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MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.
YOUR MAJESTY'S well known Patronage of the Fine Arts, and the happy effects that Patronage has had, in making them conduce to the perfection of the various Productions of this Country, point out the propriety of laying at YOUR MAJESTY'S Feet a Work, that has for its Object the Promotion of those Arts; more especially when it was to YOUR MAJESTY's kind Encouragement, that this Edition of the DRAMATIC Works of SHAKSPEARE, owes both its Origin and its Completion.
That YOUR MAJESTY may long continue, by your auspicious Reign, to be the Patron of Literature and the Arts, in this happy Country, is the most fervent Prayer of
June 4th, 1803.
devoted Subjects and Servants,
HILE foreign nations were publishing splendid editions of their favourite Authors, we, in this country, contented ourselves with such editions of ours as were merely useful.
An enthusiastic admiration of SHAKSPEARE had long pointed out the works of that stupendous Genius, to the person who writes this Advertisement, as a proper object for a magnificent National Edition. He had frequently promulgated the idea, but without success, till, fortunately, he mentioned it in a company of artists and literary men, at the table of Messrs. BOYDELL. With that zeal for native genius and the promotion of the Fine Arts, in this country, which has long distinguished them, they readily adopted the idea.
The splendour with which they have ornamented this Edition of our immortal Poet, may be conceived by the Public, when they are informed, that One Hundred and Sixty-three Historical Pictures, many of them of a large size, have been painted by BRITISH ARTISTS, on purpose to adorn this work; but of this part of the undertaking, a more particular account will be given in the Advertisement prefixed to the large Prints. It is perhaps sufficient here to say, that no such exertion was ever made, by an individual family, in any age, or in any country.
Splendour and magnificence, united with correctness of text, were the great objects of this Edition, in order to enable every admirer of the matchless genius of SHAKSPEARE to place in his library, a monument to his memory. In these points the Proprietors humbly hope they have succeeded. If they have failed, it is certain they have not failed for want of exertion.
With regard to the Typographical part of the work, the state of printing, in England, when it was first undertaken (1786), was such, that it was found necessary to establish a printing-house on purpose to print the work; a foundery to cast the types; and even a manufactory to make the ink. How much the art of printing has improved since that period, the Public can best judge.
Concerning the correctness of the Text, the Proprietors can only say, that this department of the work was conducted by a gentleman, who is, alas, no more! Possessed of an acuteness and discrimination of mind hardly ever equalled, and certainly never surpassed, he dedicated his life to the subject; and his critical knowledge of SHAKSPEARE, and his cotemporaries, enabled him to correct many of those corrupted and obscure passages, which such eminent critics as Pope, WarbuRTON, and JOHNSON, had in vain laboured to elucidate. It seems unnecessary to add, that the gentleman alluded to is the late Mr. GEORGE STEEVENS; it is, therefore, but common gratitude to declare, that, to his gratuitous labours, this national Edition of SHAKSPEARE owes its accuracy. It may, perhaps, be proper to say, that Mr. STEEVENS, on this subject, occasionally consulted two friends; one who has also paid the great debt of nature— the Author of “the Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare;” a performance of so masterly a nature, that, at once, it extinguished a controversy, which had long divided the critics. This performance of Dr. FARMER, as every one knows who had the honour of his acquaintance, is completely characteristic of his mind. It was indeed the peculiar charm of Dr. FARMER'S knowledge, that it was always produced without exertion, in that light and familiar manner, as if it had cost no trouble to acquire, and as if he set no value on the communication.
The other gentleman whom Mr. STEEVENS Consulted, was Mr. ISAAC REED, who, to the comfort of his friends, and the lovers of English Literature, has lived to see the work finished. The Proprietors are very sensible how much it owes to that gentleman, especially since the death of his lamented friend Mr. STEEVENS.