To the time of Richard Grant White American editions of Shakespeare had been essentially nothing more than arrangements of British editions. The most original editor before White had been Verplanck, and even he did little other than appropriate illustrations from the Knight and Cornwall editions, copy notes from the great variorum editions in the Johnson-Steevens-Reed and Malone-Boswell-Singer traditions, and add very minor emendations and notes of his own. White was the first true American Shakespeare scholar.
A Gilded Age View of White - "Richard Grant White" in Shakespeariana, Vol. VI, Sept. 1889, pp. 406-409.
Richard Grant White
When the world, hardly more than fifty years ago, began with Cooper and Irving to read "an American book,'' we can imagine the curl of the British lip at a suggestion that an American opinion might be worth taking. Indeed, the question as to when there began to be any American opinion at all upon matters Shakespearian, might well be made a very perplexing one. Criticism is hardly to be expected unless the thing criticised is at least potentially present. Where there is no sea there are not apt to be sailors. The question as to when American criticism of Shakespeare began, would naturally depend upon the answer to a prior question, as to when Shakespeare and Shakespearian history began to be printed and read in America.
Shakespeare himself was alive, and at the very summit of production, when Captain John Smith settled in Virginia. But the Immigrant seems not to have brought a chance Quarto among his personal baggage, and the fad for collecting antiques, which a few years ago turned the old colonies into markets for city dealers, while ransacking the venerable houses and yielding richly in claw-footed furniture and blue china, seems never to have turned up to the light one of these priceless pamphlets or a broadside of the date. The first settlors of these shores brought no books except the Bible and devotional works. There were plenty of copies of Fox's Martyrs, and Baxter's Saints' Rest, and Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs, but no Shakespeares. Such being the case, it was natural enough that the utterances of Shakespeare's first critics, Rowe, Pope, and Theobald—and the so-called criticism of Rymer, Warburton, and others, who were supposed to be critics—found no echo, a century later, over here. Passing over another century, no outermost circle of the Ireland episode reached these shores, nor did the great work of Ireland's great contemporary, Malone—the first lawyer who took poor Shakespeare out of the clutches of the Poets and Poets Laureate—find in the United States any readers or sympathizers, much less disciples. The silence that follows discovery was noisy compared to the silence of America as to the greatest name in their inherited literature.
But, just about fifty years after the Ireland forgeries, came the Collier frauds, and to the surprise of scholars, up from this side sprang, all at once, without preparation, the Malone for Mr. Collier's Ireland, the critic who was to smash their pretensions as Bentley had smashed the Letters of Philaris— basing, on pure internal evidence, conclusions of fact which every other character of evidence, circumstantial, physical, and material, was to confirm and establish beyond gainsay.
When Mr. Collier produced his "Perkins Folio," and its "new reading's" agitated all Letters, a l'instant a lithe, clean limbed American warrior, stepped firmly into the field, and took that whole field for his province. And out of that war of pamphlets and pamphleteers, it was to Richard Grant White, the American, that the honor belonged of demonstrating, finally, that William Shakespeare and the Perkins "readings" were not contemporary. Armed cap-a-pie, with a perfect equipment at every point, nerved to a great effort, with a presumption against him as a combatant at all, from an unexpected quarter of the universe, Mr. White knew whereof he wrote. First of all, a grammarian and a comparative philologist, an attempt to deceive him by a piece of Victorian, palmed off as a piece of Elizabethan, English appeared to be about as hopeless an effort as would be an effort to satisfy a comparative anatomist like Huxley with a Barnum mermaid or a New Haven sea-serpent of lath and canvas. The records, easily extant, bear witness to the reception accorded to "Shakespeare's Scholar" (under which title Mr. White collected his magazine contributions upon "Perkins Folio" matters), and how speedily the name of the book transferred itself to its author. Its great merit, its absolute exhaustiveness, its minute accuracy, and its shrewd postulates of fact and of logic were immediately conceded. As a rule, mere windfall approbation of a book is of as little value as an estimate drawn from its preface, or its binding, or from personal acquaintance with its author, in divers and sundry suburban newspapers. But, in this case, the first approval of "Shakespeare's Scholar" became its deliberate valuation. And even when, finally, Sir Francis Madden, an expert in chirography, and Mr. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, a chemist, went to work with the Perkins Folio itself before them—the one with his microscope and the other with his acids—they found the marginalia of that notorious copy of the second Folio as of the exact dates to which Mr. White, without an inspection but from philological testimony alone, had referred them.
