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"And yet Johnson has objected to Shakspeare, that his pathos is not always natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true, passages, though comparatively speaking, very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds of true dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit, rendered the complete dramatic forgetfulness of himself impossible. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery, and no wise elevated above every-day life. But energetical passions electrify the whole of the mental powers, and will consequently, in highly favoured natures, express themselves in an ingenious and figurative manner.
"Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed. Shakspeare, who was always sure of his object, to move in a sufficiently powerful manner when he wished to do so, has occasionally, by indulging in a freer play, purposely moderated the impressions when too painful, and immediately introduced a musical alleviation of our sympathy. He had not those rude ideas of his art which many moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb, must strike twice on the same place..
"The objection that Shakspeare wounds our feelings by the open display of the most disgusting moral odiousness, harrows up the mind unmercifully, and tortures even our senses by the exhibition of the most insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of much greater importance. He has never, in fact, varnished over wild and bloodthirsty passions with a pleasing exterior; never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul: and in that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has portrayed downright villains: and the masterly way in which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature, may be seen in Iago and Richard the Third. The constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakspeare lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had still enough of the firmness inherited from a vigorous old time, not to shrink back with dismay from every strong and violent picture.
"We have lived to see tragedies of which the catas
trophe consists in the swoon of an enamoured princess. If Shakspeare falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble error, originating in the fullness of a gigantic strength; and yet this tragical Titan, who storms the heavens, and threatens to tear the world from off its hinges; who, more terrible than Eschylus, makes our hair stand on end, and congeals our blood with horror, possessed at the same time the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poetry. He plays with love like a child; and his songs are breathed out like melting sighs. He unites in his genius the utmost elevation and the utmost depth; and the most foreign and even apparently irreconcileable properties subsist in him peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all their treasures at his feet. In strength a demi-god, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a protecting spirit of a higher order, he lowers himself to mortals, as if unconscious of his superiority, and is as open and unassuming as a child.
Shakspeare's comic talent is equally wonderful with that which he has shewn in the pathetic and tragic; it stands on an equal elevation, and possesses equal extent and profundity. All that I before wished was not to admit that the former preponderated. He is highly inventive in comic situations and motives. It will be hardly possible to show whence he has taken any of them: whereas in the serious part of his drama, he has generally laid hold of something already known. His comic characters are equally true, various, and profound with his serious. So little is he disposed to caricature that we may rather say many of his traits are almost too nice and delicate for the stage, that they can only be properly seized by a great actor, and fully understood by a very acute audience. Not only has he delineated many kinds of folly, he has also contrived to exhibit mere stupidity in a most diverting and entertaining manner.” Vol. ii. p. 143.
It will be both useful and amusing to close this essay with an account of the principal editions of Shakspeare's plays and poems.
The first collection of Shakspeare's plays was published in 1623, with the following title: "Mr. William Shakspeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published
according to the true original copies. London: printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623." folio. This volume was edited by John Hemynge and Henrie Condell, and was dedicated to "the most incomparable pair of brethren" William, Earl of Pembroke, and Philip, Earl of Montgomery. In the title page is a portrait, said to be a likeness of the author, with the engraver's name, "Martin Droeshout, Sculpsit, London ;" and on the opposite page are these lines by Ben. Jonson, addressed "To the Reader."
"This figure that thou here see'st put,
It was for gentle Shakspeare cut,
His face; the print would then surpasse
The above volume was reprinted in 1808, for Vernor and Hood, London; and much stress was laid on its being a rigid and faithful copy: but Professor Porson and Mr. Upcott, Librarians of the London Institution, having carefully collated the two, found three hundred and fortyseven literal mistakes. The corrected copy is in the valuable library of James Perry, Esq.
A second edition of Shakspeare's plays was published in folio, in 1632; a third in 1664, and a fourth in 1685. These several impressions are usually denominated cient editions," because published within the first century after the death of the poet, and before any comments or elucidations were employed to expound the original text.
