PREFACE. The object of this volume is to form a manual for the use chiefly of those who, not being possessed of a voluminous annotated edition, are fain to content themselves with the simple text. But even those who have a perfect Shakespeare library cannot well dispense with it; for my original corrections, which are very numerous, are nowhere else to be found. It was originally intended to form the complement to my Edition of the Plays, and ...
The object of this volume is to form a manual for the use chiefly of those who, not being possessed of a voluminous annotated edition, are fain to content themselves with the simple text. But even those who have a perfect Shakespeare library cannot well dispense with it; for my original corrections, which are very numerous, are nowhere else to be found.
It was originally intended to form the complement to my Edition of the Plays, and as such I had announced its immediate appearance. Why it did not appear has been explained in Notes and Queries (3 S. vii. 175), and the statement there made was incontrovertible; for it was the simple truth. The delay, however, has been no injury, but rather a benefit to it. Its relation to the Edition now is that, while it is perfectly independent and suited to any edition, the Edition without it is somewhat like what a Euclid would be without diagrams or demonstrations, as the reader will meet with numerous alterations of the text, and be quite ignorant of how or why they were made. Moreover the errors and oversights which escaped me in it will be found here all corrected.
To my own Edition I regard it, then, as indispensable; and if I were to mention any other to which it is peculiarly adapted, I should say that which is named the Globe; for it contains a copious and excellent Glossary—that in mine, which is not by me, is scanty—which, with the Notes and Index of this volume, will leave little unexplained.
It is certainly very disheartening to those who devote their time and labour to the elucidation of our Classic authors to find how small the number is of those readersiv who are at all anxious to understand them perfectly. The great majority, in fact, are quite satisfied if they can get at the general meaning of a difficult or obscure passage, and so glide over it. Still I am not without hope that among the tens of thousands who buy, and I presume read, these Plays, there may be found a few, a very few, hundreds who may wish to understand what they read, and will therefore possess themselves of this volume. Profit is not dreamed of, but it is hoped that loss may not be incurred.
When I was preparing my Edition of Milton's Poems, I fell into the habit of correcting the text of our old writers. Hence I have corrected copies of Chaucer, Spenser, the dramatists and others, which mayhap may prove useful to future editors. The corrections of Shakespeare proved so numerous as to form the present volume; but the idea of editing his works never entered my mind till it was proposed to me, when I fear my vanity became interested. I had been confessedly the best editor of Milton, I might perchance stand in the same relation to Shakespeare. My wish had been to be to the Faerie Queen what I had been to Paradise Lost; and I may yet, perhaps, communicate some remarks on it in the pages of Notes and Queries.
It was on the first edition of Collier's Shakespeare that I made my corrections, and of previous emendations, if not noticed there, I knew nothing. I afterwards read the Variorum and later editions; hence I shall often be found saying that I had been anticipated. This was always a source of pleasure to me, as a proof of the correctness of my emendation. Porson, we are told, actually shed tears of joy when on meeting with a copy of Aristophanes with MS. notes by Bentley, he found his corrections had so frequently been anticipated. His delight was still greater when on the discovery of the Ravenna MS. he saw so many of his readings confirmed.