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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXV. Scholars

§ 42. Horace Howard Furness

The New Variorum Shakespeare, edited by Horace Howard Furness (1833–1912), began appearing in 1871. Furness was a member of the Shakespeare Society of Philadelphia (established 1851 and the oldest Shakespeare society in existence); under its influence he is said to have begun about 1862 a variorum text of Hamlet, and it may be that the plan for the New Variorum originated among the members of this Society. In any case, though Furness was a Harvard graduate, his undertaking belongs less to any university than to the social and urbane scholarship cultivated among Privat-gelehrten during the period of learned societies. He conceived the immediate need for his edition to be that the Cambridge edition of 1866 “did not give the history of variant readings in the hands of successive editors, and that it also neglected to record the first editor to adopt a generally accepted reading.” These deficiencies the Variorum supplies. After the first three volumes, whose text is composite, Furness in King Lear, his fourth volume, virtually followed the first Folio, and beginning with the fifth, Othello, printed the first Folio text itself, with all variants and emendations in the textual notes. Besides these there are notes explanatory and interpretative, as well as prefatory and appended editorial matter of various kinds, including much æsthetic criticism. Furness in fact was primarily interested, very much as Hudson was, in each play as a self-subsisting entity. Preoccupied thus with the inwardness of Shakespeare, he neglected some material that a variorum edition ought to include—much of the later criticism that deals with Shakespeare’s outwardness; with matters like chronology, verse tests, attributions, and types of personage, incident, and dramatic structure common to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Matter of this kind is being supplied in the later volumes edited by Horace Howard Furness, Jr. Even without it, the New Variorum is indispensable. Its special “note” is that it combines all the scientific apparatus that is necessary for the student with all kinds of criticism, which Furness’s humour and good judgment hold in clear solution.