Item of the Day: Bell’s British Theatre (1776)
Full Title: Bell’s British Theatre, consisting of the most esteemed English plays. Vol. I. Being the first volume of tragedies. Containing: Zara, by Aaron Hill, Esq.; Venice preserved, by Mr. T. Otway; Jane Shore, by N. Rowe, Esq.; Siege of Damascus, by Mr. Hughes; Distressed mother, by Mr. A. Philips. London: Printed for John Bell and C. Etherington, 1776.
The Publisher takes this Opportunity of gratefully acknowledging the generous encouragement with which this undertaking has already been honoured; and at the same time begs leave to assure the PUBLIC, that it shall be his particular care, not only to fulfil [sic] his present engagement, as stated in the following Proposals, but also to embrace every opportunity of improving the work; he will, therefore, thankfully receive, and attend to, any judicious observations that he may be favoured with for that purpose.
DESIGN of the WORK.
One Number (containing a complete Play) will be published every Saturday, till the whole is completed, at 6d each.
A Few Copies will be printed for the curious, on large Royal Paper, and contain proof impressions of the prints, at one shilling each number.
Each of the sizes will bind up uniform with Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare, and when finished, will forma a complete Dramatic Library.
The First Number was published on Saturday, May 4th, 1776.
A Volume of the most celebrated ENGLISH TRAGEDIES and COMEDIES (exclusive of SHAKESPEARE’s, which may be had separate) will be compleated alternately. ------With every fifth Play will be given a general Title and a beautiful Vignette, adapted to the subject of the Volume, by one of the first Artists in Great Britain. ---Each Play will be embellished with at least one lively DRAMATIC CHARACTER, painted from the life, by Permission, on purpose for this work only, and executed by the best Engravers in London.
The Plays are printed from the most approved copies, with the last emendations; the passages omitted at the Theatres are distinguished by inverted Commas, thus, ‘ ’; and those which are added in the performance are printed in Italics; so that classical, theatrical, and general readers, may be equally gratified, and the merits of each respective Author be handed down to posterity with the utmost degree of reputation.
At the end of the year will be printed one Volume, consisting of an INDEX of the CHARACTERS, SENTIMENST, SIMILIES, SPEECHES, and DESCRIPTIONS contained in the preceding Volumes of the BRITISH THEATRE. ---And, in the course of the Work will be published another Volume, containing the LIVES of the DIFFERENT AUTHORS whose works compose this publication, with a PORTRAIT of each, finely engraved, from pictures of the best authority; including also, an HISTORICAL ACCOUNT of the RISE and PROGRESS of the ENGLISH STAGE, from its earliest beginning to the present time. . . .
IT has often justly been lamented, that the graces of the actor lived no longer than the Attitude, Breath, and Motion that presented them. ---Picture alone can afford any remedy to this unhappy circumstance. The animated figures accompanying the Drama, will aid the audiences of the present excellent performers to recall at any time during life, the pleasures they have received. ---What value would the public now put upon such a lively record of Betterton, Cibber, &c. &c. the delight of their forefathers! ---The Publisher, therefore, cannot help fondly imagining that the work now proposed will grow in value with the present age, and gratify the just curiosity of those to come; especially as he proposes to introduce occasionally, the PORTRATIS of EMINENT ACTORS who have been distinguished for their excellence in principal characters within the present century; for this desirable department, the assistance of good Pictures or prints applicable to the subjects, will be thankfully received. . . .