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David Hume, the most popular historian | point, and viewing all the parts as so many of England, thus writes of Shakspere :- irradiations from it. Hence, nothing is so “Born in a rude age and educated in the rare as a critic who can elevate himself to lowest manner, without any instruction either the contemplation of an extensive work of from the world or from books." The con- art. Shakspere's compositions, from the very sequence of this national and individual depth of purpose displayed in them, have ignorance was a necessary one : A reason- been exposed to the misfortune of being able propriety of thought he cannot for any misunderstood. Besides, this prosaical species time uphold.” What right have we to abuse of criticism applies always the poetical form Voltaire, when we hear this from an English to the details of execution ; but, in so far writer of the same period ? We fully agree as the plan of the piece is concerned, it with Schlegel in this matter: - “ That never looks for more than the logical conforeigners, and Frenchmen in particular, who nection of causes and effects, or some partial frequently speak in the most strange language and trivial moral by way of application ; and of antiquity and the middle ages, as if all that cannot be reconciled to this is cannibalism had been first put an end to in declared a superfluous, or even a detrimental, Europe by Louis XIV., should entertain this addition. On these principles we must opinion of Shakspere, might be pardonable ; equally strike out most of the choral songs but that Englishmen should adopt such a of the Greek tragedies, which also contribute calumniation of that glorious epoch of their nothing to the development of the action, history, in which the foundation of their but are merely an harmonious echo of the greatness was laid, is to me incompre- impression aimed at by the poet. In this hensible.” * But it is not wholly incom- they altogether mistake the rights of poetry prehensible. Schlegel has in part explained and the nature of the romantic drama, which, it:_“I have elsewhere examined into the for the very reason that it is and ought to be pretensions of modern cultivation, as it is picturesque, requires richer accompaniments called, which looks down with such contempt and contrasts for its main groups. In all on all preceding ages. I have shown that it art and poetry, but more especially in the is all little, superficial, and unsubstantial at romantic, the fancy lays claim to be conbottom. The pride of what has been called sidered as an independent mental power the present maturity of human reason has governed according to its own laws." come to a miserable end; and the structures
The translation of Schlegel's work in 1815, erected by those pedagogues of the human in conjunction with the admirable lectures race have fallen to pieces like the baby- of Coleridge, gave a new direction amongst houses of children.” So far, of the critical the thinking few to our national opinion of contempt of the age of Shakspere. Schlegel Shakspere. Other critics of a higher school again, with equal truth, lays bare the real than our own race of commentators had character of the same critical opinions of the preceded Schlegel in Germany; and it would poet himself:-“It was, generally speaking, be perhaps not too much to say that, as the the prevailing tendency of the time which reverent study of Shakspere has principally preceded our own, a tendency displayed also formed their æsthetic school, so that æsthetic in physical science, to consider what is school has sent us back to the reverent study possessed of life as a mere accumulation of of Shakspere. He lived in the hearts of the dead parts ; to separate what exists only in people, who knew nothing of the English connection and cannot otherwise be con
critics. The learned, as they were called, ceived, instead of penetrating to the central understood him least. Let the lovers of truth * Lectures on Dramatic Literature,'Black's translation.
rejoice that their despotism is over.
Our notice of Shakspere's crities has now and Chalmers were mere supervisors and led us to what may be called the second race abridgers of what they did. of commentators.
