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learning, bad projected the restoration of Shakspeare: but his labours had been suspended, or their result had been withheld from the press, till the issue of Pope's attempt was ascertained by its accomplishment, and publication. The Shakspeare of Theobald's editing was not given to the world before the year 1733; when it obtained more of the public regard than its illustrious predecessor, in consequence of its being drawn from a somewhat wider field of collation; and of its less frequent and presumptuous admission of conjecture, Theobald, indeed, did not wholly abstain from conjecture; but the palm of conjectural criticism was placed much too high for the reach of his hand.
To Theobald, as an editor of Shakspeare, succeeded Sir Thomas Hanmer, who, in 1744, published a superb edition of the great dramatist from the press of Oxford. But Hanmer, building his work on that of Pope, and indulging in the wildest and most wanton innovations, deprived his edition of all pretensions to authenticity and consequently to merit.
The bow of Ulysses was next seized by a mighty hand-by the hand of Warburton; whose Shakspeare . was published in 1747. It failed of success; for, con
coiving that the editor intended to make his author his showman to exhibit bis erudition and intellectual power, the public quickly neglected his work; and it soon disappeared from circulation, though some of its proffered substitutions must be allowed to be happy, and some of its explanations to be just.
After an interval of eighteen years, Shakspeare obtained once more an editor of great name, and seemingly in every way accomplished to assert the rights of his author. In 1765 Doctor Samuel Johnson presented the world with his long-promised edition of our drama tist: and the public expectation, which had been highl: raised, was again doomed to be disappointed. Johnso had a powerful intellect, and was perfectly conversar with human life: but he was not sufficiently versed i black-letter lore; and, deficient in poetic taste, he wa unable to accompany our great bard in the higher fligh
of his imagination. The public in general were not satisfied with his commentary or his text: but to his preface they gave the most unlimited applause. The array and glitter of its words; the regular and pompous march of its periods, with its pervading affectation of deep thought and of sententious remark, seem to have fascinated the popular mind; and to have withdrawn from the common observation its occasional poverty of meaning; the inconsistency of its praise and censure; the falsity in some instances of its critical remarks; and its defects now and then even with respect to composition. It has, however, its merits, and Heaven forbid that I should not be just to them. It gives a right view of the difficulties to be encountered by the editor of Sbakspeare: it speaks modestly of himself, and candidly of those who had preceded bim in the path which he was treading: it assigns to Pope, Hanmer, and Warburton, those victims to the rage of the minute critics, their due proportion of praise: it is honorably just, in short, to all, who come within the scope of its observations, with the exception of the editor's great author alone. To bim also the editor gives abundant praise ; but against it he arrays such a frightful host of censure as to command the field; and to leave us to wonder at dur admiration of an object so little worthy of it, though he has been followed by the admiration of more than two entire centuries. But Johnson was of a detracting and derogating spirit. He looked at mediocrity with kindness: but of proud superiority he was impatient; and he always seemed pleased to bring down the man of the etherial soul to the mortal of mere clay. His maxim seems evidently to have been that, which was recommended by the Roman poet to his countrymen,
“ Parcere subjectis et debellare saperbos.” In the preeminence of intellect, when it was immediately in his view, there was something which excited his spleen; and he exulted in its abasement. In his page, “ Shakspeare, in his comic scenes, is seldom successful when he engages his characters in reciprocations
of smartness and contests of sarcasm : their jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious. In tragedy, his performance seems to be constantly worse as his labour is more. The effusions of passion, which exigence forces out, are, for the most part, striking and energetic: but whenever he solicits his invention or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity! In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction, and a wearisome train of circumlocution, &c. &c. His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for his power was the power of Nature! when he endeavoured, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities of amplification; and, instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader?” “ But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender, emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetic without some idle, conceit or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner moves than he counteracts himself; and terror and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted with sudden frigidity !". The egregious editor and critic then proceeds to confound his author with his last and most serious charge, that of an irreclaimable attachment to the offense of verbal conceit. This charge the editor illustrates and enforces, to excite our attention and to make an irresistible assault on our assent, with a variety of figurative and magnificent allusion. First,“ a quibble is to Shakspeare, what luminous vapours (a Will o' the wisp) are to travellers: he follows it at all adventures: it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to ingulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible,” &c. It then becomes a partridge or a phea sant; for “ whatever be the dignity or the profundit
of his disquisition, &c. &c. let but a quibble spring up before him and he leaves his work unfinished.” It next is the golden apple of Atalanta :-“ A quibble is to Shakspeare the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight that he was content to purchase it by the sacrifice of reason, propriety, and truth;" and, lastly, the meteor, the bird of game, and the golden apple are converted into the renowned queen of Egypt: for “ a quibble is to him (Shakspeare) the fatal Cleopatra, for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it!” Shakspeare lost the world! He won it in an age of intellectual giantsthe Anakims of mind were then in the land ; and in what succeeding period has he lost it? But, not to take advantage of an idle frolic of the editor's imagination, can the things be which he asserts ? Can the author, whom he thus degrades, be the man, whom the greater Jonson, of James's reign, hails as, “ The pride, the joy, the wonder of the age!” No! it is impossible! and if we come to a close examination of what our prefacewriter has here alleged against his author, of which I have transcribed only a part, we shall find that one half of it is false, and one, something very like nonsense, disguised in a garb of tinsel embroidery, and covered, as it moves statelily along, with a cloud of words :
Infert se septus nebulà, mirabile dicta,
Per medios, miscetque viris neque cernitur ulli. To discover the falsity or the inanity of the ideas, which strut in our editor's sentences against the fame of his anthor, we have only to strip them of the diction which envelopes them; and then, with a Shakspeare in our hands, to confront them, in their nakedness, with the truth as it is manifested in his page. But we have deviated from our straight path to regard our editor as a critic in his preface, when we ought, perhaps, to consider him only in his notes, as a commentator to explain the obscurities; or, as an experimentalist to assay the errors of his author's text. As an unfolder of intricate and perplexed passages, Johnson must be allowed to excel. His explanations are always perspicuous; and his proffered amendments of a corrupt text are sometimes successful. But the expectations of the world had been too highly raised to be satisfied with his performance; and it was only to the most exceptionable part of it, the mighty preface, that they gave their unmingled applause. In the year following the publication of Johnson's edition, in 1766, George Steevens made his first appearance as a commentator on Shakspeare; and he showed himself to be deeply conversant with that antiquarian reading, of which bis predecessor had been too ignorant. In 1768, an edition of Shakspeare was given to the public by Capell; a man fondly attached to his author, but much too weak for the weighty task which be undertook. He had devoted a large portion of his life to the collection of his materials: he was an industrious collator, and all the merit, which he possesses, must be derived from the extent and the fidelity of his collations. In 1773 was published an edition of our dramatist by the associated labours of Johnson and Steevens; and this edition, in which were united the native powers of the former, with the activity, the sagacity, and the antiquarian learning of the latter, still forms the standard edition for the publishers of our Poet. In 1790 Malone entered the lists against them as a competitor for the editorial palm. After this publication, Malone seems to have devoted the remaining years of his life to the studies requisite for the illustration of his author; and at his death he bequeathed the voluminous papers, which he had prepared, to his and my friend, James Boswell, the younger son of the biographer of Johnson; and by him these papers were published in twenty octavo volumes, just before the close of his own valuable life. That the fund of Shakspearian information has been enlarged by this publication, cannot reasonably be doubted: that the text of Shakspeare has been injured by it, may confidently be asserted. As my opinion of Malone, as an annotator on Shakspeare, has been already expressed, it would be superfluous to