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zarded, rather than relied on:-But there are others which I offer with fome degree of confidence, and I flatter myself that they will meet, upon the whole, with a favourable reception from the admirers of Shakspeare, as tending to elucidate a number of paffages which have hitherto been misprinted or misunderstood.
In forming these comments, I have confined myself folely to the particular edition which is the object of them, without comparing it with any other, even with that of Johnfon: not doubting but the editors had faithfully ftated the various readings of the first editions, I refolved to avoid the labour of collating; but had I been inclined to undertake that tafk, it would not have been in my power, as few, if any, of the ancient copies can be had in the country where I refide.
I have felected from the Supplement, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, because it is fuppofed by fome of the commentators to have been the work of Shakfpeare, and is at leaft as faulty as any of the rest. The remainder of the plays which Malone has published are neither, in my opinion, the production of our poet, or fufficiently incorrect to require any comment. M. MASON.
BEFORE THE THIRD EDITION, 1785.
'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 editions 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 presumed 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 subject, the fame train of enquiry has brought to light new difcoveries, and accident will probably continue to produce further illuftrations, which may render fome alterations neceffary in every fucceeding republication.
Since the last edition of this work in 1778, the zeal for elucidating Shakspeare, which appeared in most of the gentlemen whose names are affixed to the notes, has fuffered 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 cuftoms 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 con fidered, 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 reft 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 fupplied by the last editor, and the principal of the living commentators. To mention these affiftances, is fufficient to excite expectation; but to fpeak any thing in their praife 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 paft.
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 observed by the last editor, that the multitude of inftances which have been produced to exemplify particular words, and explain obfolete cuftoms, 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 prefent 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 tafk 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 stated, and are so generally acknowledged, that it may feem unneceffary to conciliate the publick