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mixed with sundrie variable and pleasing Humors, of Syr Hugh the Welch Knight, Justice Shallow, and his wise Cousin, M. Slender. With the swaggering vaine of auncient Pistoll and Corporall Nym. By William Shakspeare. As is hath, etc. etc.” “M. William Shakespeare his
True Chronicle History of the Life and Death of King Lear, and his Three Daughters. With the unfortunate Life of Edgar, Sonne and Hcire to thc Earle of Glocester, and his sullen and assumed Humour of Tom of Bedlam. As it was plaid before the King's Majesty at White-Hall, uppon S. Stephens Night; in Christmas Hollidaics. By his Majesties Servants playing usually at the Globe on the Banck-side.”
The art of puffing is improved, but our ancestors were not a jot behind us in intention.
To remedy the defects of the quartos, and to present the world with an entire collection of Shakspeare's dramatic works, was the professed object of “ Henric Condell and Johu Heminge,” the managers of the Globe theatre, and the friends and fellows of Shakspeare, in publishing their folio in 1623. Such plays as had already appeared were “now offer'd card, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them." The pretensions were great, but the performance mean, for the folio exhibits reprints of several of those very quartos which its preface labours to depreciate; reprints encumbered too with the typographical errors which the folio accumulated as it went through the press. The materials, therefore, used by the players in their edition were not of a value superior to those that had belonged to the publishers of the quarto plays. Indeed there is no doubt but that they were essentially the same: -- the prompter’s book, where it contained the entire play, and the parts written out for the actors when the piece existed in no single manuscript. Like the quartos, the folio transposes verses, assigns speeches to wrong characters, inserts the names of actors instead of those of the dramatis personae, confounds and mixes characters together, prints verse for prose and prose for verse.
It must be mentioned in praise of the folio, that most of its plays are divided into acts, and many into both acts and scenes, and the divisions were made by competent authority, if we may argue from the uniformity of principle apparent in much of the volume, but still scenes not unfrequently end without a pause in the action, and stand in an order perfectly unnatural, shuffled backwards or forwards in absurd confusion.
The folio rejected the descriptive titles appended to the quartos, simply calling each play by the name which now distinguishes it; and in obedience to the statute 3 James i. cap. 21., which prohibits, under severe penalties, the use of the sacred name in any plays or interludes, substituted general terms for the awful name of the Deity, often impiously profaned by invocation on the stage.
A second folio was published in 1632, a volume described by all the editors of Shakspeare, with the exception of Steevens, as utterly worthless. It is a reprint of the former folio, with hundreds of additional errors, the productions of chance, negligence, and ignorance.
A third folio appeared in 1664, exhibiting a still more miserable copy of the first edition, with seven additional plays 1) falsely attributed to Shakspeare. It was the good fortune of this edition to be almost entirely destroyed in i he fire of London, in 1666, so that copies of it are now more rare than those of the first folio itself.
A fourth folio, originating in the same source, issued from the press in 1685; it rather fell below than rose above the merit of its predecessors.
Such were the only editions of Shakspeare before the world when, in 1709, Rowe's octavo edition in seven volumes appeared. Rowe was fully aware of the degraded state of the poet's text, and acknowledged “that there was nothing left but to compare the several editions, and give the true reading as well as he could from thence;" yet he perversely neglected the performance of this important duty altogether, and printed his volumes from the latest of the folios, sim
1) Locrine, The London Prodigal, Pericles, The Puritan, Sir John Oldcastle, Thomas Lord Cromwell, and the Yorkshire Tragedy.
ply directing his attention to the correction of the grossest of the printer's errors, and to the division of such plays into acts and scenes as had been hitherto undivided. Notwithstanding the imperfections of this edition, its success was so great that it was reprinted in nine volumes duodecimo in 1714.
Pope was the next editor of Shakspeare. He perfectly understood the defects of the existing editions, and boldly undertook to collate the quartos themselves, professing to adopt no reading unsanctioned by their authority, or that of the early folio, and asserting his “religious abhorrence” of all innovation, or the indulgence of any private sense or conjecture. But he soon found the task he had undertaken “dull," and adopted a much more compendious mode of criticism. He took Rowe's text as the groundwork of his own, and, by a partial collation of the old copies, restored many passages to their integrity, but at the same time indulged himself in the liberty of rejecting whatever he disliked, of altering whatever he did not understand, and of revising Shakspeare with as little fearlessness and as much diligence as he would have sat down to the correction of his own poems. Pope's edition was printed in six volumes quarto, in 1725, and in ten volumes duodecimo, in 1728.
