Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

critic to ascertain his ignorance of Shakspeare's metre and rhythm. In'“ The Winter's Tale *,” says Malone, we find,

“ What wheels, racks, fires; what flaying, boiling
In leads and oils !”

Not knowing that' fires' was used as a dissyllable, the editor added the word burning, at the end of the line (I wish that he had inserted it before ' boiling')—

“ What wheels, racks, fires; what flaying, boiling, burning.” It is possible that fires may be used by Shakspeare as a dissyllable, though I cannot easily persuade myself that, otherwise than as a monosyllable, it would satisfy an ear, attuned, as was his, to the finest harmonies of verse; yet it may be employed as a dissyllable by the rapid and careless bard; and I am ready to allow that the defective verse was not happily supplied, in that place at least, with the word, burning, yet I certainly believe that Shakspeare did not leave the line in question as Malone has adopted it, and that some word has been omitted by the carelessness of the first transcriber. In the next instance, from Julius Cæsar, I feel assured that the editor is right, as his supplement is as beneficial to the sense, as it is necessary to the rhythm. Malone's line is,

“ And with the brands fire the traitor's houses :" the editor's

" And with the brands fire all the traitors' houses."

The next charge, brought against the editor, may be still more easily repelled. In a noted passage of Macbetb

I would while it was smiling in my face
Have pluck'd my nipple from its boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn
As
you

have done to this.”

)

* Act iii. sc. 2.

“Not perceiving,” says Malone,“ that'sworn’ was used as a dissyllable,” (the devil it was!) “ He (the editor) reads · had I but so sworn,'”-much, as we think, to the advantage of the sense as well as of the metre; and supplying, as we conceive, the very word which Shakspeare had written, and the carelessness of the transcriber omitted. • Charms' our Poet sometimes uses, according to Malone, as a word of two syllables.”No! impossible! Our Poet might, occasionally, be guilty of an imperfect verse, or the omission of his transcriber might furnish him with one: but never could he use “ charms” as a word of two syllables. We feel, thercfore, obliged by the editor's supplying an imperfect line in “ The Tempest” with the very personal pronoun which, it is our persuasion, was at first inserted by Shakspeare. In the most modern editions, the line in question stands—“ Cursed be I that did so! all the charms,” &c. but the second folio reads with unquestionable propriety, “ Cursed be I that I did so! all the charms,” &c. Ashour' has the same prolonged sound with fire, sire, &c. and as it is possible, though, with reference to the fine ear of Shakspeare, I think most improbable, that it might sometimes be made to occupy the place of two syllables, I shall pass over the instance from “ Richard II.” in which Malone triumphs, though without cause, over bis adversary; as I shall also pass over that from “ All's Well that Ends Well,” in which a defective line has been happily supplied by our editor, in consequence of his not knowing that 'sire' was employed as a dissyllable. In the first part of

Henry VI.” “ Rescued is Orleans from the English,” is prolonged by the editor with a syllable which he deemed necessary because he was ignorant that the word, ' English,' was used as a trissyllable. According to him the line is—"Rescued is Orleans from the English wolves.We rejoice at this result of the editor's ignorance; and we wish to know who is there who can believe that ^ English' was pronounced, by Shakspeare or his contemporaries, as Engerlish, or even as Engleïsh, with three syllables ? Again, not knowing that * Charles' was used as a word of two syllables (and he was snfficiently near to the time of Shakspeare to know his pronunciation of such a common word: but the blockhead could not be taught the most common things), this provoking editor instead of

“ Orleans the bastard, Charles, Burgundy," has printed,

“ Orleans the bastard, Charles, and Burgundy.” In the next instance, I must confess myself to be ignorant of Malone's meaning. “ Astræa being used,” he says, as a word of three syllables” (I conclude that he intended to say, as a word of four syllables, the dipthong being dialytically separated into its component parts, and the word written and pronounced Astraëa), for “ Divinest creature, Astræa's daughter,” the editor has given, “ Divinest creature, bright Astræa's daughter.”—Shameless interpolation! Not aware that sure' is used as a dissyllable, this grand corrupter of Shakspeare's text has substituted, “ Gloster, we'll meet to thy dear cost, be sure,” for “ Gloster, we'll meet to thy cost, be sure."-Once more, and to conclude an examination which I could extend to a much greater length in favour of this much-injured editor, but which I feel to be now becoming tedious, for,

