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Copyright, 1906, By GEORGE HENRY NETTLETON
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
GINN & COMPANY • PRO-
No recent student of Sheridan can fail to acknowledge, at the very outset, a heavy debt to the foremost authority upon the subject — Fraser Rae. Before his death, in January, 1905, he had published by far the most important contributions yet made to the knowledge of Sheridan's life and writings. His two exhaustive volumes dealing with Sheridan's life1 constitute, beyond question, the definitive biography. Even Mr. Augustine Birrell, in the introduction to his edition of The School for Scandal and The Rivals, despite goodnatured remonstrance with Mr. Rae for seeking to destroy cherished traditions, does not fail to term his biography "a book which very likely will mark a point of departure for subsequent biographers and critics." Mr. Rae's recent publication of the authoritative text of the plays, based on the original manuscripts,2 has a significance best appreciated by comparison with the text of the two-volume Murray edition on which ultimately rest most reprints of Sheridan's plays. Had he supplemented this work with collation of texts and with critical annotation, there would doubtless have been no occasion for the present volume. That there remained, however, a large and almost unexplored field for investigation in the study of the plays, Mr. Rae himself readily admitted, and from the first gave hearty encouragement to my project of a critical edition based on contemporary documents. To him I owe
1 Sheridan, A Biography, 2 vols., London, Richard Bentley & Son: New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1896. It may be added that Mr. Rae wrote the Sheridan article for the Dictionary of National Biography.
2 Sheridan1s Plays now printed as he wrote them and his mother's unpublished comedy, A Journey to Bath, London, David Nutt, 1902.
permission to use his authentic text of the plays, and to avail myself freely of the results of his research. Furthermore, his personal answers to vexing questions were always of definite assistance. From the beginning of my correspondence with him some three years ago, it was my hope to submit to him the proofs of this book. His death, before the completion of the manuscript, has denied me both the benefit of his final judgment upon my work, and the opportunity of expressing to him publicly my grateful acknowledgment of his courtesy and generosity. His life-work was a constant incentive to scholarship; his death has brought an increased sense of obligation to complete with zeal and fidelity that portion of the study of Sheridan which he abandoned to other hands.
For the Life of Sheridan in the Introduction to this volume little can be claimed save that it presents, with some additions in the way of "local color," a condensation for the general reader of the eight or nine hundred pages of Fraser Rae's biography. With this exception, however, the present work covers territory diverging widely from his peculiar province. So exhaustive a biography as his cannot fail to furnish incidental aid to any critical study of Sheridan's plays, but to annotation of the text it makes little or no direct contribution. Indeed, notwithstanding the frequency with which the plays have been reprinted, there have been few annotated editions. It is well within bounds to say, that, despite Sheridan's importance in the history of English drama and his continued popularity, no critical edition of his plays has appeared which is either thoroughly accurate or complete. In the Temple edition, Mr. G. A. Aitken has brief notes which are usually helpful, though he has been at times betrayed into errors by too implicitly following previous editors. Some of the notes in Brander Matthews's Sheridan's Comedies 1 are suggestive.
1 The first edition, James R. Osgood & Co., 1885, has recently been reprinted, in somewhat revised form, by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.,