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years later put an end to the controversy. The edition of Shakespeare did not appear till October, 1765, and early in that year Johnson had spent his “joyous evening ” at Cambridge with Richard Farmer.
The Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare is not an independent treatise like Whalley's Enquiry, but rather a detailed reply to the arguments of Upton and his fellows. Farmer had once been idle enough, he tells us himself, to collect" parallel passages, but he had been saved by his remarkable bibliographical knowledge. He found out that the literature of the age of Elizabeth was a better hunting ground than the classics for Shakespearian commentators. Again and again he shows that passages which had been urged as convincing proof of knowledge of Latin or Greek are either borrowed from contemporary translations or illustrated by contemporary usage. Un so far as the Essay aims at showing the futility of the arguments advanced to prove Shakespeare's learning, it is convincing. The only criticism that can reasonably be passed on it is that Farmer is apt to think he has proved his own case when he has merely destroyed the evidence of his opponents. His conclusion regarding Shakespeare's knowledge of French and Italian may be too extreme to be generally accepted now, and indeed it may not be logically deducible from his examination of the arguments of other critics; but on the whole the book is a remarkably able study. Though Farmer speaks expressly of acquitting “our great poet of all piratical depredations on the Ancients,” his purpose has often been misunderstood, or at least misrepresented. He aimed at giving Shakespeare the greater commendation, but certain critics of the earlier half of the nineteenth century would have it that he had tried to prove, for his own glory, that Shakespeare was a very ignorant fellow. William Maginn in particular proclaimed the Essay a “piece of pedantic impertinence not paralleled in literature.” The early
1 It is to be noted that the three points above mentioned are dealt with at considerable length in Farmer's Essay.
Variorum editions had acknowledged its value by reprinting it in its entirety, besides quoting from it liberally in the notes to the separate plays, and Maginn determined to do his best to rid them in future of this “superfluous swelling.” So he indulged in a critical Donnybrook ; but after hitting out and about at the Essay for three months he left it much as he found it. He could not get to close quarters with Farmer's scholarship. His bluster compares ill with Farmer's gentler manner, and in some passages the quiet humour has proved too subtle for his animosity. There was more impartiality in the judgment of Johnson : “Dr. Farmer, you have done that which was never done before ; that is, you have completely finished a controversy beyond all further doubt.” 2
III After the publication of Farmer's Essay there was a change in the character of the editions of Shakespeare. Farmer is the forerunner of Steevens and Malone. He had a just idea of the importance of his work when he spoke of himself as the pioneer of the commentators. It did not matter whether his main contention were accepted ; he had at least shown the wealth of illustration which was awaiting the scholar who cared to search in the literature of Shakespeare's age, and Steevens and Malone were not slow to follow. They had the advantage of being early in the field ; but it is doubtful if any later editor has contributed as much as either of them did to the elucida
1 Fraser's Magazine, Sept., Oct., and Dec., 1837; reprinted in Miscellanies, Prose and Verse, by William Maginn, 1885, vol. ii.
? Recorded in Northcote's Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1813, p. 90. An attempt to reopen the question has recently been made by Mr. Churton Collins in three articles in the Fortnightly Review (April, May, and July, 1903). Mr. Churton Collins believes that Shakespeare had a first-hand knowledge of Ovid, Plautus, Seneca, Horace, Lucretius, Cicero, Terence, and Virgil, and that he was more or less familiar with the Greek dramatists through the medium of the Latin language.
tion of Shakespeare's text. They have been oftener borrowed from than has been admitted, and many a learned note of later date may be found in germ in their editions. But with the advance of detailed scholarship the Prefaces deteriorate in literary merit. They concern themselves more and more with textual and bibliographical points, and hence, if they are of greater interest to the student, they are of less value as indications of the century's regard for Shakespeare. The change is already noticeable in Capell's Preface, on the literary shortcomings of which Johnson expressed himself so forcibly. Nohnson is the last editor whose Preface is a piece of general criticism It is an essay which can stand by itself.
