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be no very hard task to find a great many faults; but, as Shakspeare lived under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, so it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to consider him as a man that lived in a state of almost universal licence and ignorance: there was no established judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one considers that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the present stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatic poetry so far as he did." A second edition of Rowe's 'Shakespeare' appeared in 1714.
rectness, might have restrained some of that fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakspere: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supplied him so abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was possible for a master of the English language to deliver them." Rowe also falls into the notion that Shakspere did not arrive at his perfection by repeated experiment and assiduous labour,—a theory which still has its believers :-"It would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Shakspeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings; art had so little and nature so large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean that his fancy was so loose and extravagant as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but that what he thought was commonly so great, so justly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved "If ever any author deserved the name of by an impartial judgment at the first sight." an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himHe then enters into a brief criticism of some self drew not his art so immediately from of the leading plays. In speaking of 'The the fountains of nature; it proceeded through Tempest,' he mentions the observation upor Egyptian strainers and channels, and came to the character of Caliban "which three very him not without some tincture of the learngreat men concurred in making"-telling using, or some cast of the models, of those in a note that these were Lord Falkland, before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was Lord Chief Justice Vaughan, and Mr. Selden inspiration indeed: he is not so much an "That Shakspeare had not only found out imitator as an instrument of Nature; and it a new character in his Caliban, but had is not so just to say that he speaks from her also devised and adapted a new manner of as that she speaks through him. language for that character.” Of Shakspere's plays, with reference to their art, he thus speaks:-"If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these by those rules which are established by Aristotle and taken from the model of the Grecian stage, it would
In 1725 POPE produced his edition, magnificent as far as printing went, in six volumes quarto. Of its editorial merits we may say a few words when we have to speak of Theobald. His Preface is a masterly composition, containing many just views elegantly expressed. The criticism is neither profound nor original; but there is a tone of quiet sense about it which shows that Pope properly appreciated Shakspere's general excellence. He believes, in common with most of his time, that this excellence was attained by intuition, and that the finest results were produced by felicitous accidents :
"His characters are so much Nature herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of
These are the excellences of Shakspere; but Pope holds that he has as great defects, and he sets himself to excuse these by arguing that it was necessary to please the populace. He then proceeds:—
the same image: each picture, like a mock- | for a very new opinion-that the philosopher, rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. and even the man of the world, may be born But every single character in Shakspeare is as well as the poet." as much an individual as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that, had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
"The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it; but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at the proper places: we are surprised the moment we weep; and yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.
"How astonishing it is again that the passions directly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command! That he is not more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!
"Nor does he only excel in the passions; in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but, by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts; so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground
"To judge, therefore, of Shakspeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country who acted under those of another. He wrote to the people, and wrote at first without patronage from the better sort, and therefore without aims of pleasing them; without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality; some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition, of other writers.
"Yet it must be observed, that, when his performances had merited the protection of his prince, and when the encouragement of the court had succeeded to that of the town, the works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence that his productions improved in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. And I make no doubt this observation would be found true in every instance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was composed, and whether wrote for the town or the court.
"Another cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our poet's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a standard to themselves, upon other principles than those of Aristotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion-a consideration which brings all their judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right as tailors are of what is graceful.
And in this view it will be but fair to allow that most of our author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet than to his right judgment as a player."
Of Shakspere's learning his editor thus speaks:
"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
Jonson borrowed everything. Because Jonson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and, 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."
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 "6 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
decimos. The title-page of Theobald's Shakspere bore that it was '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
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 little further." Collins's 'Epistle to Sir Thomas Hanmer on his Edition of Shakspeare's Works' is an elegant though