Page images

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 son Sir William Bishop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these persons without doubt many circumstances relative to Shakspeare might have been obtained; but that was an age as deficient in literary curiosity as in taste.

It is remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five editions only of his plays were published; which probably consisted of not more than three thousand copies. During the same period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of those of Jonson had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 1716 to the present time, that is, in seventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been issued from the press; while above thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England.* That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonson as of Shakspeare should have been demanded in the last century, will not appear surprising, when we recollect what Dryden has related soon after the Restoration: that “others were then generally preferred before him.”+ By others Jonson and Fletcher were meant. To attempt

* Notwithstanding our high admiration of Shakspeare, we are yet without a splendid edition of his works, with the illustrations which the united efforts of various commentators have contri. buted; while in other countries the most brilliant decorations have been lavished on their distinguished poets. The editions of Pope and Hanmer, may, with almost as much propriety, be called their works, as those 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. Al. derman Boydell, remedy this defect, for it is not to be accompanied with notes. At some 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 present edition shall be followed, with the illustrations subjoined in the same page.

In the year 1642, whether from some capricious vicissitude in the publick taste, or from a general inattention to the drama, we find Shirley complaining that few came to see our author's performances:

You see “What audience we have: what company " To Shakspeare comes? whose mirth did once beguile “Dull hours, and buskin'd made even sorrow smile; “ So lovely were the wounds, that men would say «c They could endure the bleeding a whole day; He has but few friends lately.Prologue to The Sisters.

Shakspeare to thee was dull, whose best jest lies “ ['th' lady's questions, and the fool's replies;

to shew to the readers of the present day the absurdity of such a preference, would be an insult to their understandings. When we endeavour to trace any thing like a ground for this preposterous taste, we are told of Fletcher's ease, and Jonson's learn. ing. Of how little use his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has shewn with that vigour and animation for which he was distinguished. “Jonson, in the serious

“Old fashion’d wit, which walk'd from town to town,
“In tiunk-hose, which our fathers call'd the clown;
“Whose wit our nicer times would obsceneness call,
“And which made bawdry pass for comical.
“Nature was all his art; thy vein was free
“As his, but without his scurrility.”

Verses on Fletcher, by William Cartwright, 1647. After the Restoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were esteemed so much superior 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 testimony necded any corroboration, the following verses would afford it:

“In our old plays, the humour, love, and passion,
“Like doubkit, hose, and cloak, ale out of fashion;
“ That which the world callid wit in Shakspeare's age,
" Is laugli'd at, as improper for our stage."

Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667.
At every shop, while Shukspeare's lofty stile
Neglected lies, to mice and worms a spoil,
"Gilt on the back, just smoking from the press,
“The apprentice she ws you D'Urfey's Hudibras,
“ Crown's Musk, bound up with Settle's choicest labours,
“And promises some new essay of Babor's.”

SATIRE, published in 1680. against old as well as new to rage, “ Is the peculiar frenzy of this age. “Shakspeare must down, and you must praise no more, “Soft Desdemona, nor the jealous Moor: “Shakspeare, whese fruitful genius, happy wit, “ Was fram'd and finish'd at a lucky hit, “The pride of nature, and the shame of schools, “ Born to create, and not to learn from, rules, “Must please no more: his bastards now deride “ Their father's nakedness they ought to hide.” Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widoro,

1693. To the honour of Margaret Duchess of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantastick in other respects, she had taste enough to be fully sensible of our poet's merit, and was one of the first who after the Restoration published a very high Eulogy on him. See her Sociable Letters, folio, 1664, p. 244.

drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakspeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampson was very strong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. We see nothing of Jon. son, nor indeed of his admired (but also murdered) ancients; for what shone in the historian is a cloud on the poet, and Catiline might have been a good play, if Sallust had never written.

“ Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have la. boured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountain. ous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet possibly he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement and delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatick province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books unknown to many of the profoundly read, though books which the last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of nature, and that of man.

To this and the other encomiums on our great poet which will be found in the following pages, I shall not attempt to make any addition. Ile has justly observed, that

“To guard a title that was rich before,
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
“To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another lue
“ Unto the rainbow, or with taper-liglit
“ To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

“Is wasteful and ridiculous excess." Let me, however, be permitted to remark, that beside all his other transcendent mer'its, he was the great refiner and polisher of our language. His compound epithets, his bold metaphors, the energy of his expressions, the harmony of his numbers, all these render the language of Shakspeare one of his principal beauties. Unfortunately none of his letters, or other prose compositions, not in a dramatick form, have reached posterity; but if any of them ever shall be discovered, they will, I am confident, exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. “Words and phrases," says Dryden, must of necessity receive a change in succeeding ages; but it is almost a miracle, that much of his language remains so pure; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonson tells us, without learning, should by the force of his own genius perform so much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any

who come after him.”

