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more as he is more understood, and there can be no doubt that Shakspeare is now infinitely better understood than he was in the laft century. To fay nothing of the people at large, it is clear that Dryden himself, though a great admirer of our poet, and D'Avenant, though he wrote for the ftage in the year 1627, did not always understand him. The I very books which are neceffary to our
"The tongue in general is fo much refined fince Shakspeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrafes, are Scarce intelligible." Preface to Dryden's Troilus and Creffida. The various changes made by Dryden in particular paffages in that play, and by him and D'Avenant in The Tempest, prove decifively that they frequently did not understand our poet's language.
In his defence of the Epilogue to The Conquest of Granada, Dryden arraigns Ben Jonfon for ufing the perfonal, instead of the neutral, pronoun, and unfeard for unafraid:
Though heaven should speak with all his wrath at once, "We should ftand upright, and unfear'd."
"His (fays he) is ill fyntax with heaven, and by unfear'd he means unafraid; words of a quite contrary fignification.-He perpetually uses ports for gates, which is an affected error in him, to introduce Latin by the lofs of the English idiom."
Now his for its, however ill the fyntax may be, was the common language of the time; and to fear, in the sense of to terrify, is found not only in all the poets, but in every dictionary of that age. With refpect to ports, Shakspeare, who will not be fufpected of affecting Latinifms, frequently employs that word in the fame fense as Jonfon has done, and as probably the whole kingdom did; for the word is ftill fo ufed in Scotland,
D'Avenant's alteration of Macbeth, and Measure for Meafure, furnish many proofs of the fame kind. In The Law againf Lovers, which he formed on Much Ado about Nothing, and Meafure for Meafure, are thefe lines:
nor do I think,
"The prince has true difcretion who affects it." The paffage imitated is in Meafure for Meafure:
"Nor do I think the man of fafe discretion,
If our poet's language had been well understood, the epithet
fafe would not have been rejected. See Othello:
author's illuftration, were of fo little account in their time, that what now we can scarce procure at any price, was then the furniture of the nursery or ftall.2 In fifty years after our poet's death, Dryden mentions that he was then become "a
My blood begins my fafer guides to rule; "And paffion, having my beft judgment collied," &c. So alfo, Edgar, in King Lear:
"The fafer fense will ne'er accommodate
The price of books at different periods may ferve in fome measure to ascertain the taste and particular study of the age. At the fale of Dr. Francis Bernard's library in 1698, the following books were fold at the annexed prices :
Gower de Confeffione Amantis.
Now fold for two guineas.
Caxton's Recueyll of the Hiftories of Troy, 1502.
Holinfhed's Chronicle, 1587.
This book is now frequently fold for ten guineas.
Turberville on hawking and hunting.
This book is now ufually fold for a guinea.
Powell's Hiftory of Wales.
Painter's fecond tome of the Palace of Pleasure.
The two volumes of Painter's Palace of Pleasure are now ufually fold for three guineas.
Metamorphofis of Ajax, by Sir John Harrington. 004
little obfolete." In the beginning of the prefent century Lord Shaftesbury complains of his " rude unpolished file, and his ANTIQUATED phrafe and wit;" and not long afterwards Gildon informs us that he had been rejected from fome modern collections of poetry on account of his obfolete language. Whence could these representations have proceeded, but because our poet, not being diligently studied, not being compared with the contemporary writers, was not understood? If he had been "read, admired, ftudied, and imitated," in the fame degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of fome one or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make fome enquiries concerning the hiftory of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life. But no fuch. person was found; no anxiety in the publick fought out any particulars concerning him after the Restoration, (if we except the few which were collected by Mr. Aubrey,) though at that time the hiftory of his life must have been known to many; for his fifter Joan Hart, who muft have known much of his early years, did not die till 1646 his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, lived till 1649; and his fecond daughter, Judith, was living at Stratford-upon-Avon in the beginning of the year 1662. His grand-daughter, Lady Barnard, did not die till 1670. Mr. Thomas Combe, to whom Shakspeare bequeathed his fword, furvived our poet above forty years, having died at Stratford in 1657. His elder brother, William Combe, lived till 1667. Sir Richard Bishop, who was born in 1585, lived at Bridgetown near Stratford till 1672; and his fon, Sir William Bishop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these perfons without doubt many circumftances relative to
Shakspeare might have been obtained; but that was an age as deficient in literary curiofity as in taste.
It is remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five editions only of his plays were publifhed; which probably confifted of not more than three thousand copies. During the fame period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of thofe of Jonfon had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 1716 to the present time, that is, in feventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been iffued from the prefs; while above thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare have been difperfed through England. That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonfon as of Shakspeare should have been demanded in the laft century, will not appear furprifing, when we recollect what Dryden has related foon after the Restoration: that "others were then generally preferred before him."4 By others Jonfon
3 Notwithstanding our high admiration of Shakspeare, we are yet without a splendid edition of his works, with the illuftrations which the united efforts of various commentators have contributed; while in other countries the most brilliant decorations bave been lavifhed on their distinguished poets. The editions of Pope and Hanmer, may, with almost as much propriety, be called their works, as thofe of Shakspeare; and therefore can have no claim to be admitted into any elegant library. Nor will the promised edition, with engravings, undertaken by Mr. Alderman Boydell, remedy this defect, for it is not to be accompanied with notes. At fome future, and no very distant time, I mean to furnish the publick with an elegant edition in quarto, (without engravings,) in which the text of the prefent edition shall be followed, with the illuftrations fubjoined in the fame page.
* In the year 1642, whether from fome capricious viciffitude in the publick taste, or from a general inattention to the drama, we find Shirley complaining that few came to fee our author's performances:
and Fletcher were meant. To attempt to fhow to the readers of the prefent day the abfurdity of
"What audience we have: what company
"To Shakspeare comes? whose mirth did once beguile
Prologue to The Sifters.
Verfes on Fletcher, by William Cartwright,
After the Reftoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were esteemed fo much fuperior to those of our author, that we are told by Dryden, "two of their pieces were acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's." If his teftimony needed any corroboration, the following verfes 'would afford it:
"In our old plays, the humour, love, and paffion,
Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667.
SATIRE, publifhed in 1680.
"Is the peculiar frenzy of this age.
Shakspeare muft down, and you must praise no more, "Soft Defdemona, nor the jealous Moor: