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The Worst Edition Of Shakespeare
by [?]

Reader, if by fortunate chance you have a son of tender years–the age is best from the sixth to the eleventh summer–or in lieu of a son, a nephew, only a few years in pants–mere shoots of nether garments not yet descending to the knees–doubtless, if such fortunate chance be yours, you went on one or more occasions last summer to a circus.

If the true holiday spirit be in you–and you be of other sort, I’ll not chronicle you–you will have come early to the scene for a just examination of what mysteries and excitements are set forth in the side-shows. Now if you be a man of humane reasoning, you will stand lightly on your legs, alert to be pulled this way or that as the nepotic wish shall direct, whether it be to the fat woman’s booth or to the platform where the thin man sits with legs entwined behind his neck, in delightful promise of what joy awaits you when you have dropped your nickel in the box and gone inside. To draw your steps, it is the showman’s privilege to make what blare he please upon the sidewalk; to puff his cheeks with robustious announcement.

If by further fortunate chance, you are addicted, let us say, in the quieter hours of winter, to writing of any kind–and for your joy, I pray that this be so, whether this writing be in massive volumes, or obscure and unpublished beyond its demerit–if such has been your addiction, you have found, doubtless, that your case lies much like the fat woman’s; that it is the show you give before the door that must determine what numbers go within–that, to be plain with you, much thought must be given to the taking of your title. It must be a most alluring trumpeting, above the din of rival shows.

So I have named this article with thought of how I might stir your learned curiosity. I have set scholars’ words upon my platform, thereby to make you think how prodigiously I have stuffed the matter in. And all this while, my article has to do only with a certain set of Shakespeare in nine calfskin volumes, edited by a man named John Bell, now long since dead, which set happens to have stood for several years upon my shelves; also, how it was disclosed to me that he was the worst of all editors, together with the reasons thereto and his final acquittal from the charge.

John Bell has stood, for the most part, in unfingered tranquillity, for I read from a handier, single volume. Only at cleaning times has he been touched, and then but in the common misery with all my books. Against this cleaning, which I take to be only a quirk of the female brain, I have often urged that the great, round earth itself has been subjected to only one flood, and that even that was a failure, for, despite Noah’s shrewdness at the gangway, villains still persist on it. How then shall my books profitably endure a deluge both autumn and spring?

Thereafter, when the tempest has spent itself and the waters have returned from off my shelves, I’ll venture in the room. There will be something different in the sniff of the place, and it will be marvelously picked up. Yet I can mend these faults. But it does fret me how books will be standing on their heads. Were certain volumes only singled out to stand upon their heads, Shaw for one, and others of our moderns, I would suspect the housemaid of expressing in this fashion a sly and just criticism of their inverted beliefs. I accused her on one occasion of this subtlety, but was met by such a vacant stare that I acquitted her at once. However, as she leaves my solidest authors also on their heads, men beyond the peradventure of such antics, I must consider it but a part of her carelessness, for which I have warned her twice. Were it not for her cunning with griddlecakes, to which I am much affected, I would have dismissed her before this.