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opportunities for illustration which the subject afforded, no doubt pictured to themselves with a thrill of pleasure, the marvellous scenes of the great master touched to life and color by the brush of the artist. The keen eye of the Alderman saw further yet; saw nearly twenty years ahead, to the completed publication of an unrivalled edition of the Poet's works enriched by engravings from the great Historical Gallery of Paintings.
Although this was no matter for hasty settlement, it had been maturing in his mind for some time past. The magnitude of it was enough to daunt anyone but the boldest, but Boydell, confident in his long experience, large fortune, and the support which he felt sure to receive, went actively to work, and before a year was expired, his prospectus was issued and he was well embarked. His purpose was two-fold; to illustrate Shakespeare as never before had been done, and to establish a School of Historical Painting in England. He would found a Gallery of paintings by the best living artists: from these he would issue a series of mammoth engravings, executed by the most skillful engravers, while his Shakespeare was to represent the best editing and printing of which the age was capable. To do this, he made himself liable to all the prominent artists, but we have ample proof that he more than fulfilled his obligations, and that they in turn responded to the best of their ability. Northcote speaks of his friend Alderman Boydell, who did more for the advancement of the Arts in England than the whole mass of nobility put together. He paid me more nobly than any other person has done, and his memory I shall ever hold in reverence;' a very characteristic remark of a man whose heart was reached through his purse.
When the scheme was publicly announced, we may imagine the interest and diverse comment which it aroused. Boydell, however, did not deceive himself when he trusted to a general public support. The press was warm in its encouragement and appreciation of his efforts. But here, as always, there were those “knowing ones,' who saw only failure and ruin to the projectors, among whom we hear as follows from Horace Walpole:
Mercy on us! Our painters to design from Shakespeare! His commentators have not been more inadequate! Pray, who is to give an idea of
Falstaff now Quin is dead? And then Bartolozzi, who is only fit to
His scoffing words concerning Bartolozzi sound strange to us to-day, while his remark on the commentators sounds stranger yet, spoken as it was of an age that produced Johnson, Steevens and Malone. On the whole, however, the undertaking met with enthusiastic approval, and aroused a great deal of discussion, both on this particular work and on the general subject of Shakespeare illustration. In 1788, there appeared a work in two parts entitled, Imperfect Hints towards a new edition of Shakespeare, (quarto pamph.) in which the author treats of the various scenes proper for pictorial illustration, stating that the time was now at hand, 'when Shakespeare's works will receive every embellishment of grateful Art; when a temple will be erected to his memory; and when the productions of the British Arts will receive an eternal asylum.'
A reviewer of this work, in the Monthly Magazine, sincerely hopes that these hints will be valuable in their suggestiveness to the undertakers of the Boydell Gallery. We very much doubt whether the gentlemen referred to derived any great assistance from the suggestions so gratuitously offered, but the work at any rate indicated the deep and kindly interest taken in the enterprise.
The first step was towards founding the Gallery of Paintings. The Prospectus had allowed twelve years for the completion of the whole work; for, as they stated, 'excellence is more aimed at in this undertaking than dispatch.' It was deemed necessary at the start to secure the name and services of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy. Here, however, was their first check, for to their chagrin, Sir Joshua at first refused to engage at all in the work, thinking it is said, that it was below the dignity of the arts to enter into the service of speculation. It is more probable he feared a failure. George Steevens, the future editor of the Shakespeare, was commissioned by Boydell to try his influence, and after some difficulty at length he overcame Sir Joshua's scruples. It is said by Northcote that a £500 note slipped into Sir Joshua's hand, was Steevens's most
powerful argument. However that may be, we know that by the beginning of the year following, he had ordered the canvas for his picture of Macbeth. Other artists were secured with less trouble, many of them being eager to engage. Boydell advertised through Great Britain for designs from artists, and that there might be every encouragement to competitors, he gave a guinea for every design received, whether accepted or not, and for those accepted, a prize of 100 guineas. The merits of the designs were decided upon by a committee of five artists, with Boydell, Chairman. In this manner the contracts were soon made, and all other preliminaries being completed, a building was erected on the site of Dodsley's house, in Pall Mall, to receive the paintings. Early in the year 1789, thirty-four paintings being ready for exhibition, the Gallery was opened and a catalogue issued. Immediately a furor ensued, the public excitement exceeding the most sanguine expectations. On June 12th, 1789, Barrington writes to Bishop Percy, ‘Alderman Boydell hath already 1000 Subscribers to his Shakespeare, at eight guineas each, and hath made more than £1000 already by the exhibition of the Pictures painted for the Engravings.'
