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decision of Mr. Steevens on the merits of these poems must be our apology for omitting them in the present abridgement of that critic's labours. “We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c. of “Shakspeare, because the strongest act of par“liament that could be framed would fail to “ compel readers into their service. Had Shak“ speare produced no other works than these, his “ name would have reached us with as little cele“brity as time has conferred on that of Thomas “Watson, an older and much more elegant son“ netteer.” 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 respective merits he has characterised with candour, and with singular felicity of expression. Shakspeare's works may be overloaded with criticism, for what writer has excited so much curiosity, and so many opinions 2 but Johnson's preface is an accompaniment worthy of the genius it celebrates.—His own edition followed in 1765, and a second, in conjunction with Mr. Steevens, 1773. The third edition of the joint editors appeared in 1785, the fourth in 1793, and the last and most complete, in 1803, in 21 volumes octavo. Mr. C 2.
Malone's edition was published in 1790 in 10 volumes crown octavo, and is now become exceedingly scarce. IIis original notes and improvements, however, are incorporated in the editions of 1793 and 1803 by Mr. Steevens. Mr. Malone says, that from the year 1716 to the date of his edition in 1790, that is, in seventy-four years, “ above 30,000 copics of Shakspeare have been “ dispersed through England.” To this we may add with confidence, that since 1790 that number has been doubled. During last year no fewer than nine editions were in the press, belonging to the proprietors of this work; and if we add the editions printed by others, and those published in Scotland, Ireland, and America, we may surely fix the present as the highest aera of Shakspeare's popularity. Nor among the honours paid to his genius, ought we to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydell. 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 publick 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 readily be forgiven the foolish mummery of the Stratford Jubilee.
When publick opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined to hold, he became the promising object of fraud and imposture. This we have already observed, he did not wholly escape in his own time, and he had the spirit or policy to despise it.* It was reserved for modern impostors, however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in which his history is involved. In 1751 a book was published, entitled “A Compendious or briefe examina“tion of certayne ordinary Complaints of diuers
“ of our Countrymen in those our days: which “although they are in some Parte unjust and “frivolous, yet are they all by way of dialogue “ throughly debated and discussed by William “Shakspeare, Gentleman.” This had been originally published in 1581, but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved that JP. S. gent. the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare in the reprinted edition, meant // illiam 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
* 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.
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 hand-writing of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled Vortigern, was not only brought forward for the astonishment of the admirers of Shakspeare, but actually performed on Drurylane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Steevens has very happily characterised as “the perform“ ance of a madman without a lucid interval,” or to enter more at large into the nature 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 critics and historians may derive considerable information.
FROM THE ORIGINAL
In the Office of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.
Vicesimo quinto die Martii," Anno Regni Domini mostri Jacobi nunc Regis Anglia, &c. decimo
quarto, et Scotia quadragesimo nono. Anno Domini 1616.
N 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 ordain 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
'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 March written over it, Malos E.