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books; and, in confequence of the change, we have no other authorities to recur to in either cafe. Should our language ever be recalled to a strict examination, and the fashion become general of ftriving to maintain our old acquifitions, inftead of gaining new ones, which we fhall be at laft obliged to give up, or be incumbered with their weight; it will then be lamented that no regular collection was ever formed of the old English books; from which, as from ancient repofitories, we might recover words and phrafes as often as caprice or wantonnefs should call for variety; instead of thinking it neceffary to adopt new ones, or barter folid ftrength for feeble fplendour, which no language has long admitted, and retained its purity.
We wonder that, before the time of Shakspeare, we find the flage in a ftate fo barren of productions, but forget that we have hardly any acquaintance with the authors of that period, though fome few of their dramatick pieces may remain. The fame might be almoft faid of the interval between that age and the age of Dryden, the performances of which, not being preferved in fets, or diffufed as now, by the greater number printed, must lapfe apace into the fame obfcurity.
And yet we are contented, from a few specimens only, to form our opinions of the genius of ages gone before us. Even while we are blaming the tafte of that audience which received with applaufe the worst plays in the reign of Charles the Second, we fhould confider that the few in poffeffion of our theatre, which would never have been heard a fecond time had they been written now, were pro
bably the best of hundreds which had been difmiffed with general cenfure. The collection of plays, interludes, &c. made by Mr. Garrick, with an intent to depofit them hereafter in fome publick library," will be confidered as a valuable acquifition; for pamphlets have never yet been examined with a proper regard to pofterity. Most of the obfolete pieces will be found on enquiry to have been introduced into libraries but fome few years fince; and yet those of the prefent age, which may one time or other prove as ufeful, are ftill entirely neglected. I fhould be remifs, I am fure, were I to forget my acknowledgments to the gentleman I have juft mentioned, to whofe benevolence I owe the ufe of feveral of the scarceft quartos, which I could not otherwise have obtained; though I advertised for them, with fufficient offers, as I thought, either to tempt the cafual owner to fell, or the curious to communicate them; but Mr. Garrick's zeal would not permit him to withhold any thing that might ever fo remotely tend to fhow the perfections of that author who could only have enabled him to display his own.
It is not merely to obtain justice to Shakspeare, that I have made this collection, and advise others to be made. The general intereft of English literature, and the attention due to our own language and hiftory, require that our ancient writings fhould be diligently reviewed. There is no age which has not produced fome works that deserved to be remembered; and as words and phrafes are only understood by comparing them in different places, the lower writers must be read for the explanation of
7 This collection is now, in pursuance of Mr. Garrick's Will, placed in the British Museum. REED,
the higheft. No language can be afcertained and fettled, but by deducing its words from their original fources, and tracing them through their fucceffive varieties of fignification; and this deduction can only be performed by confulting the earliest and intermediate authors.
Enough has been already done to encourage us to do more. Dr. Hickes, by reviving the study of the Saxon language, feems to have excited a stronger curiofity after old English writers, than ever had appeared before. Many volumes which were mouldering in dust have been collected; many authors which were forgotten have been revived; many laborious catalogues have been formed; and many judicious gloffaries compiled; the literary tranfactions of the darker ages are now open to discovery; and the language in its intermediate gradations, from the Conqueft to the Reftoration, is better understood than in any former time.
To incite the continuance, and encourage the extenfion of this domeftick curiofity, is one of the purposes of the prefent publication. In the plays it contains, the poet's first thoughts as well as words are preserved; the additions made in fubfequent impreffions, diftinguished in Italicks, and the performances themselves make their appearance with every typographical error, fuch as they were before they fell into the hands of the player-editors. The various readings, which can only be attributed to chance, are fet down among the reft, as I did not choose arbitrarily to determine for others which were useless, or which were valuable. And many words differing only by the fpelling, or ferving merely to fhow the difficulties which they to whofe lot it first fell to difentangle their perplexities muft
have encountered, are exhibited with the reft. I muft acknowledge that fome few readings have flipped in by mistake, which can pretend to ferve no purpose of illuftration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minuteft variations of the copies, which foon convinced me that the oldeft were in general the moft correct. Though no proof can be given that the poet fuperintended the publication of any one of thefe himself, yet we have little reason to fuppofe that he who wrote at the command of Elizabeth, and under the patronage of Southampton, was so very negligent of fo his fame, as to permit the most incompetent judges, fuch as the players were, to vary at their pleasure what he had fet down for the firft fingle editions; and we have better grounds for fufpicion that his works did materially fuffer from their prefumptuous corrections after his death.
It is very well known, that before the time of Shakspeare, the art of making title-pages was practifed with as much, or perhaps more fuccefs than it has been fince. Accordingly, to all his plays we find long and defcriptive ones, which, when they were firft publifhed, were of great fervice to the venders of them. Pamphlets of every kind were hawked about the ftreets by a fet of people refembling his own Autolycus, who proclaimed aloud the qualities of what they offered to fale, and might draw in many a purchafer by the mirth he was taught to expect from the humours of Corporal Nym, or the Swaggering vaine of Auncient Piftoll, who was not to be tempted by the representation of a fact merely hiftorical. The players, however, laid afide the whole of this garniture, not finding it fo neceffary to procure fuccefs to a bulky volume,
when the author's reputation was established, as it had been to befpeak attention to a few ftraggling pamphlets while it was yet uncertain.
The fixteen plays which are not in these volumes, remained unpublifhed till the folio in the year 1623, though the compiler of a work called Theatrical Records, mentions different fingle editions of them all before that time. But as no one of the editors could ever meet with fuch, nor has any one else pretended to have feen them, I think myself at liberty to fuppofe the compiler fupplied the defects of the lift out of his own imagination; fince he must have had fingular good fortune to have been poffeffed of two or three different copies of all, when neither editors nor collectors, in the course of near fifty years, have been able fo much as to obtain the fight of one of the number.8
At the end of the last volume I have added a tragedy of King Leir, publifhed before that of Shakspeare, which it is not improbable he might have feen, as the father kneeling to the daughter, when the kneels to ask his bleffing, is found in it; a circumstance two poets were not very likely to have hit on feparately; and which feems borrowed by the latter with his ufual judgment, it being the
"It will be obvious to every one acquainted with the ancient English language, that in almoft all the titles of plays in this catalogue of Mr. William Rufus Chetwood, the fpelling is conftantly overcharged with fuch a fuperfluity of letters as is not to be found in the writings of Shakspeare or his contemporaries. A more bungling attempt at a forgery was never obtruded on the publick. See the British Theatre, 1750; reprinted by Dodfley in 1756, under the title of "Theatrical Records, or an Account of English Dramatick Authors, and their Works," where all that is faid concerning an Advertisement at the end of Romeo and Juliet, 1597, is equally falfe, no copy of that play having been ever published by Andrew Wife.