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studied Shakspeare, and the writers of his age; he had collated most of the earlier editions, though not with accuracy upon which we can safely rely; and in many instances had set the example of adherence to the old copies, where they had been ignorantly or rashly altered by his predecessors. But he had no settled principles of criticism; his text has been drawn together from various quarters, according to the dictates of his own caprice; and if he has often discarded the corruptions of others, he has not unfrequently introduced new ones of his own. His notes afford us little information, when we have at last disentangled their meaning, which is a matter of no small difficulty, from the enigmatical obscurity of his language. Mr. Jennens undertook to enable every reader to become his own Critick, by furnishing him with all the varieties which the folios, the quartos, or the suggestions of Commentators could afford; and the plan, had it been successfully pursued, would certainly have been of use; but the total want of discrimination with which he collected the most obvious typographical errors from the most spurious copies, exposed him to the merciless ridicule of Steevens. Mr. Steevens was in many respects peculiarly qualified for the duties of an Editor. With great diligence, an extensive acquaintance with early English literature, and a remarkably retentive memory; he was besides, as Mr. Gifford has justly observed, “a wit and a scholar." But his wit, and the sprightliness of his style, were too often employed to bewilder and mislead us. His consciousness of his own satirical powers made him much too fond of exercising them at the expence of truth and justice. He was infected to a lamentable degree with what has been termed the jealousy of authorship; and while his approbation was readily bestowed upon those whose competition he thought he had no reason to dread, he was fretfully impatient of a brother near the throne: his clear understanding would generally have enabled him to discover what was right, but the spirit of contradiction
could at any time induce him to maintain what was wrong. It would be impossible, indeed, to explain how any one possessed of his taste and discernment, could have brought himself to advocate so many indefensible opinions, without entering into a long and ungracious history of the probable motives by which he was influenced. If Mr. Malone had not the pointed vivacity of Mr. Steevens's manner (although his style was remarkable for its elegance, perspicuity, and precision), yet he was equal in critical sagacity, and superior, even to his rival, in accurate knowledge and unwearied research; but he was still more honourably distinguished by his openness of character and inflexible adherence to truth, from which he never was withdrawn, either by a wish to support an hypothesis or to vex a rival. His text is beyond all comparison the most faithful that had yet been produced. The merit of his notes cannot well be exemplified by a partial selection; but whenever they are critically examined it will be found, that without seeking opportunities for self-display, he has more frequently caught the real meaning of his author than any of those with whom he had to contend. His History of the Stage has now been published upwards of twenty years, during which period the attention of literary men has been much more generally drawn to researches of this nature; but it is still the standard authority to which all refer, and the guide in all subsequent inquiries. The other essays which are comprehended in his work have retained an equally high rank in public estimation. It has sometimes been objected to Mr. Malone, that he is too minute and circumstantial in collateral details. To this, if he had not defended him self against this charge in the Life of Shakspeare, it might be sufficient to reply, that it would be difficult to produce an instance of any eminent antiquary whose enthusiasm for the pursuit in which he is engaged has not led him to direct his attention to many things which have little attraction for the majority of readers; but they who
are conversant in such studies need not be told how often these excursive inquiries have furnished us with a clue which would otherwise have been lost, to more direct and important information. But after all, may we not ask if there be not something harsh and ungenerous in the fastidious contempt with which such discussions are treated. If inanimate objects, however trifling in themselves, acquire a value from being associated with the recollection of those whom we love or reverence, is it not an equally natural, and surely a more amiable feeling, which prompts us to take a kindly interest in the memorials even of those humble players who were the friends and associates of our immortal bard, and were honoured with the regard and esteem of" their fellow Shakspeare." Notwithstanding the general applause with which Mr. Malone's edition was welcomed, it cannot be strictly said that it met with universal approbation. Mr. Ritson (of whose seeming malignity of temper it would be cruel to speak with harshness, as it