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unquestionably conversant, let Malone assert what he pleases, with his Author's language and metre. It was not, therefore, without cause, that Steevens held his labors in much estimation. Malone was an invaluable collector of facts: his industry was indefatigable: his researches were deep: his pursuit of truth was sincere and ardent: but he wanted the talents and the taste of a critic; and of all the editors, by whom Shakspeare has suffered, I must consider him as the most pernicious. Neither the indulged fancy of Pope, nor the fondness for innovation in Hanmer, nor the arrogant and headlong self-confidence of Warburton, has inflicted such cruel wounds on the text of Shakspeare, as the assuming dulness of MI alone. Barbarism and broken rhythm dog him at the heels wherever he treads.
In praise of the third and the fourth folio editions of our Author's dramas, printed respectively in 1664 and 1685, nothing can be advanced. Each of these editions implicitly followed its immediate predecessor, and, adopting all its errors, increased them to a frightful accumulation with its own. With the text of Shakspeare in this disorder, the public of Britain remained satisfied during many years. At length, about the commencement of the last century, Britain began to open her eyes to the excellency of her illustrious son, THE GREAT Poet of NATURE, and to discover a solicitude for the integrity of his works. A new and a more perfect edition of them became the demand of the public; and, to answer it, an edition, under the superintendence of Rowe, made its appearance in 1709. Rowe, however, either forgetting or shrinking from the high and laborious duties which he had undertaken, selected, most unfortunately, for his model, the last and the worst of the folio editions; and, without collating either of the first two folios or any of the earlier quartos, he gave to the disappointed public a transcript much too exact of the impure text which lay opened before him. Some of its grosser errors, however, he corrected ; and he prefixed to his edition a short memoir of the life of his Author, which, meagre and weakly written as it is, still constitutes the most authentic biography that we possess of our mighty Bard.
On the failure of this edition, after the pause of a few years, another was projected; and, that it might be more adequate to the claims of Shakspeare and of Britain, the conduct of it was placed,
in homage to his just celebrity, in the hands of Pope. Pope showed himself more cotiscious of the nature of his task, and more faithful in his execution of it, than his predecessor. He disclosed to the public the very faulty state of his Author's text, and suggested the proper means of restoring it : he collated many of the earlier edi. tions, and he cleared the page of Shakspeare from many of its deformities: but his collations were not sufficiently extensive; and he indulged, perhaps, somewhat too much in conjectural emendation. This exposed him to the attacks of the petty and minute critics; and, the success of his work falling short of his expectations, he is said to have contracted that enmity to verbal criticism, which actuated him during the remaining days of his life. His edition was published in the year 1725. Before this was undertaken, Theobald, a man of no great abilities, and of little learning, had projected the restoration of Shakspeare; but his labors had been suspended, or their result had been withheld from the press, till the issue of Pope's attempt was ascertained by its accomplishment, and publication. The Shakspeare of Theobald's editing was not given to the world before the year 1733 ; when it obtained more of the public regard than its illustrious predecessor, in consequence of its being drawn from a somewhat wider field of collation, and of its less frequent and presumptuous admission of conjecture. Theobald, indeed, did not wholly abstain from conjecture; but the palm of conjectural criticism was placed much too high for the reach of his hand.
To Theobald, as an editor of Shakspeare, succeeded Sir Thomas Hanmer, who, in 1744, published a superb edition of the great Dramatist from the press of Oxford. But Hanmer, building his work on that of Pope, and indulging in the wildest and most wanton innovations, deprived his edition of all pretensions to authenticity, and, consequently, to merit.
The bow of Ulysses was next seized by a mighty hand-by the hand of Warburton ; whose Shakspeare was published in 1747. It failed of success; for, conceiving that the editor intended to make his Author his showman to exhibit his erudition and intellectual power, the public quickly neglected his work; and it soon disappeared from circulation, though some of its proffered substitutions must be allowed to be happy, and some of its explanations to be just.
