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BEFORE THE THIRD EDITION, 1785.
THE 'HE works of Shakspeare, during the laft twenty years, have been the objects of publick attention more than at any former period. In that time the various editious of his performances have been examined, his obfcurities illuminated, his defects pointed out, and his beauties difplayed, fo fully, fo accurately, and in fo fatisfactory a manner, that it might reasonably be prefumed little would remain to be done by either new editors or new commentators: yet, though the diligence and fagacity of thofe gentlemen who contributed towards the laft edition of this author may feem to have almost exhaufted the fubject, the fame train of enquiry has brought to light new difcoveries, and accident will probably continue to produce further illuftrations, which may render some alterations neceffary in every succeeding republication.
Since the laft edition of this work in 1778, the zeal for elucidating Shakspeare, which appeared in moft of the gentlemen whofe names are affixed to the notes, has suffered little abatement. The fame perfevering spirit of enquiry has continued to exert itself, and the fame laborious fearch into the literature, the manners, and the customs of the times, which was formerly fo fuccefsfully employed, has
remained undiminished. By these aids fome new information has been obtained, and fome new materials collected. From the affiftance of fuch writers, even Shakspeare will receive no difcredit.
When the very great and various talents of the laft editor, particularly for this work, are confidered, it will occafion much regret to find, that having fuperintended two editions of his favourite author through the prefs, he has at length declined the laborious office, and committed the care of the prefent edition to one who laments with the rest of the world the feceffion of his predeceffor; being confcious, as well of his own inferiority, as of the injury the publication will fuftain by the change.
As fome alterations have been made in the prefent edition, it may be thought neceffary to point them out. These are of two kinds, additions and omiffions. The additions are fuch as have been supplied by the laft editor, and the principal of the living commentators. To mention these affiftances, is fufficient to excite expectation; but to speak any thing in their praise will be fuperfluous to those who are acquainted with their former labours. Some remarks are alfo added from new commentators, and fome notices extracted from books which have been published in the course of a few years past.
Of the omiffions, the most important are fome notes which have been demonftrated to be ill founded, and fome which were fuppofed to add to the fize of the volumes without increafing their value. It may probably have happened that a few are rejected which ought to have been retained; and in that cafe the prefent editor, who has been the occafion of their removal, will feel fome con
cern from the injuftice of his proceeding. He is, however, inclined to believe, that what he has omitted will be pardoned by the reader; and that the liberty which he has taken will not be thought to have been licentioufly indulged. At all events, that the cenfure may fall where it ought, he defires it to be understood that no perfon is anfwerable for any of these innovations but himfelf.
It has been obferved by the last editor, that the multitude of inftances which have been produced to exemplify particular words, and explain obfolete customs, may, when the point is once known to be established, be diminished by any future editor, and, in conformity to this opinion, feveral quotations, which were heretofore properly introduced, are now curtailed. Were an apology required on this occafion, the prefent editor might shelter himfelf under the authority of Prior, who long ago has faid,
"That when one's proofs are aptly chofen,
The present editor thinks it unneceffary to fay any thing of his own fhare in the work, except that he undertook it in confequence of an application which was too flattering and too honourable to him to decline. He mentions this only to have it known that he did not intrude himself into the fituation. He is not infenfible, that the task would have been better executed by many other gentlemen, and particularly by fome whofe names appear to the notes. He has added but little to the bulk of the volumes from his own obfervations, having, upon every occafion, rather chofen to avoid a note, than to court the opportunity of inferting one. The liberty he has taken of omitting fome remarks,
he is confident, has been exercised without prejudice and without partiality; and therefore, trufting to the candour and indulgence of the publick, will forbear to detain them any longer from the entertainment they may receive from the greatest poet of this or any other nation. REED.
Nov. 10, 1785.
N the following work, the labour of eight years, I have endeavoured, with unceafing folicitude, to give a faithful and correct edition of the plays and poems of Shakspeare. Whatever imperfection or errors therefore may be found in it, (and what work of fo great a length and difficulty was ever free from error or imperfection?) will, I truft, be imputed to any other caufe than want of zeal for the due execution of the task which I ventured to undertake.
The difficulties to be encountered by an editor of the works of Shakspeare, have been fo frequently ftated, and are fo generally acknowledged, that it may feem unneceflary to conciliate the publick
favour by this plea: but as thefe in my opinion have in fome particulars been over-rated, and in others not fufficiently infifted on, and as the true state of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the publick, I fhall confider the fubject as if it had not been already difcuffed by preceding editors.
In the year 1756 Dr. Johnson published the following excellent scheme of a new edition of Shakfpeare's dramatick pieces, which he completed in 1765:
"When the works of Shakspeare are, after fo many editions, again offered to the publick, it will doubtlefs be enquired, why Shakspeare ftands in more need of critical affiftance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies. of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to fupply.
"The bufinefs of him that republifhes an ancient book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obfcure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written fince the ufe of types, almoft peculiar to Shakspeare. Moft writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings, and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are fometimes published after the death of him who produced them, but they are better fecured from corruptions than these unfortunate compofitions. They fubfift in a fingle copy, written or revised by the author; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one defcent.
"But of the works of Shakspeare the condition has been far different: he fold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately