Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

In speaking of the sources from which the means of ascertaining the authentick text of Shakspeare, may, with the greatest probability be derived, it will be necessary to say a few words upon the question which has been long agitated between Mr. Malone and Mr. Steevens, with respect to the comparative merits of the first and second folio. Mr. Malone, from a careful examination of those two copies, which enabled him to discover a number of corruptions in the latter edition, evidently as he thought arising from the editor's ignorance of our poet's phraseology, determined to reject it, as an authority altogether, while, notwithstanding, he was willing to admit into his text, corrections of typographical errors, or other suggestions which recommended themselves, by their own probability; in the same way as he adopted a few of the emendations of Pope or Hanmer, although he considered those criticks as having in general unwarrantably sophisticated the poet's text. Mr. Steevens, on the contrary, not only has upheld throughout the superiority of the second folio, but has availed himself of every opportunity to speak with the most unqualified contempt of, what he terms, its blundering predecessor. With an adroitness peculiar to himself in controversy, he has endeavoured to show Mr. Malone in contradiction to himself, by pointing out the many instances in which Mr. Malone has adopted the readings of that very edition which he has so much decried. There is something which at first appears to carry great weight with it in the seeming accuracy of an arithmetical statement; and accordingly, with the assistance of Mr. Plymsell (see his Preface, p. 272,) he has laid before the reader a list of no less than 186 passages, in which the aid of that copy has been resorted to. He has not, however, thought it necessary to mention how many of these adopted corrections were words, and even letters accidentally dropped out at the press, which it required no very great portion of skill or industry to discover and amend;

and when this seemingly large number is divided among thirty-four plays, it will be found that the average proportion to each, even of these slight emendations, will not appear to be very considerable. If, on the other hand, we were to enumerate the instances in which the second folio has been deserted by Mr. Steevens himself, we shall form a still less estimate of its value. I cannot say that I have undertaken the same laborious investigation that Mr. Plymsell has gone through ; but in a cursory inspection of King Lear, I have discovered ten of them in the first act alone.

It is not easy to suppose that this could have happened if the second folio had corrected the defects of the first from early manuscripts or authentick information *. . Mr. Steevens intimates his opinion, that when Mr. Malone speaks of the editor of this republication, he is pointing his artillery at a phantom; haps no such literary agent as an editor of a poetical work, unaccompanied by comments, was at that period to be found.” He adds, that “this office, if any where, was vested in the printer, who transferred it to his compositors; and these worthies discharged their part of the trust with a proportionate mixture of ignorance and inattention t.” He proceeds, in the following page, to describe, in still stronger terms, their utter insufficiency for their employment. But if this were the case, how are we to account for the other part of his theory? Who was it that collected the authentick information, or examined the early manuscripts of which he has so confidently spoken? Where was that “ judicious hand” which regulated the grammatical anomalies, and smoothed the metre which had been left in so rugged a state by Heminges and Condell in the original publication ? More, however, on this subject, will be met with in the list of the early editions of our poet, vol. ii. where the reader will find Mr. Malone's conjectures as to who this person was. In publishing this edition of Shakspeare, the plan laid down by Mr. Malone was, to exhibit all his dramas in what he considered to be, from the best judgment he could form, their chronological order, that the reader might be thus enabled to trace the progress of the author's powers, from his first and imperfect essays, to those more finished performances which he afterwards produced. I have adopted that arrangement as far as his miscellaneous plays are concerned; but found it universally objected to by all whom I had an opportunity to consult, if it were made to comprehend the plays which were founded on English history. I have therefore, thus far, ventured to deviate from my late friend's intention, and have placed the historical plays in a separate class. Enough will still remain to fulfil the object which Mr. Malone had in view.

o for per

* See Mr. Steevens's Advertisement, p. 271. + Ibid. p. 268.

The Tempest will no longer precede The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the Comedy of Errors, by which those who were not attentive to dates, might have been led to form very erroneous conclusions as to the inequality of Shakspeare's genius.

