« ZurückWeiter »
the last; and that again by the first of the modern impressions, which come now to be spoken of.
If the stage be a mirror of the times, as undoubtedly it is, and we judge of the age's temper by what we see prevailing there, what must we think of the times that succeeded Shakspeare? Jonson, favour'd by a court that delighted only in masques, had been gaining ground upon him even in his life-time; and his death put him in full possession of a post he had long aspir'd to, the empire of the drama: the props of this new king's throne, were-Fletcher, Shirley, Middleton, Massinger, Broome, and others; and how unequal they all were, the monarch and his subjects too, to the poet they came after, let their works testify: yet they had the vogue on their side, during all those blessed times that preceded the civil war, and Shakspeare was held in disesteem. The war, and medley government that follow'd, swept all these things away: but they were restor'd with the king;
ward III. Merry Devil of Edmonton; Mucedorus; and The Two Noble Kinsmen: but in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Rowley is call'd his partner in the title-page; and Fletcher, in The Two Noble Kinsmen. What external proofs there are of their coming from Shakspeare, are gather'd all together, and put down in the Table; and further it not concerns us to engage: but let those who are inclin'd to dispute it, carry this along with them that London, in Shakspeare's time, had a multitude of playhouses; erected some in inn-yards, and such like places, and frequented by the lowest of the people; such audiences might have been seen some years ago in Southwark and Bartholomew, and may be seen at this day in the country; to which it was also a custom for players to make excursion, at wake times and festivals: and for such places, and such occasions, might these pieces be compos'd in the author's early time; the worst of them suiting well enough to the parties they might be made for :-and this, or something nearly of this sort, may have been the case too of some plays in his great collection, which shall be spoken of in their place.
and another stage took place, in which Shakspeare had little share. Dryden had then the lead, and maintain'd it for half a century: though his government was sometimes disputed by Lee, Tate, Shadwell, Wytcherley, and others; weaken'd much by The Rehearsal; and quite overthrown in the end by Otway, and Rowe: what the cast of their plays was, is known to every one: but that Shakspeare, the true and genuine Shakspeare, was not much relish'd, is plain from the many alterations of him, that were brought upon the stage by some of those gentlemen, and by others within that period.
But, from what has been said, we are not to conclude that the poet had no admirers: for the contrary is true; and he had in all this interval no inconsiderable party amongst men of the greatest understanding, who both saw his merit, in despite of the darkness it was then wrapt up in, and spoke loudly in his praise; but the stream of the publick favour ran the other way. But this too coming about at the time we are speaking of, there was a demand for his works, and in a form that was more convenient than the folio's; in consequence of which, the gentleman last mentioned was set to work by the booksellers; and, in 1709, he put out an edition in six volumes octavo, which, unhappily, is the basis of all the other moderns: for this editor went no further than to the edition nearest to him in time, which was the folio of 1685, the last and worst of those impressions: this he republish'd with great exactness; correcting here and there some of it's grossest mistakes, and dividing into acts and scenes the plays that were not divided before.
But no sooner was this edition in the hands of
the publick, than they saw in part its deficiencies, and one of another sort began to be required of them; which accordingly was set about some years after by two gentlemen at once, Mr. Pope and Mr. Theobald. The labours of the first came out in 1725, in six volumes quarto: and he has the merit of having first improv'd his author, by the insertion of many large passages, speeches, and single lines, taken from the quarto's; and of amending him in other places, by readings fetch'd from the same but his materials were few, and his collation of them not the most careful; which, join'd to other faults, and to that main one-of making his predecessor's the copy himself follow'd, brought his labours in disrepute, and has finally sunk them in neglect.
His publication retarded the other gentleman, and he did not appear 'till the year 1733, when his work too came out in seven volumes, octavo. The opposition that was between them seems to have enflam'd him, which was heighten'd by other motives, and he declaims vehemently against the work of his antagonist: which yet serv'd him for a model; and his own is made only a little better, by his having a few more materials; of which he was not a better collator than the other, nor did he excel him in use of them; for, in this article, both their judgments may be equally call'd in question; in what he has done that is conjectural, he is rather more happy; but in this he had large assistances.
But the gentleman that came next, is a critick of another stamp: and pursues a track, in which it is greatly to be hop'd he will never be follow'd in the publication of any authors whatsoever for this were, in effect, to annihilate them,
if carry'd a little further; by destroying all marks. of peculiarity and notes of time, all easiness of expression and numbers, all justness of thought, and the nobility of not a few of their conceptions: The manner in which his author is treated, excites an indignation that will be thought by some to vent itself too strongly; but terms weaker would do injustice to my feelings, and the censure shall be hazarded. Mr. Pope's edition was the groundwork of this over-bold one; splendidly printed at Oxford in six quarto volumes, and publish'd in the year 1744: the publisher disdains all collation of folio, or quarto; and fetches all from his great self, and the moderns his predecessors: wantoning in very licence of conjecture; and sweeping all before him, (without notice, or reason given,) that not suits his taste, or lies level to his conceptions. But this justice should be done him:-as his conjectures are numerous, they are oftentimes not unhappy; and some of them are of that excellence, that one is struck with amazement to see a person of so much judgment as he shows himself in them, adopt a method of publishing that runs counter to all the ideas that wise men have hitherto enter tain'd of an editor's province and duty.
The year 1747 produc'd a fifth edition, in eight octavo volumes, publish'd by Mr. Warburton; which though it is said in the title-page to be the joint work of himself and the second editor, the third ought rather to have been mention'd, for it is printed from his text. The merits of this formance have been so thoroughly discuss'd in two very ingenious books, The Canons of Criticism, and Revisal of Shakspeare's Text, that it is needless to say any more of it: this only shall be added to what may be there met with,-that the edition is
not much benefited by fresh acquisitions from the old ones, which this gentleman seems to have neglected.5
Other charges there are, that might be brought against these modern impressions, without infringing the laws of truth or candour either: but what is said, will be sufficient; and may satisfy their greatest favourers, that the superstructure cannot be a sound one, which is built upon so bad a foundation as that work of Mr. Rowe's; which all of them, as we see, in succession, have yet made their corner-stone: The truth is, it was impossible that such a beginning should end better than it has done: the fault was in the setting-out; and all the diligence that could be us'd, join'd to the discernment of a Pearce, or a Bentley, could never purge their author of all his defects by their method of proceeding.
The editor now before you was appriz'd in time of this truth; saw the wretched condition his author was reduc'd to by these late tamperings, and thought seriously of a cure for it, and that so long ago as the year 1745; for the attempt was first suggested by that gentleman's performance, which
* It will perhaps be thought strange, that nothing should be said in this place of another edition that came out about a twelvemonth ago, in eight volumes, octavo; but the reasons for it are these:-There is no use made of it, nor could be; for the present was finish'd, within a play or two, and printed too in great part, before that appear'd: the first sheet of this work (being the first of Vol. II.) went to the press in September 1760: and this volume was follow'd by volumes VIII. IV. IX. I. VI. and VII; the last of which was printed off in August 1765: In the next place, the merits and demerits of it are unknown to the present editor even at this hour: this only he has perceiv'd in it, having look'd it but slightly over, that the text it follows is that of its nearest predecessor, and from that copy it was printed.