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At a period when the fame of Shakspeare is “striding the world like a colossus," and editions of his works are multiplied with a profusion that testifies the desire awakened in all classes of society to read and study his imperishable compositions,—there needs, perhaps, but little apology for the following selections of his works, prepared expressly to render them unexceptionable for the use of Schools, and acceptable for Family reading. Apart from the fact, that Shakspeare is the “ well-spring” from which may be traced the origin of the purest poetry in our language, –a long course of professional experience has satisfied me that a necessity exists for the addition of a work like the present, to our stock of Educational Literature. His writings are peculiarly adapted for the purposes of elocutionary exercise, when the system of instruction pursued by the Teacher is based upon the true principle of the art, viz.—careful analysis of the structure and meaning of language, rather than a servile adherence to the arbitrary and mechanical rules of Elocution.
To impress upon the mind of the pupil that words are the exposition of thought, and that in reading, or speaking, every shade of thought and feeling has its appropriate shade of modulated tone, ought to be the especial aim of every Teacher; and an author like Shakspeare, whose every line embodies a volume of meaning, should surely form one of our Elocutionary Text Books. I have invariably found that the attention of youthful pupils is more readily awakened by the force and beauty of his language, than by that of all other writers. Interest is uniformly excited in the student by the infinite variety of character that our great poet introduces into his creations, whilst the perceptive faculties of the reader become quickened and roused into action by the wonderful power he exhibits in “making his persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated.” The study of Elocution, under impressions so favorable, becomes an exercise truly intellectual, and the objectionable, but still necessary mechanism of the art, is reduced to its proper subordinate and auxiliary position.
That his entire works could not be introduced into schools is evident; nor do the “ Selections,” “ Beauties," and occasional “Extracts,” found in our Class Readers, precisely meet the wants of a pupil. These are at best the “ bricks,”—unsatisfactory specimens of the imperishable structure that the genius of our poet has reared, for the admiration of every age and every clime.
“ The real power of Shakspeare is not shown only by particular passages, but much also by the progress of his fables and the tenor of his dialogue.” Unconnected extracts will always fail to interest and impress the young to the same extent as a coherent story and an animated scene.
Acting upon these convictions, I have endeavored to extract the essence, as it were, of sixteen of Shakspeare's most approved Dramas—preserving in each the main story entire, by the aid of brief explanatory notes connecting the selections. The strictly poetical passages have been generally retained in preference to the comic portions, my limits compelling me to a choice between the two. Conceding the necessity of this almost imperative choice, I believe that the selections are those, to which the lovers of Shakspeare most frequently and most satisfactorily recur.
Of the liberties I have been compelled to take with my author,
I scarcely know how to speak with becoming propriety. I profess to share the common veneration entertained for the pure unmutilated text of Shakspeare ; and can estimate at what it is worth that ultra fastidiousness, which denounces the great “ Poet of Nature" for having made his characters speak agreeably to the spirit of his own age. Still, in preparing a selection of his works for the express purpose contemplated in my design, I have not hesitated to exercise a severe revision of his language, beyond that adopted in any similar undertaking—“Bowdler's Family Shakspeare" not even excepted ;and simply, because I practically know the impossibility of introducing Shakspeare as a Class Book, or as a satisfactory Reading Book for Families, without this precautionary revision.
To render the selections better adapted for expressive reading, I have also ventured to disencumber several passages of unnecessary circumlocution, consulting standard authorities to aid me in this portion of my labors. I may
be held amenable at the bar of criticism, for what may be deemed by many a profanation of Shakspeare.
In extenuation of my temerity, I may be permitted to say, that although the undertaking of such a work as the present, has been urged upon me by convictions, practically enforced, of its necessity, I have long been restrained from making the attempt from conscientious scruples as to its propriety. But to
“Do a great right,"
I have done
“ A little wrong."
Shakspeare, in the original, is effectually excluded from our Schools; and modern refinement is fast banishing him from the Home Reading Circle. To bring his profound moral and intellectual teachings to bear upon the early mental training of the young, and to extend his genial influences around the Domestic Hearth, seemed to me justifiable attempts; expedient to be made at all hazards.
I have therefore prepared these selections with such a carefully expurgated Text, that the Book may be introduced into our Schools with perfect confidence, by the most fastidious Teacher; and with equal propriety it can be used for reading aloud in the most refined and pure-minded Family, or Social Circle.
In justice to myself, I may be permitted to add, that I have avoided, as far as it was practicable with the nature of my design, the substitution of any language of my own for the pure text of Shakspeare. I have been compelled occasionally to resort to the use of synonymes, but these have been adopted but sparingly. When difficulties beset me in the original, I have preferred, in most cases, excision to alteration. I may possibly have
“ Cut beyond the wound, To make the cure complete ;”.
but there is high medical authority for believing that this is the most successful treatment in desperate cases.
With this explanatory, and I may add, deprecatory preface, I submit the result of my bumble, but very toilsome labors, to the test of public opinion.
New-YORK, February 22, 1845