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consider how little the succession of editors Shaksperes without feeling the utter want has added to this author's power of pleasing. of a reverent spirit towards the author. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, These things sank more deeply into the while he was yet deformed with all the im- minds of the readers of Shakspere than the proprieties which ignorance and neglect general expressions of the commentators' could accumulate upon him.” The new admiration; which after all seemed little editor, with a pardonable complacency to- more than compliments to themselves in wards his calling, says,—“He certainly was their association with the poet. Schlegel, read, admired, studied, and imitated at the we cannot but acknowledge, has stated the period mentioned ; but surely not in the truth with tolerable exactness :- * Like same degree as at present. The succession Dante, Shakspere has received the indisof editors has effected this; it has made pensable but cumbersome honour of being him understood ; it has made him popular; it treated like a classical author of antiquity. has shown every one who is capable of read- The oldest editions have been carefully coling how much superior he is not only to lated, and where the readings seemed corJonson and Fletcher, whom the bad taste of rupted many improvements have been atthe last age from the time the Restora- tempted; and the whole literature of his tion to the end of the century set above age has been drawn forth from the oblivion him, but to all the dramatic poets of an- to which it had been consigned, for the sake tiquity.” Jonson and Fletcher were not set of explaining the phrases, and illustrating above Shakspere, as we have demonstratively the allusions, of Shakspere. Commentators shown, from the time of the Restoration to have succeeded one another in such numthe end of the century. But, even if they bers, that their labours, with the critical were, it was not the succession of editors controversies to which they have given rise, that had made Shakspere popular. A plain constitute of themselves a library of no inreprint of Shakspere without a single note, considerable magnitude. These labours are but with the spelling modernized, would deserving of our praise and gratitude; and have made him more popular than all the more especially the historical inquiries into critical editions which the eighteenth cen- the sources from which Shakspere drew bis tury had produced. Malone says, that materials, and into the former state of the during that century “thirty thousand copies English stage. But, with respect to the of Shakspeare have been dispersed through criticisms which are merely of a philological England.” The number would have been nature, I am frequently compelled to differ quadrupled if Shakspere had been left to from the commentators ; and where they his own unaided power. Much of what the consider him merely as a poet, endeavour to commentators did, especially in the illustra- pronounce upon his merits, and to enter into tion of Shakspere's phraseology and the ex- his views, I must separate myself from them planation of his fugitive allusions, they did entirely. I have hardly ever found either well. But they must needs be critics, with truth or profundity in their observations ; out having any system of criticism more
and these critics seems to me to be but stamprofound than the easy task of fault-finding; mering interpreters of the general and aland thus they rendered Shakspere less popu- most idolatrous admiration of his countrylar than he would have been in an age when criticism was little understood, and men's The editors of the first collection of the eyes were dazzled by an array of names to
works of Shakspere, in their ' Address to the support some flippant remark upon Shak- great Variety of Readers,' say—“Read him spere's want of art, some exhibition of his therefore; and again, and again : and, if then ignorance, some detection of his anachron
you do not like him, surely you are in some isms, some discovery of a quibble beyond manifest danger not to understand him.” the plain meaning of the word. It is scarcely
'Lectures on Dramatic Literature,' Black's Translapossible to read a scene of the variorum
tion, vol. ii. p. 103.
