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SHAKSPEARE, whose power over the human heart has survived the change of manners, and the fluctuation of language, during the space of two hundred years, has been termed, with some justice, “ The God of British Idolatry." If a generation shall arise in Britain, when an edition of our great dramatist can be deemed an intrusion on the public, it must be marked by the decay of her arts, the extinction of her public spirit, and the fall of her pre-eminence among the nations of Europe. Such an epoch, may Providence long avert; and long bless us with that freedom and public spirit, which are the nurses of genius and of the arts! While these survive
among us, it is unnecessary to apologize for adding to the multiplied editions of the Bard of Avon.
The following edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works is given on a simple plan. The utmost pains has been bestowed in correcting the text after the most improved edition of Johnson and Steevens. It might almost have been assumed, that the intuitive judgment and philological knowledge of the great lexicographer, united with the acute and laborious researches of one of our most distinguished antiquaries, had left succeeding editors but little to correct or alter. Yet, as the industry of Mr Reed found means to improve even the labours of Johnson and his brother editor, we have used that edition, in which the text seems to be brought as near as possible to purity and to perfection.
The multiplicity of the notes with which Shakspeare has been overwhelmed, having been often complained of as a grievance, the editor determined, in the present edition, to give a simple and accurate text, without any commentary whatever. Most of the doubtful passages have been amply discussed in other editions, and may surely now be considered as finally decided and at rest. The correctness of the text secures it from obscurity; and the illustration of the manners of Shakespeare's age is a totally different task from that of editing his works.
As no author affords such advantages for the painter, it has been the editor's object to give the venerable bard the ornaments of the pencil. In this task the best artists have been employed; and their labours are disposed in vignettes, which were preferred to separate engravings, as making not merely an appendage to the work, but an integral part of it. The utmost attention has been employed, throughout, to render the ornaments worthy of the author they are intended to adorn; and, on the whole, the editor trusts the present has a title to be termed an elegant, as well as a correct, edition of the immortal Shakspeare.