« PreviousContinue »
there are one hundred thousand lines in these plays, and that it often was necessary to consult
21. "To the yet-unbegotten sins of time." P. 102. "To the yet-unbegotten sin of times." P. 541. 22. "And breathing to this breathless excellence,—” P.102. "And breathing to his breathless excellence,-" P. 542. 23. "And your supplies, which you have wish'd so long,-" P. 121. "And your supply, which you have wish'd so long, 24. "What's that to thee? Why may I not demand—” "What's that to thee? Why may not I demand
26. "Death, having prey'd upon the outward parts, "Leaves them; invisible his siege is now
Against the mind," P. 124.
25. "O, my sweet sir, news fitted to the night." P. 123. "O, my sweet sir, news fitting to the night." P. 563.
"Death, having prey'd upon the outward parts,
P. 125. "The salt in them is hot." P. 568.
27. "The salt of them is hot."
Two other restorations in this play I have not set down: "Before we will lay down our just-borne arms— Act II. sc. ii.
"Be these sad signs confirmers of thy word." Act III. because I pointed them out on a former occasion.
It may perhaps be urged that some of the variations in these lists, are of no great consequence; but to preserve our poet's genuine text is certainly important; for otherwise, as Dr. Johnson has justly observed, "the history of our language will be lost;" and as our poet's words are changed, we are constantly in danger of losing his meaning also. Every reader must wish to peruse what Shakspeare wrote, supported at once by the authority of the authentick copies, and the usage of his contempora ries, rather than what the editor of the second folio, or Pope, or Hanmer, or Warburton, have arbitrarily substituted in its place.
six or seven volumes, in order to ascertain by which of the preceding editors, from the time of the publication of the second folio, each emendation was made, it will easily be believed, that thiswas not effected without much trouble.
Whenever I mention the old copy in my notes, if the play be one originally printed in quarto, I mean the first quarto copy; if the play appeared originally in folio, I mean the first folio; and when I mention the old copies, I mean the first quarto and first folio, which, when that expression is used, it may be concluded, concur in the same reading. In like manner, the folio always means the first folio, and the quarto, the earliest quarto, with the exceptions already mentioned. In general, however, the date of each quarto is given, when it is cited. Where there are two quarto copies printed in the same year, they are particularly distinguished, and the variations noticed.
The two great duties of an editor are, to exhibit the genuine text of his author, and to explain his obscurities. Both of these objects have been so constantly before my eyes, that, I am confident, one of them will not be found to have been neglected for the other. I can with perfect truth say, with Dr. Johnson, that "not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me obscure, which I have not endeavoured to illustrate." I have examined the notes of all the editors, and my own
Let me not, however, be misunderstood. All these variations have not been discovered by the present collation, some of them having been pointed out by preceding editors; but such as had been already noticed were merely pointed out: the original readings are now established and supported by the usage of our poet himself and that of his contemporaries, and restored to the text, instead of being degraded to the bottom of the page.
former remarks, with equal rigour; and have endeavoured as much as possible to avoid all controversy, having constantly had in view a philanthropick observation made by the editor above mentioned: "I know not (says that excellent writer,) why our editors should, with such implacable anger, persecute their predecessors. Οἱ νεκροὶ μὴ λάκεσιν, the dead, it is true, can make no resistance, they may be attacked with great security; but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure: nor perhaps would it much misbeseem us to remember, amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and the senseless, that we likewise are men; that debemur morti, and, as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the dead ourselves."
I have in general given the true explication of a passage, by whomsoever made, without loading the page with the preceding unsuccessful attempts at elucidation, and by this means have obtained room for much additional illustration: for, as on the one hand, I trust very few superfluous or unnecessary annotations have been admitted, so on the other, I believe, that not a single valuable explication of any obscure passage in these plays hast ever appeared, which will not be found in the following volumes.
The admirers of this poet will, I trust, not merely pardon the great accession of new notes in the present edition, but examine them with some degree of pleasure. An idle notion has been propagated, that Shakspeare has been buried under his commentators; and it has again and again been repeated by the tasteless and the dull, "that notes, though often necessary, are necessary evils." There is no person, I believe, who has an higher respect
for the authority of Dr. Johnson than I have; but he has been misunderstood, or misrepresented, as if these words contained a general caution to all the readers of this poet. Dr. Johnson, in the part of his preface here alluded to, is addressing the young reader, to whom Shakspeare is new; and him he very judiciously counsels to "read every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators.-Let him read on, through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue, and his interest in the fable." But to much the greater and more enlightened part of his readers, (for how few are there comparatively to whom Shakspeare is new?) he gives a very different advice: Let them to whom the pleasures of novelty have ceased, "attempt exactness, and read the commentators.'
During the era of conjectural criticism and capricious innovation, notes were indeed evils; while one page was covered with ingenious sophistry in support of some idle conjecture, and another was wasted in its overthrow, or in erecting a new fabrick equally unsubstantial as the former. But this era is now happily past away; and conjecture and emendation have given place to rational explanation. We shall never, I hope, again be told, that "as the best guesser was the best diviner, so he may be said in some measure to be the best editor of Shakspeare. Let me not, however, be supposed an enemy to all conjectural emendation; sometimes undoubtedly we must have recourse to it; but, like the machinery of the ancient drama, let it not be resorted to except in cases of difficulty;
Newton's Preface to his edition of Milton.
nisi dignus vindici nodus. "I wish (says Dr. Johnson) we all conjectured less, and explained more." When our poet's entire library shall have been discovered, and the fables of all his plays traced to their original source, when every temporary allusion shall have been pointed out, and every obscurity elucidated, then, and not till then, let the accumulation of notes be complained of. I scarcely remember ever to have looked into a book of the age of Queen Elizabeth, in which I did not find somewhat that tended to throw a light on these plays. While our object is, to support and establish what the poet wrote, to illustrate his phraseology by comparing it with that of his contemporaries, and to explain his fugitive allusions to customs long since disused and forgotten, while this object is kept steadily in view, if even every line of his plays were accompanied with a comment, every intelligent reader would be indebted to the industry of him who produced it. Such uniformly has been the object of the notes now presented to the publick. Let us then hear no more of this barbarous jargon concerning Shakspeare's having been elucidated into obscurity, and buried under the load of his commentators. Dryden is said to have regretted the success of his own instructions, and to have lamented that at length, in consequence of his critical prefaces, the town had become too skilful to be easily satisfied. The same observation may be made with respect to many of these objectors, to whom the meaning of some of our poet's most difficult passages is now become so familiar, that they fancy they originally understood them "without a prompter;" and with great gravity exclaim against the unnecessary illustrations furnished by his Editors: nor ought we