Chalmers was born at Aberdeen in 1759 and received a classical and medical education. He obtained a position as surgeon in the West Indies, and was on his way to join his ship, "when he suddenly altered his mind and proceeded to London, where he soon became connected with the periodical press" (DNB, Stephen, p. 444). He began by editing newspapers, eventually becoming the editor of the Morning Chronicle. He became further connected with the publishing business, and became a prolific editor of books. As the DNB says of him, "No man ever edited so many works as Chalmers for the booksellers of London." In addition to his Shakespeare (1805) Chalmers edited a staggering number of volumes from a wide array of authors. He edited several editions of A Continuation of the History of England (1793-1821), Barclay's Complete and Universal English Dictionary, an edition of The British Essayists, which ran to 45 volumes (from The Tatler to The Observer), he added lives to the works of Burns and Beattie (1805), brought out an edition of Fielding's works in 10 volumes (1806), an edition of Warton's Essays (1806), a special edition of The Tatler, Spectator and Guardian in 14 volumes (1806), an edition of Gibbon's History with a life of the author in 12 volumes (1807), Prefaces to most of the works in the 45-volume Walker's Classics, Bolingbroke's Works in 8 volumes (1809), he contributed lives to the British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits (2 volumes, 1809-1816), edited an enlarged version of Johnson's Collection of the English Poets in 21 volumes (1810), a History of Oxford buildings, 1810, The Projector, a collection of essays gathered from the Gentleman's Magazine, in 3 volumes in 1811, a collection of the biographies of various English worthies in 2 volumes in 1816, the Ninth edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson in 1822, another edition of Dr. Johnson's Works in 1823, another edition of Shakespeare in 1823 [I have been unable to locate this edition on the Internet and it is not described in Murphy's Shakespeare in Print]. Chalmers was also an active contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine, but "the work on which his fame as a biographer chiefly rests" is the New and General Biographical Dictionary, first published in 1761, with several later editions. Chalmers' edition first appeared in 1812 and in subsequent years, under the title The General Biographical Dictionary: "the total number of articles exceeded 9,000," many new, and all revised, a prodigious labor.
Just two years after Isaac Reed brought out his "first variorum edition" of Shakespeare, further expanding upon the text of the 1793 Steevens edition (Reed's edition was also known as the "fifth edition" of the Steevens-Johnson text, issued in twenty-one volumes (!)), Alexander Chalmers brought out his own edition of Shakespeare. It is an early reaction, presaging Singer's later edition, to the expansive notes of the Reed (and previous Steevens) editions. In its Preface Chalmers asserts that "It is the first attempt that has been made to concentrate the information given in the copious notes of the various commentators within a moderate space, and with an attention rather to their conclusions than to their premises." Further, lest the potential buyer miss the point, he states that "He [Chalmers, the editor] can only say that in the whole progress of his labours, he endeavoured to place himself in the situation of one who desires to understand his author at the smallest expence of time and thought, and who does not wish to have his attention diverted from a beauty, to be distracted by a contest." Though Chalmers makes these protestations, you will notice that the notes are still occupy a fairly significant portion of space in his edition compared with later nineteenth century editions.
The Chalmers edition, then, is unremarkable for its content, except in its selection of illustrations, which are "A series of engravings, from original designs of Henry Fuseli." That is to say, not by Fuseli himself, but copies of Fuseli's work. Fuseli was a leader in the romantic movement in painting who drew lifelong inspiration from the works of Shakespeare. For a thoroughgoing analysis of Fuseli's Shakespeare-inspired paintings, see Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, pp. 266-276. Indeed, the illustrations in Chalmers' edition are excellent, and worth consulting the volumes for their sake. I have reproduced several of them below.
Chalmers' edition of Shakespeare first appeared in 1805, issued in ten volumes (Murphy's edition number 413, see Shakespeare in Print, p. 342), and re-issued without many of the Fuseli plates, in nine volumes in the same year (Murphy number 414). The edition was reissued in 1811 in nine volumes, also with only of few of the Fuseli plates included (see Murphy, number 439). Murphy also says it was reissued issued in 1812 (number 415), but I have been unable to locate a Chalmers edition of that date that meets his description. According to the DNB, Chalmers also issued another edition of his Shakespeare in 1823, but I have also not been able to locate this edition on the Internet, and it is not described in Murphy, but the Chalmers text was reissued at other times at later dates in the nineteenth century (see the links to the 1838 edition below). It is of no great importance. I have provided links to the 1805 and 1811 editions below from Google Book Search. Note that the 1805 volume I is from the 9-volume edition (Murphy 414), and the volume II has no view in GBS, so consult the 1811 edition for those plays. The order of plays within the volumes of the 1811 edition is different, of course, since it was issued in nine volumes, but the texts of the plays are apparently the same. The Internet Archive also makes several of the 1811 volumes available, and identifies one as the volume II of the 1805 edition, missing from GBS, but it clearly is mislabeled and ought to be considered of the 1811 re-issue.
Links to the 1805 Chalmers Edition The Plays of William Shakespeare: Accurately
Printed from the text of the corrected copy left by
the late George Steevens, Esq. with a series of
engravings, from original designs of Henry Fuseli,
Esq. R. A. Professor of Painting: And a selection of
explanatory and historical notes, from the most
eminent commentators; a history of the stage, a life
of Shakspeare, &c. By Alexander Chalmers, A. M.,
F. C. and R. Rivngton, etc., London, 1805.
The Plays of William Shakespeare: Accurately Printed from the text of the corrected copy left by the late George Steevens, Esq. with a series of engravings, from original designs of Henry Fuseli, Esq. R. A. Professor of Painting: And a selection of explanatory and historical notes, from the most eminent commentators; a history of the stage, a life of Shakspeare, &c. By Alexander Chalmers, A. M., F. C. and R. Rivngton, etc., London, 1805.
Links to the
Other Editions Using
Chalmers' Text The
Notes By The
S. A., in
The Complete Works of William Shakspeare, With Explanatory & Historical Notes By The Most Eminent Commentators. Accurately Printed from the Correct and Esteemed Edition of Alexander Chalmers, F. S. A., in Two Volumes, with Wood and Steel Illustrations, Paris, Baudry's European Library, 1838.