Imatges de pÓgina

While I printed merely small tracts on our early drama and literature, chiefly at my own expense, and thus furnished materials that others could profitably employ, I did not seem to have an enemy in the world : every body praised me as industrious, liberal, and communicative ; but the moment I began upon the works of Shakespeare four angry editors, almost at the same moment, sprang up in the field. I was assailed, to say the least of it, most pertinaciously ; and the accidental discovery of the corrected folio, 1632, (the contents of which were, in fact, opposed to my own views and notions) roused enemies at home and abroad. So angry were some, that they infringed all customary rules, and though the lapse of time has considerably cooled animosity, especially since it produced no impression upon me, there are still those who cannot find in their hearts to forgive my success. No wonder they represent it to be as little as possible; and, for the sake of the poet, I heartily wish it was more, even though it still farther embittered hostility.

How strange it must ever appear that, on a subject which excites the interest and admiration of all mankind, and re

Eneas will but stay behind, and allow Achates to proceed to Italy in his stead :

she says,

“For ballass empty Dido's treasury:

Take what you will, but leave Æneas here.
Achates, thou shalt be so meanly clad,

That sea-born nymphs shall swarm about thy ships," &c. Now, it is acknowledged on all hands that “meanly” must be an error, and various suggestions, indeed all but the right, have been made to amend it. The fact is, that as in “ Midsummer-Night's Dream” news is a misprint for “means,” so in “ Dido" meanly is a misprint for “newly:" read

“ Achates, thou shalt be so newly clad,” and the difficulty is at an end : the ships were to be refitted, and Achates, throwing aside his old weather-worn dress, was to be “so newly clad " in splendid habiliments, that the sea-born nymphs would swarm about his ships in admiratiou. How " means " in Shakespeare came to be misread news, and " newly” in Marlowe and Nash misread meanly by a careless compositor, we can easily understand. While in the former case the Rev. Mr. Dyce repeats news, he takes care to mention in a note that “Mr. Collier's MS, corrector substitutes' means;'" for be could not ignore an emendation which his readers, in spite of his efforts, will be certain to accept. This confirmation of “means for news did not occur to me, when I wrote the note in Vol. ii. p. 227.


garding which all mankind ought to unite in one purpose, that of clearing the language of Shakespeare from undoubted blemishes ',-private jealousies and personal enmities should be allowed to interfere with the accomplishment of an object so inestimable. When I consider the utter insignificance of an editor, in comparison with the great master it has been the business of his life to illustrate, I know not how sufficiently to apologize for bringing my own position so prominently before the reader.

All I ask is that those who strive to form a fair estimate of the textual changes, humbly though confidently, recommended in the present edition of Shakespeare, will apply their own faculties and acquirements to the subject, and will not idly yield without reflection to the dictation of an expiring school. If competent knowledge, good sense, and sound principles of criticism warrant an emendation, let it be adopted : if not, I shall be, not merely content, but glad to see it rejected. The editor who absurdly fancies that he can improve the ascertained language of Shakespeare is unfit for his office: he thinks better of himself than of the poet.


Maidenhead, March 24, 1858.

8 To show how these blemishes sometimes unconsciously accumulate, it may be mentioned that, in one of Mr. Singer's earlier volumes, a line is omitted. and thus a rhyming couplet is left incomplete. We have not examined other volumes, in order to ascertain whether similar defects exist in them--probably not-and Mr. Singer may console himself by reflecting, that in the “ Variorum Shakespeare,” 8vo, 1821, three lines in three different plays are wanting.




I SHOULD not have ventured to undertake the superintendence of a new edition of the Works of Shakespeare, had I not felt confidence, arising not only out of recent but long-continued experience, that I should enjoy some important and peculiar advantages. The Duke of Devonshire and Lord Francis Egerton, I was sure, would allow me to resort to their libraries, in cases where search in our public depositories must be unavailing, in consequence of their inevitable deficiencies: this of itself would have been a singular facility; but I did not anticipate that these two noblemen would at once have permitted me, as they have done, to take home, for the purpose of constant and careful collation, every early impression of Shakespeare's productions they possessed.