The controversy is dead. If Mr. White's book is dead, too, it is because it closed the work it was written to perform. Time, the fulness of learning, discovery, and the constantly bettering consensus of scholars, (which new elements in solution and induction are constantly accruing), have verified every single one of Mr. White's prophesies, and established the worthlessness of every single one of the "readings" he rejected. This is the highest praise at any time. But at the threshold of the Shakespearian criticism of a continent, it is an achievement in the empire of literature. Since then American scholarship has made great strides. But, just as three centuries of English letters since Shakespeare has not brought English speech back to where he left it in himself, so American Shakespearian criticism has not, to date, done more—and it is difficult to see how it could do more—than Mr. White, at its very threshold accomplished.
About Mr. White's only infirmity was a certain difficulty of temper, which is not altogether an unknown quantity in this Preserve. But, however often this infirmity was allowed to find its way into his first drafts and occasional contributions to his subject matter, it was rarely suffered to appear in their collected and revised forms.
Mr. White's place as a Shakespearian commentator is secure. The value of his work is held to be of the highest. And it is exceedingly doubtful if an annotated edition of the great dramas has appeared since the first Grant White edition, or will hereafter appear, in which Mr. White's contributions, notes, or memoranda have not or will not have a representation.
GOOD reasons only can justify the addition of a new book to the enormous mass with which the world is cumbered. This is particularly true of a new edition of Shakespeare's works, which, in its main purpose, only professes to be a better presentation of that which has been presented tolerably well before. Therefore these words of preliminary explanation.
The first object sought in the preparation of this edition has been a text as nearly pure as possible, and the reduction of the field of doubt and conjecture in all directions to the narrowest attainable limits ; the second, and last, to place the reader as nearly as possible in the position of those for whom these plays were written, and to give all accessible information concerning their origin, and the circumstances under which, and the manner in which, they were produced. The vicissitudes through which the text has passed, and the time which has elapsed since it was written, make the performance of these offices necessary. The most perfect understanding and the most satisfactory enjoyment of any author's writings, especially of a poet's, are attained by direct communication with the author's mind. An unnecessary intermediary is always an intruder : a note thrust between a poet and his reader which is not required for the full comprehension of the poet's meaning is always an offence. At best, an editor, like a physician or a lawyer, is a necessary evil. had Shakespeare superintended the publication of his own plays, it is clear that the office of their modern editor would have been limited to the explanation of a few obsolete words and phrases, the illustration of passages alluding to by-gone manners and customs, and perhaps an attempt at the literary history of each composition. But the text of these plays was published with such corruption in all the early copies that not one of them is continuously readable until it has undergone some emendation and regulation ; and in the case of certain plays, such are the variations between those early copies, that the text of no one of them can be accepted as sound and satisfactory. In all the early texts, quarto and folio, some entire scenes are found in the utmost confusion,— a confusion which has not yet in all cases been reduced to order. It is this deplorable condition of the authentic and quasi authentic texts of Shakespeare's plays that has made extended editorial labor upon them necessary, and has given opportunity for it when it is not necessary ; so that a careful editor finds that it is his duty not only to restore, but —such temptation is there on the one hand, and such temerity on the other —to defend what has been restored, and to protect against the hand of sophisticating innovation that which needs no restoration.
