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his own, — if, after all this, he must not be trusted with a discretionary power over the text, he never could be qualified to be an editor at all. Whatever editor (one, we mean, who aspires to that title) republishes a book from an old edition, when the text might be improved from subsequent discoveries, while he hopes to show his modesty and religion, only exposes his indolence, his ignorance, or his superstition.” *
This bulwark is strong enough for my protection. My right to stand behind it can only be established by the ensuing pages.
The edition being designed to meet the wants of all readers, from those who open Shakespeare merely for a moment's pleasure to those who wish to study his text critically, on the one hand comment has been made upon many phrases and words which need no elucidation to the well-read English scholar, and on the other all old readings, i.e., variations of text which involve a difference of meaning, whether from the early quartos or the later folios, and all readings from modern editors and commentators, deemed, upon a very catholic judgment, worthy of attention, have been given in the notes, together with such comments upon corrupted or obscure passages as were included by a similar latitude of choice. Thus ample means afforded for the critical study of the text to all readers whose purpose does not impel them to the laborious collation of original editions.
In the preparation of the Notes and Essays the possession of ordinary intelligence and knowledge of our language and literature by the reader has been as
* Tracts and Miscellan, ous Criticisms, p. 89.
sumed, but no special knowledge, or what may be called purely literary acquirement. If there be no note upon any passage, it is because it was supposed to be perfectly clear to any person possessing such a degree of intelligence and knowledge as has just been mentioned. On the other hand, a definition is sometimes given, or an illustrative passage quoted, not with the notion of presenting a novel view or displaying recondite reading, but with an eye to the pleasure, and perhaps the instruction, of readers (and I trust they will be many) who have not at hand even such books as Nares's Glossary, or Halliwell's or Wright's Archaic Dictionaries. Some notes have also been written and some quotations made in support of readings which are quite able to stand alone, because, comment upon these plays being free to all, it seems desirable to do whatever can be done within moderate compass to prevent and meet beforehand foolish and feeble perversions, and doubts as to clear passages, which, being broached and bandied about, win the attention of presuming half-knowledge, and make thankless and irritating labor for the after-coming scholar.
It has been a point in the preparation of this work to give results rather than processes, except when a knowledge of the process is necessary to an appreciation of the result; to make the notes as few and as concise as possible, consistently with the attainment of the end in view - the formation and maintenance of a sound text, and the explanation of obsolete phrases and customs; and to resist all temptations to expressions of individual admiration and to esthetic criticism. Neither the Antony nor the Brutus of my hero, I come neither to bury nor to praise him. Therefore, except in the first volume, I have confined my labors to the text and to subjects directly connected with it. When, to the best of my ability and to the extent of my acquaintance with the literature and the customs of Shakespeare's time, I had furnished the reader with the words of my author, and if it seemed necessary, with an explanation of those words, and in the Introductory Remarks, with all the information within my reach as to the origin, the history, and the textual condition of each play, I deemed that my legitimate labors were at an end. For like reasons, also, I did not feel justified in obtruding upon the reader mere laudatory comment from the works of any of Shakespeare's critics, however eminent - a department of Shakespearian literature, by the way, with which my acquaintance is merely casual, and very limited. In the purely editorial part of his work, it is, in my judgment, an editor's business simply to enable the reader to possess and understand his author. Nevertheless esthetics and psychology are sometimes constrained to do handmaid's service to verbal criticism.
In the following pages there will be found, I think, nothing at all of a certain kind of annotation which has filled a large space in many editions of this author, the object of which is to explain Shakespeare's poetry or to justify his use of language. No exercise of the editorial function seems to me so superfluous, I will say so impertinent. That a recent commentator should complain, as one, learned if not appreciative, has complained, that in these passages — “ No; let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
" and his poor self
And violenteth in a sense as strong
the commentators have not "justified,” by authority and argument, Shakespeare's use of candied,'pregnant, dedicated,' and violenteth,' is, to me, simply amazing. So it is that another should tell us that Cæsar's exclamation, “ Wilt thou lift up Olympus?” means, wilt thou attempt an impossibility and that another should explain “ broad-fronted Cæsar,” and explain it, too, as having reference “ to Cæsar's baldness”! and tell us that when Helena says Parolles is “solely a coward," she means that he is “altogether a coward, without the admixture of the opposite quality,” and even give us a definition of “ill-nurtured.” Others dispute the propriety of Boyet's most expressive and almost colloquial phrase, “0, I am stabb'd with laughter;" and many spend time, and ink, and paper, in assuring us that in Claudio's song, “ Done to death by slanderous tongues," means killed by slanderous tongues, and that Shakespeare was “justified” in using the phrase because it had been used long before his time. Why, if it had never been used before this day, what justification or what explanation would it require if it were to appear to-morrow in a poem or a leading article? The extreme of this mode of annotation is reached by one editor, who gravely assures the reader that when Antony says that at Cæsar's assassination Pompey's statue “ all the while ran blood,” it " is not intended to imply that the statue of Pompey shed blood in miraculous sympathy with Cæsar, as Cæsar was his bitter enemy, but that the blood of Cæsar spurted out upon the statue and trickled down it.” Whoever cannot understand, without explanation, such a use of language as that of which these passages are examples, had better lay down Shakespeare, or any true poet, as a sealed book. To explain such phrases is to insult the reader by implying his incapacity of poetic apprehension ; while to go about justifying them is to assume the right of depriving the poet of part of his power as a
"maker." Yet poets themselves sometimes, in timidity, thus blot their own pages. In Miss Barret's Drama of Exile, Eve, gazing at night upon the heavens and scanning the constellations, says,
“ But look off to those small humanities,
Which draw me tenderly across my fear,-
They lean together!” The maiden poetess thereupon deliberately takes the life of the child of her own imagination, by adding a note in which she explains Eve's speech by saying that “ Her maternal instinct is excited by Gemini.” And Rogers, in his little poem “On a Tear,” destroys the effect of the last pretty stanza, which almost redeems the prim platitude and tiewig-time sensibility of its five predecessors, by deliberately informing his reader that when he says that the very law which moulds a tear and causes it to fall, is the same which preserves the earth a sphere and guides the planets, he means "the law of gravitation " !