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A NEW VARIORUM EDITION
HORACE HOWARD FURNESS
ROMEO AND JULIET
It is now nearly fifty years since the last so-called Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, edited by Boswell, (the son of Johnson's biographer,) was published in twenty-one octavo volumes; and whatever may be the defects of the notes therein collected, and however much they may seem to justify the contempt heaped upon 'Shakespearian commentators,' or be sneered at as 'necessary evils,' that edition remains to this day the storehouse whence succeeding editors of Shakespeare have drawn copious supplies of illustration and criticism. It is indispensable to a thorough study of Shakespeare-as necessary to Shakespeare as Orelli to Horace, or Dissen to Pindar. Not that an acquaintance with this mass of commentary is essential to the enjoyment of Shakespeare's plays, or that there may not be even a very full appreciation of their marvellous beauties as they appear in the unaided text. A man may be a good Christian without any knowledge of the commentaries on the Bible, and yet no one questions their value.
Nevertheless, valuable as the Variorum of 1821 is, it is very far from supplying the needs of Shakespeare students at the present day. It is in fact merely rudimentary. In the fifty years that have elapsed since its publication, Shakespearian criticism has made great progress, greater in fact than during any other preceding half-century; and, although in the list of recent editors are found no such worldrenowned names as Pope and Johnson, yet Shakespeare has never had critics who brought to their task greater learning, keener critical sagacity and more reverential love than have been shown by his more modern editors. The student of Shakespeare is no longer offended by the patronizing tone in which it was the wont to refer to our author' or 'our poet,' obscure passages are no longer termed ‘nonsense'