The collection of the Duke of Devonshire is notoriously the most complete in the world : his Grace has a perfect series, including, of course, every first edition, several of which are neither at Oxford, Cambridge, nor in the British Museum ; and Lord Francis Egerton has various impressions of the utmost rarity, besides plays, poems, and tracts of the time, illustrative of the works of our great dramatist. All these I have had in my hands during the preparation and printing of the ensuing volumes, so that I have had the opportunity of going over every line and letter of the text, not merely with one, but with several original copies (sometimes varying materially from each other) under my eyes. Wherever, therefore, the text of the present edition is faulty, I can offer no excuse founded upon want of most easy access to the best authorities.

With regard to the notes, I am bound to admit that the substance of them has been derived, in many if not in most instances, from those of preceding editors: I have given rather their results than their details; and the bibliographical and philological knowledge obtained of late has enabled me now and then to correct their mistakes, not unfrequently to confirm their conjectures, and sometimes to add to their information. Having devoted more than thirty years of my life to the study of our early popular literature, I have here and there found occasion to dissent from the opinions of my predecessors : I have expressed that dissent with as much brevity as possible, but, I hope, with due respect for the learning and labours of others. I have never thought it necessary to enter into the angry controversies of some previous editors, upon matters of trifling import, bearing in mind the prophetic words of Ben Jonson, when he exclaims in his “Discoveries,” “What a sight it is, to see writers committed together by the ears for ceremonies, syllables, points, colons, commas, hyphens, and the like; fighting, as it were, for their fires and altars, and angry that none are frighted at their noises !”

My main object has been to ascertain the true language of the poet, and my next to encumber his language with no more, in the shape of comment, than is necessary to render the text intelligible; and I may add, that I have the utmost confidence in the perspicuity of Shakespeare's mode of expressing his own meaning, when once his precise words have been established.

The Introductions to the separate dramas are intended to comprise all the existing information regarding the origin of the plot, the period when each play was written and printed, the sources of the most accurate readings, and any remarkable circumstances attending composition, production, or performance.

I have arranged the whole, for the first time, in the precise sequence observed by Heminge and Condell in the folio of 1623 : they were fellow-actors with Shakespeare, and had played, perhaps, in every drama they published; and as they executed their task with intelligence and discretion in other * respects, we may presume that they did not without reason settle the order of the plays in their noble monument to the author's memory. For about half the whole number their volume affords the most ancient and authentic text; but with respect to the rest, printed in quarto before the appearance of the folio, I have in every instance traced the text through the earlier impressions, and have shown in what manner, and to what degree, it has been changed and corrupted.

In the biographical memoir of the poet, of whom it is not too much to say, that he combined in himself more than all the excellences of every dramatist before or since the revival of letters, I have been anxious to include the most minute particles of information, whether of tradition or discovery. This information is now hardly as scanty as it was formerly represented, and, by the favour of friends and my own research, I have been able to add to it some particulars entirely new, and of no little importance. I have disposed the whole chronologically, as far as was possible ; and I have endeavoured to show in what way one fact bears upon

and illustrates another, and how circumstances, insignificant in themselves, acquire value in connexion with the history and progress of Shakespeare's mind. Mere personal incidents are of small worth, unless they enable us better to understand and appreciate an author in his productions.

The account of our drama and stage to the time of Shakespeare is necessarily brief and summary, but it is hoped that it will be deemed sufficient. I need not apologize for partial changes of opinion since the appearance of my former work, because those changes have been produced by subsequent information, or by more mature reflection.

The glossarial index, which concludes the preliminary portion of this work, will perhaps demand some forbearance on the part of the reader: it is, I believe, the first time an alphabetical list of words used by Shakespeare has been made to answer the double purpose of a mere glossary, and of a means of reference to notes where explanatory matter is inserted. An index to the notes might perhaps have answered the purpose, and have saved much trouble to the editor ; but in that case the reader, who only wanted to know the meaning of an obsolete word, would have had to turn to different volumes, instead of at once obtaining the knowledge he required. Due allowance must here be made for brevity, and for the not unfrequent necessity of reducing a complex term to its simplest signification.

Besides the gratitude I must ever feel to the Duke of Devonshire for a new proof of most considerate confidence, and to Lord Francis Egerton for so instantly following an

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