Michael Dobson writes:
In a glass case in the garret of a house just off Fleet Street, a historic publishing contract has just gone on display.[*] It only takes up one piece of paper, rather smaller than a sheet of A4, and compared to most such agreements today seems remarkably straightforward. It is the document by which, in 1756, the firm of J.&R. Tonson undertook to publish The plays of William Shakespeare, in eight volumes, with the corrections and illustrations of Various Commentators; To which are added notes by Sam. Johnson. This edition, with its much reprinted preface and doggedly commonsensical approach to the text, still exerts a palpable influence on Shakespeare scholars: Jonathan Bate’s introduction to this new edition of the Complete Works makes regular appeals to Johnson’s authority and Johnson’s precedent. The differences between the circumstances and the procedures of the two editions, however, are at least as revealing as their similarities.