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SHAKESPEARE'S works are a library in themselves. A poor lad, possessing no other book, might, on this single one, make himself a gentleman and a scholar. A poor girl, studying no other volume, might become a lady in heart and soul. Knowledge, refinement, experience in men and manners, are to be gathered from his pages in plenary abundance. An illustrious patriot, in exile, learned to plead for the rights of his country, and to urge her wrongs, in a tongue which should interpret his teeming ideas through eloquent words to those nations that might aid her, from diligent study of those nations' poet—Shakespeare. The noble Hungarian—whom nature had gifted with oratorical powers—made them available in urging upon British and American hearts the bleeding cause of his native land, by assiduous culture of Shakespeare's language, taking him as his text-book and sole instructor. Shakespeare's words were the vocabulary, Shakespeare's diction was the rhetoric, which sent forth from the Kutayah prison one of the most accomplished orators that ever addressed hearers in their British mother-tongue. To cite another instance: the most brilliant wit, the most sparkling writer, the most spirited reparteeist of our own day adopted Shakespeare as his chief author while a youth; and to the admiring devotion with which he imbued himself with the poet's productions, may be attributed that fine intellectual strength which gave “Black-eyed Susan” and the “RentDay” to the world, from the pen of a lad under age; and
the “ Chronicles of Clovernook” and “ St Giles and St James," as the efforts of his vigorous maturity.
Shakespeare may be taken as a standard for language ; it is manly, expressive, and purely English. The revival of many of Shakespeare's words-pronounced by Dr Johnson in his dictionary to be “wholly obsolete”—would be a valuable renovation of the English language. In the present rage for fineries of epithet and fopperies of phraseology, when French terms and Greek titles are so much in vogue, it would be a wholesome return to indigenous form of speech, were we to abide by Shakespeare's integrity. Instead of framing newfangled and alien nomenclature, let us maintain the use of Shakspeare's right and true words, and we shall preserve our language in its purity. His is genuine Saxon English ; his classical adoptions are sparingly introduced, and only with strictest propriety to the occasion.
Shakespeare affords a good standard for taste—a standard by which to gauge true taste, and estimate false taste. Much is said about this being “bad taste," and that being “ too sentimental ;”—and so, people—especially young people, in their honest eagerness—rush into the opposite extreme, and, in striving to escape from these, abjure really tasteful things, and things of pure sentiment. Shakespeare will always remain an accurate test for true feeling and taste. His book of human character forms a grand standard by which men may measure themselves. It will prevent-duly consultedthe rank overgrowth of mercenariness, meanness, selfishness; it will check the hard gallop of the “fast school.” It will teach men to beware of believing that sneering at good impulses and holy aspirations constitutes superiority; and will show them that faith in excellence is strength, not weakness.
Shakespeare's works contain a standard for morals. It is not so much that he was the greatest intellect that ever wrote, as that he was the greatest moralist; and not moralist in the way of set moral teaching,—cut-and-dry moralizing-didactic model morality,—but as presenting those grand ethical lessons to be drawn from broad expansive delineation, like the face of nature herself, laying open large legible indices from which commonest sagacity may read truth and wisdom. As one instance of his moral teaching-deducible more than pre
ceptive-witness the influence of his good people upon his bad people ;-witness the fine strain of his poetical justice, not merely doling out success to the virtuous, defeat to the vicious, prosperity to the good, punishment to the wicked, meted in strict, yet most unnatural proportion, but that higher moral retribution which instils the unvarying impression : better, far better be those who do well through evil fortune, than be those who do evil though crowned with apparent triumph. The inseparable happiness and preferableness of right, he never fails to inculcate by subtlest truth of demonstration.
Some of the finest brains have thought their best, and uttered their best, upon the subject of Shakespeare's writing; and it seems little less than absolute presumption to offer an additional remark. Yet so imperative is the desire to express -however consciously inadequate the power—a portion of that grateful reverence and admiration which fills the heart in thinking of his transcendent excellence, that, at all risks, the attempt must be made. It has been well said:—“We are glad to listen to every one who has travelled through the kingdoms of Shakespeare ;” and perhaps the long and loving denizenship which it has been our privilege to enjoy in his glorious realm,-naturalized there, and permitted to become humble but diligent labourers on his rich soil-gives us some claim to the honour of yielding homage, and bearing testimony to our “liege's sovereignty.” One of us may be allowed to take pride in the thought that she was the first of his female subjects selected to edit his works; and it is one of the myriad delights we owe to him, that she should be the woman upon whom so great a distinction was conferred.
No other theme in literature will bear such constant reverting to without satiety; no other theme will bear recurring to at all seasons without untimeliness; no other theme will endure allusion to upon all topics with so little fear of irrelevance. Shakespeare is ever welcome, for he is ever fresh and new; as he is ever welcome, because he is pertinent, familiar, home-telling.
It has been resolved that the present edition of his works shall have no notes. The reader is to enjoy the comfort of reading Shakespeare's text undisturbed by comment; and
even uninterrupted by those marks of (a) (b) (c) or (1) (2) (3) which occur in annotated editions. The squabbles of commentators will be escaped from ; the tedium of discussion will be avoided. Other editions may be consulted for every variety of information, and for reference; but this is intended for purely enjoyable reading—Shakespeare's book itself, and nothing else.
To this end, the utmost pains have been taken to collate the several readings adopted by the best authorities; to carefully weigh their reasons for adopting them, while abiding by or rejecting the sanction of the original copies where these are obviously misprinted; to examine every doubtful or disputed passage; to scrutinize line by line, and word for word, every iota of the work, so as to give the pure text of Shakespeare as far as our judgment and long study of him enable us to discern what it really is. The absence of explanatory notes will afford no opportunity of giving our reasons for the various decisions arrived at; but the reader may rest assured that no decision will have been made without conscientious deliberation, at the same time that he is spared perusal of the Editors' debated motives. There being neither note nor commentary to mark the editorial labour, will serve merely to save the reader's toil, while that of the Editors shall be none the less for being unseen. As a means of supplying the needful information upon words and phrases of antique usage, occurring in the text, or upon bygone customs and manners therein alluded to,-a Glossary is appended, with references of Act and Scene to each passage; which will afford a condensed compendium of such requisite explanation as is usually contained in diffuse notes. The comfort of having interpretative help snugly packed away in a corner by itself, for use only when absolutely wanted, can be well appreciated by those who have suffered from the perpetual worry of footnotes, or the torment of notes that are frequently mere vehicles for abuse, spite, and arrogance. Many of these seem written for the sole purpose-not of farthering a knowledge of Shakespeare, or ascertaining his text, but—of proving that other editors are wholly wrong. When we read the scorn that is heaped on their hapless brethren by these writers, the only conclusion is, that they are actuated by malice or envy; and we feel