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marred. In these respects, as in others, our plan is to adhere scrupulously to the original text, deeming it of consequence to preserve, as nearly as may be, the words and even the syllables precisely as Shakespeare wrote them. In case of evident or probable misprints we avail ourselves of all the editorial suggestions within our reach: where the misprint is unquestionable, the correction is sometimes made without remark; where there seems to be any room for doubt on this score, notice is taken of the correction in the notes.
In the Chiswick edition the notes are not unfrequently based upon those textual emendations which we reject. Of course, therefore, the purifying of the text necessitates many changes in the annotation. Moreover, superfluous notes and superfluous parts of notes often ask to be trimmed away: sometimes additional notes, sometimes different ones, are required by the present state of Shakespearian literature; much matter illustrative of particular words and phrases having come to light since the Chiswick edition appeared : quotations and references, carelessly and inaccurately made, often need to be verified and set right: many notes are written so awkwardly or so diffusely as rather to darken what they were meant to illustrate. In the present edition all these points are carefully attended to, no pains being spared to render the notes as clear, brief, and pertinent, as practicable. The notes written or compiled by the American editor are discriminated by the signature - H.;” though much work in clearing, compressing, and correcting of notes is done, and no notice made of it. Touching this point of annotation, we can cheerfully say with Mr. Collier, — « Our main object has been to ascertain the true language of the Poet, and our next, to encumber his language with no more, in the shape of comment, than is necessary to render the text intelligible.” For the matter of the notes, we of course draw with the utmost freedom from all the sources accessible to us; often bringing in illustrative passages that have occurred in our own reading, oftener those which have been quoted by others.
In the Introductions our leading purpose is to gather up all the historical information that has yet been made accessible, concerning the times when the several plays were written and first acted, and the sources whence the plots and materials of them were taken. It will be seen that in the history of the Poet's plays the indefatigable labours of Mr. Collier and others, often resulting in important discoveries, have wrought changes amounting almost to a total revolution, since the Chiswick edition was published. And we dwell the more upon what Shakespeare seems to have taken from preceding writers, because it exhibits him, where we like most to consider him, as holding his unrivalled inventive powers subordinate to the higher principles of art. Besides, if Shakespeare be the most original of writers, he is also one of the greatest of borrowers; and as few authors have appropriated so freely from others, so none can better afford to have his obligations in this kind made known.
Of the critical remarks in our several Introductions perhaps the less that is said the better. We may be allowed, however, to remark that our aim is rather to involve or imply the principles of criticism so deeply meditated and expounded by Coleridge and Schlegel, than to give a distinct formal expression of them. Thus we would endeavour to
conduct the reader, by silent natural processes, to such a state and habit of mind, that he may contemplate the plays, perhaps without knowing it, as works of art, and see all the parts and elements of a given structure intertwining, and coalescing, and growing up together in vital, organic harmony and reciprocity. For if, without being drawn into an ugly conceit or vanity of criticism, the reader can be led to see or feel how in the Poet's delineations every thing is fitted to every other thing ; how each requires and infers the others, and all hang together in natural coherence and congruity; it is plain that both the pleasure and the profit of the reading must be greatly increased.
The Chiswick edition was in ten volumes, and omitted the Poems. This is to have an additional volume, containing the Poems and a Life of the Poet with a general Review of his works. The Poems will be set forth with the same scrupulous care as the plays.
Already we have incurred many obligations, still unacknowledged ; but we shall have to incur so many more, that the further acknowledgment of them must be, as it had probably better be, deferred till we come to the last volume. For the present, then, suffice it to say upon this point, that many facilities have been kindly proffered, before they were sought, and others as kindly granted upon our hinting a request.
Of our slender qualifications for the task we have undertaken, perhaps it is enough for us to say, that we are sensible of them; that every step we take in the work reminds us of them; and that few, it is hoped, will be so apt to charge us, as we are to charge ourselves, with presumption in venturing
upon such an undertaking. Fortunately, however, by far the most important part of the task, that of setting forth a pure and genuine text of the great Poet, is one where patient industry and accuracy may in some measure be made to supply the want of other qualifications.
Boston, January, 1851.
Copy of the Title-Page to the Folio of 1623.
MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE's Comedies, Histories,
and Tragedies : Published according to the True Original Copies. London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount. 1623.
In the centre of the same page is a head of Shakespeare, engraved by Droeshout ; and on a fly-leaf next to this are the following lines by Ben Jonson.
TO THE READER.