This was advice that could not have pro- | ing of an uncommon word. But he became ceeded from any common mind. The founda- ambitious to show his power of writing, as tion of a right understanding of Shakspere is well as his diligence. If we turn over the love. Steevens read again and again with variorum editions, and light upon a note out love, and therefore without understand which contains something like a burst of ing. Boswell, the editor of Malone's post- genial admiration for the author, we find the humous edition, speaking of a note on ‘Ham- name of Warburton affixed to it. Warburlet,' says, that Steevens has expressed him- ton's intellect was capacious enough for love self “with as much asperity as if he had of Shakspere. But he delighted in decorating had a personal quarrel with the author.” his opinions with the tinsel of his own paraSteevens had a pettifogging mind, without a doxes. Steevens was the man to pull off the particle of lofty feeling, without imagina- tinsel ; but he did it after the fashion in tion, without even a logical apprehension of which the lace was stripped from Brother the small questions to which he applied him- Jack's coat :-“Courteous reader, you are self, But he was wonderfully laborious. given to understand that zeal is never so Knowing nothing of the principles of philo- highly obliged as when you set it a-tearing; sophical criticism, he spared no pains in and Jack, who doted on that quality in himhunting up illustrative facts ; he dabbled in self, allowed it at this time its full swing. classical learning so as to be able to apply a Thus it happened that, stripping down a quotation with considerable neatness; and parcel of gold lace a little too hastily, he he laboured his style into epigrammatic rent the main body of his coat from top to smartness which passed for wit. The vicious bottom; and, whereas his talent was not of style of the letters of Junius was evidently the happiest in taking up a stitch, he knew his model ; and what that cowardly libeller no better way than to darn it again with had been in the political world Steevens packthread and a skewer."* The zeal for was ambitious to be in the literary. He very tearing increased with Steevens. He retired often attacked, under a mask, those with for fifteen years from the editorship of Shakwhom he mixed in intimate companionship; spere, to recreate himself in the usual way till at last his name became a byword for in which such minds find diversion—by meanness and malignity. It was impossible anonymous attacks upon his literary contemthat such a man could have written about poraries. But in 1793 he returned with re Shakspere without displaying as much newed vigour to his labour of love, the deasperity as if he had had a personal quarrel facing of Shakspere. Malone, in the interval, with him.” And yet he was to be pitied. had been working hard, though perhaps with Like Hamlet, he had a task laid upon him no great talent, in the endeavour to preserve above his powers. Early in life he attached every vestige of his author. He was suchimself to literature and literary pursuits, cessful, and Steevens was thenceforward his not from any necessity, for his fortune was enemy. He would no longer walk in the ample, but with a real and sincere devotion. path that he had once trod. He rejected all He attached himself to Shakspere. He be- his old conservative opinions. In his edicame an editor of Shakspere. He was asso- tion of 1793, he sets out in his Advertisement ciated with Johnson in the preparation of an with the following well-known manifesto edition, and what he did in his own way against a portion of the works of Shakspere, was far superior to what his colleague had the supposed merit or demerit of which, it is effected without him. He gave a new tone perfectly evident, must have been applied to the critical illustration of Shakspere, by as a standard for other portions of Shak. bringing not only the elegant literature of spere's poetical excellence :-“We have not Shakspere's own age to compare with him, reprinted the Sonnets, &c., of Shakspeare, but by hunting over all the sweepings of the because the strongest Act of Parliament that book-stalls of the same age, to find the ap- could be framed would fail to compel readers plication of a familiar allusion, or the mean
* Tale of a Tub.
into their service; notwithstanding these William Sly and Thomas Poope.” Again :miscellaneous poems have derived every pos- “ It is time, instead of a timid and servile sible advantage from the literature and adherence to ancient copies, when (offending judgment of their only intelligent editor, against sense and metre) they furnish no Mr. Malone, whose implements of criticism, real help, that a future editor, well aclike the ivory rake and golden spade in quainted with the phraseology of our author's Prudentius, are on this occasion disgraced age, should be at liberty to restore some apby the objects of their culture. Had Shak- parent meaning to his corrupted lines, and a speare produced no other works than these, decent flow to his obstructed versification. his name would have reached us with as The latter (as already has been observed) little celebrity as time has conferred on that may be frequently effected by the expulsion of Thomas Watson, an older and much more of useless and supernumerary syllables, and elegant sonnetteer.” Brother Jack is here an occasional supply of such as might fornot only tearing the coat, but throwing the tuitously have been omitted, notwithstandwaistcoat into the fire. Let us hear how he ing the declaration of Hemings and Condell, means to deal with the coat itself :-“But, whose fraudulent preface asserts that they as we are often reminded by our í brethren have published our author's plays 'as absoof the craft' that this or that emendation, lute in their numbers as he conceived them.' however apparently necessary, is not the Till somewhat resembling the process above genuine text of Shakspeare, it might be suggested be authorized, the public will ask imagined that we had received this text in vain for a commodious and pleasant text from its fountain-head, and were therefore of Shakspeare. Nothing will be lost to the certain of its purity. Whereas few literary world on account of the measure recomoccurrences are better understood than that mended, there being folios and quartos it came down to us discoloured by the enough remaining for the use of