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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 grave for seven years; 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 tol
erably 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 manifestly 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 portions of the dialogue instead of those of the dramatis personæ. Mr. Knight, in noticing this circumstance, observes that it shows very clearly the text of the Play in which it occurs (Much Ado About Nothing) to have been taken from the playhouse copy, or what is called the prompter's book.* But the fact is, that the scene in question is given in
* Library Shakspere, II. 366.
the same way in the previous Quarto edition of the Play, published in 1600; so that here the printers of the Folio had evidently no manuscript of any kind in their hands, any more than they had any one over them to prevent them from blindly following their printed copy into the most transparent absurdities. The Quarto, to the guidance of which they were left, had evidently been set up from the prompter's book, and the proof-sheets could not have been read either by the author or by any other competent per
In the case of how many more of the Plays the Folio in like manner may have been printed only from the previously published separate editions we cannot be sure. But other errors, with which the volume abounds, are evidence of something more than this. In addition to a large number of doubtful or disputed passages, there are many readings in it which are either absolutely unintelligible, and therefore certainly corrupt, or, although not purely nonsensical, yet clearly wrong, and at the same time such as are hardly to be sufficiently accounted for as the natural mistakes of the compositor. Sometimes what is evidently the true word or expression has given place to another having possibly more or less resemblance to it in form, but none in signification ; in other cases, what is indispensable to the sense, or to the continuity and completeness of the dramatic narrative, is altogether omitted. Such errors and deficiencies can only be explained on the supposition that the compositor had been left to depend upon a manuscript which was imperfect, or which could not be read. It is remarkable that deformities of this kind are apt to be found accumulated at one place; there are as it were nests or eruptions of them; they run into constellations; showing that the
manuscript had there got torn or soiled, and that the printer had been obliged to supply what was wanting in the best way that he could, by his own invention or conjectural ingenuity.*
Of the other Folio editions, the Second, dated 1632, is the only one the new readings introduced in which have ever been regarded as of any authority. But nothing is known of the source from which they may have been derived. The prevailing opinion has been that they are nothing more than the conjectural emendations of the unknown editor. Some of them, nevertheless, have been adopted in every subsequent reprint.
The manuscript of Henry the Fourth (belonging to Sir Edward Dering, Bart., of Surrenden in Kent) is curious and interesting, as being certainly either of Shakespeare's own age or close upon it, and as the only known manuscript copy of any of the Plays of nearly that antiquity. But it appears to have been, for the greater part, merely transcribed from some printed text, with such omissions and modifications as were deemed expedient in reducing the two Plays to one. The First Part of Henry
* I have discussed the question of the reliance to be placed on the First Folio at greater length in an article on The Text of Shakespeare, in the 40th No. of the North British Review (for February, 1854). It is there shown, from an examination of the First Act of Macbeth, that the number of readings in the First Folio (including arrangements of the verse and punctuation affecting the sense) which must be admitted to be either clearly wrong, or in the highest degree suspicious, probably amounts to not less than twenty on an average per page, or about twenty thousand in the whole volume. Most of them have been given up and abandoned even by those of the modern editors who profess the most absolute deference to the general authority of the text in which they are found.
+ I am informed by a friend, upon whose accuracy I can rely, that a collation of a considerable portion of the MS.
the Fourth had been printed no fewer than five times, and the Second Part also once, in the lifetime of the author. The Dering MS., however, exhibits a few peculiar readings.
It is only upon the supposition of the old text of the Plays having been printed from a partially obliterated or otherwise imperfectly legible manuscript, which, as we see, meets and accounts for other facts and peculiar appearances, while it is also so probable in itself, that the remarkable collection of emendations in Mr. Collier's copy of the Second Folio can, apparently, be satisfactorily explained. The volume came into Mr. Collier's hands in 1849, and was some time afterwards discovered by him to contain a vast number of alterations of the printed text inserted by the pen, in a handwriting certainly of the seventeenth century, and possibly of not much later date than the volume. They extend over all the thirty-six Plays, and are calculated to amount in all to at least twenty thousand. Here is, then, a most elaborate revision
an expenditure of time and painstaking which surely could only have been prompted and sustained by a strong feeling in the annotator of admiration for his author, and the most anxious and scrupulous regard for the integrity of his text. Such motives would be very inconsistent with the substitution generally for the old words of anything that might merely strike him as being possibly a preferable reading. The much more probable presumption is that he followed some guide. Such a labor is only to be naturally accounted for by regarding it as that of the possessor of a valued but very inaccurately printed book, who had obtained
with the Quarto of 1613 leaves no doubt of that being the printed edition on which it was formed.