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Sumpsimus, &c., because he had used Mumpsimus thirty years, and would not leave his old Mumpsimus for their new Sumpsimus.” Most of the texts which some people are anxious to conserve are not more venerable, or worthier of veneration.
The truth is, that in deciding upon the purity of the texts of the old copies, and in the restoration of their corrupted and defective passages, there is occasion for all the knowledge, the judgment, the taste, the imagination, and the sympathetic appreciation of the author that can be brought to this task by the most gifted and accomplished editor. Constant vigilance, also, on the part of competent scholars, repeated collation with the text of the old copies, and examination of the reasons assigned by modern editors for the changes which they have made in that text, are necessary to the preservation of Shakespeare's writings in a state nearly approaching that in which they came from his hand. The mere accidents of the best printing offices — to say nothing of the oversights of editors are such that no edition is worthy of confidence, or, indeed, to be called an edition, the text of which has not been compared, word by word, with that of the folio of 1623 and the precedent quarto copies. It was very smart in Steevens to sneer at “the Nimrods of ifs and ands ;” but we all know that the absence or presence of a particle or a point will change the meaning of a sentence. The thief strikes only three letters out of the eighth commandment.
For the reasons above given, a notice of even the slightest deviation from the text of 1623 in this edition has been deemed obligatory; but a like respect has been paid to older or more modern texts only when, in
the former case, the deviation is of some importance, or, in the latter, the rejected reading has been approved by some distinguished editor. Very many instances of variation from the text of the folio of 1623 are characterized as almost unworthy of mention in the very notes in which they are brought to the reader's attention. A large proportion of these may be justly regarded, indeed, as quite unworthy of notice, if we consider their actual or their relative importance. But
a guarantee of accuracy the indication of these trifling variations has its value. A merchant notices the discrepancy of one cent in the balance sheet of an account of millions, not for the value of the sum
but for the importance of exactness. If the error of a unit has passed the accountant's eye there is no surety against the oversight of an error of thousands.
Careful literal conformity to the old text, except in its corruptions and irregularities, has, however, a greater value than this of being a guarantee of exact
For instance, in these passages in Hamlet,
yet once methought It lifted up it head, and did address It self to motion” (Act I. Sc. 2);
66 This doth betoken
and in this in Lear,
That it had it head bit off by it young,".
the use of 'it' in the possessive sense is not only a trait of the time, but, even if there were no other evidence, is enough to show that Hamlet and Lear were written before The Winter's Tale, in which we find “ it's folly and it's tenderness,” and before Henry the Eighth, in the first scene of which we have, “ made former wonders its.” The last passage affords the earliest instance known, I believe, of the use of the neuter possessive pronoun without the apostrophe. And yet until the appearance of the present edition of Shakespeare's works its' was given indiscriminately throughout the text of all editions.* The editors probably thought that in printing its they were merely correcting a typographical error ; whereas they were destroying evidence of a change in the language which took place during Shakespeare's career as a dramatist, and which the printers of the folio of 1623, with all their neglectfulness in other respects, carefully preserved.
A certain class of merely typographical errors in the old copies must, however, be passed over, of necessity, by even the most punctilious editor ; such, for instance, as that in the following line in Julius Cæsar, which appears thus in the folio:“ Then to answere euery man directly and breefely.” Here the unpractised eye will hardly detect breesely, printed for briefly, due to the mistake by the compositor of an old-fashioned long s (f) for an f, or perhaps to the mere accidental mutilation of the latter. When such accidents affect the sense, even in the slightest degree, and thus make a new reading, they have always been noticed in this edition ; but otherwise they have been passed over.
* See the Notes on the passages above cited.
In the preparation of the text herewith presented great care has been taken to give Shakespeare's words as nearly as possible with syllabic faithfulness to the form in which they were used by him and by his contemporaries. Only by a preservation of this form can the rhythm of either Shakespeare's verse or prose be preserved. Faithful conformity in this respect, however, does not require, it need hardly be said, the preservation of the irregular spelling of the Elizabethan era, except in those extremely rare instances in which that spelling preserves an old form of a word, or, in some cases, the rhythm of a verse. The following are, I believe, all the words in which the old spelling has been retained : libbard (leopard), squire (square), pill (peel), spet (spat), misconsters (misconstrues), commandement, module (model), wrack (wreck), murther (murder), fadom (fathom), egal (equal), paiock (peacock), porpentine (porcupine), with certain plurals and possessive cases in es, as owles, moones, and Jewes. It will be seen that these are not, except perhaps in the case of pill, mere instances of irregular orthography, that is, not different modes of expressing the same sounds which are expressed by the modern orthography of the words which convey the same ideas.
In continuation of this subject it may be remarked that too little attention has heretofore been paid to the old usage in regard to the full or the contracted forms of the past participle in ed, the second person singular of the present tense in est, the fusion of words, and other traits of like character. The bad effect of a disregard of the practice of Shakespeare's day in these particulars may be gathered from the examination of a few examples. The following line
" Th' unstained sword that you have used to bear,"
2 Henry IV., V.2
is printed in all other editions, I believe, “ The unstained sword,” &c., or “ The unstain'd... &c., (the pronunciation in either case “ unstaind,”) and similar contractions have been generally, if not universally, disregarded. But this loses the accent which Shakespeare intended; requiring “ The unstain'd,” &c., instead of "Th' unstain-ed," &c. Shakespeare might have written “ The upstain'd;” but, in accordance with the usage of his time, he preferred to preserve the participial termination, and throw the accent upon the radical syllable. So in Hamlet, Act II. Sc. 2, he writes “ Th' unnerved father fies," and not “ The unnerv'd father,” &c; and in Henry the Fourth,
“ Then let him not be sland'red with revolt,”
where all modern editions but this give Then let him not be slander'd,” &c., thus disregarding a characteristic though minute trait of the pronunciation and the prosody of the Elizabethan period. Numberless like instances occur in these plays, a few of which are remarked in the notes to this edition. The prosodic importance of the participial termination is very manifest in the following lines from a speech in Romeo and Juliet :
“Beguild, divorced, wronged, spited, slain."
Despis’d, distressed, hated, martyr'd, kill'd.”