antiquarian variation of every soil' through which it or critical travellers, to whom a jolt over a had flowed, and that it stagnated at last in rugged pavement may be more delectable the muddy reservoir of the first folio : in than an easy passage over a smooth one, plainer terms, that the vitiations of a care- though they both conduct to the same obless theatre were seconded by those of as ject.” ignorant a press. The integrity of dramas And this, then, is the text of Shakspere thus prepared for the world is just on a level that England has rejoiced in for half a cenwith the innocence of females nursed in a tury! These are the labours, whether of camp and educated in a bagnio. As often, correction or of critical opinion, that have therefore, as we are told that, by admitting made Shakspere “popular.” The critical corrections warranted by common sense and opinions have ceased, we believe, to have the laws of metre, we have not rigidly ad- any effect except among a few pedantic hered to the text of Shakspeare, we shall persons, who fancy that it is cleverer to disentreat our opponents to exchange that praise than to admire. But the text as corphrase for another ‘more germane,' and say, rupted by Steevens is that which is generally instead of it, that we have deviated from put into the hands of the readers of Shakthe text of the publishers of single plays in spere. The number of editions of the text quarto, or their successors, the editors of the alone of Shakspere printed during the prefirst folio ; that we have sometimes followed sent century is by no means inconsiderable ; the suggestions of a Warburton, a Johnson, and of these editions, which are constantly a Farmer, or a Tyrwhitt, in. preference to multiplying, there are many thousand copies the decisions of a Hemings or a Condell, not- / year by year supplying the large and inwithstanding their choice of readings might creasing demand for a knowledge of our have been influenced by associates whose greatest poet. With very few exceptions, high-sounding names cannot fail to enforce indeed, all these editions are copies of some respect, viz., William Ostler, John Shanke, | edition whose received text is considered as a standard—even to the copying of typo- | looked for syllabic regularity in Shakspere, graphical errors. That received text, to use
and a moral. When they found not the the words of the title-page of what is called moral, they shook their heads. When they the trade edition, is “From the text of the found what they called “superfluous syllacorrected copies left by the late George bles” in Shakspere's lines, out went the Steevens, Esq., and Edmund Malone, Esq.” syllables, by carrying over a word to the If we were to suppose, from this title, that next line, sometimes of two, sometimes of Steevens and Malone had agreed together to three syllables. If there was a gap left, it leave a text for the benefit of posterity, we was filled up with rubbish. The excess of should be signally deceived. The received the second line was carried over to the third, text is that produced by Steevens, when he till a halting-place was found or made. This fancied himself “at liberty to restore some was mending the metre. Mending the apparent meaning to Shakspeare's corrupted moral was not quite so easy to the editors; lines, and a decent flow to his obstructed they left that task to the players, who, to do versification.” Malone was walking in his them justice, were in no degree slow to set own track, that of extreme caution, and an about the work with the most laudable emuimplicit reliance on the very earliest copies. lation of the labours of the critics. They The text of his edition of 1821, though de- cut out a scene here, and put in another formed with abundant marks of carelessness, there. “Lear' was to end with a jig, and ‘Hamis an honest text, if we admit the principle let' with a song. The manager-botchers, upon which it is founded. But the text of however, in time grew timid. They wanted Steevens, in which the peculiar versification new Tates to make new happy endings, but of Shakspere, especially its freedom, its the age of George III. was not luxuriant vigour, its variety of pause, its sweetness, enough to produce such daring geniuses. its majesty, are sacrificed to what he called The managers, therefore, were obliged to be “polished versification,” has been received content with the glorious improvements of for nearly half a century as the standard the seventeenth century in all essentials. text.
But they did what they could. Shakspere's Hayley, the head of the school of English songs were poor simple things; they had poetry" in the most high and palmy state" no point; not much about love in them; of Steevens, wrote his epitaph, which con- nothing of loyalty; and so Shakspere's cludes with these lines :
comedies were always presented with new
songs by the salaried poet of “the house," “This tomb may perish, but not so his name,
for “the house " kept a poet, as the maker of Who shed new lustre upon Shakspeare's fame."
zor-strops did in those days. But GARRICK,
the twin-star of ShakspereThis may run by the side of Johnson's praise
Shakspeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall of a sermonizing note of Warburton :-“ It
shine, almost sets the critic on a level with the
And earth irradiate with a beam dirineauthor.” Steevens, shedding new lustre upon Shakspere ! Warburton, almost upon a level had many a twinkle of his own. In the with Shakspere ! Thus men talked in those · Biographia Dramatica' we have a list of days, when their notion of poetry was simply thirty-nine plays by Garrick :-“ He is well that it was not prose. Something in which known to have been the author of the the mechanical form was to be obviously dis- following, some of which are originals, and tinguished from other forms of composition the rest translations or alterations from other -a sermon, an essay-was poetry. They authors, with a design to adapt them to the looked for no inner life in poetry, no organi- present taste of the public.” (A predecessor zation of its own, that should determine its printed upon the title of a tragedy of which form. They looked for eight or ten syllable in a similar way he was “ the author," for blank verse
or couplet. They | •King Lear, a Tragedy: by Nahum Tate.")
Garrick's Shaksperean authorship was con- | Shakspere,' spoken by him at Stratford in
“As there was no poet to seduce Shakspeare