Page images
PDF
EPUB

possess the happiness and advantage of being wise or learned.

It might be thought that in the following pages exemplifications of the senses of words have been sometimes unnecessarily introduced where others had already been given ; but this has only been done where the new ones were deemed of

greater force or utility than the others, or where they were supposed to be really and intrinsically curious. Some of the notes will require that the whole of others which they advert to, should be examined in Mr. Steevens's edition, but these were not reprinted, as they would have occupied a space much too unreasonable.

At the end of every play in which a fool or clown is introduced there will be found particular and discriminative notice of a character which some may regard as by no means unworthy of such attention.

The Dissertations which accompany this work will, it is hoped, not be found misplaced nor altogether uninteresting. The subject of the first of them, though often introduced into former notes on the plays of Shakspeare and other dramatic writers, had been but partially and imperfectly illustrated. The Gesta Romanorum, to which The Merchant of Venice has been so much indebted for the construction of its story, had, it is true, been already disserted on by Mr. Warton with his accustomed elegance; but it will be found that he had by no means exhausted the

bject. The morris dance, so frequently alluded to in our old plays, seemed to require and deserve additional researches.

This preface shall not be concluded without embracing the opportunity of submitting a very few hints to the consideration of all future editors of Shakspeare.

It were much to be wished that the text of an author, and more especially that of our greatest dramatic writer, could be altered as seldom as possible by conjectural emendation, or only where it is manifestly erroneous from typographical causes. The readers of Dr. Bentlev's notes on Milion will soon be convinced of the inexpediency of the former of these practices, and of what little importance are the conjectures of the mere scholar, when unaccompanied by skill and judgment to direct them.

As ihe information on a particular subject has been hitherto frequently dispersed in separate notes, and consequently remains imperfect in each of them; would it not be more desirable to concentrate this scattered intelligence, or even to reduce it to a new form, to be referred to when. ever necessary ?

Although the strict restitution of the old orthography is not meant to be insisted on, nor would indeed accommodate the generality of readers, there are many instances in which it should be stated in the notes; and such will occur to every skilful editor, Every word or passage

be substituted in the text in the room of others to be found in any of the old editions should be printed in Italics, and assigned to its proper owner, with a reason for its preference to the originals. The mențion of variations in the old copies must of course

that may

be left to an editor's discretion. No disparage. ment is meant to the memory or talents of one of the greatest of men, when a protest is here entered against “ the text of Dr. Johnson.”

It is to be regretted that all editions of Shakspeare, as well as of other dramatic writers, have not marginal references to the acts and scenes of each play. Those of Bell and Stockdale are, in this respect, pre-eminently useful. The time and trouble that would be saved in consulting them would be very considerable.

The edition of Shakspeare used in the compilation of these volumes, and to which the pages cited refer, is the last published by Mr. Steevens himself, in fifteen volumes Svo, 1793 ; but in order to facilitate a reference to most other editions, the acts and scenes of the plays are specified,

« PreviousContinue »