Imágenes de página

As to the folio of 1623, a great deal has been said on both sides respecting it. A long and minute acquaintance with its pages has satisfied the present Editor that no general statements can give any adequate impression of its character. In some of the plays the printing is shockingly bad; in others, it is nearly as good as need be desired; while in a portion of them it is neither so good nor so bad as has been sometimes represented. It is admitted on all hands that in several of the plays no text at all satisfactory can be had without resorting to the quartos, many of the best passages, and sometimes even whole scenes, being altogether wanting in the folio. Notwithstanding, it is maintained by some (and this is one of the rocks on which Knight's editorial vessel split) that the folio is throughout the better authority. Such is not the judgment of the present Editor: on the contrary, in some of the plays, as A MidsummerNight's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, King Richard II., The First Part of King Henry IV., Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, he holds the quarto text as on the whole preferable to that of the folio. In these cases, accordingly, as is explained more at large in the Introductions, the older copies are treated as the chief standards of the text, in this edition.

For the use here made of what have become widely known of late as "The Collier Emendations,” the reader is referred to what follows this Preface. The text of Shakespeare as given in the old copies leaves open a wide field for editorial judgment, and is in just the state most apt to be benefited by a


sober and legitimate exercise of that faculty. cases of evident or probable misprint, the present Editor has availed himself of all the suggestions within his reach: where the error seemed unquestionable, the correction is sometimes made without remark; where there seemed any room for doubt on this score, the correction is generally pointed out in

the notes.

The Chiswick edition, as things then stood, furnished in the main a pretty judicious and not very cumbrous eclecticism of previous annotation. Of course, the purifying of the text has necessitated many changes in the notes. Moreover, superfluous notes and superfluous parts of notes required vigorous pruning: sometimes additional notes, sometimes different ones, were demanded by the present state of Shakespearian literature: quotations and references, carelessly and inaccurately made, often needed to be verified and set right; while in not a few cases the notes were written so awkwardly or so diffusely as rather to darken what they were meant to illustrate. In the present edition all these points are carefully attended to, no pains being spared to render the notes as clear, brief, and pertinent, as practicable. For the matter of the notes the Editor has drawn with the utmost freedom from all the sources accessible to him; often bringing in illustrative passages that had occurred in his own reading, oftener those which had been quoted by others. It must be added that this work of annotation has been greatly facilitated by Mrs. Cowden Clarke's Concordance to

Shakespeare, unquestionably one of the most perfect and most useful books that have been written in connection with the Poet's name.

In his Introductions, the Editor has aimed, primarily, to gather up all the historical and bibliographical information that has been made accessible, concerning the times when the several plays were written and first acted, and the sources whence the plots and materials of them were derived. It will be seen that in the history of the Poet's plays the indefatigable labours of Mr. Collier and others, often resulting in important discoveries, have wrought changes amounting almost to a revolution, within the last fifty years. And there seems the more cause for dwelling on what the Poet took from preceding writers, in that it exhibits him, where a right-minded study should specially delight to contemplate him, as holding his unrivalled inventive powers subordinate to the higher principles of art. He cared little for the interest of novelty, which is but a short-lived thing at the best; much for the interest of truth and beauty, which is indeed immortal, and always grows upon acquaintance. And the novel-writing of our time shows that hardly any thing is easier than to get up new incidents or new combinations of incidents for a story; and as the interest of such things turns mainly on their novelty, so of course they become less interesting the more one knows them; which order (for "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever") is just reversed in genuine works of art. Besides, if Shakespeare is the most original of

writers, he is also one of the greatest of borrowers; and as few authors have appropriated so freely from others, so none can better afford to have his obligations in this kind made known.

Of the critical remarks in the Introductions, perhaps the less said, the better. The Editor, however, may be allowed to say, that in this part of his work he has held it as a sort of axiom, that the proper business of criticism is to translate truths of feeling into truths of intelligence; and that his aim has been rather to involve or imply the principles of criticism so deeply meditated and expounded by Coleridge and Schlegel than to give a distinct formal expression of them. For it may be aptly said that in studying works of art "he is oft the wisest man who is not wise at all." And the course here pursued seems the better, forasmuch as it holds out some hope of conducting the reader, by silent natural processes, to such a state and habit of mind, that he may contemplate the plays, perhaps without knowing it, as works of art, and see all the parts and elements of a given structure intertwining and coalescing and growing up together in vital, organic harmony and reciprocity. For if, without being drawn into an ugly conceit or vanity of criticism, the reader can be made to see and understand how in the Poet's delineations every thing is fitted to every other thing; how each requires and infers the others, and all hang together in orderly coherence and mutual support; it is plain that both the pleasure and the profit of the reading must be greatly increased

Ripe Shakespearians, it is true, may not need such help, and may even be impatient of it; nevertheless the Editor ventures to think that just analyses of the Poet's characters, bringing out into conscious recognition their individual forms and distinctive springs, may be of service to many readers, not only in making them more at home with his truth, but in helping them to realize more fully the vast wealth and compass of his multitudinous mind. Shakespeare interprets Nature: to interpret him, is a much humbler function indeed, but not altogether useless.

In the Life here given of Shakespeare, the Editor has aimed merely to set forth, in a simple and plain way, and without any flourish or fumigation, whatsoever lay within his reach, that seemed to illustrate, directly or remotely, the history and character of the subject as a poet and as a man; his aims in life, and his failures and successes in them; wherein he was helpful to others, and wherein he received help from them. The materials for this work are meagre enough at the best, and their meagreness is apt to induce an overworking of them. Besides, of the little matter there is, the greater part, being derived from legal documents and public records, is of so dry and hard a quality, that to make it interesting and attractive, save for the subject's sake, is nearly out of the question. If the present essay should be thought overcharged with the original sin of the matter, there is yet no law against holding that even such a fault is better than to offend good taste, as some of the Poet's biographers have done, by

« AnteriorContinuar »