In 1733 Theobald followed Pope, and by a more strict adherence to the old copies, and many judicious notes, fully earned the praise of having superseded him. But the foundation of Theobald's edition was laid in error; the text he undertook to correct was that of Pope, and his collation of the old copies was neither sufficiently extensive nor accurate to make very considerable progress towards its amendment. He, nevertheless, purged it from many arbitrary corruptions, and though he cannot himself be acquiited from the charge of innovation, yet in comparison with Pope, he appears a judicious critic. His first edition was in seven vols. octavo; his second in eight vols. duodecimo, in 1740.
A splendid edition of Shakspeare was printed at Oxford, in 1744, by Sir Thomas Hanmer, but with little advantage to the poet. Hanmer thought all was right that had been done by former editors, and for himself he seems to have despised all common canons of criticism. He disdained reference to either the quartos or folios, and printed the text of Pope, adding whatever he conjectured would contribute to the beauty, harmony, or force of his author.
In 1747 Bishop Warburton published the dramatist in eight octavo volumes. The avowed champion of Pope acted consistently in making that poet's edition the ground-work of his own, and he more than emulated the boldness of his protege in the temerity with which he himself trod the path of criticism. Of all the guides through the difficulties of a corrupted text, antiquated phraseology, and
expression, Warburton was the most incompelent. No consideration restrained him from the substitution of his own chimerical conceits in the place of his author's text, and in the copious notes which accompanied it, he perpetually exhibits the most perverse interpretations, and improbable conjectures; he at one time gives the author more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense is plain to every other reader. His emendations may sometimes, indeed, be thought successful; but they are fortunate guesses, rather than wise conclusions.
Nearly a century and a half had elapsed eince the death of Shakspeare, and no critical edition of his works existed which could boast a higher authority for its text, than the fourth folio, partially amended, or capriciously and ignorantly altered. The dramatist now fell into different hands, and a proper basis was laid for a correct text. The first folio, collated with whatever earlier copies the editor could procure, was the foundation of Johnson's edition, in eight volumes, octavo, published in 1765. Much of Johnson's text is far more accurate than that of any of his predecessors, and so correct was his acumen as a verbal critic, that, had his diligence extended over the whole of his work, the philological lahours of others would have been spared. But indolence was his bane; his text is in consequence faulty, and his acquaintance with the domestic history of the Elizabethan age was so superficial that he could not perform the harmless drudgery of explaining the local allusions of his author. Johnson's skill was great in disentangling complicated passages, and his paraphrases are remarkable for their
accuracy and beauty. When Shakspeare was the poet of common life, Johnson was his faithful interpreter, for the author of “The Rambler" knew human nature well; but he could not watch his course through the vast regions of the imagination, and his adamantine and rugged mind was impassive to the playful sparkles of Shakspeare's fancy. Johnson's general critical abilities are displayed in his noble Preface; but his unfitness for his office of commentator on Shakspeare is manifest in his observations at the close of each play, than which nothing can be more tame, insipid, and unsatisfactory. It is singular, that his subject no where inspires him, except when he is dilating on the character of Falstaff.
Johnson was assisted by Steevens, in the publication of another edition of Shakspeare in 1773, in ten octavo volumes; the result of their joint labours was
a new publication of the same number of volumes in 1778; and a third edition, i bearing the names Johnson and Steevens, appeared, under the superintendence of Isaac Reed, in 1785.
There is no necessity for me to notice at any length Capell's edition, in ten crown-octavo volumes, in 1768, for the work is more remarkable for typographical beauty than critical merit, and I pass on at once to the names of Steevens and Malone.
Steevens commenced his career of labour in the cause of Shakspeare in 1766, by superintending the reprint of such of the dramatist's plays as had made their appearance in quarto, and preparing a list, to accompany them, of the various readings of the different quarto editions of each play. Where the dissimilarity between the early and later editions was so great as to create a suspicion that the former was a first draft which the author afterwards expanded, Mr. Steevens printed the first as well as the subsequent copy, conceiving that there were “many persons, who, not contented with the possession of a finished picture of some great master, would be desirous to procure the first sketch that was made for it, that they might have the pleasure of tracing the progress of the artist from the first colouring to the finishing stroke.”
Steevens subsequently assisted Johnson, but in 1793 he appeared as an independent editor of Shakspeare, though he affixed to his work the name of his former coadjutor, being unable, as he says with modesty and beauty, "lo forego an additional opportunity of recording in a title page that he had once the honour of being united in a task of literature with Dr. Samuel Johnson. This was the last edition of Shakspeare of which Steevens superintended the publication, but his attention to a subject which employed so many years of his life did not relax, and previous to his death, in 1800, he had prepared another edition in twenty
volumes, on which Mr. Isaac Reed bestowed his attention in its passage through the press in 1803.
In the course of his Shakspearean labours, Steevens received many valuable communications from Malone; who, in 1780, added to Steevens' second edition two supplementary volumes, containing Shakspeare's Poems, the seven spurious plays ascribed to him by the third folio, and additional notes on the poet's genuine plays. To Reed's edition of Johnson and Steevens he contributed some notes also, which occasionally controverted Steevens' opinions, and, in 1790, printed an entire and independent edition of Shakspeare in ten octavo volumes.
Malone's industry did not forsake him here, for he employed himself up to the hour of his death in 1812, in the preparation of an improved edition of the poet. The materials he collected were arranged and published by Boswell, as a second edition of Malone's Shakspeare, in twenty-one octavo volumes, in 1821.
Steevens was a wit, a scholar, and a man of taste. He was deeply read in the literature of Shakspeare's age, and explained with skill many of the local allusions of his author." But Steevens was no poet, and he could not, therefore, comment on the deep pathos and lofty imaginings of Shakspeare. His want of poetic feeling diminished even his philological merits. He often rejected readings both of the quartos and the folios for the adoption of others which harmonised, as he thought, a line previously halting in the measure. He loved only the artificial and stately march of epic verse, and “wood notes wild’ whispered no charm to his ear.
As a philologist Malone is a much safer guide. His first principle was a rigid adherence to the elder copies, and when any intelligible meaning was to be extracted from those sources, he professed never to admit into his page a reading unauthorised by the earliest quarto extant, where the play had been published in quarto, or by the first folio, when the play had originally made its appearance there; and on no occasion whatever did he adopt a reading unsanctioned by authority without apprising his reader of the liberty he had taken.
Malone, like Steevens, was destitute of poetic feeling, and he had not the wit and taste of his rival. In knowledge they were equals. Steevens had his acquirements at his free and immediate command. He applies them on all occasions with perfect facility, unencumbered by their bulk, and unconfused by their desultoriness. His vivacity frolicks beneath the trammels of the most uninteresting minutiae, and his wit enlivens the reader's passage through the dreary paths of black letter quotation. But discretion did not always guide him in the exercise of his wit, and his love of minutiae was not always harmless. He often wrote notes as traps to entangle his fellow labourers in error, and insure himself a triumph in confuting them; and his illustrations of passages the most disgusting are remarkable for their elaborateness. It aggravates his crime that he shrunk from responsibility, and sought refuge from reprobation and disgrace, under the borrowed names of Collins and of Anmer. 1).
The hostility in which Steevens and Malone continually appear in their notes, forces them into comparison with each other. Malone, unlike Steevens, always appears oppressed by his acquisitions, and all he accomplished, he accomplished with effort. He wanted judgment to direct him in the distinction of great from little things; all matters were, in his estimation, equally important; he bestows as many words on a trivial subject as on one of real consequence. Steevens' intellectual powers were certainly superior to Malone's, but Steevens' unsound principles of criticism, and dubious honesty, weigh heavely against him. Malone's strict adherence to the dry canons of criticism is an admirable warrant for the integrity of the text he has printed; and the indisputable uprightness of his intentions forms a powerful counterpoise to the mental superiority of his less conscientious rival.
1) Steevens has lately been completely unamsked by two writers; - Miss Hawkins, in her book of anecdotes ; and more skilfully by D'Israeli in his paper on "Puck the Commentator," in the second series of the Curiosities of Literature.
END OF THE LIFE OF SHIAKSPEARE.
N O T E s.
