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This edition of Shakespeare's sonnets was suggested by my friend Mr. A. C. Bradley, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, who was interested in a paper on the subject which I contributed to the Cornhill Magazine in February, 1902. That paper, by the good leave of the publisher, I have used as the basis of the present Introduction ; and the rest of my editorial work has consisted in dividing up the sonnets into groups and annotating them. As there are already before the public not a few editions of Shakespeare's sonnets by well-known writers, I may be allowed to set out what I conceive to be the peculiarities of this edition. As its inclusion in this series implies, it is meant to be an edition for students; and therefore I have given a careful examination to the latest theories about the sonnets and the person to whom they were addressed, especially to the theory of my friend Mr. Sidney Lee, which he has expounded with so much learning in his Life of Shakespeare. In regard to the difficult question of date I have proposed a test, not hitherto applied, which seems capable of yielding definite results. In the Notes I have endeavoured to be just to my predecessors by referring every explanation that is not my own to its original proposer. The reader will thus be able to estimate how much the study of the sonnets owes to the learning and good sense of their first commentator, Edmond Malone. Of modern editions the best seems to me that of Professor Dowden of Dublin, whose indifference to party victories and abundant gift of humour have saved him from the chief perils that beset an editor of the sonnets.
positive merit of his edition lies, if I may say so, in the skill with which he has paraphrased many of the more difficult lines; its chief fault he has himself pointed out in his Introduction, where he warns the reader that in setting down points of connection between one sonnet and another he has “pushed this kind of criticism far, perhaps too far.” The more recent edition by Mr. George Wyndham deserves the thanks of all lovers of poetry for the resolute way in which it keeps before the reader that the one thing of importance in the sonnets is their poetry. As a critical edition it is marred by the desire to read into the sonnets much philosophy to which they are strangers, and by the determination to make sense of the Quarto text at all costs. To Mr. Wyndham's conservatism, however, is due the restoration of what is certainly the right punctuation in Sonnet 115. 14. The edition by the late Mr. Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon, is distinguished by all the mental agility and freshness of that interesting writer, as well as by his love of paradox; but it is the edition of an amateur critic. One patent sign of its want of scholarship is the preference shown for the emendations of Staunton, who was the worst of all the nineteenth-century editors of Shakespeare's text. Mr. Butler's most useful and most interesting pages are those which he devotes to the criticism of his predecessors; his own novel theories are not worth serious consideration. Of the defects of the present edition I am fully conscious, but I leave the description of them to my successor.
In anticipation, however, of a charge of needlessly attacking previous editors, I should like to say that I have thought it for the advantage of students to show not only what in any matter of debate I consider the true opinion, but why other opinions that conflict with it seem untenable. My friends with whom I find myself in disagreement will not resent my plain speaking; and any others I should like to take the
present opportunity of assuring that when I differ I do so with respect and without forgetting how much in other matters I may owe to them.
The text adopted in this edition is practically Malone's revision of the editio princeps, the Quarto of 1609; but all variations from the Quarto, except mere differences of spelling and punctuation, are noted. A few lines which seem to be corrupt have been marked with an obelus (†), and attempts at emendation will be found in the Notes. appendix I have added a critical note, originally contributed to Literature (August 19, 1899), upon the relation of Drayton's sonnets to those of Shakespeare, as this has a bearing upon several questions discussed in the Introduction. I have to thank two friendly scholars, Mr. J. W. Mackail, late Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and the Rev. Alexander Nairne, Professor of Hebrew at King's College, London, and rector of Tewin, for the pains they have spent upon the proof sheets. Professor Kittredge, one of the editors of the series, has also read them and made suggestive criticisms.
H. C. B. LITTLE CLOISTERS, WESTMINSTER ABBEY,