Essays on Shakespeare
D. Nichol Smith, M.A.
James MacLehose and Sons
Publishers to the University
Preface. Introduction. Shakespearian Criticism in the Eighteenth Century. Nicholas Rowe: Some Account of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear. 1709. John Dennis: On the Genius and Writings of Shakespeare. 1711. Alexander Pope: Preface to Edition of Shakespeare. 1725. Lewis Theobald: Preface to Edition of Shakespeare. 1733. Sir Thomas Hanmer: Preface to Edition of Shakespeare. 1744. William Warburton: Preface to Edition of Shakespeare. 1747. Samuel Johnson: Preface to Edition of Shakespeare. 1765. Richard Farmer: An Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare: Addressed to Joseph Cradock, Esq. 1767. Maurice Morgann: An Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff. 1777. Notes. Nicholas Rowe. John Dennis. Alexander Pope. Lewis Theobald. Sir Thomas Hanmer. William Warburton. Samuel Johnson. Richard Farmer. Maurice Morgann. Index. Footnotes
The purpose of this book is to give an account of Shakespeare's reputation during the eighteenth century, and to suggest that there are grounds for reconsidering the common opinion that the century did not give him his due. The nine Essays or Prefaces here reprinted may claim to represent the chief phases of Shakespearian study from the days of Dryden to those of Coleridge. It is one of the evils following in the train of the romantic revival that the judgments of the older school have been discredited or forgotten. The present volume shows that the eighteenth century knew many things which the nineteenth has rediscovered for itself.
It is at least eighty years since most of these essays were reprinted. Rowe's Account of Shakespeare is given in its original and complete form for the first time, it is believed, since 1714; what was printed in the early Variorum editions, and previously in almost every edition since 1725, was Pope's version of Rowe's Account. Dennis's Essay has not appeared since the author republished it in 1721. In all cases the texts have been collated with the originals; and the more important changes in the editions published in the lifetime of the author are indicated in the Introduction or Notes.
The Introduction has been planned to show the main lines in the development of Shakespeare's reputation, and to prove that the new criticism, which is said to begin with Coleridge, takes its rise as early as the third quarter of the eighteenth century. On the question of Theobald's qualifications as an editor, it would appear that we must subscribe to the deliberate verdict of Johnson. We require strong evidence before we may disregard contemporary opinion, and in Theobald's case there is abundant evidence to confirm Johnson's view. Johnson's own edition, on the other hand, has not received justice during the last century.
It is a pleasure to the Editor to record his obligations to Professor Raleigh, Mr. Gregory Smith, and Mr. J. H. Lobban.
EDINBURGH, October, 1903.
INTRODUCTION. SHAKESPEARIAN CRITICISM IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
The early nineteenth century was too readily convinced by Coleridge and Hazlitt that they were the first to recognise and to explain the greatness of Shakespeare. If amends have recently been made to the literary ideals of Pope and Johnson, the reaction has not yet extended to Shakespearian criticism. Are we not still inclined to hold the verdicts of Hume and Chesterfield as representative of eighteenth-century opinion, and to find proof of a lack of appreciation in the editorial travesties of the playhouse? To this century, as much as to the nineteenth, Shakespeare was the glory of English letters. So Pope and Johnson had stated in unequivocal language, which should not have been forgotten. "He is not so much an imitator as an instrument of Nature," said Pope, "and 'tis not so just to say that he speaks from her as that she speaks through him"; and Johnson declared that "the stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare." But Pope and Johnson had ventured to point out, in the honesty of their criticism, that Shakespeare was not free from faults; and it was this which the nineteenth century chose to remark. Johnson's Preface in particular was remembered only to be despised. It is not rash to say that at the present time the majority of those who chance to speak of it pronounce it a discreditable performance.
This false attitude to the eighteenth century had its nemesis in the belief that we were awakened by foreigners to the greatness of Shakespeare. Even one so eminently sane as Hazlitt lent support to this opinion. "We will confess," says the Preface to the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, "that some little jealousy of the character of the national understanding was not without its share in producing the following undertaking, for we were piqued that it should be reserved for a foreign critic to give reasons for the faith which we English have in Shakespeare"; and the whole Preface resolves itself, however reluctantly, into praise of Schlegel and censure of Johnson. When a thorough Englishman writes thus, it is not surprising that Germany should have claimed to be the first to give Shakespeare his true place. The heresy has been exposed; but even the slightest investigation of eighteenth-century opinion, or the mere recollection of what Dryden had said, should have prevented its rise. Though Hazlitt took upon himself the defence of the national intelligence, he incorporated in his Preface a long passage from Schlegel, because, in his opinion, no English critic had shown like enthusiasm or philosophical acuteness. We cannot regret the delusion if we owe to it the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, but his patriotic task would have been easier, and might even have appeared unnecessary, had he known that many of Schlegel's acute and enthusiastic observations had been anticipated at home.
