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an immature and imperfect state we have such impressions. Of one other, Othello, we have also an edition, printed indeed after the author's death, but apparently from another manuscript than that used for the First Folio. For the remaining eighteen Plays our oldest authority is that edition. And the only other sources for which any authority has been claimed are; 1. The Second, Third, and Fourth Folios; 2. A manuscript of the First Part and some portions of the Second Part of Henry the Fourth, which is believed to be nearly of Shakespeare's age, and of which an impression has been edited by Mr Halliwell for the Shakespeare Society; 3. The manuscript emendations, extending over all the Plays, with the exception only of Pericles, made in a handwriting apparently of about the middle of the seventeenth century, in a copy of the Second Folio belonging to Mr Collier.
None of these copies can claim to be regarded as of absolute authority. Even the least carelessly printed of the Quartos which appeared in Shakespeare's lifetime are one and all deformed by too many evident and universally admitted errors to make it possible for us to believe that the proofs underwent either his own revision or that of any attentive editor or reader; it may be doubted if in any case the Play was even set up from the author's manuscript. In many, or in most, cases we may affirm with confidence that it certainly was not. Some of these Quartos are evidently unauthorized publications, hurriedly brought out, and founded probably in the main on portions of the dialogue fraudulently furnished by the actors, with the lacunæ filled up perhaps from notes taken by reporters in the theatre.
The First Folio (1623) is declared on the title-page to be printed “according to the true original copies ;” and it is probable that for most of the Plays either the author's autograph, or, at any rate, some copy belonging to the theatre, was made use of. The volume was put forth in the names of two of Shakespeare's friends and fellow-actors, John Heminge and Henrie Condell, who introduce what they style “these trifles," the “remains" of their deceased associate, by a Dedication to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery,—who, they observe, had been pleased to think the said trifles something, -and by a Preface, in which, after confessing that it would have been a thing to be wished “that the author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings,” they desire that they his surviving friends may not be envied the office of their care and pains in collecting and publishing them, and so publishing them as that, whereas formerly, they continue, addressing the Reader, "you were abused with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious impostors that exposed them (that is, exposed them for sale, or published them], even those are now offered to your view cured and perfect of their limbs, and all the rest absolute in their numbers,* as he conceived them. Who, as he was a happy imitator of nature, was a most gentle expresser of it: his mind and hand went together; and what he thought he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.”
Here we have certainly, along with an emphatic and undiscriminating condemnation of all the preceding impressions, a distinct declaration by the publishers of the present volume that they had the use of the author's manuscripts. It is the only mention to be found anywhere of
of the Plays being in existence in his own * This Latinism has no special reference, as has sometimes been supposed, to the verse; it means merely perfect in all their parts, or in all respects. So Sir Roger Twysden, in the Preface to his “ His riæ Anglicanæ Scriptores Decem” (1652), speaking of the pains that had been taken to ensure the accuracy of the text, says :-“Nihil unquam apud nos, tanti saltem conaminis, ... adeo omnibus numeris absolutum prodiisse memini.”
handwriting. No doubt can reasonably be entertained that such of his papers as were in possession of the Blackfriars Theatre, to which Heminge and Condell, like himself, belonged, were placed at their disposal. And we may assume that from these the edition of 1623 was set up, so far as they went and could be made available.
But it would be a great straining of such premises to conclude that the First Folio is to be accepted throughout as anything like an infallible authority in all cases for what Shakespeare actually wrote. That would, for one thing, be to suppose an accuracy and correctness of printing and editing of which there is no example in the published popular literature of that age, least of all in the drama, which was hardly looked upon as belonging to literature, and in regard to which the Press, when it was resorted to, was always felt to be at best but an imperfect and unnatural substitute for the proper mode of publication by means of the Stage. The writer, it would seem to have been thought, could not well claim as a work what called itself only a play. Nor do the publishers in the present instance make profession of having bestowed any special care upon the editing of their volume; what they say (or more probably what some regular author of the day, Ben Jonson, as it has been conjectured, or another, had been got to write in their names) is nothing more than the sort of recommendation with which it was customary for enlarged and improved editions to be introduced to the world, and the only positive assertion which it can be held to involve is, that the new impression of the Plays had been set up, at least in part, from the author's own manuscript. They lay claim, and we may therefore be sure could lay claim, to nothing further. They even admit, as we have seen, that it would have been better if the author himself had superintended the publication. Of correction of the press there is not one word. That, we may be pretty certain, was left
merely to the printer. It is not likely that the two players, who, with the exception of this Dedication and Preface, to which their names are attached, are quite unknown in connexion with literature, were at all qualified for such a function, which is not one to be satisfactorily discharged even by persons accustomed to writing for the press
without some practice.
But this is not all. The materials which Heminge and Condell, or whoever may have taken charge of the printing of the First Folio, had at their command were very possibly insufficient to enable them to produce a perfect text, although both their care and their competency had been greater than they probably were. In the first place, there is nothing in what they say to entitle us to assume that they had the author's own manuscript for more than some of the Plays. But, further, we do not know what may have been the state of such of his papers as were in their hands. We are told, indeed, that they were without a blot, and the fact is an interesting one in reference to Shakespeare's habits of composition; but it has no bearing upon the claims of the text of this First Folio to be accounted a correct representation of what he had written. He had been in his
the latest of the original copies of the Plays were of that antiquity at the least; most of them must have been much older. If, as is probable, they had been ever since they were written in use at the theatres, it can hardly have been that such of them as were not quite worn out should not have suffered more or less of injury, and have become illegible, or legible only with great difficulty, in various passages. Nor may the handwriting, even when not partially obliterated, have been very easy to decipher. The very rapidity with which the poet's "thick-coming fancies” had been committed to the paper may have made the record of them, free from blots as it was, still one not to be read running, or unlikely to trip a reader to whom it was not familiar.
When we take up and examine the volume itself, we find it to present the very characteristics which these considerations would lead us to expect. As a typographical production it is better executed'than the common run of the English popular printing of that date. It is rather superior, for instance, in point of appearance, and very decidedly in correctness, to the Second Folio, produced nine years later. Nevertheless it is obviously, to the most cursory inspection, very far from what would now be called even a tolerably well printed book. There is probably not a page in it which is not disfigured by many minute inaccuracies and irregularities, such as never appear in modern printing. The punctuation is throughout rude and negligent, even where it is not palpably blundering. The most elementary proprieties of the metrical arrangement are violated in innumerable passages. In some places the verse is printed as plain prose; elsewhere, prose is ignorantly and ludicrously exhibited in the guise of verse. · Indisputable and undisputed errors are of frequent occurrence, so gross that it is impossible they could have been passed over, at any rate
, in such numbers, if the proof-sheets had undergone any systematic revision by a qualified person, however rapid. They were probably read in the printing-office, with more or less attention, when there was time, and often, when there was any hurry or pressure, sent to press with little or no examination. Everything betokens that editor or editing of the volume, in any proper or distinctive sense, there could have been none. The only editor was mani. festly the head workman in the printing-office.
On closer inspection we detect other indications. In one instance at least we have actually the names of the actors by whom the Play was performed prefixed to their