Failing an authentic text of Shakespeare's plays from his own hand, the authority which goes with authenticity pertains to the folio edition published in 1623 by the care and labor of his friends and fellow-theatrical proprietors John Heminge and Henry Condell. They were his literary executors — self-appointed, it is true, and not so faithful and painstaking as it behooved them to be ; but having some right to, and (as play-publishing went in those days) no little fitness for, the office which they assumed. Their edition is, indeed, so very far from being perfect, that the demand, which has been made in some quarters, that its text should be published without change for the use of the general reader, could only have been made by persons entirely ignorant of its real condition. In very many passages it is absolutely unintelligible ; and, beside, it lacks some of the finest passages of Shakespeare's poetry. But corruption, although it impairs authority, cannot defeat authenticity ; and the incompleteness of the folio text, being often manifestly the result of adaptation to stage purposes, is evidence of some weight in favor of the genuineness of what is given. For sixteen of the thirty-seven plays in this collection, the folio of 1623 is the only authority. It is also important to state that every kind of corruption which is found in the folio is found in a greater degree in the quartos.
For the reasons above given, the text of the present edition is founded exclusively upon that of the first folio, and has been prepared, in the first instance, as if no other edition of authority had appeared since that was published, although afterward the readings of every edition, ancient and modern, and the suggestions of every commentator, have been carefully examined, adopted when they appeared admissible, and recorded when they were deemed worthy of preservation. The text of the first folio alone having the stamp of authenticity, some better reason than the editor's mere opinion or his preference has been deemed necessary to justify any essential deviation from that text in favor of the readings of editions of either an earlier or a later date. Evident corruption of that text, with at least highly probable restoration of what mere accident destroyed, and the recovery of what had been omitted, for stage purposes, from the copy furnished to the printer, are the only reasons which have been regarded as sufficient for such deviation. The superior antiquity of the quarto texts of some of these plays is not unfrequently brought to the attention of the critical reader of Shakespeare in support of a reading taken from some one of those texts : — as if the age of a surreptitiously printed edition could supply its lack of authenticity ! But in many cases, at least, " the oldest authority" seems to rival " the oldest inhabitant" in foisting feeble nonsense upon credulity, and to rival in trustworthiness that much-vaunted oracle. I am, however, no champion of the readings of the first folio, as such. It seems to me plain, indeed, that the circumstances of its publication require us to assume that its text is correct, except where it is manifestly corrupt or imperfect. But in those cases it is to be corrected boldly, and with none of the hesitation produced by that superstitious reverence of mere antiquity which is called conservatism.
It is not uncommon to hear true lovers of Shakespeare, men of intelligence and no little acquaintance with literature, remark with gravity that it is dangerous to disturb the text. The text ! what text? That of the folio, which, in scores of passages, is absolutely unintelligible, and in others deficient? That of the quartos, of which the same is true, though in a greater degree, of all those plays which first appeared in that form? The text of the Variorum of 1821, and read, for instance, as people read for twenty-five years, " So much uncurable her garboils," instead of, " So much uncurbable her garboils" ? Every reader will reply, that, of course, he wishes the corrupted passages of the folio and the quartos, and such as that just quoted from Malone's Variorum, to be restored ; and it will be found that when men talk apprehensively about disturbing the ,text, and of their veneration for the old text, they mean merely the text of the edition which they have been accustomed to use, the peculiar oldness of which may not reach to half a century, or the care in its printing equal that taken in the office of a country newspaper. I have seen an intelligent man, unacquainted with any other text of Shakespeare than that of a London trade impression bearing the names of Johnson and Steevens on its title-page, — which he possessed in a miserable reprint with smudgy, careless press-work upon spongy, whity-brown paper, — as conservative about that text as if the proof-sheets of his copy had been read by Shakespeare himself ; the reason of his solicitude being an attachment to that text, the consequence merely of his familiarity with it and his lack of acquaintance with any other, and also his utter ignorance of the earliest form of the text and its subsequent vicissitudes. It does not take many years to root error in minds inclined to this kind of conservatism. The old priest of whom Camden tells us, who read Mumpsimus, Domine, rejected the proposal to read 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
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 exactness. For instance, in these passages in Hamlet,—
and in this in Lear, —
the use of it 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 negligence 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 Caesar, which appears thus in the folio
Here the unpractised eye will hardly detect hreesely, 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.
