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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 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 erected by those pedagogues of the human race have fallen to pieces like the babyhouses of children." So far, of the critical contempt of the age of Shakspere. Schlegel again, with equal truth, lays bare the real character of the same critical opinions of the poet himself:-" It was, generally speaking, the prevailing tendency of the time which preceded our own, a tendency displayed also in physical science, to consider what is possessed of life as a mere accumulation of dead parts; to separate what exists only in
connection and cannot otherwise be conceived, instead of penetrating to the central * Lectures on Dramatic Literature,' Black's translation.
The translation of Schlegel's work in 1815, in conjunction with the admirable lectures of Coleridge, gave a new direction amongst | the thinking few to our national opinion of | Shakspere. Other critics of a higher school than our own race of commentators had preceded Schlegel in Germany; and it would be perhaps not too much to say that, as the reverent study of Shakspere has principally formed their æsthetic school, so that æsthetic school has sent us back to the reverent study of Shakspere. He lived in the hearts of the people, who knew nothing of the English critics. The learned, as they were called, understood him least. Let the lovers of truth rejoice that their despotism is over.
OUR notice of Shakspere's critics has now led us to what may be called the second race of commentators.
The English editors of Shakspere have certainly brought to their task a great variety of qualities, from which combination we might expect some very felicitous results. They divide themselves into two schools, which, like all schools, have their subdivisions. Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Johnson, belong to the school which did not seek any very exact acquaintance with our early literature; and which probably would have despised the exhibition, if not the reality, of antiquarian and bibliographical knowledge. A new school arose, whose acquaintance with what has been called black-letter literature was extensive enough to produce a decided revolution in Shaksperean commentary. Capell, Steevens, Malone, Reed, Douce, are the representatives of the later school. The first school contained the most brilliant men; the second, the most painstaking commentators. The dullest of the first school, a name hung up amongst the dunces by his rival editor,-poor, “piddling Tibbald," was unquestionably the best of the first race of editors. indolent; Pope, flashy; Warburton, paradoxical; Johnson, pedantic. Theobald brought his common sense to the task, and has left us, we cannot avoid thinking, the best of all the conjectural emendations. Of the other school, the real learning, and sometimes sound judgment, of Capell, is buried in an obscurity of thought and style, to say nothing of his comment being printed separately from his text,-which puts all ordinary reading for purposes of information at complete defiance. Of Steevens and Malone, they have had, more or less, the glory of having linked themselves to Shakspere during the last half century.
and Chalmers were mere supervisors and abridgers of what they did.
The edition of CAPELL was published in ten small octavo volumes, three years after that of Johnson-that is, in 1768. His preface is printed in what we call the variorum editions of Shakspere, but Steevens has added to it this depreciating note:"Dr. Johnson's opinion of this performance may be known from the following passage in Mr. Boswell's 'Life of Dr. Johnson :'-' If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purpose with words, for, as it is, he doth gabble monstrously." Certainly "the man does write a most extraordinary style; and it is impossible to do full justice to his edition, from the great bulk of the notes and various readings "being published in a separate form," with references to previous editors so obscure and perplexed that few would take the trouble to attempt to reach his meaning. Capell was a man of fortune; and he devoted a life to this labour, dying in the midst of it. Steevens never mentions him but to insult him; and amongst the heaps of the most trashy notes that encumber the variorum editions, raked together from the pamphlets of every dabbler in commentary, there is perhaps not one single-minded quotation from Capell. John Collins, the publisher of his posthumous Notes and Various Readings, brings a charge against Steevens which may account for this unrelenting hostility to a learned and amiable man labouring in a pursuit common to them both. He says that Capell's edition "is made the groundwork of what is to pass for the genuine production of these combined editors" (Johnson and Steevens). This, he says, may be proved by a comparison of their first edition of 1773 with that of Johnson's of 1765, Capell's having been published during the interval.
He then proceeds further in the charge "But the re-publication of their work, as it 'is revised and augmented,' makes further advances upon the same plan, abounding with fresh matter and accumulated evidence in proof of the industry with which the purloining trade has been pursued, and of the latitude to which it has been extended, in each of the above-mentioned particulars. For, differing as it does from its former self in numberless instances, in all of them it is still found to agree with that edition, which, we are gravely told in so many words by the apparent manager of the business, 'has not been examined beyond one play.""