Note A. N. attempt was made to give an account of the life of Shakspeare till near a century after his decease. The name of Shakspeare, indeed, occurs in Dagdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, in Fuller's Worthies, and in Phillips' Theatrum Poetarum, but only in the way of incidental notice. Winstanley's Lives of the Poets, Langbaine, Blount, Gildon, and Antony Wooil, added nothing
It remained for Rowe, in 1709, to give the first connected life of Shakspeare. The materials from which he wrote were derived, as he himself inforins us, from Thomas Betterton, the player, whose veneration of the memory of Shakspeare induced him to take a journey into Warwickshire to collect such information as remained respecting him.
All anecdotes relative to the poet's residence in Stratford, whether before or after his emigration to London, were in little danger of falsification in his native town. Very strong evidence existed of the occurrences of his early life up to 1646, when his sister Joan died. In a long continued intercourse with their aunt, the two daughters of Shakspeare could not fail to acquire a knowledge of all the facts of which she was mistress, and they possessed the advantage of correcting all they heard from her, and of learuing a great variety of other particulars, from the conversation of their father aud their mother, and from their own observation, the youngest of these daughters being no less than thirty-two years of age when the poet died, and seven years older at the death of her mother. Shakspeare's daughters, therefore, may reasonably be supposed to have been acquainted with many particulars of his early days, the business, and circumstances of their father and grand father, their mother's maiden name and condition, and, particularly, the occurrences that drove their father from Stratford to seek his fortune in the metropolis. Of the nature of his occupation in London they must have been well aware; but their notions of his customary habits of life there were, in all probability, general and confused. Every particular relative to kis retirement at Stratford must have been as familiar to them as the occurrences of their own lives. The youngest of these ladies survived till 1662, the eldest till 1619, leaving behind her a daughter born in 1607-8.
Familiarised to her mind by personal recollection, and endeared to her by an affectionate re-. membrance in his will , Elizabeth Hall had every inducement to listen with attention to the history and anecdotes of her illustrious grandfather, of which her relatives were the repositories. It is surely not too much to assume, that in the unusually prolonged intercourse of forty years with her mother, and of fifty-four years with her aunt, Judith Queeny., she became nearly as well informed upon the subject as themselves, and that, consequently, up to the year 1670, when Lady Barvard died, a history, not only of great credibility, but of undoubted authenticity, existed of a large portion of the poet's life.
Nor were Shakspeare's immediate descendants the only channels through which his history would be transmitted. His sister Joan left three sons, all remembered by legacies in their uncle's will. The second of these sons, Thomas, was the father of George Hart, whose family was remarkably numerous, filling the parish-register of Stratford with an uninterrupted succession of births, marriages, and deaths, through the whole of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In his retirement at Stratford, Shakspeare connected himself with a small circle of intimates, among whom, in the ordinary course of things, detailed portions of his kife would from time to time be scattered. Of the varions persons not of his own family, to whom he bequeathed legacies, two, Mr. Thomas Coomb, and Shakspeare's godson, William Walker, survived to advanced ages; Mr. Coomb died in 1657, leaving an elder brother, who lived ten years later. William Walker lived till 1679-80.
Up to a late period, therefore, in the seventeenth century, there was undoubtedly'much authentic iuformation iu Stratford respecting Shakspeare. Some facts, of course, sunk every year into oblivion, and some were perverted by misrepresentation; but when the accumulated and extraordinary means which existed for the propagation and preservation of the truth are reflected upon, it is very difficult to conclude that when Betterton institated his inquiries, little more than twenty years after the death of Shakspeare's grand-daughter, fables only remained for him to collect. The facts adduced by Betterton are indeed few; but this leads to the inference that he was scrupulous, not careless, in his inquiries. The “ Picturesque Tourist” to Stratford shewed, nearly a century later, how successful Betterton might have been, had he opened his ears to every idle tale. With respect to the authority of Rowe, I am completely at issue with Malove : I think Rowe's account substantially correct, and, consequently, that the modern biographer has not fulfilled his boast, that he would prove to be false eight out of the ten facts which Powe advances.
The anecdotes related of Shakspeare by Mr. Jones and Mr. Taylor are of the same class of traditionary evidence. Mr. Jones died at Tarbick, a village in Worcestershire, in 1703, upwards of