« PreviousContinue »
mick writer, would not have induced Petrarch, were he living, to fubfcribe to the meaning which certain commentators after his death had by their gloffes extorted from his works. It is a curious fpeculation to confider how many thousand would have been requifite for this editor to have inflicted on our great dramatick poet for the same purpose. The defence which has been made for Dr. Warburton on this fubject, by fome of his friends, is fingular. "He well knew," it has been faid, "that much the greater part of his notes do not throw any light on the poet of whose works he undertook the revision, and that he frequently imputed to Shakspeare a meaning of which he never thought; but the editor's great object was to dif play his own learning, not to illuftrate his author, and this end he obtained; for in fpite of all the clamour against him, his work added to his reputation as a scholar."-Be it fo then; but let none of his admirers ever dare to unite his name with that of Shakspeare; and let us at least be allowed to wonder, that the learned editor should have had fo little refpect for the greatest poet that has appeared fince the days of Homer, as to use a commentary on his works merely as "a ftalking-horse, under the prefentation of which he might fhoot his wit."
At length the task of revifing these plays was undertaken by one, whose extraordinary powers of mind, as they rendered him the admiration of his contemporaries, will tranfmit his name to pofterity as the brightest ornament of the eighteenth century; and will tranfmit it without competition, if we except a great orator, philofopher, and ftatefman, now living, whofe talents and virtues are
• The Right Honourable Edmund Burke.
an honour to human nature. In 1765, Dr. Johnson's edition, which had long been impatiently expected, was given to the publick. His admirable preface, (perhaps the fineft compofition in our language,) his happy, and in general juft, characters of thefe plays, his refutation of the falfe gloffes of Theobald and Warburton, and his numerous explications of involved and difficult paffages, are too well known, to be here enlarged upon; and therefore I fhall only add, that his vigorous and comprehenfive understanding threw more light on his author than all his predeceffors had done.
In one obfervation, however, concerning our poet, I do not entirely concur with him. It is not (he remarks) very grateful to confider how little the fucceffion of editors has added to this author's power of pleafing. of pleafing. He was read, admired, studied and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him.
He certainly was read, admired, ftudied, and imitated, at the period mentioned; but furely not in the fame degree as at present. The fucceffion of editors has effected this; it has made him underftood; it has made him popular; it has fhown every one who is capable of reading, how much fuperior he is not only to Jonfon and Fletcher, whom the bad taste of the last age from the time of the Restoration to the end of the century set above him, but to all the dramatick poets of antiquity :
Jam monte potitus,
"Ridet anhelantem dura ad veftigia turbam."
Every author who pleases must surely please
more as he is more understood, and there can be no doubt that Shakspeare is now infinitely better understood than he was in the laft century. To fay nothing of the people at large, it is clear that Dryden himself, though a great admirer of our poet, and D'Avenant, though he wrote for the ftage in the year 1627, did not always understand him.' The very books which are neceffary to our
"The tongue in general is fo much refined fince Shakspeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrafes, are Scarce intelligible." Preface to Dryden's Troilus and Creffida. The various changes made by Dryden in particular paffages in that play, and by him and D'Avenant in The Tempest, prove decifively that they frequently did not understand our poet's language.
In his defence of the Epilogue to The Conqueft of Granada, Dryden arraigns Ben Jonfon for ufing the perfonal, inftead of the neutral, pronoun, and unfeard for unafraid:
Though heaven should speak with all his wrath at once, "We should stand upright, and unfear'd."
"His (fays he) is ill fyntax with heaven, and by unfear'd he means unafraid; words of a quite contrary fignification.-He perpetually uses ports for gates, which is an affected error in him, to introduce Latin by the lofs of the English idiom."
Now his for its, however ill the fyntax may be, was the common language of the time; and to fear, in the fenfe of to terrify, is found not only in all the poets, but in every dictionary of that age. With respect to ports, Shakspeare, who will not be fufpected of affecting Latinifms, frequently employs that word in the fame sense as Jonfon has done, and as probably the whole kingdom did; for the word is ftill fo ufed in Scotland.
D'Avenant's alteration of Macbeth, and Meafure for Measure, furnish many proofs of the fame kind. In The Law againft Lovers, which he formed on Much Ado about Nothing, and Meafure for Measure, are these lines :
nor do I think,
"The prince has true difcretion who affects it." The paffage imitated is in Measure for Measure:
"Nor do I think the man of fafe difcretion,
If our poet's language had been well understood, the epithet
fafe would not have been rejected. See Othello :
author's illuftration, were of fo little account in their time, that what now we can fcarce procure at any price, was then the furniture of the nursery or ftall.2 In fifty years after our poet's death, Dryden mentions that he was then become "
"My blood begins my fafer guides to rule ; "And paffion, having my beft judgment collied," &c. So alfo, Edgar, in King Lear:
"The fafer fenfe will ne'er accommodate
2 The price of books at different periods may ferve in some measure to ascertain the taste and particular study of the age. At the fale of Dr. Francis Bernard's library in 1698, the following books were fold at the annexed prices :
Gower de Confeffione Amantis.
Now fold for two guineas.
Caxton's Recueyll of the Hiftories of Troy, 1502.
Holinfhed's Chronicle, 1587.
This book is now frequently fold for ten guineas.
Turberville on hawking and hunting.
This book is now usually fold for a guinea.
Powell's Hiftory of Wales.
The two volumes of Painter's Palace of Pleasure are now usually fold for three guineas.
Metamorphofis of Ajax, by Sir John Harrington. 0 0 4
little obfolete." In the beginning of the prefent century Lord Shaftesbury complains of his "rude unpolished ftile, and his ANTIQUATED phrafe and wit;" and not long afterwards Gildon informs us that he had been rejected from fome modern collections of poetry on account of his obfolete language. Whence could these representations have proceeded, but because our poet, not being diligently ftudied, not being compared with the contemporary writers, was not understood? If he had been "read, admired, ftudied, and imitated," in the fame degree as he is now, the enthufiafm of fome one or other of his admirers in the laft age would have induced him to make some enquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life. But no fuch perfon was found; no anxiety in the publick fought out any particulars concerning him after the Restoration, (if we except the few which were collected by Mr. Aubrey,) though at that time the hiftory of his life muft have been known to many; for his fifter Joan Hart, who must have known much of his early years, did not die till 1646 his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, lived till 1649; and his fecond daughter, Judith, was living at Stratford-upon-Avon in the beginning of the year 1662. His grand-daughter, Lady Barnard, did not die till 1670. Mr. Thomas Combe, to whom Shakspeare bequeathed his fword, furvived our poet above forty years, having died at Stratford in 1657. His elder brother, William Combe, lived till 1667. Sir Richard Bifhop, who was born in 1585, lived at Bridgetown near Stratford till 1672; and his fon, Sir William Bifhop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these perfons without doubt many circumftances relative to