In these prefatory observations my principal object was, to ascertain the true state and respective value of the ancient co


Conjectures on Original Composition, by Dr. Edward Young.

pies, and to mark out the course which has been pursued in the edition now offered to the publick. It only remains, that I should return my very sincere acknowledgments to those gentlemen, to whose good offices I have been indebted in the progress of my work. My thanks are particularly due to Francis Ingram, of Ribbisford in Worcestershire, Esq. for the very valuable Officebook of Sir Henry Herbert, and several other curious papers, which formerly belonged to that gentleman; to Penn Asheton Curzon, Esq. for the use of the very rare copy of King Richard III, printed in 1597; to the Master, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, librarian, of Dulwich College, for the Manuscripts relative to one of our ancient theatres, which they obligingly transmitted to me; to John Kipling, Esq. keeper of the rolls in Chancery, who in the most liberal manner directed every search to be made in the Chapel of the Rolls that I should require, with a view to illustrate the history of our poet's life ; and to Mr. Richard Clarke, registror of the diocese of Worcester, who with equal liberality, at my request, made many searches in his office for the wills of various persons. I am also in a particular manner indebted to the kindness and attention of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, who most obligingly made every inquiry in that town and the neighbourhood, which I suggested as likely to throw any light on the Life of Shakspeare.

I deliver my book to the world not without anxiety; conscious, however, that I have strenuously endeavoured to render it not unworthy the attention of the publick. If the researches which have been made for the illustration of our poet's works, and for the dissertations which accompany the present edition, shall afford as much entertainment to others, as I have derived from them, I shall consider the time expended on it as well employed. of the dangerous ground on which I tread, I am fully sensible. “Multa sunt in his studiis (to use the words of a venerable fel. low-labourer* in the mines of antiquity) cineri supposita doloso. Errata possint esse multa à memoria. Quis enim in memoriæ thesauro omnia simul sic complectatur, ut pro arbitratu suo possit expromere? Errata possint esse plura ab imperitia. Quis enim tam peritus, ut in cæco hoc antiquitatis mari, cum tempore colluctatus, scopulis non allidatur? Hiæc tamen à te, humanissime lector, tua humanitas, mea industria, patriæ charitas, et SHAKSPEARI dignitas, mibi exorent, ut quid mei sit judicii, sine aliorum præjudicio libere proferam; ut eâdem via qua alii in his studiis solent, insistam; et ut erratis, si ego agnoscam, tu ignoscas." Those who are the warmest admirers of our great poet, and most conversant with his writings, best know the difficulty of such a work, and will be most ready to pardon its defects; remembering, that in all arduous undertakings, it is ea. sier to conceive than to accomplish; that “the will is infinite, and the execution confined; that the desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit."

MALONE. Queen Anne Street, East, October 25, 1790.

* Camden,

THE attempt to write upon SHAKSPEARE is like going into a large, a spacious, and a splendid dome, through the convey. ance of a narrow and obscure entry. A glare of light suddenly breaks upon you beyond what the avenue at first promised; and a thousand beauties of genius and character, like so many gaudy apartments pouring at once upon the eye, diffuse and throw them. selves out to the mind. The prospect is too wide to come within the compass of a single view: it is a gay confusion of pleasing objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general admiration; and they must be separated and eyed distinctly, in order to give the proper entertainment.

And as, in great piles of building, some parts are often finished up to hit the taste of the connoisseur; others more negligently put together, to strike the fancy of a common and unlearned beholder; some parts are made stupendously magnificent and grand, to surprise with the vast design and execution of the architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his neatness and elegance in little: so, in Shakspeare, we may find traits that will stand the test of the severest judgment; and strokes as carelessly hit off, to the level of the more ordinary capacities; some descriptions raised to that pitch of grandeur, as to astonish you with the compass and eleration of his thought; and others copying nature within so narrow, so confined a circle, as if the author's talent lay only at drawing in miniature.

In how many points of light 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! How are they dressed from the stores of his own luxurious imagination; without being the apes of mode, or borrowing from any foreign wardrobe! Each of them are the standards of fashion for themselves: like gentlemen that are above the direction of their tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of imitation. If other poets draw more

« PreviousContinue »