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), cammandment, module (model), wrack (wreck), murther (murder), Radom (fathom), egal (equal), paiocic (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-
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 unstain'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 flies," and not " The unnerv'd father," &c ; and in Henry the Fourth, —" Then let him not be sland'red with revolt," I. 3,—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 Borneo and Juliet :
Here a disregard of the contractions, and the printing of these lines thus,
would either destroy the rhythm or put the reader at fault in that regard until he had examined them. And in Love's Labour's Lost, Act IV. Sc. 2, how out of character it would be for the pedant HoloRernes to speak in our modern clipped way of Dull's exhibition of his " undress'd, unpolish'd, uneducated, unprun'd, untrain'd, or rather, unletter'd, or ratherest, unconfirm'd fashion," instead of '' his undressed, unpolished, uneducated, unpruned, untrained, or rather, unlettered, or ratherest, unconfirmed fashion " I The passage is prose ; but it is worthy of special remark that the old copy makes these distinctions no less carefully in prose than in verse, and that the folio is most carefully printed in this respect. So in Troilus and Cressida, Act II. Sc. 3, where Thersites says, according to the old copy, " If I could have remembered a guilt counterfeit thou would'st not have slipt out of my contemplation," we may be sure that it is not by mere accident that we do not find remembred,' or remember'd," wouldest,' and ' slipped.' Yet the indications of the old copies in this instance, as in almost all of like character in prose passages, have hitherto been disregarded. And what is worse than a uniform disregard, they have been observed in some instances and disregarded in others, even in the same passage. Thus in Julius Caesar, Act I. Sc. 2, the first part of one of Casea's speeches is printed thus in the folio : " Marry, before he fell downe, when he perceiv'd the common Heard was glad he refus'd the Crowne, he pluckt me open his doublet, and offer'd them his Throat to cut." Here the contraction of perceived' is observed in the Variorum of 1821, and by Mr. Collier, but the others are disregarded, which is more confusing than the disregard of all in other editions.
The contraction of ed when it follows a vowel, as in sued ' and died,' has, I believe, been hitherto disregarded. But it was not disregarded in Shakespeare's time, or even by the careless printers of dramatic poetry in his day. And with good reason, as will be seen by the following examples : —
In these passages, unless tried," valued,' and ' embrued ' have their full participial pronunciation, the first as a dissyllable, the last two as trisyllables, the verse becomes prose. The particularity with which this contraction was observed is shown in a passage in Othello, where learned,' which to this day we pronounce, when it is a participial adjective, as a dissyllable, even colloquially, was contracted by Shakespeare, for the nonce, into a monosyllable :
This, I believe, is the only instance of Shakespeare's use of this word as a monosyllable ; and yet, although the folio misprints " qualities " " quantities" in the same line, the contraction is marked, with a carefulness which has not been imitated by modern editors.
Quite as important as the contraction of
syllables is the elision of final and initial letters,
by which two words are compressed into one ; and yet
this has been almost as generally disregarded as the
other. When Shakespeare wrote in one line of Macbeth,
in a prose passage, " fold it, write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it ; " in Lear, in two contiguous lines,—
and in Hamlet,
" Sith not th' exterior nor the inward man," he meant something by these distinctions. Yet they are almost, if not quite, universally ignored by editors. No one of these cases is in itself of much importance ; but the sum of all the cases of similar neglect in these plays is of great importance. Perfect accuracy in this respect is attainable only, if attainable at all, by the minutest attention on the part of the editor. It will not do to adopt a printing-office rule in this matter ; for Shakespeare used contractions and elisions more and more freely as he grew older ; and thus they are one of our guides in determining the dates at which his plays were written.
