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His own complete edition of the “ Plays and Poems," / in ten volumes, appeared in 1790, and gave evidence of a patient and plodding industry, accompanied by critical powers of great ability. This was the most monumental of all editions up to that date; containing not only " the corrections and illustrations of various commentators,” but to which were added, “ an essay on the chronological order of his plays (previously published); an essay relating to Shakespeare and Johnson ; a dissertation on the three parts of 'King Henry VI.' and an historical account of the 'English Stage.'”
In 1796 Malone published “ An Inquiry Into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments," etc., known as the “ Ireland Forgeries,” which sufficiently exposed the duplicity of young William Henry Ireland, who claimed to have discovered a number of autographs of Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, and of the Earl of Southampton, with one whole play of the former's and fragments of others.
Malone edited the works of Dryden, William Gerard Hamilton and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Visiting Stratford and the tomb of the poet, he convinced the vicar that the monument of Shakespeare should not be in colors as originally designed, and was allowed to cover it with white paint. It was restored as nearly as possible to its former state more than half a century later; but gave rise to the following bitter screed published in the “Gentleman's Magazine," 1815:
“Stranger, to whom this monument is shown,
MALONE'S PREFACE (Prefixed to octavo edition in 10 volumes, 1790.) In the following work, the labour of eight years, I have endeavoured, with unceasing solicitude, to give a faithful and correct edition of the plays and poems of Shakespeare. Whatever imperfection or errors therefore, may be found in it, (and what work of so great a length and difficulty was ever free from error or imperfection?) will, I trust, be imputed to any other cause than want of zeal for the due execution of the task which I venture to undertake.
The difficulties to be encountered by an editor of the works of Shakespeare, have been so frequently stated, and are so generally acknowledged, that it may seem unnecessary to conciliate the publick favour by this plea: but as these in my opinion have in some particulars, been over-rated, and in others, not sufficiently insisted on, and as the true state of the ancient copies of this poet's writings has never been laid before the publick, I shall consider the subject as if it had not been already discussed by preceding editors.
In the year 1756 Dr. Johnson published the following excellent scheme of a new edition of Shakespeare's dramatick pieces, which he completed in 1765:
“When the works of Shakespeare are, after so many editions, again offered to the publick, it will doubtless be enquired, why Shakespeare stands in more need of critical assistance than any other of the English writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which another editor may hope to supply.
“ The business of him that republishes an ancient book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare. Most writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are sometimes published after the death of him who produced them, but they are better secured from corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the author; and the faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one descent.
“But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has been far different: he sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the theatre: and thus thrust into the world surreptitiously and hastily, they suffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, as every man who knows the state of the press in that age will readily conceive.
“ It is not easy for invention to bring together so many causes concurring to vitiate a text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with so little care; no books could be left in hands so likely to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manuscript: no other transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their task, as those who copied for the stage,