« FöregåendeFortsätt »
them for a particular theatre, sold them to the managers when only an actor, reserved them in manuscript when himself a manager, and when he disposed of his property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript to prevent their being acted by the rival houses. Copies of some of them appear to have been surreptitiously obtained, and published in a very incorrect state; but we may suppose that it was wiser in the author or managers to overlook this fraud, than to publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear therefore that any publication of his plays by himself would have interfered, at first with his own interest, and afterwards with the interest of those to whom be made over his share in them. But even had this obstacle been removed, we are not sure that he would have gained much by publication. If he had no other copies but those belonging to the theatre, the business of correction for the press must have been a toil which we are afraid the taste of the public at that time would have very poorly rewarded. We know not the exact portion of fame he enjoyed; it might be the highest which dramatic genius could confer, but dramatic genius was a new excellence, and not well understood. His claims were, probably, not heard beyond the jurisdiction of the master of the revels, certainly not much beyond the metropolis. When he died, the English public was approaching to a period in which matters of higher moment were to engage attention, and in which his works were nearly buried in oblivion, and not for more than a century afterwards, ranked among the productions of which the nation had reason to be proud.
Such, however, was Shakspeare's reputation, that we are told his name was put to pieces which he never wrote, and that he felt himself too confident of popular favour to undeceive the public. This was a singular resolution in a man who wrote so unequally, that even at this day, the test of internal evidence must be applied to his doubtful productions with the greatest caution. But still how far his character would have been elevated by an examination of his plays in the closet, in an age when the refinements of criticism were not understood, and the sympathies of taste were seldom felt, may admit of a question. "His language," says Dr. Johnson, “not being designed "for the reader's desk, was all that he desired "it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the audience."
Shakspeare died in 1616, and seven years afterwards appeared the first edition of his plays, published at the charge of four booksellers; a circumstance from which Mr. Malone infers, "that no single publisher was "at that time willing to risk his money on a
complete collection of our author's plays." This edition was printed from the copies in the hands of his fellow-managers Heminge and Condell, which had been in a series of years frequently altered through convenience, caprice, or ignorance. Heminge and Condell had now retired from the stage, and, we may suppose, thought they were guilty of no injury to their successors, in printing what their own interest only had formerly withheld. Of this, although we have no documents amounting to demonstration, we may be convinced, by adverting to a circumstance, which will, in our days, appear very extraordinary, namely, the declension of Shakspeare's popularity. We have seen that the publication of his works was accounted a doubtful speculation; and it is yet more certain, so much had the public taste turned from him in quest of variety, that for several years after his death the plays of Fletcher were more frequently acted than his, and during the whole of the seventeenth century they were made to give place to performances, the greater part of which cannot now be endured. During the same period only four editions of his works were published, all in folio; and perhaps this unwieldy size of volume may be an additional proof that they were not popular; nor is it thought that the impressions were numerous.
These circumstances, which attach to our author and to his works, must be allowed a plausible weight in accounting for our deficiencies in his biography and literary career, but there were circumstances enough in the history of the times to suspend the progress of that more regular drama of which he had set the example, and may be considered as the founder. If we wonder why we know so much less of Shakspeare than of his contemporaries, let us recollect that his genius, however highly and justly we now rate it, took a direction which was not calculated for permanent admiration either in the age in which he lived, or in that which followed. Shakspeare was a writer of plays, a promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism; and an amusement which, although it has been classed among the schools of morality, has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral
purposes, that the force of law has in all ages
From this time no inquiry was made, until it was too late to obtain any information more satisfactory than the few hearsay scraps and contested traditions above detailed. "How little," says Mr. Steevens, "Shakspeare was "once read, may be understood from Tate, "who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as an "obscure piece, recommended to his notice "by a friend and the author of the Tatler having occasion to quote a few lines out of "Macbeth, was content to receive them from "D'Avenant's alteration of that celebrated "drama, in which almost every original beauty "is either awkwardly disguised, or arbitrarily "' omitted."
* Mr. Steevens's Advertisement to the Reader, first printed in 1773.
In fifty years after his death, Dryden mentions, that he was then become "a little ob"solete." In the beginning of the last century, Lord Shaftesbury complains of his "rude unpolished style, and his antiquated phrase "and wit." It is certain that, for nearly a hundred years after his death, partly owing to the immediate revolution and rebellion, and partly to the licentious taste encouraged in Charles the Second's time, and perhaps partly to the incorrect state of his works, he was almost entirely neglected. Mr. Malone has justly remarked, "that if he had been read, admired, studied, and imitated, in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some "one or other of his admirers, in the last age, "would have induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life."* His admirers, however, if he had admirers in that age, possessed no portion of such enthusiasm. That curiosity, which in our days has raised biography to the rank of an independent study, was scarcely known, and where known, was confined principally to the public transactions of eminent characters, principally divines, of whom a few brief notices were prefixed to their works; but we are not sure that any of these are of an older date than 1616. And if, in addition to the circumstances already stated, we consider how little is known of the personal history of Shakspeare's contemporaries, we may easily resolve the question, why, of all men who have ever claimed admiration by genius, wisdom, or valour, who have eminently contributed to enlarge the taste, promote the happiness, or increase the reputation of their country, we know the least of Shakspeare; and why, of the few particulars which seem entitled to credit, when simply related, and in which there is no manifest violation of probability or promise of importance, there is scarcely one which has not swelled into a controversy. After a careful examination of all that modern research has discovered, we know not how to trust our curiosity beyond the limits of those barren dates which afford no personal history. The nature of Shakspeare's writings prevents that appeal to internal evidence, which in other cases has been found to throw light on character. The purity of his morals, for example, if sought in his plays, must be measured against the licentiousness of his language, and the question
* Mr. Malone's Preface to his edition, 1790.
will then be, how much did he write from inclination, and how much to gratify the taste of his hearers? How much did he add to the age, and how much did he borrow from it? Pope says," he was obliged to please the lowest of "the people, and to keep the worst of com"pany:" this must have been Pope's conjecture. Managers are sometimes obliged to please the lowest of the people: and, in our days, they have not unfrequently yielded to or created a corrupt taste; but we know not that writers are under a similar obligation; and of Shakspeare's keeping the worst of company, we have no existing proof. With regard to the amusements of his leisure hours, we have many allusions in his works to the sports of the field, and falconry appears to have been a particular favourite. Generally speaking, there is every reason to think, that he soon acquired and maintained a respectable character. He came to London poor and unknown, and he left it with a high reputation, and took his seat with the men of rank and opulence in his native county.
The only life which has been prefixed to all the editions of Shakspeare of the eighteenth century, is that drawn up by Mr. Rowe, and which he modestly calls, "Some Account, &c." In this we have, what Rowe could collect when every legitimate source of information was closed, a few traditions that were floating nearly a century after the author's death. Some inaccuracies in his account have been detected in | the valuable notes of Mr. Steevens, and in that part of a new but imperfect life of Shakspeare, published in Mr. Malone's last edition. other parts also of their respective editions, they have scattered a few brief notices which we have incorporated in the present sketch. The whole, however, is unsatisfactory. Shakspeare, in his private character, in his friendships, in his amusements, in his closet, in his family, is no where before us and such was the nature of the writings on which his fame depends, and of that employment in which he was engaged, that being in no important respect connected with the history of his age, it is in vain to look into the latter for any information concerning him. M. Capell is of opinion that he wrote some prose works, because" it can hardly be sup"posed that he, who had so considerable a share "in the confidence of the Earls of Essex and
with these two statesmen which he ought first to have proved. Shakspeare might have enjoyed the confidence of their social hour, but it is mere conjecture that they admitted him into the confidence of their state affairs. Mr. Malone, the most frequent conjecturer of all Shakspeare's admirers, but whose opinions are entitled to a higher degree of credit than those of Mr. Capell, thinks that our author's prose compositions, if they should be discovered, would exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays.
It is unfortunate, however, for all wishes and all conjectures, that not a line of Shakspeare's manuscripts is known to exist, and his prose writings are no where hinted at. We are in possession of printed copies only of his plays and poems, and those so depraved by carelessness or ignorance, that all the labour of all his commentators has not yet been able to restore them to more than a probable purity. Many of the difficulties which originally attended the perusal of them yet remain, and will require, what it is now scarcely possible to expect, greater sagacity and more happy conjecture than have hitherto been employed.
Of Shakspeare's POEMS, it is perhaps necessary that some notice should be taken in an account of his life, although they have never been favourites with the public, and have seldom been reprinted with his plays. Shortly after his death, Mr. Malone informs us, a very incorrect impression of them was issued out, which in every subsequent reprint was implicitly followed, until he published a correct edition, or what he supposed to be such, in 1780, with illustrations. decision of his compeer, Mr. Steevens, on the merits of these poems, must be our apology for omitting them in the present abridgment of the labours of these critics. "We have not re"printed the Sonnets, &c. of Shakspeare, be
But the peremptory
cause the strongest act of parliament that "could be framed would fail to compel readers "into their service. Had Shakspeare pro"duced no other works than these, his name "would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred on that of Thomas "Watson, an older and much more elegant "sonnetteer."
The elegant preface of Dr. Johnson gives an account of the attempts made in the early part of the last century to revive the memory and reputation of our poet, by Rowe, Pope,
Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, whose | to hold, he became the promising object of
respective merits he has characterised with fraud and imposture. This, we have already candour, and with singular felicity of expression. observed, he did not wholly escape in his own Shakspeare's works may be overloaded with time, and he had the spirit or policy to despise criticism, for what writer has excited so much it. It was reserved for modern impostors, curiosity, and so many opinions? but Johnson's however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in preface is an accompaniment worthy of the which his history is involved. In 1751 a book genius it celebrates.-His own edition followed was published, entitled, "A Compendious or in 1765, and a second, in conjunction with "briefe examination of certayne ordinary Mr. Steevens, 1773. The third edition of the "Complaints of diuers of our Countrymen in joint editors appeared in 1785, the fourth in "those our days: which although they are in 1793, in 15 vols., and the last and most com- some Part unjust and frivolous, yet are they plete, in 1803, in 21 volumes octavo. Mr." all by way of dialogue throughly debated and Malone's edition was published in 1790, in" discussed by William Shakspeare, Gentle10 vols. crown octavo, and soon became scarce. "man." This had been originally published His original notes and improvements were, however, incorporated in the editions of 1793 and 1803, by Mr. Steevens. Mr. Malone's last edition, a posthumous work, which appeared in 1821, was edited by Mr. James Boswell, the second son of the biographer of Johnson, who appears to have been fully in the confidence of Mr. Malone. To this is prefixed a new life of Shakspeare, which, although extending to more than five hundred pages, conducts Shakspeare only to London, without giving us any more information of his subsequent progress than we bad before in the notes which Steevens and Malone had formerly contributed to Rowe's life. Mr. Malone, after more than twenty years' labour, had not advanced farther, nor did he leave any materials from which his editor could attempt a continuation.
To follow Mr. Malone in enumerating the copies of Shakspeare dispersed through England would now be impossible. In one form or other his plays have been, for the last twenty years, almost continually in the press. Nor among the honours paid to his genius, ought we to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydell and Nicol. Still less ought it to be forgotten how much the reputation of Shakspeare was revived by the unrivalled excellence of Garrick's performance. His share in directing the public taste towards the study of Shakspeare, was perhaps greater than that of any individual in his time, and such was his zeal, and such his success in this laudable attempt, that he may be forgiven for his injudicious alterations of some of the plays, as well as for the foolish mummery of the Stratford jubilee.
When public opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined
in 1581, but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved that W. S. gent. the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare in the reprinted edition, meant William Stafford, gent.—Theobald, the same accurate critic, informs us, was desirous of palming upon the world a play called “ Double Falsehood," for a posthumous one of Shakspeare. In 1770 was reprinted at Feversham, an old play called "The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham, and Black Will," with a preface attributing it to Shakspeare, without the smallest foundation. But these were trifles compared to the atrocious attempt made in 1795-6, when, besides a vast mass of prose and verse, letters, &c., pretendedly in the handwriting of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled Vortigern, was not only brought forward to the astonishment of the public, but actually performed on Drurylane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Steevens has very happily characterized as
the performance of a madman, without a lucid interval," or to enter more at large into the history of a fraud so recent, and so soon acknowledged by the authors of it. It produced, however, an interesting controversy between Mr. Malone and Mr. George Chalmers, which, although mixed with some unpleasant asperities, was extended to inquiries into the history and antiquities of the stage, from which future historians and critics may derive considerable information.
* Mr. Malone has given a list of 14 plays ascribed to Shakspeare, either by the editors of the two later folios, or by the compilers of ancient catalogues. Of these Pericles has found advocates for its admission into his works.
Vicesimo quinto die Martii,* Anno Regni Do- | said county of Warwick, being parcel or holden mini Jacobi nunc Regis Angliæ, etc, decimo of the manor of Rowington, unto my daughter quarto, et Scotia quadragesimo nono. Anno Susanna Hall, and her heirs for ever." Domini 1616.
In the name of God, Amen. I William Shakspeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gent., in perfect health and memory (God be praised!) do make and erdain this my last will and testament in manner and form following; that is to say:
First, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping, and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting; and my body to the earth whereof it is made.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my daughter Judith, one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful English money, to be paid unto her in manner and form following; that is to say, one hundred pounds in discharge of her marriage portion, within one year after my decease, with consideration after the rate of two shillings in the pound for so long time as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease; and the fifty pounds residue thereof, upon her surrendering of, or giving of such sufficient security as the overseers of this my will shall like of, to surrender or grant, all her estates and right that shall descend or come unto her after my decease, or that she now hath, of, in, or to, one copyhold tenement, with the appurtenances, lying and being in Stratford-upon-Avon aforesaid, in the
Our poet's will appears to have been drawn up in February, though not executed till the following month; for. February was first written, and afterwards struck out, and Marchwritten over it. MALONE.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my said daughter Judith one hundred and fifty pounds more, if she, or any issue of her body, be living at the end of three years next ensuing the day of the date of this my will, during which time my executors to pay her consideration from my decease according to the rate aforesaid: and it she die within the said term without issue of
her body, then my will is, and I do give and bequeath one hundred pounds thereof to my niece + Elizabeth Hall, and the fifty pounds to be set forth by my executors during the life of my sister Joan Hart, and the use and profit thereof coming, shall be paid to my said sister Joan, and after her decease the said fifty pounds shall remain amongst the children of my said sister, equally to be divided amongst them; but if my said daughter Judith be living at the end of the said three years, or any issue of her body, then my will is, and so I devise and bequeath the said hundred and fifty pounds to be set out by my executors and overseers for the best benefit of her and her issue, and the stock not to be paid unto her so long as she shall be married and covert baron; but my will is, that she shall have the consideration yearly paid unto her during her life, and after her
This was found to be unnecessary, as it was ascertained that the copyhold descended to the eldest daughter by the custom of the manor. MALONE, edit. 1821.
t -to my niece-] Elizabeth Hall was our poet's granddaughter. So, in Othello, Act I. sc. i. Iago says to Brabantio: "You'll have your nephews neigh to you;" meaning his grandchildren. MALONE.