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cern from the injuftice of his proceeding. He is, however, inclined to believe, that what he has omitted will be pardoned by the reader; and that the liberty which he has taken will not be thought to have been licentiously indulged. At all events, that the cenfure may fall where it ought, he defires it to be understood that no perfon is anfwerable for any of these innovations but himfelf.
It has been obferved by the last editor, that the multitude of inftances which have been produced to exemplify particular words, and explain obfolete customs, may, when the point is once known to be established, be diminished by any future editor, and, in conformity to this opinion, feveral quotations, which were heretofore properly introduced, are now curtailed. Were an apology required on this occafion, the present editor might shelter himself under the authority of Prior, who long ago has faid,
"That when one's proofs are aptly chofen,
The prefent editor thinks it unneceffary to fay any thing of his own fhare in the work, except that he undertook it in confequence of an application which was too flattering and too honourable to him to decline. He mentions this only to have it known that he did not intrude himself into the fituation. He is not infenfible, that the task would have been better executed by many other gentlemen, and particularly by fome whofe names appear to the notes. He has added but little to the bulk of the volumes from his own obfervations, having, upon every occafion, rather chofen to avoid a note, than to court the opportunity of inferting one. The liberty he has taken of omitting fome remarks,
he is confident, has been exercised without prejudice and without partiality; and therefore, trufting to the candour and indulgence of the publick, will forbear to detain them any longer from the entertainment they may receive from the greatest poet of this or any other nation. REED.
Nov. 10, 1785.
P R E F A C E.
IN the following work, the labour of eight years, I have endeavoured, with unceafing folicitude, to give a faithful and correct edition of the plays and poems of Shakspeare. Whatever imperfection or errors therefore may be found in it, (and what work of fo great a length and difficulty was ever free from error or imperfection ?) will, I truft, be imputed to any other caufe than want of zeal for the due execution of the tafk which I ventured to undertake.
The difficulties to be encountered by an editor of the works of Shakspeare, have been fo frequently ftated, and are fo generally acknowledged, that it may feem unneceffary to conciliate the publick
favour by this plea: but as thefe in my opinion have in fome particulars been over-rated, and in others not fufficiently infifted on, and as the true state of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the publick, I fhall confider the fubject as if it had not been already difcuffed by preceding editors.
In the year 1756 Dr. Johnson published the following excellent fcheme of a new edition of Shakfpeare's dramatick pieces, which he completed in 1765:
"When the works of Shakspeare are, after fo many editions, again offered to the publick, it will doubtlefs be enquired, why Shakspeare ftands in more need of critical affiftance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to fupply.
"The bufinefs of him that republifhes an ancient book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obfcure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written fince the ufe of types, almoft peculiar to Shakspeare. Moft writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticifm. Books indeed are fometimes published after the death of him who produced them, but they are better fecured from corruptions than these unfortunate compofitions. They fubfift in a fingle copy, written or revised by the author; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one defcent.
"But of the works of Shakspeare the condition has been far different: he fold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately
copied for the actors, and multiplied by tranfcript after transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jeft, or mutilated to fhorten the representation; and printed at laft without the concurrence of the author, without the confent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by ftealth out of the feparate parts written for the theatre: and thus thrust into the world furreptitiously and haftily, they fuffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the fate of the prefs in that age will readily con
"It is not eafy for invention to bring together fo many caufes concurring to vitiate a text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with fo little care; no books could be left in hands fo likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manufcript: no other transcribers were likely to be fo little qualified for their tafk, as thofe who copied for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the people were univerfally illiterate: no other editions were made from fragments fo minutely broken, and fo fortuitoufly re-united; and in no other age was the art of printing in fuch unskilful hands.
"With the causes of corruption that make the revifal of Shakspeare's dramatick pieces neceffary, may be enumerated the caufes of obfcurity, which may be partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
"When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and remains almoft the only unforgotten name of a diftant time, he is neceffarily obfcure. Every age has its modes of fpeech, and its caft of thought;
which, though eafily explained when there are many books to be compared with each other, become fometimes unintelligible, and always difficult, when there are no parallel paffages that may conduce to their illuftration. Shakspeare is the firft confiderable author of fublime or familiar dialogue in our language. Of the books which he read, and from which he formed his ftyle, fome perhaps have perished, and the reft are neglected. His imitations are therefore unnoted, his allufions are undiscovered, and many beauties, both of pleafantry and greatnefs, are loft with the objects to which they were united, as the figures vanish when the canvas has decayed.
"It is the great excellence of Shakspeare, that he drew his fcenes from nature, and from life. He copied the manners of the world then paffing before him, and has more allufions than other poets to the traditions and fuperftitions of the vulgar; which inuft therefore be traced before he can be understood.
"He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrafes was yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while the Saxon was ftill vifibly mingled in our diction. The reader is therefore embarraffed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with obfoleteness and innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion produced phrafeology, which fucceeding fafhion fwept away before its meaning was generally known, or fufficiently authorized and in that age, above all others, experiments were made upon our language, which diftorted its combinations, and difturbed its uniformity.
"If Shakspeare has difficulties above other