We shall now find his powers gradually developed as his knowledge became more extensive, and his judgment matured. In his first essays he will appear seemingly unconscious of his strength, assimilating himself, in some degree, to the models before him. Soon after we see him with “ casted slough and fresh legerity,” entering upon a hitherto untrodden path, creating, as it were, anew the drama of his country, and exhibiting a brilliancy of fancy, an energy, and a pathos, which till now had been unknown upon our stage. Advancing in his progress to excellence, we shall probably be led to fix upon the middle period of his life, as the time when his genius was at its meridian. The productions that followed, although every way worthy of their great author, yet still fell short of that fervid inspiration to which we owe those wonderful performances, which, according to Mr. Malone's hypothesis, VOL. I.

b

are ascribed to a period from about the thirty-fourth to the forty-first year of his life. The mind may, indeed, repose with delight upon the mild splendour of the Tempest; but in claiming for Shakspeare the title of the sovereign of the drama, as the first of our criticks has styled him, we must look to Hamlet, Othello, and Lear, and, above all, to the flood of glory which bursts upon us from Macbeth. Here it will be gratifying to pause for a moment, and to contemplate the gradual increase of our great poet's reputation during the course of the second century which has elapsed since his death. Even at the time when Johnson wrote his admirable preface, not only was the knowledge of his excellence almost wholly confined to his own countrymen, but even among them there were not a few who were disposed to adopt, in some degree, the petty objections which had been thrown out by the spleen of Voltaire; and the alterations which Garrick, in the spirit of French criticism, presumed to make in Hamlet, of which a fuller account is given in the second volume, will tend to show how imperfectly he was understood by one of his warmest admirers. If

back to an earlier period, we shall find the general reader still less acquainted with his merits, till at last we revert to that age of critical darkness, when he was reviled by Rymer, and patronized by Tate. If an Englishman of the present day were to indulge in such ribaldry as the first of these two persons poured forth upon Othello, he would nearly run a risk of meeting with the punishment of Zoilus. Nor is it among our own countrymen alone that his superiority is now acknowledged. Even in France, which has always been remarkable for a bigotted attachment to its own literature, a tardy and unwilling tribute has been paid to the genius of Shakspeare; but it is in Germany, above all, that the highest enthusiasm has been excited on the subject of his works. The most distinguished writers of that country have contended with each other in offering homage to

we go

his name, among whom we are bound particularly to notice M. Schlegel. I am far from saying that I adopt all that critick's opinions ; nor can I think that such a man would estimate very highly either the sincerity or value of indiscriminate praise. It must be matter of astonishment, that one who so well appreciates the genuine works of Shakspeare, could be led, for a moment, to suppose that such trash as Locrine and Lord Cromwell proceeded from his pen. They are evidently not only unworthy of the great name to which they have been ascribed, but are scarcely even the productions of the second-rate poets of that day. Other objections may be made to M. Schlegel. He is sometimes perhaps too refined; and too enthusiastick for our colder and more didactick style of criticism ; there is, occasionally, too much metaphysical curiosity in his analysis; he is inclined to make Shakspeare, who wrote for the people, too much of a poetical mystick; in short, he has endeavoured to give him more of a German cast of thinking than really be- t longed to him ; but after all the deductions which candour can make, there will still remain sufficient ground for the general admiration which has been bestowed upon a work at once so eloquent and so profound.

But to return to humbler topicks: I must say a few words as to the arrangement adopted in the following volumes. In the first I have printed the prefaces which have been prefixed to the modern editions of the poet, among which Mr. Rowe's Life, as being partly prefatory and partly biographical, may be classed. Notwithstanding its defects in the second point of view, I should not have thought myself justified in omitting it altogether; but it will no longer be found accompanied with notes, which were written for the purpose of demolishing almost every statement which it contained. These are now incorporated in Mr. Malone's more extensive and correct work on the same subject. The remainder of the volume is occupied by various critical dissertations on our author's works, among which the reader will find an Essay on the Phrase

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »