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Any doubt that may have existed respecting one of our great dramatist's historical tragedies has also been recently dispelled by documents I was lucky enough to meet with in the State Paper Office. I allude to “ Richard the Second,” which, it was once thought, might have been the play selected for representation by partisans of Robert, Earl of Essex, shortly before the, almost unpremeditated, outburst of his desperate enterprise in the spring of 1601. The original examinations of Augustine Phillips, the actor at the Globe theatre, and of Sir Gilly Meyrick, who was present at the performance there, which examinations are now for the first time printed, show that the “Richard the Second,” or
Henry the Fourth,” (for it is mentioned by both titles) must have been a considerably older play, of which it is not improbable that Shakespeare availed himself in his own wonderful composition.
As a matter of minor moment, but still of some importance, with reference to the condition of literary and theatrical affairs near the beginning of the reign of James I., the concern of Ben Jonson, and John Marston in the Gunpowder Plot is not to be passed over. The suspicable (if I may use the word) letter of Jonson to Secretary Cecill is reprinted from a literary periodical'; and from Marston I have been enabled to publish (the original being in his own hand-writing) an extremely remarkable communication to a nobleman of that period, as far as we can judge, giving him timely notice of the peril to which he and the rest of the Parliament were exposed (see p. 179). It is not impossible, in the mystery that involves the transaction, that this very letter from Marston to Lord Kimbolton (though the story has hitherto been told differently) was the means of disclosing the whole scheme, and of saving the lives of the king, and of hundreds of the nobility and gentry of the land '.
? See the “ Athenæum” of 15th August, 1857.
3 Much has been written and printed on the anonymous letter, under such peculiar circumstances, conveyed to the hands of Lord Monteagle, while he was at supper with some friends. Mr. Jardine, after sifting all the particulars with his accustomed acuteness, is unable to arrive at any approach to certainty regarding the writer of it, who has sometimes been supposed to be Mrs. Abington, or Habbington, sometimes Anne Vaux, sometimes Percy, and more probably Tresham, one of the conspirators. See Jardine's “ Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot," 1857, p. 89 et seq. Greenway, the Jesuit, whom Mr. Jardine quotes, supposed that Tresham was employed by the government (p. 91); but whoever wrote Lord Monteagle's letter did not, like Marston, put his name to it; and, considering the position of the parties, it seems singular that we never hear either of Lord Kimbolton, or of bis correspondent in the transaction. Whether Lord Kimbolton sent any trusty person to the Gate-house to confer with Marston, as was required, or whether he treated the whole affair with indifference, it is impossible now to say ; but the terms the poet uses are very unequivocal, and indeed much less guarded than those of the writer of the letter which was read aloud by Ward at Lord Monteagle's suppertable, and which was subsequently made known to Secretary Cecill.
The most anxious and responsible part of the duty of an editor of any of our elder poets relates to the integrity and purity of the text. In the case of Shakespeare this has necessarily been a matter of peculiar difficulty, delicacy, and perplexity; and, bearing in mind how little had been done, in this respect, by all the commentators during the last 150 years, the principle I laid down to myself, in my former edition, was that of adhering to the words and letters of the old copies in 4to and folio, whenever it was possible to extract from them anything like a consistent and perspicuous meaning. Where no such sense could be obtained, the best conjectures of previous editors, or the most guarded speculations of my own, were resorted to; but not a few passages still remained so inextricably corrupt, that, like others who had preceded me in the same task, I was compelled to content myself with the mere reproduction of what had been handed down to us. The principle, to which I closely and constantly adhered in 1843, became afterwards modified by a circumstance which has excited attention at home and abroad, and which has been to me, most unfairly, the source of much personal attack and obloquy.
In the year 1849 it was my good, or ill, fortune to become possessed of a folio copy of “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," in the edition of 1632'. It was imperfect at the beginning and end, as well as in some places in the middle of the volume, and was besides in a very shabby and deteriorated condition. About two years afterwards I discovered, to my surprise, that it was annotated, from one end to the other, in a hand-writing not later than the date of the Restoration—that whole lines were supplied in various scenes-that many words were substituted in the margin for others erased in the text—that corrections of hundreds of undoubted misprints were introduced, and that the punctuation was amended in thousands of instances. I was amazed at my own discovery: I somewhat hastily and eagerly ran over the proposed emendations; and I frankly own that from the first I was disposed to attach more value to the whole body of alterations, than not a few of them really merited. That is my unreserved admission, and let my adversaries make the most of it.
