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Here we see, that Mr. Theobald knew, as well as Mr. Capell, of the shipwreck of Somers, if that be any thing to the purpose. It is now above seventy years since this remark was made; and I ask, whether in that period any man, any woman, or any child, ever supposed that Theobald was acquainted with the origin of THE TEMPEST; or thought that the import of the foregoing passage was, that this comedy immediately took its rise from the shipwreck of Somers at Bermuda ? And I
And I say further, that he who should maintain that Theobald was acquainted with the peculiar circumstances which produced this play, might do so with much more probability that he who should ascribe that knowledge to Mr. Capell; for though Theobald knew nothing of the matter, he has here said nothing by which his ignorance of its true origin can be decisively proved: while on the other hand, Capell was so little aware of any immediate connection or relation between the storm that shipwrecked Somers and the play, and so far was he from supposing that this circumstance was its immediate origin, that he has almost expressly declared his ignorance on the subject; carefully separating the drama from the event that gave birth to it, and assuming that somE YEARS must have elapsed between that event and the construction of the play; during which time, according to his theory, the notions concerning the enchantment ascribed to these islands became well known, and at last in the year 1612 or 1613 reached the ear of Shakspeare.
If, however, it should be objected that Mr Theobald has no pretensions to this discovery, because it does not appear from his note that he had any knowledge of the magical character of the Bermudas, then I say, that Dr. Farmer, Mr. Steevens, and Bishop Percy, who had Theobald's note before them, and who knew from thence (if from no other quarter) of the shipwreck of Somers, and whose own notes shew that they were perfectly apprized of the magical character of the Bermudas, have as good a title to this discovery as Mr. Capell: yet I am confident, if one thousand competent judges were asked, whether they believed that the three gentlemen above-named had the slightest knowledge, or even suspicion, of the true and immediate origin of this play as stated in the preceding tract, that without one dissentient voice, they would instantly answer in the negative.
Though Mr. Capell's words decisively shew the futility of the conclusion founded upon them, some other circumstances ought not to be omitted, in the consideration of this question, if indeed it can be made a question for a moment. It should there- . fore be remembered, that Mr. Capell wrote and published an express account of what he conceived to be the origin of all Shakspeare's plays; and that in that account in speaking of THE TEMPEST, he has not introduced the slightest notice of the storm which dispersed Sir George Somers's fleet, or of his shipwreck;—that if he had known any of the incidents attending that dispersion and wreck, which are alluded to in this comedy, he would un
questionably have stated them, and the respective passages with which they correspond ;—that not having done so, it is clear, he knew nothing of them; and therefore never could have thought or supposed that the misadventure of Somers and his companions was the immediate origin of this beautiful comedy.
That Mr. Steevens and the other gentlemen whom I have mentioned, were acquainted with the disaster of Somers, cannot be doubted; because they all had occasion, from what is said in this comedy concerning the Bermudas, to consider when, and by whom, those islands were discovered, and what opinions were entertained respecting them. But it is manifest, that neither they nor Mr. Capell had the slightest suspicion that the storm which dispersed Somers's fleet, and wrecked his vessel on these islands, gave rise to the play; nor did any one of them know when the accounts of that disaster first arrived in England, or at what precise period the history of these events became generally known, by means of the various pamphlets published concerning them. I have a right to assume that they were ignorant of these circumstances, because, if they had been apprized of them, unquestionably they would not have concealed their knowledge.-With respect to myself, I certainly had no notion of the true origin of this comedy, tiil in the year 1800 or 1801 I read Jourdan's narrative of the disaster that befel his Admiral: when the passage in THE TEMPEST, in which an account is given of the dispersion of Alonzo's fleet,
and that the king's ship was, by those who escaped the peril of the storm, supposed to be lost, as well as the peculiar manner in which that ship is said to have been preserved, struck me so forcibly, that I thought Shakspeare must have had the incidents attending Somers's voyage, immediately in view, when he wrote his comedy. Our poet himself, as I have already observed, drew us all away from the true scent, by placing the scene of his play at a distance from the island where the ship of Somers was wrecked; and no printed account of his disaster, or concerning the Bermudas, having been met with, prior to the year 1612, an opinion generally prevailed, that the play was produced at a later period. This circumstance was still in contemplation, and drew away every investigator of the subject from its real and immediate source; nor could its origin and true date have been easily discovered and ascertained, without the aid of those pamphlets, and other papers, of which I have availed myself on this occasion, particularly the two tracts published in the latter end of the year 1610. With what difficulty and trouble the various pieces perused and compared for this purpose were procured, their respective dates, precisely ascertained by the aid of the entries in the Stationers' Registers, and the correspondence established between the extraordinary circumstances of Sir George Somers's disaster, and the various passages of this comedy in which they are covertly alluded to, will not readily be conceived by those who have not been engaged in similar researches. They who have had occaVOL. XV.
sion to trace and to collect all the minute particulars of an event that happened two centuries ago, well know the tedious difficulties and frequent disappointments attending on such dark and remote enquiries.
E. M. Foley-Place, Jan. 21, 1809.
END OF VOL XV.
C. Baldwin, Printer. New Bridge-street, London.