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script which was furnished to them. During my study of the text in the original folio and in Steevens' reprint of the quartos, it was my habit, in all passages in which they differed from the editions in common use, to enter their readings upon the margins of my copy of Shakespeare; and as I read the commentators and editors I did the same with their noteworthy conjectural emendations, adding my own solution of the difficulty in many cases in which it seemed to me that there was either no difficulty at all, or that the simplest means of solving it had been neglected. It was impossible that such a course of study should be pursued by one who was in the almost daily habit of committing his thoughts upon other subjects to paper, without the accompaniment of written notes. These gradually accumulated upon me, sometimes in the shape of mere memorandums, sometimes extending themselves almost into short essays; and they, with the exception of the pages devoted to the consideration of Mr. Collier's folio, form the bulk of the ensuing volume. They were written with no intent that they should see the light in this form, if at all; for the most devoted student of Shakespeare will shrink from adding the weight of his thoughts to the burden under which the text of the great dramatist has so long groaned. But as, after the appearance of the two papers in Putnam's Magazine upon Mr. Collier's folio, it was suggested to me by some whose judgments I respected, that a book written in the same spirit upon the text of Shakespeare, would be
welcomed by all those who were giving attention to a subject which had derived renewed interest from recent events, and would help to beget an universal habit of more direct communion with him, to a disregard of the notes of editors and commentators; and as the effect of what I had written, if it were to have effect at all, would be to lead to the reception of the simple and obvious meaning of his lines, I determined to prepare for publication selections from and expansions of the notes of my studies. This I have done; and in this volume you see the result. The book was not deliberately made; but, like Topsy, it "growed." Unlike that young lady, however, it was not "raised on a spec;" for you need not be told that, were five editions to be sold, it would not pay me day laborer's wages for the mere time I have devoted to the preparation of it.
But though the result of accumulation rather than of projection, the book is not without unity of purpose; that purpose being to show that the obvious signification of Shakespeare's poetry is not only the true sense but the best, and that therefore no thinking man, of ordinary information and intelligence, needs the aid of editors and commentators to help him to the full understanding and enjoyment of nearly every passage which came from Shakespeare's pen. People are apt to forget that Shakespeare wrote his plays to please the promiscuous public of London, at a time when the general diffusion of knowledge was infinitely less than it is now.
He wrote to make money by interesting such a public, and of course to be understood by it; and he was understood. The general public of his day, those who, in the words of his fellow actors, judged their "sixpen'orth" and their "shilling's worth" as well as those who judged their "five shillings' worth at a time, or higher," crowded the theatre to hear his plays, while Jonson's more learned and labored, though not more finished, dramas were played to empty benches. Leonard Digges, a contemporary of both the poets, has left us some verses, which you have doubtless seen before, and which have value as a testimony to Shakespeare's power of pleasing the people of his time.
"So have I seen, when Cæsar would appear,
Were ravished! with what wonder they went thence!
And though the Fox and subtil Alchymist,
Though these have sham'd all th' ancients, and might raise
Yet these sometimes, even at a friend's desire
Acted, have scarce defray'd the sea coal fire,
And Benedick be seen, lo! in a trice
The cock-pit, galleries, boxes, all are full,
To hear Malvolio that cross garter'd gull.
Brief, there is nothing in his wit-fraught book
Like old coin'd gold, whose lines, in every page,
It is folly to say that the writings of such a man need notes and comments to enable readers of ordinary intelligence to apprehend their full meaning. There is no pretence for the intrusion of such aids, except the fact that Shakespeare wrote two hundred and fifty years ago; and this seems to be but a pretence; for who needs, for as much as a word in a play, even the glossary which is most superfluously appended to almost every edition of the Poet's works? I believe that for even the least learned of those who can appreciate Shakespeare at all, there is not necessity for more than a half a score of brief notes to each play; and these, purely historical or antiquarian in their character.
I must not be understood as seeking to derogate from the value of critical writing upon the works of Shakespeare; for in that department of literature there exist some of the most delightful essays in our language. My objections are to notes upon his pages, or elsewhere, the professed object of which is to enable the reader to understand the text and apprehend the poetical beauty of the thoughts. These are in almost every instance useless and impertinent: the reader who cannot appreciate Shakespeare without them can do no better with them; and to all others they are either a stumbling-block or foolishness.
These lines are prefixed to the spurious edition of Shakespeare's Poems, published in 1640. As I know of no copy of that rare volume in this country, I am obliged to quote at second hand from the Variorum Shakespeare, vol. i. p. 487.
Let me give two examples here. In quoting this passage from Antony and Cleopatra, in which the Queen having fainted upon the body of Antony is aroused by the cries of her women,
Cleo. No more; but e'en a woman, and commanded,
Mrs. Jameson adds in a note-"Cleopatra replies "to the first word she hears on recovering her senses,
"No more an empress, but e'en a woman." Mrs. Jameson suppose that any one who could appreciate her charming book could fail to understand such a passage at the first glance? In the same play Dr. Johnson has a note upon this speech of Cleopa
"Your wife, Octavia, with her modest eyes
The lexicographer informs us that "still conclusion" is sedate determination.' What is this but to substitute a water color sketch for an oil painting?
There are certain passages in his plays, and to Shakespeare's glory and our delight they are many, to appreciate the full force of which we must have gone sympathetically on with the poet, and have reached them in the same mood with him. Otherwise we breathe a different air, scan a narrower horizon. The man who stands upon the level of literal prose cannot see the vast, far-stretching, ten