ePub 版

Of Shakspere's learning his editor thus speaks:

And in this view it will be but fair to allow | Jonson borrowed everything. Because Jonson that most of our author's faults are less to did not write extempore, he was reproached be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet with being a year about every piece; and, than to his right judgment as a player." because Shakspeare wrote with ease and rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot. Nay, the spirit of opposition ran so high, that whatever those of the one side objected to the other was taken at the rebound, and turned into praises, as injudiciously as their antagonists before had made them objections."

"As to his want of learning it may be necessary to say something more: there is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from another. Nothing is more evident than that he had a taste of natural philosophy, mechanics, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology: we find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity. The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, &c., are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature or branch of science he either speaks of or describes, it is always with competent if not extensive knowledge; his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats | of ethic or politic, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it. Mr. Waller (who has been celebrated for this last particular) has not shown more learning this way than Shakspeare.

"I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonson, as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expense of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable as that, because Ben Jonson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakspeare had none at all; and, because Shakspeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakspeare borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben


Much of Pope's Preface is then occupied with illustrations of his opinion that Shakspere's works have come down to us defaced with innumerable blunders and absurdities which are not to be attributed to the author. We cannot at all yield our consent to this opinion, which goes upon the assumption that, whenever there is an obscure passage; whenever "mean conceits and ribaidries" are found; whenever "low scenes of mobs, plebeians, and clowns" are very prominent; there the players have been at work; and he thus argues upon the assumption :-"If we give in to this opinion, how many low and vicious parts and passages might no longer reflect upon this great genius, but appear unworthily charged upon him! And, even in those which are really his, how many faults may have been unjustly laid to his account from arbitrary additions, expunctions, transpositions of scenes and lines, confusion of characters and persons, wrong application of speeches, corruptions of innumerable passages by the ignorance, and wrong corrections of them again by the impertinence, of his first editors! From one or other of these considerations I am verily persuaded that the greatest and the grossest part of what are thought his errors would vanish, and leave his character in a light very different from that disadvantageous one in which it now appears to us." There is a larger question even than this that Pope propounds. Are these parts and passages low and vicious? Have we these corruptions and imperfections? We believe not. Pope accepted Shakspere in the spirit of his time, and that was not favourable to the proper understanding of him. His concluding observations are characteristic of his critical

[ocr errors]

decimos. The title-page of Theobald's Shakspere bore that it was I collated with the oldest copies, and corrected, with Notes.' Pope's edition was not again reprinted in London; but of Theobald's there have been many subsequent editions, and Steevens as

power:-"I will conclude by saying of Shakspeare, that, with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestic piece of Gothic architecture compared with a neat modern build-serts that of his first edition thirteen thousand ing; the latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more solemn. It must be allowed that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; though we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages. Nor does the whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, though many of the parts are childish, ill-placed, and unequal to its grandeur."

In 1726 LEWIS THEOBALD published a tract entitled 'Shakespear Restored, or Specimens of Blunders Committed and Unamended in Pope's Edition of this Poet.' In Pope's second edition of Shakspere, which appeared in 1728, was inserted this contemptuous notice: "Since the publication of our first edition, there having been some attempts upon Shakspeare published by Lewis Theobald (which he would not communicate during the time wherein that edition was preparing for the press, when we, by public advertisements, did request the assistance of all lovers of this author), we have inserted, in this impression, as many of 'em as are judged of any the least advantage to the poet; the whole amounting to about twenty-five words." In the same year came out 'The Dunciad,' of which Theobald was the hero :"High on a gorgeous seat that far outshone Henley's gilt tub, or Flecknoe's Irish throne,

Great Tibbald nods."

In a few years Theobald was deposed from this throne, and there, then, "Great Cibber sate." The facility with which Theobald was transformed to Cibber is one of the many proofs that Pope threw his darts and dirt about him at random. But Theobald took a just revenge. In 1733 he produced an edition of Shakspere, in seven volumes octavo, which annihilated Pope's quartos and duo

[ocr errors]

copies were sold. Looking at the advantage which Pope possessed in the pre-eminence of his literary reputation, the preference which was so decidedly given to Theobald's editions is a proof that the public thought for themselves in the matter of Shakspere. Pope was not fitted for the more laborious duties of an editor. He collated, indeed, the early copies, but he set about the emendation of the text in a manner so entirely arbitrary, suppressing passage after passage upon the principle that the players had been at work here, and a blundering transcriber there, that no reader of Shakspere could rely upon the integrity of Pope's version. Theobald states the contrary mode in which he proceeded :

"Wherever the author's sense is clear and discoverable (though, perchance, low and trivial), I have not by any innovation tampered with his text, out of an ostentation of endeavouring to make him speak better than the old copies have done.