By the time of Johnson and Capell the editor of Shakespeare has come to a clear idea of his “true duty.” Rowe had no suspicion of the textual problems awaiting his successors. A dramatist himself, he wished merely to publish Shakespeare's plays as he would publish his own. Accordingly he modernised the spelling, divided the scenes, and added lists of dramatis personae ; and the folio gave place to six octavo volumes. He was content to found his text on the fourth Folio, the last and worst; he had no idea of the superior claims of the first, though he professed to have compared the several editions. He corrected many errors and occasionally hit upon a happy emendation ; but on the whole his interest in Shakespeare was that of the dramatist. Pope's interest was that of the poet.) There is some truth in the criticism that he gave Shakespeare not as he was, but as he ought to be, though Pope might well have retorted that in his opinion the two conditions were identical. Whatever did not conform to his opinion of Shakespeare's style he treated as an interpolation. His collation of the texts, by convincing him of their corruption, only prompted him to a more liberal exercise of his own judgment. In the supplementary volume of Pope's edition, it had been suggested by Sewell that our great writers should be treated in the same way as the classics were, and the idea was put into practice by Theobald, who could say that his method of editing was “the first assay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever.” By his careful collation of the Quartos and Folios, he pointed the way to the modern editor. But he was followed by Hanmer, who, as his chief interest was to rival Pope, was content with Pope's methods. It is easy to underestimate the value of Hanmer's edition ; his happy conjectures have been prejudiced by his neglect of the older copies and his unfortunate attempt to regularise the metre; but what alone concerns us here is that he reverts to the methods which Theobald had discarded. Warburton, confident in his intellectual gifts, was satisfied with Theobald's examination of the early copies, and trusted to his own insight “ to settle the genuine text.” The critical ingenuity of editors and commentators, before the authority of the Folios was established, betrayed them into inevitable error. The amusing variety of conjectural readings was met by the exquisite satire of Fielding, as well as by the heavy censure of Grub Street. “ It is to be wished,” says a catchpenny publication, “ that the original text of Shakespeare were left unaltered for every English reader to understand. The numerous fry, of commentators will at last explain his original meaning away.”? This criticism was out of date by the time of Johnson and Capell. As it has long been the fashion to decry Johnson's edition, it is well to recall two statements in his Preface, which show that he had already discovered what later editors have found out for themselves :
“I collated all the folios at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first.”3
“ It has been my settled principle that the reading of the ancient books is probably true. ... As I
practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less.” 1 Journey from this world to the Next, ch. viii.
2 The Life of Alexander Pope, Esq., by W. H. Dilworth, 1759, pp. 83-4. Cf. William Ayre's Memoirs of Pope, 1745 (on which Dilworth's Life is founded), vol. i., p. 273.
3 It should be noted that Theobald had said that the second Folio “in
The third quarter of the eighteenth century, and not | the first quarter of the nineteenth is the true period of transition in Shakespearian criticism) The dramatic rules had been finally deposed. The corrected plays were falling into disfavour, and though Shakespeare's dramas were not yet acted as they were written, more respect was being paid to the originals. The sixty years' controversy on the extent of his learning had ended by proving that the best commentary on him is the literature of his own age. At the same time there is a far-reaching change in the literary appreciations of Shakespeare, which announces the school of Coleridge and Hazlitt : his characters now become the main topics of criticism.
Lor the five essays on the Tempest and King Lear contributed by Joseph Warton to the Adventurer in 1753-54, we can recognise the coming change in critical methods. He began them by giving in a sentence a summary of the common verdicts : As Shakespeare is sometimes blamable for the conduct of his fables, which have no unity; and sometimes for his diction, which is obscure and turgid ; so his characteristical excellences may possibly be reduced to these three general heads—his lively creative imagination, his strokes of nature and passion, and his preservation of the consistency of his characters." Warton himself believed in the dramatic conventions. He objected to the Edmund story in King Lear on the ground that it destroyed the unity of the fable. But he had the wisdom to recognise that irregularities in structure may be excused by the representation of the persons of the drama. Accordingly, in his examination of the Tempest and King Lear, he pays most attention to the characters, and relegates to a short closing paragraph his criticism of the development of the action. Though his method has nominally much in
1 This had been recognised also by Whalley (Enquiry, 1748, p. 17).