« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
History of the Stage, I have prefixed it to that Essay, vol. iii.
Having concluded his laborious work, he paid a visit to bis friends in Ireland; but soon after returned to his usual occupations in London.
Amidst his own numerous and pressing avocations, he was not inattentive to the calls of friendship. In 1791 appeared Mr. Boswell's " Life of Dr. Johnson," a work in which Mr. Malone felt at all times a very lively interest, and gave every assistance to its author during its progress which it was in his power to bestow. His acquaintance with this gentleman commenced in 1785, when, happening accidentally at Mr. Baldwin's printing-house to be shown a sheet of the "Tour to the Hebrides," which contained Johnson's character, he was so much struck with the spirit and fidelity of the portrait, that he requested to be introduced to its writer. From this period a friendship took place between them, which ripened into the strictest and most cordial intimacy, and lasted without interruption as long as Mr. Boswell lived. After his death, in 1795, Mr. Malone continued to show every mark of affectionate attention towards his family; and in every successive edition of Johnson's Life took the most unwearied pains to render it as much as possible correct and perfect. He illustrated it with many notes of his own, and procured valuable communications from his friends, among whom its readers will readily distinguish Mr. Bindley. Any account of Mr. Malone would be imperfect which omitted to mention his long intimacy with that gentleman, who was not so remarkable as the possessor of one of the most valuable libraries in this country, as he was for the accurate and extensive information which enabled him to use it, and the benevolent politeness with which he was always willing to impart his knowledge to others. There was no one whom Mr. Malone more cordially
But Mr. Boswell was by no means the only person who
was under obligations to him of this nature: he paid a similar attention to the productions of Mr. Jephson the Poet, whom he admired for his genius, and to whom he at all times felt the strongest attachment. In addition to the assistance which his residence in London and his experience in all that related to the press enabled him to bestow; he wrote an Epilogue to the Count of Narbonne ; a Prologue to Julia, or the Italian Lover; and furnished the concluding part of the Epilogue to the same Play, which had been left unfinished by Mr. Courtenay. How much he delighted in the society of that gentleman, whose name has thus occurred, may be readily conceived by all who had the happiness of his acquaintance, and who know how to value ready and unaffected wit in a companion, or genuine kindness of heart in a friend. It is unnecessary to multiply instances of his literary courtesy, yet it would be injustice to them both, not to mention the generous warmth with which Mr. Gifford has expressed himself in the introduction to his valuable edition of Massinger. Speaking of the early copies of that Poet which he had been able to procure, he observes, “Mr. Malone, with a liberality which I shall ever remember with gratitude and delight, furnished me, unsolicited, with the whole of his invaluable collection."
In 1796 he was again called forth to display his zeal in defence of Shakspeare, against the contemptible fabrications with which the Irelands endeavoured to delude the publick. Although this imposture, unlike the Rowleian poems, which were performances of extraordinary genius, exhibited about the same proportion of talent as it did of honesty, yet some persons of no small name were hastily led into a belief of its authenticity. Mr. Malone saw through the falsehood of the whole from its commencement; and laid bare the fraud, in a pamphlet, which was written in the form of a letter to his friend Lord Charlemont, a nobleman with whom he lived on the most intimate footing, and maintained a constant correspondence.
It has been thought by some that the labour which he bestowed upon this performance was more than commensurate with the importance of the subject; and it is true that a slighter effort would have been sufficient to have overthrown this wretched forgery; but we have reason to rejoice that Mr. Malone was led into a fuller discussion than was his intention at the outset; we owe to it a work which, for acuteness of reasoning, and the curious and interesting view which it presents of English literature, will retain its value long after the trash which it was designed to expose shall have been consigned to oblivion. Mr. Steevens on this occasion forgot all his feelings of rivalry, and paid the following just and liberal compliment to Mr. Malone.
"Mr. Steevens presents his best compliments to Mr. Malone, and most sincerely thanks him for his very elegant present, which exhibits one of the most decisive pieces of criticism that was ever produced."
Mr. Burke having received a copy of this Essay from the author, again employed his matchless pen in the pleasing task of doing honour to the merits of his friend.
"Your letter is dated the first of the month, but I did not receive it, with the welcome and most acceptable present that came along with it, till late in the evening of yesterday however, I could not postpone the satisfaction offered to me by your partiality and goodness; I got to the seventy-third page before I went to sleep, to which what I read did not greatly contribute. I do not know that for several years I longed so much for any literary object as for the appearance of this work. Far from having my expectations disappointed, I may say with great sincerity, that they have been infinitely exceeded. The spirit of that sort of criticism by which false pretence and imposture are detected, was grown very rare in this century; you have revived it with great advantage.
Besides doing every thing which the vindication of the first genius perhaps in the world required, from the hand of him who studied him the most, and illustrated him the best, you have in the most natural, happy, and pleasing manner, and as if you were drawn into it by your subject, given us a very interesting History of our Language, during that important period in which, after being refined by Chaucer, it fell into the rudeness of civil confusion, and then continued in a pretty even progress to the state of correctness, strength, and elegance, in which we see it in your writings. Your note, in which for the first time you leave the character of the antiquary, to be, I am afraid, but too right in that of a prophet, has not escaped me. Johnson used to say, he loved a good hater. Your admiration of Shakspeare would be ill sorted indeed, if your taste (to talk of nothing else) did not lead you to a perfect abhorrence of the French Revolution, and all its works. Once more I thank you most heartily for the great entertainment you have given me as a Critick, as an Antiquary, as a Philologist, and as a Politician. I shall finish the book, I think, to-day. This will be delivered to you by a young kinsman of mine, of Exeter college in Oxford. I think him a promising young man, very well qualified to be an admirer of yours, and, I hope, to merit your notice, of which he is very ambitious. I have the honour to be, my dear Sir, with true respect and affection,
"Your most faithful and very
much obliged and obedient servant,
"Beaconsfield, April 8, 1796.”
Mr. Malone, in the year 1792, had the misfortune to lose his admirable friend Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose death has left a chasm in society which will not easily be supplied; and his executors, of whom Mr. Malone had the honour to be one, having determined in 1797 to give
the world a complete collection of his works, he superintended the publication, and prefixed to it a very pleasing biographical sketch of their author.
Although his attention was still principally directed to Shakspeare, and he was gradually accumulating a most valuable mass of materials for a new edition of that Poet, he found time to do justice to another. He drew together, from various sources, the Prose Works of Dryden, which, as some of them were originally appended to works which were little known, had never impressed the general reader with that opinion of their excellence which they deserved, and published them in 1800. The narrative which he prefixed is a most important accession to biography. By active inquiry, and industrious and acute research, he ascertained many particulars of that Poet's life and character, that had been supposed to be irrecoverably lost, and detected the falsehood of many a traditionary tale that had been carelessly repeated by former writers. In 1808 he prepared for the press a few productions of his friend, the celebrated William Gerard Hamilton, with which he had been entrusted by his executors; and prefixed to this also a brief but elegant sketch of his life. In 1811 his country was deprived of Mr. Windham. Mr. Malone, who equally admired and loved him, drew up a short memorial of his amiable and illustrious friend, which originally appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine; and was afterwards, in an enlarged and corrected state, printed in a small pamphlet, and privately distributed. But, alas! the kind Biographer was too soon to want "the generous tear he paid." A gradual decay appears to have undermined his constitution; and when he was just on the point of going to the press with his new edition of Shakspeare, he was interrupted by an illness, which proved fatal; and, to the irreparable loss of all who knew him, he died on the 25th of May, 1812, in the 71st year of his age. In his last illness he was soothed by the tender and unremitting attentions of his brother, Lord Sun