"Where, through all the former editions, a passage has laboured under flat nonsense and invincible darkness, if, by the addition or alteration of a letter or two, or a transposition in the pointing, I have restored to him both sense and sentiment, such corrections, I am persuaded, will need no indulgence.

"And whenever I have taken a greater latitude and liberty in amending, I have constantly endeavoured to support my corrections and conjectures by parallel passages and authorities from himself, the surest means of expounding any author whatsoever."

Dr. Johnson accurately enough describes

the causes and consequences of Pope's failure :—“ Confidence is the common consequence of success. They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly celebrated are ready to conclude that their powers are universal. Pope's edition fell below his own expectations, and he was so much offended,

when he was found to have left anything for others to do, that he passed the latter part of his life in a state of hostility with verbal criticism." But Johnson does not exhibit his usual good sense and knowledge of mankind when he attributes Theobald's success to the world's compassion. He calls him weak and ignorant, mean and faithless, petulant and ostentatious; but he affirms that this editor, "by the good luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation, from this undertaking. So willingly does the world support those who solicit favour against those who command reverence; and so easily is he praised whom no man can envy." This is mere fine writing. The real secret of Theobald's success is stated by Johnson himself::"Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsic splendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He collated the ancient copies, and rectified many errors. A man so anxiously scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he did was commonly right." It was because Theobald was "anxiously scrupulous," because he did not attempt "to do more" than an editor ought to do, that he had the public support. Nearly every succeeding editor, in his scorn of Theobald, his confidence in himself, and, what was the most influential, his want of reverence for his author, endeavoured to make Shakspere "speak better than the old copies have done." Each for a while had his applause, but it was not a lasting fame.

There is little in Theobald's Preface to mark the progress of opinion on the writings of Shakspere. Some parts of this Preface are held to have been written by Warburton; but, if so, his arrogance must have been greatly modified by Theobald's judgment. There is not much general remark upon the character of the poet's writings; but what we find is sensibly conceived and not inelegantly expressed. We shall content ourselves with extracting one passage:-"In how many points of sight must we be obliged to gaze at

this great poet! In how many branches of excellence to consider and admire him! Whether we view him on the side of art or nature, he ought equally to engage our attention: whether we respect the force and greatness of his genius, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and address with which he throws out and applies either nature or learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure. If his diction and the clothing of his thoughts attract us, how much more must we be charmed with the richness and variety of his images and ideas! If his images and ideas steal into our souls and strike upon our fancy, how much are they improved in price when we come to reflect with what propriety and justness they are applied to character! If we look into his characters, and how they are furnished and proportioned to the employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the mastery of his portraits! What draughts of nature! What variety of originals, and how differing each from the other!"

Undeterred by the failure of Pope in his slashing amputations, Sir THOMAS HANMER appeared, in 1744, with a splendid edition in six volumes quarto, printed at the Oxford University Press. Nothing can be more satisfactory than the paper and the type. The work was intended as a monument to the memory of Shakspere; one of the modes in which the national homage was to be expressed :-"As a fresh acknowledgment hath lately been paid to his merit, and a high regard to his name and memory, by erecting his statue at a public expense; so it is desired that this new edition of his works, which hath cost some attention and care, may be looked upon as another small monument designed and dedicated to his honour." Capell, who came next as an editor, says truly of Hanmer that he " pursues a track in which it is greatly to be hoped he will never be followed in the publication of any authors whatsoever, for this were in effect to annihilate them if carried a little further." Collins's 'Epistle to Sir Thomas Hanmer on his Edition of Shakspeare's Works' is an elegant though

not very vigorous attempt to express the universal admiration that the people of England felt for the great national poet. The verse-homage to Shakspere after the days of Milton had no very original character. The cuckoo-note with which these warblers generally interspersed their varied lays was the echo of Milton's "wood-notes wild," which they did not perceive had a limited application to some particular play-As You Like It, for instance. In Rowe's prologue to 'Jane Shore' we have,—

