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'CAN it be wondered at (says Mr. Gifford) that Shakspeare should swell into twenty or even twice twenty volumes, when the latest editor (like the wind Cecias) constantly draws round him the floating errors of all his predecessors.' Upwards of twenty years ago, when the evil was not so great as it has since become, Steevens confessed that there was an 'exuberance of comment,' arising from the • ambition in each little Hercules to set up pillars ascertaining how far he had travelled through the dreary wilds of black letter;' so that there was some danger of readers being 'frighted away from Shakspeare, as the soldiers of Cato deserted their comrade when he became bloated with poison-crescens fugêre cadaver.' He saw with a prophetic eye that the evil must cure itself, and that the time would arrive when some of this ivy must be removed, which only served to 'hide the princely trunk, and suck the verdure out of it.'
This expurgatory task has been more than once undertaken, but has never hitherto, it is believed, been executed entirely to the satisfaction of the admirers of our great Poet: and the work has even now devolved upon one who, though not wholly unprepared for it by previous studies, has perhaps manifested his presumption in undertaking it with weak and unexamined shoulders.' He does not, however, shrink from a comparison with the labours of his predecessors, but would rather solicit that equitable mode of being judged; and will patiently, and with all becoming submission to the decision of a competent tribunal, abide the result.
As a new candidate for public favour, it may be expected that the Editor should explain the ground of his pretensions. The object then of the present publication is to afford the general reader a correct edition of Shakspeare, accompanied by an abridged commentary, in which all superfluous and refuted explanations and conjectures, and all the controversies and squabbles of contending critics should be omitted; and such elucidations only of obsolete words and obscure phrases, and such critical illustrations of the text as might be deemed most generally useful be retained. To effect this it has been necessary, for the sake of compression, to condense in some cases several pages of excursive discussion into a few lines, and