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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
NOYES, HOLMES, AND COMPANY,
L'XIVERSITY PRESS :
JouN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
It is now about twenty-one years since this edition of SHAKESPEARE'S WORKs was begun. The Edi. tor had good reasons for this delay; for, besides that he was necessarily subject to divers interruptions, being compelled to do a good deal of other work, the task has proved a much longer and harder one than he had anticipated. But the edition is at length finished; and the editor dismisses his labours to the public with a mixture of pleasure and regret ; pleasure, that his obligation to the publishers is now discharged; regret, that the serene and tranquil de lights of the task are to be no longer his save as a remembered experience.
As for the reasons which led to this edition of Shakespeare, perhaps it were as well to leave them to be gathered from the manner of the performance; but it is thought best to give a brief statement of them, as this may serve in some measure to unfold the plan of the work.
The celebrated Chiswick edition, on which this is partly modelled, was published in 1826, and has for bonne time been out of print. In size of volume, id type, style of execution, and adaptedness to the wants of both the scholar and the general reader, it presented a combination of advantages possessed by no other edition at the time of its appearance. The text, however, abounds in corruptions introduced by preceding editors under the name of corrections Of the number and nature of these no adequate idea can be formed but on a close comparison, line by line, and word by word, with the original editions.
The Chiswick Shakespeare has never been reprinted in this country. For putting forth an American edition retaining the advantages of that without its defects, no apology, it is presumed, will be thought needful. How far those advantages are retained in this edition, will appear upon a very slight compari. son : how far those defects have been removed, the Editor may be allowed to say that no little study and examination will be required to the forming of a right judgment.
Until the present, there has been no American edition of Shakespeare proceeding upon a fresh revisal and collation of the text with the original copies. So that, properly speaking, this is the first time the Poet's text has been edited in this country. Here it has been ascertained from the primitive sources; the Editor having, in this respect, taken nothing upon hearsay, nor rested with any thing short of a continual reference to the first editions. By this process, the Editor has detected and restored a few original readings which appear to have escaped all the other modern e litors. But, notwithstanding all the cara
and vigilance he could use, some things, as might be expected, escaped his eye in the original stereotyping of the text. Esteeming nothing unimportant on this score, however small and trivial it might appear, he has since made, with much care, a second collation of his text with the originals; and whatever oversights or inaccuracies he could detect have been rectified in the plates.
So that, if a thorough revisal of every line, every word, every letter, and every point, with a continual reference to the original copies, be a reasonable ground of confidence, then the reader may be confidently assured that he will here find the genuine text of Shakespeare.
The process of purification has been rendered much more difficult, and therefore much more necessary, by the mode in which it was for a long time customary to edit the Poet's works. This mode is well exemplified in the case of Steevens and Malone, who seem to have vied with each other which should most enrich his edition with textual emendations. Both of them had been very good editors, but for the unwarrantable liberty with which they reformed the Poet's text; and, even as it was, they undoubtedly rendered much valuable service. And the same work, though not always in so great a degree, has been carried on by many others : sometimes the alleged corrections of several editors have been brought together, that the advantages of them all might be combined and presented in one.
Thus corruptions o: the text have accumulated, each successiva
editor adding his own to those of his predecessors. Nor were any decisive steps taken in the way of a return to the original text, till within a very limited period. The later editors, Knight, Collier, and Verplanck, to all of whom this Editor is under great obligations, have pretty effectually put a stop to the old mode of Shakespearian editing ; nor is there much reason to apprehend that any one will now venture upon a revival of it.
Of the editions hitherto printed in this country, Verplanck’s is believed to be the only one that is at all free from these accumulated corruptions. Adopt ing, for the most part, the text of Collier as published in 1842-4, he brought to the work, however, his own) taste and judgment, wherein he as far surpasses the English editor as he necessarily falls short of him in such external advantages as the libraries, public and private, of England alone can supply. And Collier's text of 1842–4 is indeed remarkably accurate and pure: nor, perhaps, can any other man of modern times be named, to whom Shakespearian literature is, on the whole, so largely indebted. How much he has done need not be dwelt upon here, as the results thereof will be found scattered all through this edition. Yet it must be confessed that both he and Knight, revolting from the extreme liberty of preceding editors, have gone to the opposite extreme of rejecting many valuable, and some indispensable corrections of the text. This excessive, not to say slavish adherence to the old copies, often in probable, sometimes in palpable misprints, greatly reduces hu