The edition of CAPELL was published in The English editors of Shakspere have ten small octavo volumes, three years after certainly brought to their task a great variety that of Johnson —that is, in 1768. His of qualities, from which combination we preface is printed in what we call the might expect some very felicitous results. variorum editions of Shakspere, but Steevens They divide themselves into two schools, has added to it this depreciating note :which, like all schools, have their sub- “Dr. Johnson's opinion of this performance divisions. Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, may be known from the following passage in Johnson, belong to the school which did not Mr. Boswell's 'Life of Dr. Johnson ; '- If seek any very exact acquaintance with our the man would have come to me, I would early literature; and which probably would have endeavoured to endow his purpose have despised the exhibition, if not the with words, for, as it is, he doth gabble reality, of antiquarian and bibliographical monstrously.'” Certainly " the man knowledge. A new school arose, whose write a most extraordinary style ; and it is acquaintance with what has been called impossible to do full justice to his edition, black-letter literature was extensive enough from the great bulk of the notes and various to produce a decided revolution in Shak- readings "being published in a separate sperean commentary. Capell, Steevens, Ma- form,” with references to previous editors so lone, Reed, Douce, are the representatives of obscure and perplexed that few would take the later school. The first school contained the trouble to attempt to reach his meaning. the most brilliant men; the second, the most | Capell was a man of fortune; and he devoted painstaking commentators. The dullest of a life to this labour, dying in the midst of it. the first school,-a name hung up amongst Steevens never mentions him but to insult the dunces by his rival editor,-poor, him; and amongst the heaps of the most “piddling Tibbald,” was unquestionably the trashy notes that encumber the variorum best of the first race of editors. Rowe was editions, raked together from the pamphlets indolent; Pope, flashy; Warburton, paradox- of every dabbler in commentary, there is ical ; Johnson, pedantic. Theobald brought perhaps not one single-minded quotation his common sense to the task, and has left from Capell. John Collins, the publisher of us, we cannot avoid thinking, the best of all his posthumous Notes and Various Readings, the conjectural emendations. Of the other brings a charge against Steevens which may school, the real learning, and sometimes account for this unrelenting hostility to a sound judgment, of Capell, is buried in an learned and amiable man labouring in a obscurity of thought and style, — to say | pursuit common to them both. He says that nothing of his comment being printed Capell's edition “is made the groundwork of separately from his text,—which puts all what is to pass for the genuine production ordinary reading for purposes of information of these combined editors ” (Johnson and at complete defiance. Of Steevens and Steevens). This, he says, may be proved by Malone, they have had, more or less, the a comparison of their first edition of 1773 glory of having linked themselves to Shak- with that of Johnson's of 1765, Capell's spere during the last half century. Reed | having been published during the interval.
He then proceeds further in the charge :- school. It appears, from the clearest evidence “But the re-publication of their work, as it possible, that his father was a man of no ‘is revised and augmented,' makes further little substance, and very well able to give advances upon the same plan, abounding him such education; which, perhaps, he with fresh matter and accumulated evidence might be inclined to carry further, by sendin proof of the industry with which the ing him to a university ; but was prevented purloining trade has been pursued, and of in this design (if he had it) by his son's the latitude to which it has been extended, early marriage, which, from monuments and in each of the above-mentioned particulars. other like evidence, it appears with no less For, differing as it does from its former self certainty must have happened before he was in numberless instances, in all of them it is seventeen, or very soon after: the displeasure still found to agree with that edition, which, of his father, which was the consequence of we are gravely told in so many words by the this marriage, or else some excesses which apparent manager of the business, ' has not he is said to have been guilty of, it is probeen examined beyond one play.'”
bable drove him up to town; where he enBut there was another cause of the hos- gaged early in some of the theatres, and was tility of Steevens and his school of com- honoured with the patronage of the earl of mentators. FARMER was their Coriphæus. Southampton : his 'Venus and Adonis' is adTheir souls were prostrate before the extent dressed to that Earl in a very pretty and of his researches in that species of litera- | modest dedication, in which he calls it 'the ture which possesses this singular advantage first heire of his invention ;' and ushers it for the cultivator, that, if he studies it in to the world with this singular motto :an original edition, of which only one or Vilia miretur vulgus, mihi flavus Apollo two copies are known to exist (the merit is Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua ;' gone if there is a baker's dozen known), he and the whole poem, as well as his ‘Lucrece, is immediately pronounced learned, judicious, which followed it soon after, together with laborious, acute. And this was Farmer's his choice of those subjects, are plain marks praise. He wrote, “An Essay on the Learn- of his acquaintance with some of the Latin ing of Shakspeare,' which has not one pas- classics, at least, at that time. The dissipasage of solid criticism from the first page tion of youth, and, when that was over, the to the last, and from which, if the name busy scene in which he instantly plunged and the works of Shakspere were to perish, himself, may very well be supposed to have and one copy-an unique copy is the affec- hindered his making any great progress in tionate name for these things--could be them ; but that such a mind as his should miraculously preserved, the only inference | quite lose the tincture of any knowledge it from the book would be that William Shak-had once been imbued with cannot be imaspere was a very obscure and ignorant man, gined : accordingly we see that this schoolwhom some misjudging admirers had been learning (for it was no more) stuck with desirous to exalt into an ephemeral reputa- him to the last; and it was the recordations, tion, and that Richard Farmer was a very as we may call it, of that learning which distinguished and learned man, who had produced the Latin that is in many of his stripped the mask off the pretender. The plays, and most plentifully in those that are first edition of Farmer's pamphlet appeared the most early: every several piece of it is in 1767.
