The fourth and final volume of this Collection of Old Plays ought to have been issued many months ago. I dare not attempt to offer any excuses for the wholly unwarrantable delay.
In the preface to the third volume I stated that I hoped to be able to procure a transcript of an unpublished play (preserved in Eg. Ms. 1,994) of Thomas Heywood. It affords me no slight pleasure to include this play in the present volume. Mr. JEAVES, of the Manuscript Department of the British Museum, undertook the labour of transcription and persevered to the end. As I have elsewhere stated, the play is written in a detestable hand; and few can appreciate the immense trouble that it cost Mr. JEAVES to make his transcript. Where Mr. JEAVES’ labours ended mine began; I spent many days in minutely comparing the transcript with the original. There are still left passages that neither of us could decipher, but they are not numerous.
I may be pardoned for regarding the Collection with some pride. Six of the sixteen plays are absolutely new, printed for the first time; and I am speaking within bounds when I declare that no addition so substantial has been made to the Jacobean drama since the days of Humphrey Moseley and Francis Kirkman. Sir John Van Olden Barnavelt has been styled by Mr. Swinburne a “noble poem.” Professor Delius urged that it should be translated into German; and I understand that an accomplished scholar, Dr. Gelbeke of St. Petersburg, has just completed an admirable translation. Meanwhile the English edition has been reproduced in Holland.
In the original announcement of this Collection I promised a reprint of Arden of Feversham from the quarto of 1592; I also proposed to include plays by Davenport, William Rowley, and Nabbes. After I had transcribed Arden of Feversham I determined not to include it in the present series. It occurred to me that I should enhance the value of these volumes by excluding such plays as were already accessible in modern editions. Accordingly I rejected Arden of Feversham, Sir John Oldcastle, Patient Grissel, and The Yorkshire Tragedy. The plays of Davenport, William Rowley, and Nabbes were excluded on other grounds. Several correspondents suggested to me that I should issue separately the complete works of each of these three dramatists; and, not without some misgivings, I adopted this suggestion.
I acknowledge with regret that the printing has not been as accurate as I should have desired. There have been too many misprints, especially in the first two volumes; but in the eyes of generous and competent readers these blemishes (trivial for the most part) will not detract from the solid value of the Collection.