A Dictionary of Old English Plays

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When I proposed to myself the superintendence of a new edition of Langbaine, with the additional matter published by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, F. R.S., F.S.A., etc., in 1860, incorporated, I had no conception that beyond the entries and notes which I had gradually drawn together between 1860 and 1890, much would remain to be done. But during the process of amalgamating these insertions, I discovered on every page of the work a proof that my predecessor had discharged his task in a manner infinitely more negligent and perfunctory than I had supposed, and it became indispensable either to relinquish the undertaking, or to submit to the onerous duty of revising the volume from beginning to end. I was too warmly interested in my self-imposed labour to throw it up, and I had to face the sole honourable alternative. No one can even cursorily examine the two impressions side by side without perceiving how entirely the text has been castigated and improved; but, of course, it will be easy for many to point out where I have failed, or might have accomplished more.<br><br>The Dictionary of Old English Plays of 1860 marked, of course, a great advance on Langbaine, but nothing in comparison with what it might have done in more careful and conscientious hands. There is, as the case stands, scarcely any form of error and misstatement from which the publication is free. The defects of every kind are rather those of the earlier book improperly retained than any for which Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps is directly answerable. But that gentleman seldom put his whole strength into work not immediately associated with Shakespear, and we have here, no doubt, the result of casual and desultory jottings in an interleaved copy of Langbaine. The mischief is that a project of this sort, where the public demand is special and limited, however imperfect it may be, fills the room of a worthier book, and deprives those whose studies or researches are in a dramatic direction of the advantage of possessing a really useful Manual on the subject.<br><br>The weakest portion of the original work, as it has so far appeared from time to time in print, is that which deals with the earlier dramatic literature.

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