aptly introduced, given to a proper characCapell, who had studied Shakspere with ter, and uttered upon some proper occasion ; far more accuracy than this mere pedant, and so well cemented, as it were, and joined who never produced any literary perform to the passage it stands in, as to deal conance in his life except this arrogant pamph-viction to the judicious, that the whole was let, held a contrary opinion to Farmer :- wrought up together, and fetched from his “ It is our firm belief that Shakspeare was own little store, upon the sudden, and withvery well grounded, at least in Latin, at out study.
“ The other languages which he has some- of the folio by thrusting in passages out of times made use of-that is, the Italian and the first drafts and imperfect copies. To say French-are not of such difficult conquest that his text is the result invariably of a that we should think them beyond his reach. sound judgment would be to say too much ; An acquaintance with the first of them was and indeed some of his emendations approach a sort of fashion in his time. Surrey and a little to the ridiculous. But we have no the sonnet-writers set it on foot, and it was hesitation in saying that it is a better text, continued by Sidney and Spenser : all our because approaching more nearly to the poetry issued from that school ; and it originals, than that of many of those who would be wonderful indeed if he, whom we came after him, and went on mending and saw a little before putting himself with so mending for half a century till the world much zeal under the banner of the Muses, was tired with the din of their tinkering. should not have been tempted to taste at The race which succeeded him was corrupted least of that fountain to which of all his by flattery. Take a specimen :-“Shakother brethren there was such a continual speare's felicity has been rendered complete resort : let us conclude, then, that he did in this age. His genius produced works taste of it; but, happily for himself, and that time could not destroy: but some of more happy for the world that enjoys him the lighter characters were become illegible; now, he did not find it to his relish, and these have been restored by critics whose threw away the cup. Metaphor apart, it is learning and penetration have traced back evident that he had some knowledge of the the vestiges of superannuated opinions and Italian-perhaps just as much as enabled customs. They are now no longer in danger him to read a novel or a poem, and to put of being effaced.” These critics had an some few fragments of it, with which his accurate perception of part of their duty memory furnished him, into the mouth of a when they set out upon their work. The pedant or fine gentleman.
first labour of STEEVENS, which preceded the “ How or when he acquired it we must be edition of Capell by two years, was to reprint content to be ignorant; but of the French in fac-simile "twenty of the plays of Shaklanguage he was somewhat a greater master speare, being the whole number printed in than of the two that have gone before ; yet, quarto during his lifetime, or before the unless we except their novelists, he does not Restoration ; collated where there were difappear to have had much acquaintance with ferent copies, and published from the oriany of their writers; what he has given us ginals.” Most accurately did he execute of it is merely colloquial, flows with great this laborious duty. The two great public ease from him, and is reasonably pure. libraries of England, the British Museum Should it be said he had travelled for it, we and the Bodleian, possess all the originals. know not who can confute us."