But there was another cause of the hostility of Steevens and his school of commentators. FARMER was their Coriphæus. Their souls were prostrate before the extent of his researches in that species of literature which possesses this singular advantage for the cultivator, that, if he studies it in an original edition, of which only one or two copies are known to exist (the merit is gone if there is a baker's dozen known), he is immediately pronounced learned, judicious, laborious, acute. And this was Farmer's praise. He wrote, 'An Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare,' which has not one passage of solid criticism from the first page to the last, and from which, if the name and the works of Shakspere were to perish, and one copy-an unique copy is the affectionate name for these things-could be miraculously preserved, the only inference from the book would be that William Shakspere was a very obscure and ignorant man, whom some misjudging admirers had been desirous to exalt into an ephemeral reputation, and that Richard Farmer was a very distinguished and learned man, who had stripped the mask off the pretender. The first edition of Farmer's pamphlet appeared in 1767.
school. It appears, from the clearest evidence possible, that his father was a man of no little substance, and very well able to give him such education; which, perhaps, he might be inclined to carry further, by sending him to a university; but was prevented in this design (if he had it) by his son's early marriage, which, from monuments and other like evidence, it appears with no less certainty must have happened before he was seventeen, or very soon after: the displeasure of his father, which was the consequence of this marriage, or else some excesses which he is said to have been guilty of, it is probable drove him up to town; where he engaged early in some of the theatres, and was honoured with the patronage of the earl of Southampton: his 'Venus and Adonis' is addressed to that Earl in a very pretty and modest dedication, in which he calls it 'the first heire of his invention;' and ushers it to the world with this singular motto:
'Vilia miretur vulgus, mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua;' and the whole poem, as well as his 'Lucrece,' which followed it soon after, together with his choice of those subjects, are plain marks of his acquaintance with some of the Latin classics, at least, at that time. The dissipation of youth, and, when that was over, the busy scene in which he instantly plunged himself, may very well be supposed to have hindered his making any great progress in them; but that such a mind as his should quite lose the tincture of any knowledge it had once been imbued with cannot be imagined: accordingly we see that this schoollearning (for it was no more) stuck with him to the last; and it was the recordations, as we may call it, of that learning which produced the Latin that is in many of his plays, and most plentifully in those that are the most early: every several piece of it is aptly introduced, given to a proper character, and uttered upon some proper occasion ; and so well cemented, as it were, and joined to the passage it stands in, as to deal con
Capell, who had studied Shakspere with far more accuracy than this mere pedant, who never produced any literary performance in his life except this arrogant pamph-viction to the judicious, that the whole was let, held a contrary opinion to Farmer :"It is our firm belief that Shakspeare was very well grounded, at least in Latin, at
wrought up together, and fetched from his own little store, upon the sudden, and without study.
"The other languages which he has sometimes made use of that is, the Italian and French-are not of such difficult conquest that we should think them beyond his reach. An acquaintance with the first of them was a sort of fashion in his time. Surrey and the sonnet-writers set it on foot, and it was continued by Sidney and Spenser: all our poetry issued from that school; and it would be wonderful indeed if he, whom we saw a little before putting himself with so much zeal under the banner of the Muses, should not have been tempted to taste at least of that fountain to which of all his other brethren there was such a continual resort let us conclude, then, that he did taste of it; but, happily for himself, and more happy for the world that enjoys him now, he did not find it to his relish, and threw away the cup. Metaphor apart, it is evident that he had some knowledge of the Italian-perhaps just as much as enabled him to read a novel or a poem, and to put some few fragments of it, with which his memory furnished him, into the mouth of a pedant or fine gentleman.
"How or when he acquired it we must be content to be ignorant; but of the French language he was somewhat greater master than of the two that have gone before; yet, unless we except their novelists, he does not appear to have had much acquaintance with any of their writers; what he has given us of it is merely colloquial, flows with great ease from him, and is reasonably pure. Should it be said he had travelled for it, we know not who can confute us."
