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Sweetest Bard that ever sung, Nature's Glory, Fancy's Child ; Never sure did Poet's tongue, Warble forth such wood-notes wild.
THE FOURTH EDITION.
It has been observed by a learned writer in a preface to his second edition, that the feelings of an * author at that time, are very different from those which he experiences, when he offers a new work at the tribunal of public opinion. The truth of this observation must of course be felt more strongly in the present instance, when a fourth edition is committed to the press. The reception which the Family SHAKSPEARE has experienced from the Public, has indeed been gratifying. It has been commended by all those who have examined it, and censured by those only who do not appear to have made any enquiry into the merits or demerits of the performance, but condemn every attempt at removing indecency from Shakspeare. It would, indeed, have given me real pleasure, if any judicious and intelligent reader had perused the work with the eye of rigid criticism, and had pointed out any improper words
which were still to be found in it. All observations of that nature would have been candidly and maturely considered, and if well founded, would have been followed by the erasure of what was faulty. On the other hand, I cannot but be gratified, at perceiving that no person appears to have detected any indecent expression in these volumes : but this has not made me less solicitous to direct my own attention to that object, and to endeavour to render this work as unobjectionable as possible. I have, therefore, in preparing this Edition for the press, taken great pains to discover and correct any defects which might formerly have escaped my notice, but they have appeared in this last perusal of the work to be very few in number, and not of any great importance. Such, however, as I have been able to perceive, I have carefully removed, and I hope I may venture to assure the parents and guardians of youth, that they may read the FAMILY SHAKSPEARE aloud in the mixed society of young persons of both sexes, sans peur et sans reproche.
My next object was to observe, whether the sense and meaning of the author were in any
degree perverted or impaired by the erasures which I had made. The final decision of this question must be left to the careful and intelligent critic; but to myself it
few instances will be found in which the reader will have any cause to regret the loss of the words that have
been omitted. The great objection which has been urged against the Family SHAKSPEARE, and it has been urged with vehemence by those who have not examined the work, is the apprehension, that, with the erasure of the indecent passages, the spirit and fire of the poet would often be much injured, and sometimes be entirely destroyed. This objection arises principally from those persons who have confined their study of Shakspeare to the closet, and have not learned in the theatre, with how much safety it is possible to make the necessary alterations. They have not learned, or they have forgot, that except in one, or at most in two instances, the plays of our author are never presented to the public without being corrected, and more or less cleared of indecency; yet Macbeth and Othello, Lear, Hamlet, and As you Like it, continue still to exhibit the superior genius of the first of dramatic poets. The same may be said of his other transcendent works; but those which I have named are selected as being five of the finest plays in the world, the most frequently acted, the most universally admired; but of which, there is not one that can be read aloud by a gentleman to a lady, without undergoing some correction. I have attempted to do for the library what the manager does for the stage, and I wish that the persons who urge this objection would examine the plays with attention. I venture to assert, that in the far greater part of them, they would find that it is not difficult to separate the indecent from the decent expressions; and they would soon be convinced, that, by removing the stains, they would view the picture not only uninjured, but possessed of additional beauty. The truth of this observation has been expressed with such elegance, and in terms so honourable to Shakspeare, by a very superior judge of poetic composition, that I cannot resist the temptation of inserting the
After censuring the indecencies of Dryden and Congreve, as being the exponents of licentious principles, the reviewer observes, in language more expressive than any which I could have employed, “ that it has in general been found easy to ex“ tirpate the offensive expressions of our great “ poet, without any injury to the context, or any “ visible scar, or blank in the composition. They “ turn out, not to be so much cankers in the “ flowers, as weeds that have sprung up by their “ side: not flaws in the metal, but impurities that “ have gathered on its surface, and that, so far “ from being missed on their removal, the work
generally appears more natural and harmonious 66 without them.” * I will not weaken the foregoing quotation by adding any less forcible language my own, but I will endeavour to prove by examples the perfect justice of the observation.
Edinburgh Review, No. lxxi. page 53.