The next progressive movement of Steevens The principle of Capell's edition, as de- was still in the same safe path. He became scribed by himself in the title-page, was to united with Johnson in the edition of 1773. give the plays of Shakspere as “set out by In his advertisement he says,—“ The labours himself in quarto, or by the players, his of preceding editors have not left room for fellows, in folio." His introduction consists a boast that many valuable readings have of an analysis of the value of these various been retrieved ; though it may be fairly authorities ; and he discriminates very justly asserted that the text of Shakspeare is rebetween those plays in quarto which“ have stored to the condition in which the author, much resemblance to those in the folio,” and or rather his first publishers, appear to have those which were “first drafts or else im- left it, such emendations as were absolutely perfect and stolen copies.” His text is necessary alone admitted.” He defines formed upon this discriminating principle, what are absolutely necessary, not attaching an equal value to all the origi- supply of particles when indispensable to nal copies in quarto, or superseding the text
* Mrs. Montagu:- Introduction.'
He rejects with indignation all | quently from a late, instead of the earliest, attempts to tamper with the text by in- edition ; in some instances with additions troducing a syllable in aid of the metre. and alterations of their own." This is not He declines suggestions of correspondents an accurate statement of the question ; for " that might have proved of great ad- the large additions to the folio copy when vantage to a more daring commentator.” compared with the quartos, the careful emenUpon such safe foundations was the edi-dations, and even the omissions, which are tion of 1773 reared. In 1778 it was “re- seldom without some sound apparent reason, vised and augmented," and in 1785 it could not have been the additions and altewas reprinted with additions by Isaac Reed, rations of the editors of the folio, but must Steevens having declined the further care of have been the result of the author's labours, the work. Steevens also in 1779 rendered perhaps during a series of years. an acceptable service to the students of our It appears from Malone's preface that a dramatic history, by the publication of 'Six feeling was gaining ground that the conold plays, on which Shakspeare founded his stant accession of notes to Shakspere was Measure for Measure, Comedy of Errors. becoming an evil :-“The admirers of this Taming the Shrew, King John, King Henry poet will, I trust, not merely pardon the IV., King Henry V., and King Lear.' In great accession of new notes in the present 1780 Malone appeared as an editor of Shak- edition, but examine them with some degree spere. He came forward with 'A Supple- of pleasure.-An idle notion has been proment' to the edition of 1778, in which he pagated that Shakspeare has been buried republished the poems of Shakspere, and the under his commentators; and it has again seven doubtful plays which had been printed and again been repeated by the tasteless and as his in the third and fourth folios. The the dull,' that notes, though often necessary, encouragement which he had received in
are necessary evils.' .
.. During the era duced him, in 1790, when Steevens had re- of conjectural criticism and capricious intired from his editorial labours in connection novation, notes were indeed evils : while one with the bookseller's edition, to publish a page was covered with ingenious sophistry complete edition of his own, but which was in support of some idle conjecture, and still a variorum edition, “ with the correc- another was wasted in its overthrow, or in tions and illustrations of various commenta- erecting a new fabric equally unsubstantial tors.” In this first appeared his ‘Disserta- as the former.
While our object tion on the Three Parts of Henry VI.,' and is to support and establish what the poet his Historical Account of the English wrote, to illustrate his phraseology by comStage.' Malone professes the same anxiety paring it with that of his contemporaries, to adhere to the genuine text of Shakspere and to explain his fugitive allusions to cusas Steevens had professed before him; but toms long since disused and forgotten,he opened a wide field for editorial licence, while this object is kept steadily in view, if in his principle of making up a text out of even every line of his plays were accomthe folio edition and the previous quartos ; panied with a comment, every intelligent and, to add to the apparent value of his own reader would be indebted to the industry of labours, he exaggerated, as others have since him who produced it. Such uniformly has done, the real value of these quartos :- been the object of the notes now presented "They in general are preferable to the ex- to the public. Let us then hear no more of hibition of the same plays in the folio ; for this barbarous jargon concerning Shakthis plain reason, because, instead of print- speare's having been elucidated into obscurity, ing these plays from a manuscript, the and buried under the load of his commentaeditors of the folio, to save labour, or from tors.” There is a great deal of truth in this; some other motive, printed the greater part but it is not all the truth. Malone disagrees of them from the very copies which they re- with the following observation of Johnson : presented as maimed and imperfect, and fre- —“ It is not (he remarks) very grateful to