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1871, June 26.
John Rogers Mason,
IN preparing these volumes of Ford for the public, the same excellent guide has been followed to whom the reader has been so largely indebted in our previous labours upon Massinger; and indeed a more admirable commentator on the old English dramatists than Mr. Gifford could not easily be found. The extreme vigour and acuteness of his intellect, his unwearied industry and research, and the peculiarity of his personal fortunes, which made him as well acquainted with the phraseology and modes of thinking in common life as he was conversant with all the courtesies of higher stations, excellently fitted him for seizing and fixing their several texts, and illustrating the usages and customs to which they referred; while the finer faculties of his mind enabled him to appreciate the higher beauties of their style and thoughts, and to catch every shade of feeling, and discriminate every variety of character which could be found imbodied in those noble works of the older time. That high religious feeling which formed so marked a trait in Mr. Gifford's character, and which seems, indeed, almost a necessary accompaniment of genius in its highest sense, was here peculiarly in place; enabling him, as it did, to walk through
the occasional impurities and even profanities of our earlier stage, unpolluted himself, and ever watchful to keep contamination from others. When it is recollected, however, that these editions of the old dramatists were with Mr. Gifford merely a source of recreation from higher duties and severer studies; when it is considered how many years and with what ability he presided over a department of literature requiring not only very extensive scholarship, but a general acquaintance with almost every art and occupation of life; when we call to mind the uncompromising zeal and earnest devotion with which, in times of peculiar difficulty and danger, he upheld the old institutions as well as the old literature of his country, we shall be excused for saying that, though men of higher genius might be named in an age extraordinarily prolific of such persons, few will be found with higher claims on the respect and gratitude of posterity than him of whose labours we are now about to avail ourselves, in such manner, and to such extent, as the peculiar nature of our undertaking may best seem to require.
It is incidentally observed by Dr. Farmer in his Essay on Shakspeare, "that play-writing in that poet's days was scarcely thought a creditable employ;" and it would seem as if the dramatic poets themselves entertained some such idea as Farmer mentions; for, either from mortification or humility, they commonly abstain from dwelling, or even entering, upon their personal history. Though frequent in dedications, they are seldom explicit; and even their prefaces fail to convey any information except of their wants, or their grievances from evils which are rarely specified.