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For it is a thyng uneth beleveable how muche and how boldely as well the commen writers that from tyme to tyme have copied out the bookes of Plutarchus, as also certain that have thought theimselves liable to controlle and emend all mennes dooynges, have taken upon theim in this autour, who ought with all reverence to have been handleed of theim, and with all feare to have been preserved from altreyng depravyng or corruptyng. For never hath there been emonge the greke writers any one more holy then Plutarchus, or better worthic of all menne to bee read. But the veraye same thyng hath provoked persons desirous of glorie, and of lucre, to deprave and corrupt this autour, to putte in more then he wrote, and also to leave out of that he wrote, which ought moste of all to have feared them from soo doyng. For everie wryter the better accepted and sette by that he is, and the greater name that he hath emong learned menne, so muche the rather shall he for lucre and avauntage bee corrupted.Preface to Erasmus's Apopphthegmes, by Nic. Udall, 12mo. 1542, p. 9.
Now, what thanke suche persones are worthie to have whiche dooe in this wyse slabre and defgle the bookes of famous autores, I will not at this tyme reason, but truely me thynketh it a veraye sacriliege.
Ib. p. 14. or Signat. iii.
IT has been often and justly observed, that a great part of the employment of every succeeding editor of Shakespeare's Works, has been to expose the unwarrantable license taken with the text by his predecessors, and to restore the readings of the old and true copies. One of these alone can, under any just title, be received as an authenticated copy. This, in 1623, seven years after the author's death, was sent out into the world in folio by two of his “ fellows,” Heminge and Condell; who were also legatees in his will. In their dedication to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, they call this publication a discharge of a pious duty. This dedication is plainly, also, the work of a
scholar; and has been assigned, as well as their preface, to Ben Jonson. In the latter of these, they pronounce all prior publications of his Plays (the poems of Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, being the only works that he is known to have published himself) to be surreptitious; and these absolute, and taken from papers, that scarce received from their author a blot. From the number of years, however, during which he was in possession of the stage, his plays, owing to various causes, must have undergone considerable alteration. Retrenchments, it will be seen, had been made: and some idea may be formed of the enlargement from what is said in the title-page of the quarto edition of Hamlet, in 1611: which in terms states that play to have been 'then “ enlarged to almost as much againe as it was.” It may therefore be reasonably concluded, from the circumstances under which the folio plays of Heminge and Condell issued from the press, that generally they were faithful copies of what was at that time
presented to the public; or, at most, received no other additions than such, as, by the aid of the author's papers, were supplied. That in a volume so large many important typographical errors should occur, was to be expected; and that many omissions were made of passages probably not in stage use, as not contributing to the main action, has been established by reference to those “maimed and surreptitious quartos:" and from them many additional passages of great beauty have been recovered.
From no other than one of the above sources can a faithful editor be warranted in drawing: he can follow no other text: and so closely does Mr. Horne Tooke adhere to this, or even a stricter, principle, as to insist, that this folio is “ the only edition worth regarding;” and though he admits it has “ some palpable misprints,” he would have it reprinted literatim, “ not to risk the loss of Shakespeare's genuine text, which it assuredly contains.”—Divers. Op PURLEY, II. 52, 3.
This folio, then, is made the groundwork
of the proposed edition and present specimen, in which also will be admitted such additional matter as has occurred in the twenty quartos published by Mr. Steevens. Several others unquestionably exist; but inaccessible in private hands, or scarce less so in public repositories. Wherever the reading of the folio is departed from, the folio text is given in its place on the margin ; but unless any thing turns upon the old spelling, in which case it is retained in the text, the modern spelling is throughout adopted : and the punctuation is altogether taken into the editor's hands. Wherever also such alterations as appear material are found in the folio 1632, they are noticed in the margin: but that work, which was not published till two years after Heminge, the survivor of the two first editors, was dead, and without the name of any editor, we hold in little estima. tion; it being full of arbitrary alterations, which we conceive Mr. Malone has, in most instances, demonstrated to be foreign to the style and character of our author's writings.