The question has been seriously mooted whether the peculiar and irregular grammatical forms of the old text should be preserved. But it seems to me that there is no good ground of doubt upon this subject. I can see no reason for printing Shakespeare's text, either in this respect or in any other, as if it were written yesterday. The variations of that text from our present syntactical standard are minute and comparatively few ; but such as they are, they are characteristic of the time when these plays were produced. The very incongruities of the old text in this respect are a trait of the period, indicating generally a transition stage in certain syntactical forms. Thus we have in the Lord's Prayer, and in many other passages of our English Bible, " Our Father which art in heaven," but elsewhere, for instance, " Hannah said unto Eli, I am the woman who stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord." And here the latter pronoun was consciously introduced ; for Coverdale and the Genevan Bible both Lave " the woman that," &c. Now, the attempt to secure conformity to the prevailing syntax by reading, " Our Father who art," or uniformity, by reading, "I am the woman which stood," would be unjustifiable. Such peculiarities are subject to the same rule which applies to the individual irregularities of a writer, which are as much a trait of his mental character as any other peculiarity of style, and are therefore to be carefully preserved. An editor's function is to think, not for, but with, his author. Therefore such passages as the folio Wing have not been regulated according to a modern, or even a uniform, standard in this edition " s crown'd so soon, and broke his solemn oath ; " " His scandal of retire ; " " is set him down to sleep ; " "those powers have arriv'd our coast ; " " the wind who woos," " my armed knees who bowed ; " '' Earth bath swallowed all my hopes but she ; " " All debts are cleared between you and I ; " " That fair for which love groaned for ; " " In what enormity is Marcus poor in?" " Shall's [shall us] to the Capitol?" " What he is, more suits you to conceive than I to speak of." Such syntactical irregularities as these are too thickly strewn through the literature of the Elizabethan period to be slips of the pen, or printer's errors.
The evils which may result from one editor's trusting to another in matters of authority are great ; because, however careful, we are all liable to error. Examples might be pointed out in the work of even the most competent editors. Therefore all readings and quotations in this edition, with exceedingly rare exceptions, have been given not at second hand, — as I have found is too frequently the case, —but from the originals ; the excepted cases being passages in two of the earlier quartos and two or three extremely rare books, copies of which have not yet floated over to us, in which recourse has been had to the next best authority, the careful reprints of these volumes under the eyes of the most eminent Elizabethan scholars of England, compared with such collations as those of Capell and Mr. Dyce. The copy of the folio of 1623 which I have constantly used is that in the Astor Library, which is the well-known copy formerly in the collection of the Duke of Buckingham at Stowe. But I have also, whenever it seemed desirable, had the privilege of examining the admirable copy of the first folio, now in the noble Shakespearian library of Mr. Thomas P. Barton of New York, which entire collection, indeed, has at all times been open to me for consultation when the limits of my own humbler shelves were reached. But the kindness which I have received from this distinguished collector and thorough and accomplished student of Shakespeare, I have endeavored elsewhere more worthily to acknowledge. To Mr. James Lenox my readers as well as myself also owe much for the very generous and unreserved manner in which he placed his collection of the early quartos — the value of which is hardly known except to the best informed bibliographers — entirely at my service.
In the notes upon the regulation of the text, I have endeavored to assign each restoration of a corrupted passage to its author ; fin. I do not understand how gentlemen and scholars can claim an edition as their own, and then take no small proportion of their text and of their notes from other editors without a word of acknowledgment. A similar course has been pursued with regard to quotations made in support of conjecture or in elucidation of obscurity ; and these, including conjectural emendations thought worthy of notice, but not of a place in the text, being generally given in the order of time, a concise history of every restored or doubtful passage is presented. The reader of a critical edition of a great author's works has the right to know upon what authority any reading, gloss, or critical judgment is adopted. In every case, I believe, where no such credit is given for a restoration, I am responsible for it ; and as much prominence need not be given to claims of this sort, in those cases it is merely remarked that hitherto the text has stood otherwise. On revising my labors I find that the number of such instances in these volumes is sufficiently large to give me some solicitude, even although I am conscions of the reverent spirit in which the corrections have been made, and the logical conditions to which I held myself bound, even after perception and judgment had done their work. The tables of restored and of corrupted readings indicate the textual points and those relating to the history of the several plays in which this edition differs from those which have preceded it in the present century. They are given for the purpose of presenting in a compact form, easy of reference, a view of the principal peculiarities of the edition in these respects. In the course of my work I have often wished that previous editors had given such a synopsis of their dealings with the text. It would have saved their successors much trouble. This comparative view is limited by the present century, not only because the acquaintance of the large majority of even the more critical readers of Shakespeare with the individual labors of his editors and commentators is confined to that period, but because the first quarter of the century is marked by the appearance of a new spirit of criticism upon these plays, and the introduction of new methods of editing them. The efforts of the last century culminated in the Boswell-Malone Variorum of 1821 ; and Mr. Singer's Chiswick edition of 1826 is imbued with the spirit of the eighteenth century, and is, in fact, but an abridgment of the 1821 Variorum.