"In such an age immortal Shakspeare wrote,

practical wisdom, with a critic who delights in the most extravagant paradoxes, we might prefer the amusement of Warburton's edition to toiling through the heaps of verbal criticism which later years saw heaped up. Warburton, of course, belonged to the school of slashing emendators. The opening of his preface tells us what we are to expect from him :

"It hath been no unusual thing for writers, when dissatisfied with the patronage or judgment of their own times, to appeal to posterity for a fair hearing. Some have even

By no quaint rules nor hamp'ring critics thought fit to apply to it in the first instance,


[blocks in formation]

and to decline acquaintance with the public till envy and prejudice had quite subsided. But, of all the trusters to futurity, commend me to the author of the following poems, who not only left it to time to do him justice as it would, but to find him out as it could: for, what between too great attention to his

profit as a player, and too little to his repu

tation as a poet, his works, left to the care of

door-keepers and prompters, hardly escaped the common fate of those writings, how good soever, which are abandoned to their own fortune, and unprotected by party or cabal. At length, indeed, they struggled into light; but so disguised and travestied, that no

Collins's Epistle begins thus, speaking of the classic author, after having run ten secular works of Shakspere

[blocks in formation]

stages through the blind cloisters of monks and canons, ever came out in half so maimed and mangled a condition."

There is little in Warburton's preface which possesses any lasting interest, perhaps with the exception of his defence against the charge that editing Shakspere was unsuitable to his clerical profession :

"The great Saint Chrysostom, a name consecrated to immortality by his virtue and eloquence, is known to have been so fond of Aristophanes as to wake with him at his studies, and to sleep with him under his pillow; and I never heard that this was objected either to his piety or his preaching, not even in those times of pure zeal and primitive religion. Yet, in respect of Shakspeare's great sense, Aristophanes's best wit is but buffoonery; and, in comparison of Aristophanes's freedoms, Shakspeare writes with the purity of a vestal. Of all the literary

exercitations of speculative men, whether designed for the use or entertainment of the world, there are none of so much importance, or what are more our immediate concern, than those which let us into the knowledge of our nature. Others may exercise the reason, or amuse the imagination; but these only can improve the heart, and form the human mind to wisdom. Now, in this science our Shakspeare is confessed to occupy the foremost place, whether we consider the amazing sagacity with which he investigates every hidden spring and wheel | of human action, or his happy manner of communicating this knowledge, in the just and living paintings which he has given us

of all our passions, appetites, and pursuits. These afford a lesson which can never be too often repeated, or too constantly inculcated; and to engage the reader's due attention to it hath been one of the principal objects of this edition.

"As this science (whatever profound philosophers may think) is, to the rest, in things, so, in words (whatever supercilious pedants may talk), every one's mother-tongue is to all other languages. This hath still been the sentiment of nature and true wisdom. Hence, the greatest men of antiquity never thought themselves better employed than in cultivating their own country idiom."



Ir was in the year 1741 that David Garrick at once leaped into eminence as an actor, such as had not been won by any man for half a century. He was the true successor of Burbage, Betterton, and Harris. His principal fame was, however, like theirs, founded upon Shakspere. But it is a mistake to imagine that there had not been a constant succession of actors of Shakspere's great characters, from the death of Betterton to Garrick's appearance. His first character in London was Richard III. He made all the great parts of Shakspere familiar to the playgoing public for five-and-thirty years.


Alchymist' and the 'Volpone' of Ben Jonson were sometimes played; "The Chances,' and 'Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,' of Beaumont and Fletcher; but we are told by Davies, in his 'Dramatic Miscellanies,' that, of their fifty-four plays, only these two preserved their rank on the stage. This is a pretty convincing proof of what the public opinion of Shakspere was in the middle of the last century. The Prologue of Samuel Johnson, spoken by Garrick at the opening of Drurylane Theatre in 1747, is an eloquent expression of the same opinion :

"When Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes

First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakspeare


Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new:
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding truth im-

And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.

"Then Jonson came, instructed from the

To please in method, and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art
By regular approach essay'd the heart;
Cold approbation gave the lingering bays;
For those who durst not censure scarce could

A mortal born, he met the gen❜ral doom,
But left, like Egypt's kings, a lasting tomb.

"The wits of Charles found easier ways to

Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakspeare's fame.

Themselves they studied; as they felt, they


Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.

« 上一頁繼續 »