« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
cern from the injustice of his proceeding. He is, however, inclined to believe, that what he has omitted will be pardoned by the reader; and that the liberty which he has taken will not be thought to have been licentiously indulged. At all events, that the censure may fall where it ought, he desires it to be understood that no person is answerable for any of these innovations but himself.
It has been observed by the last editor, that the multitude of instances which have been produced to exemplify particular words, and explain obsolete customs, may, when the point is once known to be established, be diminished by any future editor, and, in conformity to this opinion, several quotations, which were heretofore properly introduced, are now curtailed. Were an apology required on this occasion, the present editor might shelter himself under the authority of Prior, who long ago has said,
"That when one's proofs are aptly chosen,
The present editor thinks it unnecessary to say any thing of his own share in the work, except that he undertook it in consequence of an application which was too flattering and too honourable to him to decline. He mentions this only to have it known that he did not intrude himself into the situation. He is not insensible, that the task would have been better executed by many other gentlemen, and particularly by some whose names appear to the notes. He has added but little to the bulk of the volumes from his own observations, having, upon every occasion, rather chosen to avoid a note, than to court the opportunity of inserting The liberty he has taken of omitting some
remarks, he is confident, has been exercised without prejudice and without partiality; and therefore, trusting to the candour and indulgence of the publick, will forbear to detain them any longer from the entertainment they may receive from the greatest poet of this or any other nation. REED.
Nov. 10, 1785,
IN the following work, the labour of eight years, I have endeavoured, with unceasing solicitude, to give a faithful and correct edition of the plays and poems of Shakspeare. Whatever imperfection or errors therefore may be found in it, (and what work of so great a length and difficulty was ever free from error or imperfection?) will, I trust, be imputed to any other cause than want of zeal for the due execution of the task which I ventured to undertake.
The difficulties to be encountered by an editor of the works of Shakspeare, have been so frequently stated, and are so generally acknowledged, that it may seem unnecessary to conciliate the publick
favour by this plea: but as these in my opinion have in some particulars been over-rated, and in others not sufficiently insisted on, and as the true state of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the publick, I shall consider the subject as if it had not been already discussed by preceding editors.
In the year 1756 Dr. Johnson published the following excellent scheme of a new edition of Shak. speare's dramatick pieces, which he completed in
"When the works of Shakspeare are, after so many editions, again offered to the publick, it will doubtless be enquired, why Shakspeare stands in more need of critical assistance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to supply.
The business of him that republishes an ancient book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakspeare. Most writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are sometimes published after the death of him who produced them, but they are better secured from corruptions than these unfortunate compositions. They subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the author; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one descent.
"But of the works of Shakspeare the condition has been far different: he sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately
copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre: and thus thrust into the world surreptitiously and hastily, they suffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the state of the press in that age will readily conceive.
"It is not easy for invention to bring together so many causes concurring to vitiate a text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with so little care; no books could be left in hands so likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manuscript: no other transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their task, as those who copied for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the people were universally illiterate: no other editions were made from fragments so minutely broken, and so fortuitously re-united; and in no other age was the art of printing in such unskilful hands.
"With the causes of corruption that make the - revisal of Shakspeare's dramatick pieces necessary, may be enumerated the causes of obscurity, which may be partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
"When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and remains almost the only unforgotten name of a distant time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age has its modes of speech, and its cast of thought;
which, though easily explained when there are many books to be compared with each other, become sometimes unintelligible, and always difficult, when there are no parallel passages that may conduce to their illustration. Shakspeare is the first considerable author of sublime or familiar dialogue in our language. Of the books which he read, and from which he formed his style, some perhaps have perished, and the rest are neglected. His imitations are therefore unnoted, his allusions are undiscovered, and many beauties, both of pleasantry and greatness, are lost with the objects to which they were united, as the figures vanish when the canvas has decayed.
"It is the great excellence of Shakspeare, that he drew his scenes from nature, and from life. He copied the manners of the world then passing before him, and has more allusions than other poets to the traditions and superstitions of the vulgar; which must therefore be traced before he can be understood.
"He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrases was yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while the Saxon was still visibly mingled in our diction. The reader is therefore embarrassed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion swept away before its meaning was generally known, or sufficiently authorized and in that age, above all others, experiments were made upon our language, which distorted its combinations, and disturbed its uniformity.
"If Shakspeare has difficulties above other