* Mr. Singer also seems to be in possession of a corrected folio, 1632, but he has not, that I am aware, stated the date when the emendations were probably made, and I happen never to have heard of it, until after the publication of my Vol. of “Notes and Emendations.” However, I give him all credit for it, and for the manner in which it most opportunely comes in aid of some of the MS. changes in my corrected folio of the same date, made not very long after its publication. I also place full confidence in the Rev. Mr. Dyce's anticipations of what was contained in my corrected folio, 1632; and when he tells us, as he does several times over in his “Shakespeare " just printed, that he had made corresponding changes in bis “ Variorum Shakespeare " long before the emendation in my corrected folio, 1632, was mentioned, I never should dream of doubting his word. I was a willing witness to his accuracy not long since, when he was assailed, not merely for printing private conversations, but for misrepresenting them : I knew him to be incapable of any such practice, and said so both in public and private ; and he himself printed my letter of exculpation. See Rogers’s “ Table Talk,” 3rd edit. p. v.
It will, I think, be allowed that such a disposition on my part was not unnatural, and the result of it was the publication of a separate volume of “Notes and Emendations,” in which I expressed my opinion on most of the proposed changes. If I had been prudent, I should (as, indeed, I did afterwards) have merely printed the old text and the new in opposite columns, and have thus left the latter to make its way in the world. I was, however, too anxious to enforce and illustrate the merits of my extraordinary acquisition ; and I am now persuaded, that if I had accompanied the emendations by no comment, more of them would have been welcomed, even by subsequent editors of Shakespeare, as great and valuable improvements. My indiscreet claim for the admission of so large a mass of alterations into the text led persons, with about equal indiscretion, to reject without pause what, otherwise, they would have been disposed to accept without dispute.
I could hardly have been assailed with more virulence, if I had actually been the author of the worst changes in my corrected folio, 1632', and had palmed them off as the emendations of some person who had lived and died two hundred years ago. However, I was able satisfactorily to prove that the volume, and its notes, had been in the hands of a private gentleman (of whom I knew nothing) in the commencement of the present century. I found, too, that near the end of the last century the book had probably come out of an old Roman Catholic library in Berkshire, which, by the sale of it, had dispersed other volumes and tracts, now scattered over the neighbourhood of Reading and Newbury, some of which are still almost daily making their reappearance. Only a short time since a copy of the earlier folio of Shakespeare's Plays in 1623 (very imperfect, and without any note but one, which led to the belief that it had been obtained from the same library at Ufton Court) was found in the possession of a gardener, who had bought it for a few shillings; and an edition of Spenser's “Fairy Queen ” of the folio of 1611, , with the autograph of Drayton, (to say nothing of several smaller productions by other poets and prose-writers) was comparatively recently rescued, perhaps from destruction, in the same vicinity. The Spenser, I am glad to say, is now in
5 Wherever in the ensuing volumes I have had occasion to refer to, or to quote from it, the reader will be so good as to observe, that for the sake of brevity I have invariably designated it in this form-corr. fo. 1632. It is necessary to bear this in mind throughout my notes.
I did all in my power to give publicity to my discovery of the corrected folio, 1632. I produced it at the Council of the Shakespeare Society, and laid it before the general meeting of that body; I carried it with me to two, if not three, evening assemblies of the Antiquaries of London, and I laid it open on their library-table for the examination of any persons who took an interest about it. I mentioned it to my relations and friends, and showed them many of the most remarkable emendations. The late Duke of Devonshire came up from Chatsworth purposely to inspect it: I left it for several days in the care of the late Earl of. Ellesmere; and one of our great London publishers had it for nearly a week in his possession, that he might take opinions upon the subject. In short, it was freely inspected by every body who expressed the least anxiety to see it. Could I have done more? Yes, I could have done one thing more, which I did not do, and which I carefully avoided doing.
I had been, for more than twenty years, upon terms of the greatest intimacy and, on my part at least, confidence with the Rev. Alexander Dyce. I had shown him many of my
o I owe, and, on the first mention of his name in the text of my preface, willingly pay to the Rev. Mr. Dyce an apology for an oversight of mine, when quoting from his edition of Webster in the preface to the “Seven Lectures of Coleridge on Shakespeare and Milton," p. lxxxv. My error was printing w instead of r,
" instead of rate. Mr. Dyce says that I " carefully concealed” the fact that rate is the reading in his text of Webster: I assure him that I never meant to conceal it; it was a mere oversight. I do not for an instant charge him with intentional misrepresentation, in a much more obvious matter than putting w for r. In bis 9th note on “ The Tempest,” in his Shakespeare just published, he says that in the line
“The ministers for the purpose hurried thence,” the MS. corrector alters “ purpose' to practice. This is an error, as the Rev. Mr. Dyce will see, if he refer to either edition of "Notes and Emendations," or to the one volume “Shakespeare” of 1853: it is the word “purpose,” two lines above the one he has quoted, that is altered to practice, and, as I venture to contend, most properly :
one midnight, Fated to the practice, did Antonio open