected from one or both the authorities above mentioned, we conceive to have been the basis of its fucceffor in 1632.
At the same time, however, a fresh and abundant feries of errors and omissions was created in the text of our author; the natural and certain consequence of every re-impression of a work which is not overseen by other eyes than those of its printer.
Nor is it at all improbable that the person who furnished the revision of the first folio, wrote a very obscure hand, and was much cramped for room, as the margin of this book is always narrow, Such being the cafe, he might often have been compelled to deal in abbreviations, which were sometimes imperfectly deciphered, and sometimes wholly misunderstood.
Mr. Malone, indeed, frequently points his artillery at a personage whom we cannot help regarding as a phantom; we mean the Editor of the second folio; for perhaps no such literary agent as an editor of a poetical work unaccompanied by comments,
was at that period to be found. This office, if any where, was vested in the printer, whọ transferred it to his compositors; and these worthies discharged their part of the trust with a proportionate mixture of ignorance and inattention. We do not wish to soften our expression; for some plays, like The Misfortunes of Arthur, and many books of superior consequence, like Fox's Martyrs and the Chronicles of Holindhed, &c. were carefully prepared for the publick eye by their immediate authors, or substitutes qualified for their undertaking. But about the year 1600, the era of total incorrectness commenced, and works of almost all kinds appeared with the disadvantage of more than their natural and inherent imperfections.
Such too, in these more enlightened days, when few compositors are unskilled in orthography and punctuation, would be the event, were complicated works of fancy submitted to no other fuperintendance than their own. More attentive and judicious artists than were employed on our present edition of Shakspeare, are, I believe, no where to be found; and yet had their proofs escaped correction from an editor, the text of our author in many places would have been materially changed. And as all these changes would have originated from attention for a moment relaxed, interrupted memory, a too hally glance at the page before them, and other incidental causes, they could not have been recommended in preference to the variations of the second folio, which in several instances have been justly reprobated by the last editor of Shakspeare. What errors then might not have been expected, when compositors were wholly unlettered and careless, and a corrector of the press an officer unknown? To him who is inclined to dispute our grounds for this last assertion, we would recommend a perusal of the errata at the ends of multitudes of our ancient publications, where the reader's indulgence is entreated for
“ faults escaped on account of the author's distance from the press;' faults, indeed, which could not have occurred, had every printing-office, as at present, been furnished with a regular and literary fuperintendant of its productions. — How then can it be expected that printers who were often found unequal to the task of setting forth even a plain prose narrative, consisting of a few sheets, without blunders innumerable, should have done justice to a folio volume of dramatick dialogues in metre, which required a so much greater degree of
But the worth of our contested volume also seems to be questioned, because the authority on which even such changes in it as are allowed to be judicious, is unknown. But if weight were granted to this argument, what support could be found for ancient Greek and Roman MSS. of various descriptions? The names of their tranfcribers are alike
undiscovered; and yet their authority, when the readings they present are valuable, will seldom fail to be admitted.
Nay, further: – it is on all hands allowed that what we flyle a younger and inserior MS. will occasionally correct the mistakes and supply the deficiencies of one of better note, and higher antiquity. Why, therefore, should not a book printed in 163 2 be allowed the merit of equal services to a predecessor in 1623 ?
Such also, let us add, were the sentiments of a gentleman whose name we cannot repeat without a figh, which those who were acquainted with his value, will not fufpect of insincerity: we mean our late excellent friend, Mr. Tyrwhitt. In his library was this second folio of our author's plays. He always stood forward as a determined advocate for its authority, on which, we believe, more than one of his emendations were formed. At least, we are certain that he never attempted any, before he had consulted it.
He was once, indeed, offered a large fragment of the first folio; but in a few days he returned it, with an assurance that he did not perceive any decided fuperiority it could boast over its immediate fucceffor, as the metre, imperfce in the elder, was often restored to regularity in the junior impression.
Mr. Malone, however, in his Letter to Dr. Farmer, has styled these necessary corrections such
" as could not escape a person of the most ordinary capacity, who had been one month conversant with a printing-house;" a description mortifying enough to the present editors, who, after an acquaintance of
many years with typographical mysteries, would be loath to weigh their own amendments against those which this second folio, with all its blunders, has displayed.
The same gentleman also (see his Preface, p. 443) speaks with some confidence of having proved his affertions relative to the worthlessness of this book. But how are these affertions proved? By exposing its errors (some of which nevertheless are of a very questionable shape) and by observing a careful filence about its deserts. * The latter surely should have been stated as well as the former. Otherwise. this proof will resemble the “ill-roasted egg” in As
you likeit, which was done only “on one side.”— If, in the mean time, fome critical arithmetician can be found, who will impartially and intelligently ascertain by way of Dr and Cr the faults and merits of this book, and thereby prove the former to have been many, and the latter scarce any at all, we will moft openly acknowledge our misapprehension, and
* Thus (as one instance out of several that might be produced) when Mr. Malone, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, very judiciously restores the uncommon word - ging, and supports it by instances from The New Inn and The Alchemist, he forbears to mention that such also is the reading of the second, though not of the first folio. Sec Vol. V. p. 154. n. 7.