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The ratchless genius of Shakespeare has furnished occupation for authors, from the very age in which he wrote, down to the present day; so that, independent of the innumerable editions of his plays, from the original authentic copies, to the modern mutilations represented under his name upon the stage, we have more than two hundred works of which Shakespeare and his writings are the subject.
Such being the case, it may be thought necessary, for one who ventures to add to the number, to offer some apology to the public for so doing. That tendered for the present compilation is founded on the belief, that among all these works, there does not exist one which effectively occupies the ground here taken, and very few which even attempt to connect Shakespeare's felicitous expressions -exhibiting, as they do, a matchless insight into human nature with the various casualties, motives, and objects of ordinary life. Such a task, if performed with judgment and faithfulness, could hardly fail to prove both pleasing and useful. In support of the opinion that this task yet remained to be accomplished, it will be necessary to submit a few observations concerning the works which profess to have the same object, upon the comparative merits of which with the SHAKESPEARIAN DICTIONARY, its pretensions to public favour must be founded.
Ayscough's “Index to Shakespeare,” is a work of great labour, and, as a verbal compilation, is doubtless of utility; but it is a dictionary of the poet's words, rather than of his expressions, giving only so much of the context as was necessary to elucidate the peculiar sense wherein each word is to be understood, and connecting this with remarkable speeches only by means of references. From almost any arrangement of the words of such an author, occasional scintillations will necessarily flash out; but in
this case, the pleasing effect, which thus occurs, is destroyed when we arrive at the next word in the catalogue. We may learn to number the occasions wherein each word recurs throughout the author's writings, but what have the imagination or the feelings to do with such a calculation? We may, indeed, retain the consciousness we bring with us of treading on hallowed ground, but feel not the inspiring influence of the divinity.
Certain smaller compilations, put forth under the captivating title of “Beauties of Shakespeare," contain only the more remarkable speeches, and, for the most part, are confined to such as aro clothed in verse ; omitting altogether the thousands of expressions strewed profusely throughout the prose speeches and col. loquies, wherein are to be found all those most surprising flashes of description, alternating from the grotesque to the sublime, which peculiarly distinguish the Bard of Avon from all other writers, either ancient or modern.
In this class of compilations must be included a work, published about ten years since, “by the author of the Peerage and Baronetage Chart,” and called “A Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare ;" but the same objection that attends the “Deauties,” must be made against the “ Dictionary." The quotations are given exclusively from the measured poetry of the author, while the prose speeches and colloquies are wholly neglected. Fearful of being suspected of speaking unfairly, concerning a work which comes, perhaps, the nearest in collision with the present, a specimen is here introduced, whence the reader may form some opinion of the editorial discrimination which has been exhibited. Under the head of Drunkenness, the description of Danish regal ceremonies is introduced from Hamlet:
"Give me the cups;
Under the same head we find inserted the pledge of returning amity between Brutus and Cassius, taken from the play of Julius Cæsar:
“Give me a bowl of wine;
As another illustration of the same subject, we have the expression of Richard, endeavouring to rally his downcast spirits against the pressure of a guilty conscience:
“Give me a bowl of wine;
Now it is difficult to conceive how these different quotations relate to drunkenness, save only as they refer to the act of drinking; without which, that wretched state or propensity which we express by the word drunkenness, cannot indeed have existence.
“ The Aphorisms of Shakespeare,” edited by Mr. Capel Lofft, and printed and published at Bury St. Edmunds about twenty years ago, formed a collection worthy of that highly gifted gentleman. Mr. Lofft extracted sentences from Shakespeare, beginning with the play of Hamlet. To each extract he prefixed a synonym, or concisely descriptive sentence. Where he conceived the author to be obscure, from having used terms that have become obsolete, or encumbered by expletives, he took the liberty of altering the text, and of reducing any extract according to his own pleasure, into an aphoristic compass. The result proved, as might have been expected from so competent an editor, and such rich materials, one of the most choice collections of aphoristie wisdom that ever issued from the press. The defects of Mr. Lofft's book were, that he arranged each play separately, without any classification of subjects, or alphabetical order: hence its inconvenience as a work of reference. Suppose it were required to be known what Shakespeare had said on the subject of Grief, Man, Pride, or any other matter, a person would probably require to look for these in as many different places, as Shakespeare wrote plays. As a Dictionary of Shakespearian Quotations, it could not, for obvious reasons, be of any use.
In the compilation now submitted to the public, each extract will be found classed under its appropriate head; and where the import could be expressed in a single word, it is so expressed; but where snch brevity was found impracticable, the drift or spirit of the extract is expressed in the fewest words possible. In certain cases it has been found impracticable to express the import of an extract literally, either by a single word, or by a short sentence. In such cases the compiler has endeavoured to catch the spirit, and to prefix such a term as would best convey it to the reader's comprehension. If he has not in all such cases been successful, the candid will not hastily condemn, but refer for a better term to the context. Whatever the compiler's demerits may be, the charge of altering the language of Shakespeare cannot be sustained, for the text is in no instance meddled with, except with the view to reconcile slight variations which occur in the most authentic editions. The whole collection has been finally revised, and collated with the edition of Heminge and Condell, folio, Lond. 1632.
As a table-book, it is presumed this work will be found no less pleasing, than as a book of reference it will be useful. Expressions, long and short, grave and gay, when read consecutively, will ever produce a pleasing effect; and the devoted admirer of Shakespeare will not, it is hoped, be displeased at occasionally meeting beauties which had long been familiar to him, suddenly presenting themselves from behind coverts where he had not expected to see them.
The DICTIONARY OF SHAKESPEARIAN QUOTATIONS, being the result of some thought, as well as labour, is respectfully offered as a book of utility to foreigners, young persons, and others, engaged in enquiries into the structure of our language; the synonym and the extract being mutually illustrative, according to Locke's idea of a definition.