Of the editions, which are distinguished by the title modern, the earliest was published by Nicholas Rowe in 1709, in 6 vols. 8vo. This was followed by an edition in 12mo, by the same editor in 1714; and to each was prefixed a biographical memoir of the illustrious bard. 1725, Pope, who first introduced critical and emendatory notes, published his edition in 6 vols. 4to. with a preface, which Johnson characterizes as valuable alike for composition and justness of remark. A second edition by the same editor was published in 10 vols. 12mo. with additional notes and corrections, in 1728. The successor of Pope was Theobald, who produced a more elabo
rate edition in 7 vols. 8vo. in 1733; a second, with corrections and additions, in 8 vols. 12mo. in 1740; and another in 1773. Sir Thomas Hanmer next turned his attention to the illustration of Shakspeare, and in 1744 gave the world an edition of his plays in 6 vols. 4to. Warburton published an edition in 8 vols. 8vo. in 1747. The next commentator on Shakspeare, was the Colossus of Literature, Dr. Johnson, who was employed by the booksellers to edite a new edition of our bard's works, which appeared in 8 vols. 8vo. 1765. For his labour Johnson was paid 4801.; and besides some notes to each play, he wrote a general preface to the whole, which has been much extolled by some authors, but is thus very properly characterized by Hazlitt. Dr. Johnson's Preface “looks like a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh his excellences and defects in equal scales, stuffed full of swelling figures, and sonorous epithets. Nor could it well be otherwise: Dr. Johnson's general powers of reasoning overlaid his critical susceptibility. All his ideas were cast in a given mould, in a set form; they were made out by rule and system, by climax, inference, and antitheses:-Shakspeare's were the reverse. Johnson's understanding dealt only in round numbers: the fractions were lost upon him. To him an excess of beauty was a fault; for it appeared to him like an excrescence; and his imagination was dazzled with the blaze of light. He was a man of strong common sense and practical wisdom, rather than of genius or feeling."
In 1766, Steevens published an edition of 20 plays, in 4 vols. 8vo. This was followed, in 1768, by a complete edition in 12 vols. crown 8vo. by Mr. Capell; which was succeeded by an edition in 10 vols. 8vo. in 1773, by Johnson and Steevens, conjointly. Of this last, a second edition was published in 1778; a third, revised and corrected by Isaac Reed, in 1785. In the year following was produced the first volume of the dramatic works of Shakspeare, with notes, by the Rev. Joseph Rann, A. M. which work was completed in 6 vols. 8vo. 1794. In 1784, was published, in 1 vol. royal 8vo. an edition printed for Stockdale, with a very copious index of passages, by the Rev. Mr. Ayscough. Bell's edition appeared in 1788, in 20 vols. 18mo.; and in 1790, Malone's was ushered into
the world, in 10 vols. crown 8vo. In 1793, a fourth edition, "revised and augmented," by Mr. Steevens himself in 15 vols. 8vo. A fifth of the same was published in 1803. A sixth edition, with corrections, &c. appeared in 1813, in 21 volumes. The latter is generally called Reed's edition, but Mr. Wm. Harris, the respectable and intelligent librarian of the Royal Institution, revised and corrected its sheets, and added some notes. [See advertisement, vol. i.]
To particularize all the different editions of Shakspeare's plays, would occupy a considerable space; and to do it correctly would be a task of difficulty. Besides a vast number produced by London printers, several have been published in Scotland, Ireland, also in America, &c. His writings have also been translated into different languages, and accompanied by comments. Latterly they have appeared in the German language by Schlegel, whose translation, according to Madame de Stael, procured for the author great reputation.
Many other impressions of our author's plays have been published by different booksellers, in different sizes, from folio to 32mo. and of various degrees of typographic merit. Most of them, however, are unauthenticated reprints *; but many of them have the popular attraction of embellishments. The most splendid of this class was published by Boydell, in 9 vols. folio, embellished with 100 engravings, executed by, and after artists of the first emi
By this term I include all books which are reprinted without the corrections and revisal of an ostensible editor.