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from an older translation of one Chapman. The Shakespeare Tales suggested the doing of
it. Godwin is in both cases my bookseller. The other is done for Longman, and is Specimens of English Dramatic Poets contemporary with Shakespeare. Specimens are becoming fashionable. We have 'Specimens of Ancient English Poets,' 'Specimens of Modern English Poets, Specimens of Ancient English Prose Writers,' without end. They used to be called 'Beauties.' You have seen Beauties of Shakespeare :' so have many people that never saw any beauties in Shakespeare. "Longman is to print it, and be at all the expense and risk, and I am to share the profits after all deductions ; 1.6., a year or two hence I must pocket what they please to tell me is due to me. But the book is such as I am glad there should be. It is done out of old plays at the Museum, and out of Dodsley's Collection, &c. It is to have notes. So I go creeping on since I was lamed with that cursed fall from off the top of Drury Lane Theatre into the pit, something more than & year ago.” Some months later the 'Specimens was ready for publication, and the year 1808 marked two great events in English literary history-the re-discovery of the forgotten dramatists of Shakespeare's age, and the advent of a rare genius in the art of criticism. In spite of the prevailing ignorance on all matters connected with the earlier English writers, the reception of the volume was, upon the whole, distinctly favourable, though the Monthly Review found nothing very remarkable" in the notes, except their style, which it pronounced formally abrupt and elaborately quaint ; some of the most studied attempts to display excessive feeling we had noted for animadversion, but the task is unnecessary.”
"The Monthly Review sneers at me," Lamb complains to Coleridge in June 1809, “and asks “if Comus is not good enough for Mr Lamb?' because I have said no serious dramas have been written since the death of Charles the First, except Samson Agonistes. So, because they do not know, or won't remember,
that Comus was written long before, I am to be set down as an under-valuer of Milton! O Coleridge, do kill these reviews, or they will kill us ; kill all we like. Be a friend to all else, but their foe.”
A more serious matter was the infamous attack of the Quarterly Review for December 1811, called forth by Weber's edition of Ford, in which Lamb's note on the catastrophe of “The Broken Heart” was quoted with approval. “It would be difficult,” wrote Lamb's friend, Talfourd, “as well as painful, to characterise the attack as it deserves.” It is to be regretted that modern critics, in their “excursions in criticism," too often avail themselves of Lamb's “measureless eulogy” in a spirit of literary iconoclasticism. It is too late in the day, it is altogether too easy and unjust a task, to search among Lamb's criticisms for exaggerated panegyrics. In his book there will always remain so much more to be praised than to be pardoned.
Lamb himself was justly proud of his achievement; fifteen years after the publication of the “Specimens,” in the facetious scrap of “Auto. biography,", dated 18th April 1827, the following brief record occurs :-“He was the first to draw attention to the Old English Dramatists."
When these words were written Lamb was supplementing his “Specimens” by the series of “Extracts from the Garrick Plays" contributed to the pages of Hone's Table Book.
In the second year of his “Hegira, or Flight from Leadenhall," in September 1826, he writes as follows to Bernard Barton :-"I am going through a course of reading at the Museum : the Garrick Plays, out of part of which I formed my specimens. I have two thousand to go through : and in a few weeks have despatched the tythe of 'em. It is a sort of office to me: hours ten to four, the same. It does me good. Man must have regular occupations, that has been used to it."
“I think you told me your acquaintance with the Drama was confined to Shakespeare and Miss Baillie: some read only Milton and Croly. The gap is as from an ananas to a turnip. I have fighting in my head the plots, characters, situations, and sentiments of 400 old plays (bran-new to me) which I have been digesting at the Museum, and my appetite sharpens to twice as many more, which I mean to course over this winter. I can scarce avoid dialogue fashion in this letter. I soliloquise my meditations, and habitually speak blank verse without meaning it.”
Lamb's Note-Books, containing the "Extracts” referred to, was in 1851 presented to the British Museum by his “son-in-law,” Moxon, and those who cherish “
one grain or one drop more from the siftings of his granary or the runnings of his well” may still find something to roward their labour by a perusal of these priceless relics, – these two insignificant booklets, small account - books containing some twenty and fifty pages respectively. * Here the student of Lamb will find, in addition to the contributions to “The Table-Book," the materials of the letter published in the Spectator on “Shakespeare Improvers,” many quaint fragments from Aphra Behn, Ravenscroft, Dekker, Campion, and others. together with the “Pastoral Elegy, entitled " Thyrsis," on the death of the Noble Lady Venetia Digby, written by J. Rutter, 1635.7
It is impossible to bring this Preface to an end without paying some tribute to the chief critics and scholars who have carried on the work so gloriously initiated by Lamb. To Lamb's ideal biographer and editor, Mr Ainger ; to Dr Ward, the historian of the English Drama; to Mr Bullen and others who have given us “perfect copies” of inaccessible texts, the Editor feels it his duty to express the debt of obligation which all lovers of Lamb must henceforth owe them ; nor dare one pass unnoticed the match
Addit. MSS. 9955, 1956. | The Editor had hoped to print these additional extracts as an Appendix to the Volumes, but exigencies of space necessitate their omission.
less verse of Mr Swinburne, whose “Sonnets on the Dramatists ” will long remain the joy of enthusiasts for the great Elizabethans.
Finally, the Editor must thank his sister, Miss Emma Gollancz, late of Newnham College, for much kind help in the laborious task of identifying the sixty-eight fragments at the end of the second volume.
I. G. CAMBRIDGE, Dec. 1893.
PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION.
MORE than a third part of the following specimens are from plays which are to be found only in the British Museum and in some scarce private libraries. The rest are from Dodsley's and Hawkins's collections, and the works of Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger.
I have chosen wherever I could to give entire scenes, and in some instances successive scenes, rather than to string together single passages and detached beauties, which I have always found wearisome in the reading in selections of this nature.
To every extract is prefixed an explanatory head, sufficient to make it intelligible with the help of some trifling omissions. Where a line or more was obscure, as having reference to something that had gone before, which would have asked more time to explain than its consequence in the scene seemed to deserve, I have had no hesitation in leaving the line or passage out. Sometimes where I have met with a superfluous character, which seemed to burthen without throwing any light upon the scene, I have ventured to dismiss it altogether. I have expunged, without ceremony, all that which the writers had better never have written, that forms the objection 80 often repeated to the promiscuous reading of Fletcher, Massinger, and some others.
The kind of extracts which I have sought after