is now well known that it proceeded from a disturbed state of mind, which terminated at last in the most deplorable calamity that can afflict human nature), appeared against it in an angry and surrilous pamphlet. The misrepresentations in this performance were so gross, and so easy of detection, though calculated to mislead a careless reader, that Mr. Malone thought it worth his while to point them out in a letter which he published, addressed to his friend Dr. Farmer. Poor Ritson, however, is not the only writer who has attempted to persuade the world that they have been mistaken in Mr. Malone's character as a critick. He has been assailed, not many years back, in a similar way indeed, but by a person of a very different description. A gentleman, high in the law, having unluckily persuaded himself that if a man is ambitious of being witty, nothing more is necessary than that he should cease to be grave, thought proper to descend from the Bench, and indulge himself in some unwieldy gambols, which he flattered himself were at Mr. Malone's expence. To this
hapless piece of pleasantry Mr. Malone made no reply. Mr. Horne Tooke, who, whatever were his talents as a grammarian, or his knowledge as an Anglo-Saxon, had by no means an extensive acquaintance with the literature of Shakspeare's age, has mentioned Mr. Malone and Dr. Johnson with equal contempt*, and immediately after
* The passage to which I have alluded is in EПEA ПITEPOENTA, vol. ii. p. 319; and will show into what absurdity a man of real talent may be drawn, when he is carried away by an hypothesis, or (which I rather believe to be the case in this instance), writes under the influence of spleen. "In the Winter's Tale, Act I. Sc. I. p. 273, we have,
'Come (Sir Page)
Looke on me with your WELKIN eye.'
On which passage S. Johnson says, hardily as usual, eye: blue eye; an eye of the same colour with the welkin, or sky.' And this is accepted and repeated by Malone. I can only say that this Note is worthy of them both; and they of each other. Welkin is the present participle Willigens, or Wea1cỳnƐ, i. e. volvens quod volvit of the Anglo-Saxon verb Willigan Wealcan, volvere revolvere, which is equally applicable to an eye of any colour, to what revolves or rolls over our heads, and to the waves of the sea, peaλcynSe ea peaλcense ræ." Had Mr. Tooke produced an instance from any one author, who wrote in English, of welkin having been used in the sense of rolling, or in any other than that of the sky, or been able to persuade us that Shakspeare was an Anglo-Saxon, there might have been some ground for his criticism, though no excuse for his petulance. Ingenious etymology is always amusing, and, where we are in the dark with regard to the meaning of a word, may sometimes furnish us with a clue to discover it; but to adhere to the primitive and obsolete signification of a term, when, in the course of those changes which every language undergoes, it has assumed another sense, which is known and established, is surely little better than idle pedantry. As well might we maintain that hostis, in the age of Augustus, meant only a stranger, because Cicero informs us that it was so used in the earlier ages of the
proceeds to sneer at Mr. Tyrwhitt. It may readily be supposed that Mr. Malone would not feel very acutely the satire which associated him with such companions. But, to counterbalance these puny or peevish hostilities, bis work gained the highest testimonies of applause from all who were best qualified to judge upon the subject, and from men whose approbation any one would be proud to obtain. He has himself alluded with grateful satisfaction to the praises bestowed upon it by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Farmer. Dr. J. Warton, in a most friendly letter, which accompanied a curious volume of old English poetry which had belonged to his brother Thomas, and which he presented to Mr. Malone as the person for whom its former possessor felt the highest esteem and the most cordial regard, observes to him that his edition is "by far, very far, the best that had ever appeared." Professor Porson, who, as every one who knew him can testify, was by no means in the habit of bestowing hasty or thoughtless praise, declared to the Writer of this account, that he considered the Essay on the three parts of Henry the Sixth as one of the most convincing pieces of criticism that he had ever read. A letter which he received on this occasion from Mr. Burke will not only exhibit the high opinion which he entertained of Mr. Malone, but will be read with interest, as furnishing an additional instance of the powers which that great statesman could display even in a complimentary letter to a friend; and as shewing how every topick became generalized, when it fell under the contemplation of his truly philosophical mind. As it principally relates to Mr. Malone's
Republick; or, to take our examples from our own language, with as much propriety might we say that a man is a knave in proportion as he is poor (Vide EIIEA ITEP. vol. ii. p. 425), or describe a beautiful young lady as being uncouth, because we have not the honour of her acquaintance, and she is therefore unknown to us.