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Our notice of Shakspere's critics 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” does 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
bable drove him up to town; where he en-
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 case 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, such as 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 accessio 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 Shak
; this 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
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 of 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 his 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.