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"Thus the patience of Hector is compared to the vulture, which never moves from the object of its insatiate gluttony, until it has entirely devoured it. Prometheus, according to fabulous history, was chained to Mount Caucasus, with a vulture preying constantly on his liver.”—P. 259.
Can presumption and stupidity farther go ? And yet this man made some of the very corrections in Mr. Collier’s folio of 1632, for which that gentleman claims a higher authority than that of the first folio itself.
It is worthy of remark, considering the object of this sketch, that Blackwood's Magazine, some years ago, could speak favorably of a book which is filled with such rampant stupidity; that Mr. Knight, on the authority of “a most accomplished friend,” bears witness, Credat Judæus ! to
the common sense of the printer ;” and that the generally judicious Mr. Hunter could say of Croft's "Annotations on plays of Shakespeare,”
" This pamphlet consists of twenty-four closely printed pages, and, I venture to say, contains more valuable remark than is to be found in the volumes of Zachary Jackson, and Andrew Becket, or even those of John, Lord Chedworth, and Henry James Pye."
A very safe assertion : but what had poor John Croft done, that Mr. Hunter should be so bitterly ironical ? But perhaps Mr. Hunter was in earnest ! It is possible ; because, in Shakesperian criticism, all things are possible.
But though the text of Shakespeare suffered no permanent injury from such commentators as these, and though the Variorum and the Chiswick editions presented the works of the great dramatist more nearly as he produced them than they had ever before appeared in print, the increasing admiration of the world for those matchless writings, the influence of an humbler, more docile school of criticism upon them, and the well-known fact that there were still many departures in those editions from the original folio, which, at least, might be needless, created a demand for a text conforming yet more strictly to the primitive standard ; and a little more than ten years ago, two editors stepped forward to supply this want. These were Mr. Knight and Mr. Collier. They each did much to effect that nearer approximation of the text to the “ True Originall” which was so much needed. Both admitted conjectural emendations very sparingly, and only when they
med them to be absolutely unavoidable ; and both made the first folio the exclusive authority for the text, which, strange to say, was then first done since Rowe's time; but Mr. Collier admitted the "stolen and surreptitious” quartos to a higher authority than that awarded to them by Mr. Knight, who deferred only to the original folio. Mr. Collier had the great advantage of a long devotion to the study of old English literature, especially to that of Shakespeare's age ; but Mr. Knight brought to his task an intelligent veneration for his author, and a sympathetic apprehension of his thoughts, which, I venture to say, has never been surpassed—perhaps never equalled, by any of that gentleman's fellow-editors. There exist no critical essays more imbued with the pure spirit of Shakespeare than the Supplementary Notices which Mr. Knight appended to each play in his beautiful Pictorial Edition.
But both editors committed errors themselves, and allowed those of others to remain uncorrected. Mr. Collier admitted readings from the quartos, and the commentators, which are indefensible ; and Mr. Knight's almost superstitious veneration for the first folio, caused him to reproduce many passages from it, which are evidently corrupted by the gross typographical carelessness which so deforms that precious volume. This was undeniably shown with excellent temper and spirit by the Rev. Alexander Dyce, the editor of Beaumont & Fletcher, Marlowe, Green, and Peele, &c., in his “Remarks on Mr. J. P. Collier's, and Mr. C. Knight's Editions of Shakspere,” which appeared in 1844; and which, when considered in connection with his other labors, points out Mr. Dyce as the editor from whom we may expect the purest text of Shakespeare which has yet been given to the world.
One other edition was produced, which should not be here passed by : that edited by the Hon. Gulian C. Verplanck, of New York. Mr. Verplanck's labors were more eclectic than speculative. Forming his text rather upon the labors of Mr. Collier, Mr. Knight, and Mr. Dyce, than upon original investigation and collation, and exercising a taste naturally fine, and disciplined by studies in a wide field of letters, he produced an edition of Shakespeare, which, with regard to text and comments, is, perhaps, preferable to any other which exists.
Such is the history, and such the present condition of the text of Shakespeare, which, upon the authority of Mr. Collier's newly discovered, old, anonymous, manuscript corrector, we are called upon to change in over one thousand important particulars.