Meantime the excitement increased as each new feature was added. In the street, at the clubs, in society, at home, everywhere, in fact the respective merits of the works were discussed with the warmth and earnestness of an election; while the entrance to the Gallery was constantly surrounded by kņots of men, catalogues in hand, urging their opinions on the latest Fuseli or Opie. Ait criticism and Shakespeare study were stirred into double life for the time, while the press continued its encouragement and applause. In the Monthly Magazine, April 1790, we read as follows :
What a noble monument to the memory of our Prince of Poets, are these enterprising Artists now raising, and how happily have they chosen his own works for the basis of the pile-nor history, nor tradition, nor even fabled story have conveyed to us an idea of a similar attempt. It is with singular pleasure that we behold the successful progress of the design. This is only the second year of the public exhibition of those valuable materials which are preparing for the work, and the picturesque assemblage seems to have surpassed all expectation of what could possibly have been executed in so short a space of time. . Proceed gentlemen and prosper! May success attend your undertaking, proportioned to the liberality, spirit, and industry with which you are conducting it; and then you will be successful indeed!
And surely if success ever seemed assured, it did so here. The constantly increasing Shakespearian series of paintings was not the only attraction of the Gallery. Other paintings of a historical nature were exhibited, and an interesting additional feature was a series of twenty-eight designs by Westall to illustrate an edition of Milton's Poetical Works, to be published uniform with the Shakespeare. But as far as the Shakespearian side of the scheme was concerned, these great paintings were but materials, from which engravings were to be struck to illustrate the projected edition of the Poet's works. The selection of an editor caused little hesitation. It is true there were then living Malone, Isaac Reed, and Ayscough, all prominent Shakespearian scholars. Malone had produced in 1780, his two volume supplement to the second edition of Johnson and Steevens's Shakespeare published in 1778, and in this very year of 1790, appeared his own carefully prepared edition in ten volumes. Although not possessed of brilliant faculties, he was one of the most painstaking scholars of his age. George Steevens had first appeared as a Shakespearian editor in his twenty selected Plays published in four volumes, 1766, and in 1773, identified himself with Dr. Johnson in the most excellent edition of the eighteenth century, and one which formed the basis of many future editions. His brilliancy, sagacity, and antiquarian learning, placed him far ahead of his contemporaries, so that it was with the utmost confidence that the editorship was consigned to him. But another branch of the work and one of the greatest importance : the typography, caused the projectors more trouble. In the active forwarding of the work, the Alderman had been ably seconded from the start by his nephew, Josiah Boydell and the publisher Nicoll. It was natural that in such company the typographical work should receive the most careful consideration, and it was determined that they would have all that long experience and a large capital could secure. In the condition of printing then existing, no firm did work or had materials up to the standard which they demanded. It was during 1787, while this subject was under discussion, that Nicoll became acquainted with William Bulmer, a man of much enterprise and activity. With him an arrangement was finally made, by which he was to conduct the printing and publishing. For their purposes, special premises were obtained in Cleveland Row, St. James, and The Shakespeare Press was established under the name of W. Bulmer & Co. In order to satisfy the demands of the work, a foundry was erected to cast the type, and even the ink was of their own private manufacture. It is only when we consider the magnitude of these preparatory steps that we appreciate the full value and interest of the Boydell Shakespeare. The aim as stated by the projectors, was 'to retain the beauty of the best printing, and yet to avoid the dazzling effect which is so distressing to the eye of the reader in most of the fine specimens of that art.' This well expresses the actual result which was reached. The subscription price, as stated by Barrington, was eighteen guineas, and the first number appeared in 1791. It was a large folio in size, with fine quality of paper and wide margins. A very noticeable point of beauty is the liberal space between the lines, causing the print to stand out clearly, and charming the eye with its remarkable distinctness. The type is very modern in style, the old form of the letter 'g' is only used in cases of double's,' and then only the first is so printed, as for instance 'assist.'
For the engraving work, Boydell had secured the services of Bartolozzi, Schiavonetti, Ryder, and many other famous workmen. It is well to note in this connection, the plain beauty of the engravings. I say plain, to distinguish them from the elaborately framed plates so commonly found in illustrated works. These large, plain impressions are very refreshing to the eye, tired with trying to thread the mazes of a large page of ornamental scroll work to a small plate in the middle. Being thus the issue of a special press, handsomely illustrated, and printed on large paper, this edition combined all the qualifications necessary to recommend it to book lovers. From the appearance of the first number, the Shakespeare Press shared the public interest with the Shakespeare Gallery, and imprinted on the title page of the work,