The causes of the great corruption of the old texts of Shakespeare's plays are probably all included in the following enumeration : incorrectness in the copies made for stage purposes ; hasty and surreptitious procurement of copies by short-hand writers at the performances ; careless proof-reading, or none at all ; printing by the ear ; F sophistication, i. e., the introduction by copyist, compositor, or editor of what he supposed was the author's word in a sound passage which he regarded as corrupt because he did not apprehend its meaning ; and finally, carelessness, or even some obscurity of thought, on the part of the poet himself. In the regulation of the text of this edition it has not been assumed that Shakespeare, writing as a playwright for the stage only, and not as a poet for the press, always attained, or even strove to attain, faultless perspicuity of expression and clear syntactical coherence, or that he did not knowingly leave some verses imperfect. The whole body of the dramatic literature of his time.
* Some persons are incredulous as to the possibility of misprints by the ear, or the representation of the sound which the compositor has in his mind instead of the form of the letters which are before his eyes. But it few somewhat peculiar examples will illustrate this strange cause of error. In Romeo and Juliet, Act I. Sc. 4, the quartos of 1598 and 1609, and the folio of 1623, oil have the collocation of letters philom, which form no English word, and which are unknown to the language except as a contraction of Philomath.' Yet when we read, in Mercutio's description of Queen Mab's equipage, "the lash of philom," we see that the compositor merely put in type a mispronunciation of sometimes heard nowadays. The printing in the folio (Troilus and Cressida, v. 2) of "that test of eyes and ears," for " th' attest of eyes and ears," is too plainly a putting, of sound instead of form into type to be doubted by any intelligent reader. This mistake also shows that where the' and an ensuing syllable were made to fill the place of one syllable, it was done not by a quick, light pronunciation of the two, according to modern custom, but by dropping the vowel from the article, as the typography of the day indicates. In the French scene of Henry the Fifth est appelle " is twice printed with the character & for est, showing that the copy was written by the ear, 'est ' being taken for et.' A like instance of phonography appears in Act IV. Sc. 4 of the same play, where "a cette Ileum" is printed "asture." I know also of an instance in which Falstaff's exclamation in Henry the Fourth, Part I. Act Sc. 4, "ecce signum" appeared in the second proof "esse signum," although it was put in type from correct printed copy. The compositor saw ecce, but read the word in his united with the first r, as well as the second, soft ; which samo mistake was made in proof-reading by the copy-holder, who read aloud. It is difficulty to account for sonic, errors of another kind. I have known 'objurgation,' written in letters as plain as those upon this page, appear in a second proof as "civilization." Yet candid men of shows that, had his plays been complete in the last respect, they would have been as singular in that as they are preeminent in all others. But assuming that there may be obscurity and imperfection in these works, which are due to the manner in which and the purpose for which they were written, and to the facility and copiousness of word and thought noticed in their author by his contemporaries, and which therefore cannot, with safety, even if with propriety, be corrected, every means at command has been used for the restoration of corruptions attributable to the other causes above named. I have endeavored to guide myself by fixed but not inflexible principles ; to weigh letters will confess that their own oversights are often corrected by the care and attention of the printing-office. I gladly confess my obligations in this respect. It is sometimes objected to the corrections of Shakespeare's text that they are based upon the supposition of typographical errors, transpositions, and the like, whirls are too ingeniously conjectured and too subtly unravelled : for instance, Theobald's famous change of " a table of green fields" to "'a babble, of green fields." But a modern instance from a carefully and tastefully printed book, the proofs of which had the benefit of the author's own perusal, rill illustrate and justify almost any correction of this nature. In Mr. George William Curtisvs Site Netes of a Howadji which are less notes than revelations of the poetic feeling roused in their accomplished writer by the ruined civilization of the past and sensuous luxuriance of the present in Egypt, a "love-drunken poet" is represented as bursting into song over the sumptuous, alluring South; and these are the first lines of his song:—
Doubtless many a reader has puzzled himself in vain
to discover the signifi- canoe of that Eastern phrase "a
traniuce." But if the iu be taken out of the mysterious
word, and the u turned over, we shall have in ; and by
placing: this before the article we shall have,—
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 are 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 has summed, 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 Hal and 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
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 Csar's exclamation, " Wilt thou lift up Olympus ?" means, wilt thou attempt an impossibility? and that. another should explain " broad-fronted Caesar," and explain it, too, as having reference " to Caesar's baldness" 1 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 Be vet'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 Caesar's assassination Pompey's statue " all the while ran blood," it "is not intended to imply that the statue of Compey shed blood in miraculous sympathy with Caesar, as Caesar was Ms bitter enemy, but that the blood of Caesar 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 Barrett's Drama oR Exile, Eve, gazing at night upon the heavens and scanning the constellations, says, —
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 taw of gravitation"
My text has, I believe, been punctuated with great care ; and I suspect that this is the first time that that by no means trifling task has ever been thoroughly performed for these works, except with regard to passages which have been discussed as obscure, or which are entirely deformed by the punctuation of the first folio. Through all others, commas and colons appear to have been scattered, at some remote period, with indiscriminating hand, and not to have been disturbed till now.
