« PreviousContinue »
BY MR. STEEVENS,
PREFIXED TO THE EDITION OF 1793.
THE reader may observe that, contrary to former usage, no head of Shakspeare is prefixed to the present edition of his plays. The undisguised fact is this. The only portrait of him that even pretends to authenticity, by means of injudicious cleaning, or some other accident, has become little better than the "shadow of a shade."* The late Sir Joshua Reynolds indeed once suggested, that whatever person it was designed for, it might have been left, as it now appears, unfinished. Various copies and plates, however, are said at different times to have been made from it; but a regard for truth obliges us to confess that they are all unlike each other, and convey no distinct resemblance of the poor remains of their avowed original. Of the drapery and curling hair exhibited in the excellent engravings of Mr. Vertue, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Knight, the painting does not afford a vestige; nor is there a feature or circumstance on the whole canvas, that can with minute precision be delineated.We must add, that on very vague and dubious authority this head has hitherto been received as a genuine portrait of our author, who probably left behind nim no such memorial of his face. As he was careless of the future state of his works, his solicitude might not have extended to the perpetuation of his looks. Had any portrait of him existed, we may naturally suppose it must have belonged to his family, who (as Mark Antony says of a hair of Cæsar) would
* Such, we think, were the remarks, that occurred to us several years ago, when this portrait was accessible. We wished indeed to have confirmed them by a second view of it; but a late accident in the noble family to which it belongs, has precluded us from that satisfaction.
Vertue's portraits have been over-praised on account of their fidelity; for we have now before us six different heads of Shakspeare engraved by him, and do not scruple to assert that they have individually a different cast of countenance. Cucullus non facit monachum. The shape of our author's ear-ring and fallingband may correspond in them all, but where shall we find an equal conformity in his features?
Few objects indeed are occasionally more difficult to seize, than the slender traits that mark the character of a face; and the eye will often detect the want of them, when the most exact me. chanical process cannot decide on the places in which they are omitted. Vertue, in short, though a laborious, was a very in different draughtsman, and his best copies too often exhibit general instead of a particular resemblance.
and were there ground for the report that Shakspeare was the real father of Sir William D'Avenant, and that the picture already spoken of was painted for him, we might be tempted to observe with our author, that the
"Was kinder to his father, than his daughters
But in support of either supposition sufficient evidence has not been produced. The former of these tales has no better foundation than the vanity of our degener Neoptolemus,* and the lat
* Nor does the same piece of ancient scandal derive much weight from Aubrey's adoption of it. The reader who is acquainted with the writings of this absurd gossip, will scarcely pay more attention to him on the present occasion, than when he gravely assures us that "Anno 1670, not far from Cirencester was an apparition; being demanded whether a good spirit or a bad? returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious perfume and most melodious twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a fairy." See Aubrey's Miscellanies, edit. 1784, p. 114.-Aubrey, in short, was a dupe to every wag who chose to practise on his credulity; and would most certainly have believed the person who should have told him that Shakspeare himself was a natural son of Queen Elizabeth.
An additional and no less pleasant proof of Aubrey's cullibility, may be found at the conclusion of one of his own letters to Mr. Ray; where, after the enumeration of several wonderful methods employed by old women and Irishmen to cure the gout, agues, and the bloody flux, he adds: "Sir Christopher Wren told me once [eating of strawberries] that if one that has a wound in the head eats them, 'tis mortal.”
See Philosophical Letters between the late learned Mr. Ray &c. published by William Derham, Chaplain to his Royal Highness George Prince of Wales, & F. R. S. 8vo. 1718, p. 251.
In the foregoing instance our letter-writer seems to have been perfectly unconscious of the jocularity of Sir Christopher, who would have meant nothing more by his remark, than to secure his strawberries, at the expence of an allusion to the crack in poor Aubrey's head. Thus when Falstaff "did desire to eat some prawns," Mrs. Quickly told him "they were ill for a green wound."
Mr. T. Warton has pleasantly observed that he "cannot suppose Shakspeare to have been the father of a Doctor of Divinity who never laughed;" and-to waste no more words on Sir William D'Avenant,-let but our readers survey his heavy, vulgar, unmeaning face, and, if we mistake not, they will as readily conclude that Shakspeare "never holp to make it." So despi
ter originates from modern conjecture. The present age will probably allow the vintner's ivy to Sir William, but with equal justice will withhold from him the poet's bays. To his pretensions of descent from Shakspeare, one might almost be induced to apply a ludicrous passage uttered by Fielding's Phaeton in the Suds:
by all the parish boys I'm flamm'd: "You the SUN's son, you rascal! you be d-d.” About the time when this picture found its way into Mr. Keck's hands, the verification of portraits was so little attended to, that both the Earl of Oxford, and Mr. Pope, admitted a juvenile one of King James I, as that of Shakspeare.* Among the heads of illustrious persons engraved by Houbraken, are several imaginary ones, beside Ben Jonson's and Otway's; and old Mr. Langford positively asserted that, in the same collection, the grandfather of Cock the auctioneer had the honour to personate the great and amiable Thurloe, secretary of state to Oliver Cromwell.
From the price of forty guineas paid for the supposed portrait of our author to Mrs. Barry, the real value of it should not be inferred. The possession of somewhat more animated than canvas, might have been included, though not specified, in a bargain with an actress of acknowledged gallantry.