After an interval of eighteen years, Shakspeare obtained once more an editor of great name, and seemingly in every way accomplished to assert the rights of his Author. In 1765, Dr. Samuel Johnson presented the world with his long-promised edition of our Dramatist; and the public expectation, which had been highly raised, was again doomed to be disappointed. Johnson had a powerful intellect, and was perfectly conversant with human life; but he was not sufficiently versed in black-letter lore ; and, deficient in poetic taste, he was unable to accompany our great Bard in the higher flights of his imagination. The public in general were not satisfied with his commentary or his text; but to his Preface they gave the most unlimited applause. The array and glitter of its words; the regular and pompous march of its periods, with its pervading affectation of deep thought and of sententious remark, seem to have fascinated the popular mind; and to have withdrawn from the common observation its occasional poverty of meaning; the inconsistency of its praise and censure; the falsity in some instances of its critical remarks; and its defects now and then even with respect to composition. It has, however, its merits, and Heaven forbid that I should not be just to them. It gives a right view of the difficulties to be encountered by the editor of Shakspeare: it speaks modestly of himself, and candidly of those who had preceded him in the path which he was treading : it assigns to Pope, Hanmer, and Warburton, those victims to the rage of the minute critics, their due proportion of praise : it is honorably just, in short, to all who come within the scope of its observations, with the exception of the editor's great Author alone. To him also the editor gives abundant praise; but against it he arrays such a frightful host of censure as to command the field; and to leave us to wonder at our admiration of an object so little worthy of it, though he has been followed by the admiration of more than two entire centuries. As
unfolder of intricate and perplexed passages, Johnson must be allowed to excel. His explanations are always perspicuous, and
, his proffered amendments of a corrupt text are sometimes successful. But the expectations of the world had been too highly raised to be satisfied with his performance; and it was only to the most exception able part of it, the mighty Preface, that they gave their unmingled applause. — In the year following the publication of Johnson's
edition, in 1766, George Steevens made his first appearance as a commentator on Shakspeare; and he showed himself to be deeply conversant with that antiquarian reading, of which his predecessor had been too ignorant. In 1768, an edition of Shakspeare was given to the public by Capell; a man fondly attached to his Author, but much too weak for the weighty task which he undertook. He had devoted a large portion of his life to the collection of his materials : he was an industrious collator, and all the merit which he possesses, must be derived from the extent and the fidelity of his collations. - In 1773 was published an edition of our Dramatist by the associated labors of Johnson and Steevens; and this edition, in which were united the native powers of the former, with the activity, the sagacity, and the antiquarian learning of the latter, still forms the standard edition for the publishers of our Poet.—In 1790, Malone entered the lists against them as a competitor for the editorial palm. After this publication, Malone seems to have devoted the remaining years of his life to the studies requisite for the illustration of his Author; and at his death he bequeathed the voluminous papers, which he had prepared, to his and my friend, James Boswell, the younger son of the biographer of Johnson; and by him these papers were published in twenty octavo volumes, just before the close of his own valuable life. That the fund of Shakspearian information has been enlarged by this publication, cannot reasonably be doubted; that the text of Shakspeare has been injured by it, may confidently be asserted. As my opinion of Malone, as an annotator on Shakspeare, has been already expressed, it would be superfluous to repeat it. His stores of antiquarian knowledge were at least equal to those of Steevens; but he was not equally endowed by nature with that popular commentator.
The last edition which I shall notice, is a recent one by Mr. Singer. This editor's antiquarian learning is accurate and extensive: his critical sagacity is considerable ; and his judgment generally approves itself to be correct. He enters on the field with the strength of a giant, but with the diäidence and the humility of a child. We sometimes wish, indeed, that his humility had been less; for he is apt to defer to inferior men, and to be satisfied with following when he is privileged to lead. His explanations of his Author are frequently happy; and sometimes they illustrate a passage which had been left in unregarded darkness by the commentators who had preceded him. The sole fault of these explanatory notes (if such, indeed, can be deemed a fault) is their redundancy, and their recurrence in cases where their aid seems to be unnecessary. Mr. Singer and I may occasionally differ in our opinions respecting the text which he has adopted; but, in these instances of our dissent, it is fully as probable that I may be wrong as he. I feel, in short, con fident, on the whole, that Mr. Singer is now advancing, not to claim (for to claim is inconsistent with his modesty), but to obtain, a high place among the editors of Shakspeare; and to have his name enrolled with the names of those who have been the chief benefactors of the reader of our transcendent Poet.
REGARDING THE LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.
So little is known of the personal history of Shakspeare, that the reader may be
gralified to learn the results of researches lately made by J. Payne Collier, F. S. A.; among the manuscripes preserved at Bridgewater House, and lately published by him in a letter addressed to Thomas Amyot, F. R. S. They relate principally to Shakspeare's pecuniary circumstances : a few passages of little moment, as respects our purpose, are omitted.
MY DEAR Amyot, In the " History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage,” I remarked that,“ on looking back to the life of Shakspeare, the first observation that must be made is, that so few facts are extant regarding him;" and Steevens, the most acute, and perhaps the most learned, of his commentators, stated, long before, that “all that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspeare is— that he was born at Stratford upon Avon-married and had children there-went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems