S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
We love, we own, to read the great productions of the human mind as they were written. We have this feeling even about scientific treatises, though we know that the sciences are always in a state of progression, and that the alterations made by a modern editor in an old book on any branch of natural or political philosophy are likely to be improvements. Some errors have been detected by writers of this generation in the speculations of Adam Smith. A short cut has been made to much knowledge at which Sir Isaac Newton arrived through arduous and circuitous paths. Yet we still look with peculiar veneration on the Wealth of Nations and on the Principia, and should regret to see either of these great works garbled even by the ablest hands. But in works which owe much of their interest to the character and situation of the writers, the case is infinitely stronger. What man of taste and feeling can endure rifacimenti, harmonies, abridgments, expurgated editions? Who ever reads a stage copy of a play when he can procure the original? Who ever cut open Mrs. Siddonss Milton? Who ever got through ten pages of Mr. Gilpins translation of John Bunyans Pilgrim into modern English? Who would lose, in the confusion of a Diatessaron, the peculiar charm which belongs to the narrative of the disciple whom Jesus loved? The feeling of a reader who has become intimate with any great original work is that which Adam expressed towards his bride:
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart.
No substitute, however exquisitely formed, will fill the void left by the original. The second beauty may be equal and superior to the first; but still it is not she.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Boswells Life of Johnson, Sept., 1831.
No skilful reader of the plays of Shakspeare can endure to see what are called the best things taken out, under the name of Beauties or of Elegant Extracts, or to hear any single passage, To be or not to be, for example, quoted as a sample of the great poet. To be or not to be has merit undoubtedly as a composition. It would have merit if put into the mouth of a chorus. But its merit as a composition vanishes when compared with its merit as belonging to Hamlet. It is not too much to say that the great plays of Shakspeare would lose less by being deprived of all the passages which are commonly called the fine passages than those passages lose by being read separately from the play. This is perhaps the highest praise which can be given to a dramatist.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Moores Life of Byron, June, 1831.
Abstracts, abridgments, summaries, etc., have the same use with burning glassesto collect the diffused rays of wit and learning in authors, and make them point with warmth and quickness upon the readers imagination.