Yet allowing this to be a mere fanciful insinuation, a rich man does not easily miss what he is ambitious to find. At least he may be persuaded he has found it, a circumstance which, as far as it affects his own content, will answer, for a while, the same purpose. Thus the late Mr. Jennens, of Gopsal in Leicestershire, for many years congratulated himself owner of another genuine portrait of Shakspeare, and by Cornelius Jansen; nor was disposed to forgive the writer who observed that, being dated in 1610, it could not have been the work of an artist who never saw England till 1618, above a year after our author's death.
cable, indeed, is his countenance as represented by Faithorne, that it appears to have sunk that celebrated engraver beneath many a common artist in the same line.
*Much respect is due to the authority of portraits that descend in families from heir to heir; but little reliance can be placed on them when they are produced for sale (as in the present instance) by alien hands, almost a century after the death of the person supposed to be represented; and then, (as Edmund says in King Lear) come pat, like the catastrophe of the old comedy." Shakspeare was buried in 1616; and in 1708 the first notice of this picture occurs. Where there is such a chasm in evidence the validity of it may be not unfairly questioned, and especially by those who remember a species of fraudulence recorded in Mr. Foote's Taste: "Clap Lord Dupe's arms on that half-length of Erasmus; I have sold it him as his great grandfather's third brother, for fifty guineas."
So ready, however, are interested people in assisting credulous ones to impose on themselves, that we will venture to pre. dict,-if some opulent dupe to the flimsy artifice of Chatterton should advertise a considerable sum of money for a portrait of the Pseudo-Rowley, such a desideratum would soon emerge from the tutelary crypts of St. Mary Redcliff at Bristol, or a hitherto unheard of repository in the tomb of Syr Thybbot Gorges at Wraxall.* It would also come attested as a strong like. ness of our archæological bard, on the faith of a parchment ex. hibiting the hand and seal of the dygne Mayster Wyllyam Canynge, setting forth that Mayster Thomas Rowlie was so entyrely and passynge wele belovyd of himself, or our poetick knight, that one or the other causyd hys semblaunce to be ryght conynglye depeyncten on a marvellouse fayre table of wood, and ensevelyd wyth hym, that deth mote theym not clene departyn and putte asunder.—A similar imposition, however, would in vain be attempted on the editors of Shakspeare, who, with all the zeal of Row. leians, are happily exempt from their credulity.
A former plate of our author, which was copied from Martin Droeshout's in the title-page to the 1623, is worn out; nor "abominable an imitation of humanity" deserve to be restored. The smaller head, prefixed to the poems in 1640, is merely a reduced and reversed copy by Marshall from its predecessor, with a few slight changes in attitude and dress.-We boast therefore of no exterior ornaments,† except those of better print and paper than have hitherto been allotted to any octavo edition of Shakspeare.
* A kindred trick had actually been passed off by Chatterton on the late Mr. Barrett of Bristol, in whose back parlour was a pretended head of Canynge, most contemptibly scratched with a pen on a small square piece of yellow parchment, and framed and glazed as an authentick icon by the " curyous poyntill" of Rowley. But this same drawing very soon ceased to be stationary, was alternately exhibited and concealed, as the wavering faith of its possessor shifted about, and was prudently withheld at last from the publick eye. Why it was not inserted in the late History of Bristol, as well as Rowley's plan and elevation of its ancient castle, (which all the rules of all the ages of architecture pronounce to be spurious) let the Rowleian advocates inform us. We are happy at least to have recollected a single imposition that was too gross for even these gentlemen to swallow.-Mr. Barrett, however, in the year 1776, assured Mr. Tyrwhitt and Mr. Steevens, that he received the aforesaid scrawl of Canynge from Chatterton, who described it as having been found in the prolifick chest, secured by six, or six-and-twenty keys, no matter which.
†They who wish for decorations adapted to this edition of Shakspeare, will find them in Silvester Harding's Portraits and views, &c. &c. (appropriated to the whole suite of our author's Historical Dramas, &c.) published in thirty numbers.
See Gent. Mag. June 1759, p. 257.
Justice nevertheless requires us to subjoin, that had an un. doubted picture of our author been attainable, the booksellers would most readily have paid for the best engraving from it that could have been produced by the most skilful of our modern artists; but it is idle to be at the charge of perpetuating illusions: and who shall offer to point out, among the numerous prints of Shakspeare, any one that is more like him than the rest?*
The play of Pericles has been added to this collection, by the advice of Dr. Farmer. To make room for it, Titus Andronicus might have been omitted; but our proprietors are of opinion that some ancient prejudices in its favour may still exist, and for that reason only it is preserved.
We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c. of Shakspeare, because the strongest act of parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service; notwithstanding these miscellaneous poems have derived every possible advantage from the literature and judgment of their only intelligent editor, Mr. Malone, whose implements of criticism, like the ivory rake and golden spade in Prudentius, are on this occasion disgraced by the objects of their culture.--Had Shakspeare produced no other works than these, his name would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonnetteer.t
* List of the different engravings from the Chandosan Shakspeare:
By Vandergucht, to Rowe's edit.
Vertue, half sheet, set of Poets
Millar, small oval, Capell's Shakspeare
Cook, 8vo. Bell's edit.
Knight, 8vo. Mr. Malone's edit.
Harding, 8vo. set of prints to Shakspeare No two of these portraits are alike; nor does any one of them bear the slightest resemblance to its wretched original. G. S.
f His sonnets, though printed without date, were entered in the year 1581, on the books of the Stationers' Company, under the title of "Watson's Passions, manifesting the true Frenzy of Love."
Shakspeare appears to have been among the number of his readers, having in the following passage of Venus and Adonis,"Leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain," borrowed an idea from his 83d Sonnet:
"The muses not long since intrapping love