And so to arms, victorious father," as the line is sanctioned by Malone,' arms,' being used, as he asserts, for a dissyllable (arms a dissyllable !), the second folio presents us with

And so to arms, victorious, noble father." I have said enough to convince my readers of the falsity of the charges of stupidity and gross ignorance, brought by Malone against the editor of the second folio edition of our Poet's dramatic works. I am far from assuming to vindicate this editor from the commission of many flagrant errors: but he is frequently right, and was unquestionably conversant, let Malone assert what he

ous.

pleases, with bis author's language and metre. It was not, therefore, without cause that Steevens held his labours in much estimation. Malone was an invaluable collector of facts : bis industry was indefatigable: his researches were deep: his pursuit of truth was sincere and ardent: but he wanted the talents and the taste of a critic; and of all the editors, by whom Shakspeare has suffered, I must consider him as the most pernici

Neither the indulged fancy of Pope, nor the fondness for innovation in Hanmer, nor the arrogant and headlong self-confidence of Warburton has inflicted such cruel wounds on the text of Sbakspeare, as the assuming dulness of Malone. Barbarism and broken rhythm dog him at the heels wherever he treads.

In praise of the third and the fourth folio editions of our author's dramas, printed respectively in 1664 and 1685, nothing can be advanced. Each of these edi. tions implicitly followed its immediate predecessor, and, adopting all its errors, increased them to a frightful accumulation with its own. With the text of Shakspeare in this disorder, the public of Britain remained satisfied during many years. From the period of bis death, he . had not enforced that popularity to which bis title was undeniable. Great, though inferior, men, Jonson, Fletcher, Massinger, Shirley, Ford, &c. got possession of the stage, and retained it till it ceased to exist under the puritan doinination. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the theatre indeed was again opened ; but, under the influence of the vicious taste of the new monarch, it was surrendered to a new school (the French school) of the drama; and its mastery was held by Dryden, with many subordinates, during a long succession of years. Throughout this whole period, Shakspeare was nearly forgotten by his ungrateful or blinded country

His splendor, it is true, was gleaming above the horizon; and bis glory, resting in purple and gold upon the bill-summits, obtained the homage of a sclect band of his worshippers: but it was still bidden from the eyes of the multitude; and it was long before it gained its “ meridian tower,” whence it was to throw its “glitter

men.

ing shafts” over a large portion of the earth. At length, about the commencement of the last century, Britain began to open her eyes to the excellency of her illustrious son, The GREAT POLT of Nature, and to discover a solicitude for the integrity of his works.' A new and a more perfect edition of them became the demand of the public; and, to answer it, an edition, under the superintendence of Rowe, made its appearance in 1709. Rowe, however, either forgetting or shrinking from the high and laborious duties, which he had undertaken, selected, most unfortunately, for his model, the last and the worst of the folio editions; and, without collating either of the first two folios or any of the earlier quartos, he gave to the disappointed public a transcript much too exact of the impure'text which lay opened before him. Some of its grosser errors, however, he corrected; and he prefixed to bis edition a short memoir of the life of bis author; which, meagre and weakly written as it is, still constitutes the most authentic biography that we possess of our mighty bard.

On the failure of this edition, after the pause of a few years, another was projècted; and that it might be more adequate to the claims of Shakspeare and of Britain, the conduct of it was placed, in homage to his just celebrity, in the hands of Pope. Pope showed himself more conscious of the nature of his task, and more faithful in his execution of it than his predecessor. He disclosed to the public the very faulty state of bis' author's text, and suggested the proper means of restoring it: he collated many of the earlier editions, and he cleared the page of Shakspeare from many of its deformities: but his collations were not sufficiently extensive; and he indulged, perhaps, somewhat too much in conjectural emendation. This exposed him to the attacks of the petty and minute critics; and, the success of his work falling short of his expectations, he is said to bave contracted that enmity to verbal criticism, which actuated him during the remaining days of his life. His edition was published in the year 1725. Before this was undertaken, Theobald, a man of no great abilities and of little

g

VOL. 1.

« ZurückWeiter »