What I have here done is not the fruit of malice aforethought. The studies of which this work is one result, were begun, and were continued for some years, only for the pleasure they afforded, and without any ultimate purpose ; as such studies, I am sure, are pursued, to a certain degree, by hundreds in Europe and America to whom Shakespeare's writings are a dearly prized inheritance. But, with a closer acquaintance, if not a more thorough understanding, of Shakespeare, and a wider knowledge of the literature of his time and the labors of his editors and commentators, came a conviction that, with all the learning and all the critical ability that had been brought to the regulation and the illustration of his dramas, they had never yet been edited upon just those principles, or presented in exactly that form, which would satisfy the greater number of his loving and intelligent readers. Then the baleful temptation to undertake the supplying of this want presented itself insidiously upon every occasion of dissatisfaction with existing editions. Bow many of my fellow-students must have been similarly tempted I Happy they whose occupations, whose foresight, or whose indolence deterred them from the task ! However extended and thorough his knowledge of English literature, however intimate his acquaintance with the text of Shakespeare in all its shapes, no man can form any thing like a just estimate of the time and labor which must be given to the conscientious preparation of a thorough critical edition of Shakespeare's plays, until after he has performed the task himself. And thus, with a very clear perception of the ideal at which I was aiming, but with a very imperfect conception of the difficulties which lay in the way of attaining it, I began the work of which the result is now presented to the reader. Favorably as the bulk of it has already been received, it would be unreasonable to hope that others will find less fault with it than I do myself. It has, at least, I trust, taught me charity toward my fellow-editors. The man who honestly, and with some capacity for his task, undertakes to reform abuses and to rectify errors, will generally end by apologizing for some of the very faults which, at first, he most strongly condemned.
And now, the labors ended which have taxed others' patience as well as mine, I lay down from a weary hand the pen taken up blithely, and perhaps too confidently, seven years ago. I can truly say that my task has been performed as thoroughly as I expected to perform it, and even more minutely, if not so perfectly or so easily. The very proofs have required more time than I expected to give to the whole work. My place must be among those who have not attained the height of their endeavor, or even perhaps the extreme of their capacity, because they found their endeavor limited by circumstances unforeseen. Shakespearian pursuits have not been, as some of my generous critics and kind correspondents seem to have supposed they were, my principal or even my continued occupation. This work, whatever may be its value, is the fruit of hours stolen from sleep, from recreation, from the society of friends, and from nearer and dearer companionship. Begun when our country was strong and happy in long-continued peace and prosperity, it was interrupted, near its close, by a bloody struggle which has tried and proved that strength as no other nation's strength was ever tried or proved, which threatened, though but for a brief period, to shake that prosperity to its foundations, and which, involving us all in its excitement, absorbed the best energies of every generous soul ; — it is finished as that strength seems to be renewed and established more firmly than before, and under the glad auguries of a peace and a prosperity which we may reasonably hope will never again be so interrupted.
Here is my peace-offering.
R. G. W.