The principle of Capell's edition, as described by himself in the title-page, was to give the plays of Shakspere as "set out by himself in quarto, or by the players, his fellows, in folio." His introduction consists of an analysis of the value of these various authorities; and he discriminates very justly between those plays in quarto which "have much resemblance to those in the folio," and those which were "first drafts or else imperfect and stolen copies." His text is formed upon this discriminating principle, not attaching an equal value to all the origi- | nal copies in quarto, or superseding the text
of the folio by thrusting in passages out of the first drafts and imperfect copies. To say that his text is the result invariably of a sound judgment would be to say too much; and indeed some of his emendations approach a little to the ridiculous. But we have no hesitation in saying that it is a better text, because approaching more nearly to the originals, than that of many of those who came after him, and went on mending and mending for half a century till the world was tired with the din of their tinkering. The race which succeeded him was corrupted by flattery. Take a specimen :- "Shakspeare's felicity has been rendered complete in this age. His genius produced works that time could not destroy but some of the lighter characters were become illegible; these have been restored by critics whose learning and penetration have traced back the vestiges of superannuated opinions and customs. They are now no longer in danger of being effaced.”* These critics had an accurate perception of part of their duty when they set out upon their work. The first labour of STEEVENS, which preceded the edition of Capell by two years, was to reprint in fac-simile "twenty of the plays of Shakspeare, being the whole number printed in quarto during his lifetime, or before the Restoration; collated where there were different copies, and published from the originals." Most accurately did he execute this laborious duty. The two great public libraries of England, the British Museum and the Bodleian, possess all the originals. The next progressive movement of Steevens was still in the same safe path. He became united with Johnson in the edition of 1773. In his advertisement he says,-" The labours of preceding editors have not left room for a boast that many valuable readings have been retrieved; though it may be fairly asserted that the text of Shakspeare is restored to the condition in which the author, or rather his first publishers, appear to have left it, such emendations as were absolutely necessary alone admitted." He defines what are absolutely necessary, such as a supply of particles when indispensable to *Mrs. Montagu: Introduction.'
He rejects with indignation all attempts to tamper with the text by introducing a syllable in aid of the metre. He declines suggestions of correspondents "that might have proved of great advantage to a more daring commentator." Upon such safe foundations was the edition of 1773 reared. In 1778 it was 66 vised and augmented," and in 1785 it was reprinted with additions by Isaac Reed, Steevens having declined the further care of the work. Steevens also in 1779 rendered an acceptable service to the students of our dramatic history, by the publication of 'Six old plays, on which Shakspeare founded his Measure for Measure, Comedy of Errors. Taming the Shrew, King John, King Henry IV., King Henry V., and King Lear.' In 1780 MALONE appeared as an editor of Shakspere. He came forward with 'A Supplement' to the edition of 1778, in which he republished the poems of Shakspere, and the seven doubtful plays which had been printed as his in the third and fourth folios. The encouragement which he had received induced him, in 1790, when Steevens had retired from his editorial labours in connection with the bookseller's edition, to publish a complete edition of his own, but which was still a variorum edition, "with the corrections and illustrations of various commentators." In this first appeared his 'Dissertation on the Three Parts of Henry VI.,' and his Historical Account of the English Stage.' Malone professes the same anxiety to adhere to the genuine text of Shakspere as Steevens had professed before him; but he opened a wide field for editorial licence, in his principle of making up a text out of the folio edition and the previous quartos; and, to add to the apparent value of his own labours, he exaggerated, as others have since done, the real value of these quartos:"They in general are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the folio; for this plain reason, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour, or from some other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and fre
quently from a late, instead of the earliest, edition; in some instances with additions and alterations of their own." This is not an accurate statement of the question; for the large additions to the folio copy when compared with the quartos, the careful emendations, and even the omissions, which are seldom without some sound apparent reason, could not have been the additions and alterations of the editors of the folio, but must have been the result of the author's labours, perhaps during a series of years.
It appears from Malone's preface that a feeling was gaining ground that the constant accession of notes to Shakspere was becoming an evil :-"The admirers of this poet will, I trust, not merely pardon the great accession of new notes in the present edition, but examine them with some degree of pleasure.-An idle notion has been propagated that Shakspeare has been buried under his commentators; and it has again and again been repeated by the tasteless and the dull, 'that notes, though often necessary, are necessary evils.'. . . . During the era of conjectural criticism and capricious innovation, notes were indeed evils: while one page was covered with ingenious sophistry in support of some idle conjecture, and another was wasted in its overthrow, or in erecting a new fabric equally unsubstantial as the former. . . . While our object
is to support and establish what the poet wrote, to illustrate his phraseology by comparing it with that of his contemporaries, and to explain his fugitive allusions to customs long since disused and forgotten,— while this object is kept steadily in view, if even every line of his plays were accompanied with a comment, every intelligent reader would be indebted to the industry of him who produced it. Such uniformly has been the object of the notes now presented to the public. Let us then hear no more of this barbarous jargon concerning Shakspeare's having been elucidated into obscurity, and buried under the load of his commentators." There is a great deal of truth in this; but it is not all the truth. Malone disagrees with the following observation of Johnson:
"It is not (he remarks) very grateful to