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the best part of them on the way,—it is for the sake of those readers and on their part, as one of them, that I have written this book; and I wrote it thus.
Though never one of those who devote their social hours to trumpeting their admiration of him who wrote for all time, yet having been, as you have already seen, his devoted student at so early an age as to be unable to remember when I first began to muse and ponder with wondering delight upon his
pages, it was inevitable that love should grow with knowledge, admiration with the capacity to apprehend, and reverence with the gradually acquired ability to compare his mind with those of the others who are called great in literature. But what I first esteemed a misfortune I now regard as one of the happiest circumstances of my intellectual life:—my Father's bookshelves were guiltless of an annotated copy, and I read Shakespeare pure and simple, — that is, in a state as nearly approaching purity as the mere text of Mr. Singer's edition gave it to me. A copy of the small Chiswick edition in one volume, bought with the savings of my own slender stock of pocket money, kept in my own room, carried with me to the country during my school vacations, read by surreptitious candlelight when I was supposed to be asleep, was, through boyhood to youth, through youth to manhood, my companion and my constant joy. You will pardon the egotism, for you will see, if you do not already, that it is necessary.
Thrown as I continually was among those who were men of scholarship, even if not professional or literary men, you will wonder, perhaps, how I avoided reading or talking Shakesperian criticism. It was thus. I had heard much said of the wonderful learning and ability which had been brought to the illustration of Shakespeare; and discovering that such eminent names as those of Pope and Johnson were enrolled in the list of his editors and commentators, I looked forward to the perusal of these writings with delightful anticipations. At last, in my Freshman year, I picked up a volume of an annotated edition in the room of a classmate :-the edition, I think, was one called Reed and Johnson's by its American publishers. I opened it eagerly and looked for the comments. The surprise and disappointment with which I read them, I will not undertake to tell you. I found them to consist, not of expansions or illustrations of Shakespeare's thought or analysis of his characters, but of attempts to illuminate passages which had always been to me as clear as noonday, or cold and pragmatic approval or censure of works which I thought should be spoken of only with enthusiastic admiration, tempered with reverence. Nearly all the comments, whether right or wrong, irritated me equally; for nearly all of them seemed to me to be superfluous and therefore insulting. But I reflected that I was but a College boy, and that these were the great Dr. Johnson, the learned Bishop Warburton, or the great poet Pope, or the “very ingenious" contemporaries and friends of those eminent men; and feeling that respectful consideration for their eminence
became me, I read on for half an hour in various parts of the volume, until I came to Johnson's closing remarks upon Cymbeline, in which he speaks of “the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct,' &c., and finishes by pointing out the “unresisting imbecility” of the work. This was too much for me: shocked, wounded, repelled, with a sense of personal wrong I flung the book aside, and mentally registered a solemn vow never to read again a criticism or comment of any kind upon Shakespeare's works. My thoughts were akin to those of the author of the Pursuits of Literature, whose remarkable satire I met with, years afterward.
"Mast I for SUAKESPEARE no compassion feel,
Hot was the chace; I left it out of breath ;
I reasoned thus:-If this be what such men as Pope, and Warburton, and Johnson say about Shakespeare, and with not only the assent but the approbation of the world, their Shakespeare and the world's Shakespeare is not mine; and mine is too dear to me to be given up at the bidding of any poet, or bishop, or lexicographer of them all. Except the examination of some MS. notes, original and selected, kindly lent to me by Mr. Hackett, I kept my vow until abont five years ago. Then I bought a copy of Mr. Knight's Pictorial Edition, and having studied Shakespeare himself alone for so many years, I thought that I might with indifference read a commentator again. From Mr. Knight's labors I derived great satisfaction: his were altogether different comments from those which still fretted in my memory. I found that his Shakespeare and mine were the same; and I read with a new pleasure his remarks upon the different Plays:--a pleasure which I need hardly say was repeated and heightened by subsequent acquaintance with the criticisms of Coleridge, Wilson, Schlegel, and Hazlitt. But I learned from him a fact of which my determination had kept me ignorant, or rather, made me forgetful,--that the text of Shakespeare before the date of his edition was filled with the alterations and interpolations of those very editors whose labors had impressed me so unpleasantly; and finding that in some of the few passages which had been obscure to me, the obscurity was of their creating, not of Shakespeare's or even his printers', I instantly began the critical study of the text. From that time to this, excepting my indispensable daily duties, I have done little else than labor in this field. Mr. Halliwell's excellent catalogue of Shakesperian literature pointed out the work before me, and all the necessary books which I was not able to procure immediately were attainable to me in the yet unopened Astor Library, through the kindness of Dr. Cogswell, or in the noble dramatic collection of Mr. Burton. Both of these libraries contain fine copies of the original
folio edition of Shakespeare's plays; and Mr. Burton's is not wanting in a copy of any edition of even the least critical value, from the date of the original to the present day, while it abounds in the rarest and inost valuable editions of our earlier as well as later dramatists, poets, and prose writers whose works can in any way throw light upon the text of Shakespeare and the history of our drama or our language. With the early dramatists, and the poets from Robert of Gloucester and Piers Ploughman, I had already a familiar acquaintance, and I was thus enabled to give my attention to literature purely Shakesperian. What knowledge my five years of hard labor has viren me of the mass of mingled learning and ignoTauce, sense and folly, with which Shakespeare has as nearly as possible been overwhelmed, the following pages will partly show :—and but partly; for the mere reference to it all would make a volume in itself; and a very unnecessary and wearisome volume it would be. But it is not because I have gone through such preparation that I have written this book; but because before I undertook the task I had studied Shakespeare himself with constant devotion during the whole of my thinking life, and had not discovered the need of any comments or explanations at all, except in a few passages, nearly every one of which my more recent studies have shown me were obscured by the labors of those editors who lived before the expiration of the first quarter of this century, or by the carelessness of the printers of the first edition, or their inability to decipher the manu