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NOTES AND COMMENTS.
Pedant. What mening hath your worshyp?
What I saie:
The Wyse Man's Folie.-Old MS. “ And if by chaunce thou light of some speache that seemeth dark, consider of it with judgment, before thou condemne the worke: for in many places he is driven both to praise and blame with one breath, which in readinge wil seeme hard, and in action appeare plaine."
Promos & Cassandra. [Thu Printer to the Reader.
COT what Shakespeare might, could, would, or should
have written, but what, according to the best evidence, he did write, is the only admissible or defensible object of the labors of his editors and verbal critics. Obviously true as this is, its binding force has been regarded by but a very few of the many who have undertaken the supervision or correction of Shakespeare's text. They have not simply sought the word, the expression, or the line which the authentic copy gives in this or that passage; but each has undertaken to decide what it should be, by exercising his own taste in choosing from the text of the various ancient copies which accident or fraud gave to the world, or by substituting that which, in his judgment, the poet should have written.
With the labors of such critics I have no sympathy; for such labors I can imagine no excuse. To me they are folly, presumption, desecration, literary crimes which should be remorselessly denounced, let them be perpetrated by whom they may. During the patient study of years, I have day by day become more and more convinced that the authentic text of Shakespeare cannot be held in too great veneration or modified with too great caution. A passage There may seem obscure through a thousand painful perusals, and yet upon the next, a meaning may flash upon us so apposite, so brilliant, as to mingle with the pleasure of discovery some shame at the perversity which delayed the enjoyment, and the presumption which proposed a feeble substitute in place of it.
“Let no man,” said Schlegel, "lay hand on Shakespeare's works to change any thing essential in them; he will be sure to punish himself.” Yes, let no man do it, whatever his learning or his ability. How different the opinion of the literary celebrities of the past age was from that of Schlegel, the following pages will bear evidence; and that the exposures which they make are not superfluous, may be justly concluded from the fact that the London Quarterly Review but recently expressed the opinion that Dr. Johnson's notes commanded the deference of his readers, and that a competent editor would be contented with reproducing them in their integrity! Such an assertion, by a sane man, can only be accounted for on the supposition that he had either not read Shakespeare, or had not seen Johnson's notes. The “great moralist,' however, is among the best of a class under the infliction of whose treatment Shakespeare's text is still suffering, and on account of the perverse and unsympathizing nature of whose criticisms even his wondrous creations are still misapprehended or partially comprehended by a great number of his readers. What a fine thing would it be for Shakespeare and the public if, with the exception of such copies as are necessary for public libraries and the critical students of the text, all the editions issued during the two hundred years subsequent to the publication of the first folio, could be piled in one great heap and set on fire ! Round such a pyre the true lovers of Shakespeare might dance and sing with joy.
In the subsequent Notes and Comments, most of which were written merely as a part of the author's Shakesperian studies, and with no thought of publication, or in the course of daily criticism in the various departments of Art, it will be observed that his constant aim has been to preserve—at first for himself and now for his readers—the simple and obvious signification of the authentic text. Reckless and remorseless have been the inroads upon that text, under the sanction of great names; and so disastrous are the consequences of these ravages, that it cannot be too often asserted that the only guaranty for the integrity of those works which are the glory of our race and of the world, consists in the preservation of the words of the only authentic edition, when those words are understood by minds of ordinary intelligence, or supported by comparison with the language and manners of the author's day, or those of the immediately antecedent age. And not only so,—the learned and ingenious distortions and perversions of the signification of those words, which have been handed down for the last two or three generations, must be set at naught and utterly contemned,-in fact, forgotten, before the bright, broad, genial, all-penetrating light of Shakespeare's thought can reach the general mind in undimmed purity and splendor. Upon the Dramatist of all time even more than upon the father of the Epic, has the ambitious desire of his commentators to see more than he saw, and understand more than he meant, inflicted that wrong which Rabelais thus satirizes with pitiless and truthful pen in the Prologue to his “Pleasant and Joyous History."
Croyez vous en vostre foy, qu’oncques Homere escripuant l'Ilyade, & Odyssee pensast és allegories lesquelles de luy ont beluté Plutarche, Heraclides Ponticque, Eustatie, & Phornute : & ce que d'iceulx Politian à desrobé ? Si le croyez, vous n'aprochez ne de pieds, ny de mains å mon opinion, qui decrete icelles