Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Greene, M. A. we are indebted for Shakspeare's Winter's Tale. Greene join'd with Dr. Lodge in writing a play, call'd A Looking-Glass for London and England, printed in 1598, in quarto, and black letter; and many of his other works, which are very numerous, were publish'd about that time, and this amongst the rest: it went through many impressions, all of the same form and letter as the play; and that so low down as the year 1664, of which year I have a copy. Upon this occasion, I shall venture to pronounce an opinion, that has been reserv'd for this place, (though other plays too were concern'd in it, as Hamlet and Cymbeline) which if it be found true, as I believe it will, may be of use to settle many disputed points in literary chronology. My opinion is this:—that almost all books, of the gothick or black character, printed any thing late in the seventeenth century, are in truth only re-impressions; they having pass'd the press before in the preceding century, or (at least) very soon after. For the character began then to be disus'd in the printing of new books: but the types remaining, the owners of them found a convenience in using them for books that had been before printed in them; and to this convenience of theirs are owing all or most of those impressions posterior to 1600. It is left to the reader's sagacity, to apply this remark to the book in the present article; and to those he finds mention'd before, in the articles-Hamlet and Cymbeline.

Such are the materials, out of which this great poet has rais'd a structure, which no time shall efface, nor any envy be strong enough to lessen the admiration that is so justly due to it; which if it was great before, cannot fail to receive encrease with the judicious, when the account that has been

now given them is reflected upon duly: other originals have, indeed, been pretended; and much extraordinary criticism has, at different times, and by different people, been spun out of those conceits; but, except some few articles in which the writer professes openly his ignorance of the sources they are drawn from, and some others in which he delivers himself doubtfully, what is said in the preceding leaves concerning these fables may with all certainty be rely'd upon.

How much is it to be wish'd, that something equally certain, and indeed worthy to be intitl'da Life of Shakspeare, could accompany this relation, and complete the tale of those pieces which the publick is apt to expect before new editions? But that nothing of this sort is at present in being, may be said without breach of candour, as we think, or suspicion of over much niceness: an imperfect and loose account of his father, and family; his own marriage, and the issue of it; some traditional stories, many of them trifling in themselves, supported by small authority, and seemingly illgrounded; together with his life's final period as gather'd from his monument, is the full and whole amount of historical matter that is in any of these writings; in which the critick and essayist swallow up the biographer, who yet ought to take the lead in them. The truth is, the occurrences of this most interesting life (we mean, the private ones) are irrecoverably lost to us; the friendly office of registring them was overlook'd by those who alone had it in their power, and our enquiries about them now must prove vain and thrown away. But there is another sort of them that is not quite so hopeless; which besides affording us the prospect of some good issue to our endeavours, do also invite

us to them by the promise of a much better reward for them: the knowledge of his private life had done little more than gratify our curiosity, but his publick one as a writer would have consequences more important; a discovery there would throw a new light upon many of his pieces; and, where rashness only is shew'd in the opinions that are now current about them, a judgment might then be form'd, which perhaps would do credit to the giver of it. When he commenc'd a writer for the stage, and in which play; what the order of the rest of them, and (if that be discoverable) what the occasion; and, lastly, for which of the numerous theatres that were then subsisting they were severally written at first,-are the particulars that should chiefly engage the attention of a writer of Shakspeare's Life, and be the principal subjects of his enquiry: to assist him in which, the first impressions of these plays will do something, and their title-pages at large, which, upon that account, we mean to give in another work that will accompany The School of Shakspeare; and something the School itself will afford, that may contribute to the same service: but the corner-stone of all, must be the works of the poet himself, from which much may be extracted by a heedful peruser of them; and, for the sake of such a peruser, and by way of putting him into the train when the plays are before him, we shall instance in one of them; -the time in which Henry V. was written, is determin'd almost precisely by a passage in the chorus to the fifth act, and the concluding chorus of it contains matter relative to Henry VI.: other plays might be mention'd, as Henry VIII. and Macbeth; but this one may be sufficient to answer our intention in producing it, which was-to spirit some

one up to this task in some future time, by shewing the possibility of it; which he may be further convinc'd of, if he reflects what great things have been done, by criticks amongst ourselves, upon subjects of this sort, and of a more remov'd antiquity than he is concern'd in. A Life thus constructed, interspers'd with such anecdotes of common notoriety as the writer's judgment shall tell him-are worth regard; together with some memorials of this poet that are happily come down to us; such as, an instrument in the Heralds' Office, confirming arms to his father; a Patent preserv'd in Rymer, granted by James the First; his last Will and Testament, extant now at Doctors Commons; his Stratford monument, and a monument of his daughter which is said to be there also ;-such a Life would rise quickly into a volume; especially, with the addition of one proper and even necessary episodea brief history of our drama, from its origin down to the poet's death: even the stage he appear'd upon, it's form, dressings, actors should be enquir'd into, as every one of those circumstances had some considerable effect upon what he compos'd for it: The subject is certainly a good one, and will fall (we hope) ere it be long into the hands of some good writer; by whose abilities this great want may at length be made up to us, and the world of letters enrich'd by the happy acquisition of a masterly Life of Shakspeare. CAPELL.

MR. STEEVENS'S

ADVERTISEMENT

TO THE

READER."

THE want of adherence to the old copies, which has been complained of, in the text of every modern republication of Shakspeare, is fairly deducible from Mr. Rowe's inattention to one of the first duties of an editor. Mr. Rowe did not print from the earliest and most correct, but from the most remote and inaccurate of the four folios. Between the years 1623 and 1685 (the dates of the

First printed in 1773. MALOne.

"I must not (says Mr. Rowe in his dedication to the Duke of Somerset) pretend to have restor❜d this work to the exactness of the author's original manuscripts: those, are lost, or, at least, are gone beyond any enquiry I could make; so that there was nothing left, but to compare the several editions, and give the true reading as well as I could from thence. This I have endeavour'd to do pretty carefully, and render'd very many places intelligible, that were not so before. In some of the editions, especially the last, there were many lines (and in Hamlet one whole scene) left out together; these are now all supply'd. I fear your grace will find some faults, but I hope they are mostly literal, and the errors of the press." Would not any one, from this declaration, suppose that Mr. Rowe (who does not appear to have consulted a single quarto) had at least compared the folios with each other? STEEVENS

« PreviousContinue »