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Fletcher's works in which an attempt is made toward a critical reconstruction of the text. The task was begun by Theobald, the Shakespearean commentator, and, after his death, concluded by Seward and Sympson. These editors had access to all the early quartos, as well as the folios, and made pretensions to superior accuracy and care in the collation of the texts; but, in the light of their results, their pretensions are seen to have been greater than their accomplishment. They seem to have proceeded in their task, so far as may be judged from their treatment of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, not by closely comparing the early editions line by line, but only by resorting to them in passages which they happened to regard as difficult; while, moreover, out of their own unenlightened assurance, they dared to alter words and even passages, more frequently to the detriment than to the strengthening of the sense. The result was that many of the errors which had crept in through the successive reprints were retained, and another quota of blunders was added. The notes in which the new readings are defended are compounded of ludicrous self-sufficiency, obtuseness, and ignorance of the peculiarities of Elizabethan English. The most remarkable of these blunders in reading and annotation have been touched upon in my notes, i. e. 2. 182; 3. 271.
One class of changes which has a specious value is the introduction of extra words in lines of halting metre ; but, though the editors are careful to choose words which do not distort the sense, such alterations sometimes color the sense strongly; they are at all events arbitrary; and they are in most instances rejected by the careful and scholarly Dyce. Among the cases in point are; 1. 195; 3. 54; 4. 110; 4. 133.
The one distinctly useful contribution of the edition of 1750 is the arrangement in stanzaic form of the snatches from ballads sung by Old Merrythought. In the older texts these verses are printed as prose, and, in some instances, are indistinguishable from their prose context. Through Seward and Sympson's helpful labors in this direction, one of the most pleasing aspects of the play is brought into fitting prominence.
In general, we may say that, though the edition of 1750 is the first serious effort toward a reconstruction of the text, it is wholly inadequate; it is so because of carelessness in collation, rashness and presumption in its new readings, and ignorance of the peculiarities of Elizabethan English.
1778. George Colman, Isaac Reed, and others were co-workers in this complete edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's works. They professed to supply a critical text, but the retention of errors introduced through successive reprints of The Knight of the Burning Pestle shows that careful collations of the early quartos were not made, and that the significance of these errors was not grasped. In this text the mistakes made in the Second and Third Quartos are not corrected. Sympson's blundering change of mighty bord to mighty bore (3. 271) is not corrected, and Lady. For and (2. 182) is still further vitiated by being changed to lady. Ralph. Fair! And. The interpolations made by Sympson to fill out incomplete measures are usually retained. The editors are guilty of a few arbitrary readings of their own, i. e. God's wounds for Gods — (1. 490), vile for wilde (3.404), and the arrangement of 5. 100–178 in verse form.
Colman and Reed show, however, much greater critical acumen than Seward and Sympson. They
are aware of the deficiencies of these editors, and in the preface strongly condemn their 'unpardonable faults of faithlessness and misrepresentation.' Seward and Sympson's arbitrary changes are discarded, for the most part, and the original readings are restored. A few significant alterations are made. Among them may be noted the rendition in stanzaic form of 1. 455–56, which had been overlooked by Sympson; the justified interpolation of black (4. 49), and of an end (5. 307). The value of the edition, however, lies in the rejection of Seward and Sympson's impertinent readings, and in signal improvements of punctuation, which materially, lessened the task of succeeding editors. I filled the hou a uit
1812. ' This is a pretentious, but very imperfect, edition of fourteen volumes. It was undertaken by Henry Weber, a German, the amanuensis of Sir Walter Scott. In his task, he had the help of Mason's Comments on Beaumont and Fletcher, and a copy of the dramatists which had been interleaved and annotated by Scott.
Weber's treatment of The Knight of the Burning Pestle makes a commendable advance in the regulation of the text. This is the outcome of a truly scrupulous collation of all the old copies of the play, a fairly judicious choice of readings, the insertion of entirely new and clarifying scene-divisions, sceneheadings, and-stage-directions, and the rejection of Seward and Sympson's awkward metrical arrangements of certain prose passages.
But though painstaking, conscientious, and often successful in supplying useful features to his edition, Weber, as a foreigner, was not properly equipped to edit English dramatists. Gifford says:
Mr. Weber had never read an old play in his life; he was but imperfectly acquainted with our language ; and of the manners, customs, habits, of what was and was not familiar to us as a nation, he possessed no knowledge whatever ; but secure in ignorance, he entertained a comfortable opinion of himself, and never doubted that he was qualified to instruct and enliven the public.
This dictum regarding Weber's incompetency seems substantiated in the case of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. A review of the variants will show that Weber continued numbers of his predecessors' errors, which his familiarity with the early editions ought to have enabled him to remove, while ignorance of the peculiarities of Elizabethan English and popular literature is further revealed in a large number of new and unwarranted alterations of the original text. Most of these errors are commented upon in my notes.
1843–46. During these years appeared the best of all the complete editions of Beaumont and Fletcher's works--that of the Rev. Alexander Dyce. Dyce's treatment of the text of The Knight of the Burning Pestle leaves little to be desired. An examination of the variants will show that in nearly every instance he has produced a rational and satisfying solution of a given difficulty. The absurd and confusing readings which were his heritage from a dozen predecessors he has repudiated. The meritorious features of foregoing editions he has appropriated or improved upon. The work of dividing the acts into scenes, begun by Weber, he has carried out more consistently and exactly than Weber himself had done. Weber's scene-headings, when not followed exactly, are given a more precise and specific treatment. Weber's stage-directions, where misplaced, are removed to their proper setting. To all of these particular features -scene-divisions, scene-headings, and stage-directions additions are made which are
invariably logical, and helpful in illuminating the text. In regard to other details, it may be said that Dyce has cleared up the disordered punctuation, normalized the spelling, removed nearly all the errors, and adjusted the loose ends left in preceding editions.
Dyce's text, however, does not seem to me to be impeccable. Some of his readings would not be approved by more recent scholarship. In the light of Elizabethan usage, as given in such authorities as the New English Dictionary and Abbott's Shakespearean Grammar, by faith (1. 264) should not become by my faith, must be (1.38) should not become shall be, nointing (4. 136), should not become 'nointing, and (1. 490) should not become an, &c. These are trifling points, perhaps, but they show that Dyce's knowledge of Elizabethan English was not infallible, and that other supposed corrections in the modern edition may be the result of ignorance of archaic peculiarities which are beyond the reach of present scholarship. I have taken exception in my notes to Dyce's reading of as for an (2. 179), vild for wilde (3. 404), pottage for porrage (4. 216), and stock for Flocke (4. 444). I question, too, the propriety of such readings as afraid for afeard (3. 461), and such modernizations as have for ha (2. 273, &c.) and he for a (2. 268), since the original words are not obscure in meaning, and preserve the pleasingly archaic and colloquial tone of the passages.
The remaining editions of Beaumont and Fletcher which include our play are reprints of preceding ones, and hence do not demand detailed notice. The text of 1778 was embodied in a four-volume edition of the plays of Ben Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher, published in 1811. The text of Weber was reissued in 1840 in two volumes, to which was