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remained undiminished. By thefe aids fome new information has been obtained, and fome new materials collected. From the affiftance of fuch writers, even Shakspeare will receive no difcredit.
When the very great and various talents of the laft editor, particularly for this work, are confidered, it will occafion much regret to find, that having fuperintended two editions of his favourite author through the press, he has at length declined the laborious office, and committed the care of the prefent edition to one who laments with the rest of the world the feceffion of his predeceffor; being confcious, as well of his own inferiority, as of the injury the publication will fuftain by the change.
As fome alterations have been made in the prefent edition, it may be thought neceffary to point them out. These are of two kinds, additions and omiffions. The additions are fuch as have been fupplied by the last editor, and the principal of the living commentators. To mention these affiftances, is fufficient to excite expectation; but to speak any thing in their praife will be fuperfluous to those who are acquainted with their former labours. Some remarks are alfo added from new commentators, and fome notices extracted from books which have been published in the course of a few years paft.
Of the omiffions, the most important are fome notes which have been demonftrated to be ill founded, and fome which were supposed to add to the fize of the volumes without increafing their value. It may probably have happened that a few are rejected which ought to have been retained; and in that cafe the prefent editor, who has been the occafion of their removal, will feel fome con
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 cuftoms, 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 prefent 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 applica tion 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 tafk 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 exercifed 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 entertain ment they may receive from the greatest poet of this or any other nation. REED.
Nov. 10, 1785.
IN N 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 talk 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 these in my opinion have in fome particulars been over-rated, and in others not fufficiently infifted on, and as the true ftate of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the publick, I fhall confider the subject 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 doubtless 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 republishes 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 use of types, almoft peculiar to Shakspeare. Moft writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticifin. 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 last 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 state of the prefs in that age will readily conceive.
"It is not eafy for invention to bring together fo many causes 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 task, 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
"When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and remains almoft the only unforgotten name of a distant time, he is neceffarily obfcure. Every age has its modes of fpeech, and its caft of thought;