Even those who are willing to give the eighteenth century its due have not recognised how it appreciated Shakespeare. At no time in this century was he not popular. The author of Esmond tells us that Shakespeare was quite out of fashion until Steele brought him back into the mode.(1) Theatrical records would alone be sufficient to show that the ascription of this honour to Steele is an injustice to his contemporaries. In the year that the Tatler was begun, Rowe brought out his edition of the "best of our poets"; and a reissue was called for five years later. It is said by Johnson(2) that Pope's edition drew the public attention to Shakespeare's works, which, though often mentioned, had been little read. Henceforward there was certainly an increase in the number of critical investigations, but if Shakespeare had been little read, how are we to explain the coffee-house discussions of which we seem to catch echoes in the periodical literature? The allusions in the Spectator, or the essays in the Censor, must have been addressed to a public which knew him. Dennis, who "read him over and over and still remained unsatiated," tells how he was accused, by blind admirers of the poet, of lack of veneration, because he had ventured to criticise, and how he had appealed from a private discussion to the judgment of the public. "Above all I am pleased," says the Guardian, "in observing that the Tragedies of Shakespeare, which in my youthful days have so frequently filled my eyes with tears, hold their rank still, and are the great support of our theatre."(3) Theobald could say that "this author is grown so universal a book that there are very few studies or collections of books, though small, amongst which it does not hold a place"; and he could add that "there is scarce a poet that our English tongue boasts of who is more the subject of the Ladies' reading."(4) It would be difficult to explain away these statements. The critical interest in Shakespeare occasioned by Pope's edition may have increased the knowledge of him, but he had been regularly cited, long before Pope's day, as England's representative genius. To argue that he had ever been out of favour we must rely on later statements, and they are presumably less trustworthy than those which are contemporary. Lyttelton remarked that a veneration for Shakespeare seems to be a part of the national religion, and the only part in which even men of sense are fanatics;(5) and Gibbon spoke of the "idolatry for the gigantic genius of Shakespeare, which is inculcated from our infancy as the first duty of an Englishman."(6) The present volume will show how the eighteenth century could almost lose itself in panegyric of Shakespeare. The evidence is so overwhelming that it is hard to understand how the century's respect for Shakespeare was ever doubted. When Tom Jones took Partridge to the gallery of Drury Lane, the play was Hamlet. The fashionable topics on which Mr. Thornhill's friends from town would talk, to the embarrassment of the Primroses and the Flamboroughs, were "pictures, taste, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses." The greatest poet of the century played a leading part in erecting the statue in the Poets' Corner. And it was an eighteenth-century actor who instituted the Stratford celebrations.
During the entire century Shakespeare dominated the stage. He was more to the actor then, and more familiar to the theatre-goer, than he is now. It is true that from Betterton's days to Garrick's, and later, his plays were commonly acted from mangled versions. But these versions were of two distinct types. The one respected the rules of the classical drama, the other indulged the license of pantomime. The one was the labour of the pedant theorist, the other was rather the improvisation of the theatre manager. And if the former were truly representative of the taste of the century, as has sometimes been implied, it has to be explained how they were not so popular as the latter. "Our taste has gone back a whole century," says the strolling player in the Vicar of Wakefield,(7) "Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and all the plays of Shakespeare are the only things that go down." The whole passage is a satire on Garrick(8) and a gibe at Drury Lane: "The public go only to be amused, and find themselves happy when they can enjoy a pantomime under the sanction of Jonson's or Shakespeare's name." But, whatever was done with Shakespeare's plays, they were the very life of the theatre. When we remember also the number of editions which were published, and the controversies to which they gave rise, as well as the fact that the two literary dictators were among his editors, we are prompted to ask, What century has felt the influence of Shakespeare more than the eighteenth?
The century's interest in Shakespeare shows itself in four main phases. The first deals with his neglect of the so-called rules of the drama; the second determines what was the extent of his learning; the third considers the treatment of his text; and the fourth, more purely aesthetic, shows his value as a delineator of character. The following remarks take these questions in order; and a concluding section gives an account of the individual essays here reprinted. Though the phases are closely connected and overlap to some extent, the order in which they are here treated accords in the main with their chronological sequence.
Dryden is the father of Shakespearian criticism. Though he disguised his veneration at times, he expressed his true faith when he wrote, deliberately, the fervent estimate in the Essay of Dramatic Poesy. Johnson saw that Pope had expanded it, and his own experience made him say that the editors and admirers of Shakespeare, in all their emulation of reverence, had not done much more than diffuse and paraphrase this "epitome of excellence." But concurrently on to Johnson's time we can trace the influence of Thomas Rymer, who, in his Short View of Tragedy, had championed the classical drama, and had gone as far in abuse as his greater contemporary had gone in praise. The authority which each exerted is well illustrated by Rowe's Account of Shakespeare. Rowe is of the party of Dryden, but he cannot refrain from replying to Rymer, though he has resolved to enter into no critical controversy. He says he will not inquire into the justness of Rymer's remarks, and yet he replies to him in two passages. That these were silently omitted by Pope when he included the Account of Shakespeare in his own edition in 1725 does not mean that Rymer was already being forgotten. We know from other sources that Pope rated his abilities very highly. But the condensed form in which the Account was regularly reprinted does not convey so plainly as the original the influence of the rival schools at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In addition to the passages on Rymer, Pope omitted several valuable allusions to Dryden. The influence of Dryden, however, is plain enough. He seems to have been ever present to Rowe, suggesting ideas to be accepted or refuted. Rowe must have been indebted to the conversation of Dryden as well as to the researches of Betterton.
Rowe's own dramatic work is an interesting comment on the critical portions of his Account of Shakespeare. When he professes to have taken Shakespeare as his model,(9) which shows that his editorial work had taught him the trick of an occasional line contrary to the normal rules of blank verse. Notwithstanding a brave prologue, he was not able to shake himself free from the rules, which tightened their grip on English tragedy till they choked it. His regard for Shakespeare did not give him courage for the addition of a comic element or an underplot. He must obey the "hampering critics," though his avowed model had ignored them. Accordingly, in his more deliberate prose criticism we find, amid his veneration of Shakespeare, his regard for the rules of the classical drama. The faults of Shakespeare, we read, were not so much his own as those of his time, for "tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age," and there was as yet no definite knowledge of how a play should be constructed.
The burden of Rowe's criticism is that "strength and nature made amends for art." The line might serve as the text of many of the early appreciations of Shakespeare. Though the critics all resented Rymer's treatment of the poet, some of them stood by his doctrines. They might appease this resentment by protesting against his manners or refuting his plea for a dramatic chorus; but on the whole they recognised the claims of the classical models. The more the dramatic fervour failed, the more the professed critics counselled observance of the rules. In 1702 Farquhar had pleaded for the freedom of the English stage in his _Discourse upon Comedy_, but his arguments were unavailing. The duller men found it easier to support the rigid doctrines, which had been fully expounded by the French critics. The seventh or supplementary volume of Rowe's edition of Shakespeare was introduced by Charles Gildon's _Essay on the Art, Rise, and Progress of the Stage in Greece, Rome, and _ England_, which, as the title shows, was a laboured exposition of the classical doctrines. Gildon had begun as an enemy of Rymer. In 1694 he had published _Some Reflections on Mr. Rymer's Short View of Tragedy and an Attempt at a Vindication of Shakespeare_. Therein he had spoken of "noble irregularity," and censured the "graver pedants" of the age. By 1710 he is a grave pedant himself. In 1694 he had said that Rymer had scarce produced one criticism that was not borrowed from the French writers; in 1710 the remark is now applicable to its author. Gildon's further descent as a critic is evident eight years later in his _Complete Art of Poetry_. He is now a slave to the French doctrine of the rules. He confesses himself the less ready to pardon the "monstrous absurdities" of Shakespeare, as one or two plays, such as the _Tempest_, are "very near a regularity." Yet he acknowledges that Shakespeare abounds in beauties, and he makes some reparation by including a long list of his finer passages. Gildon was a man whose ideas took their colour from his surroundings. In the days of his acquaintanceship with Dryden he appreciated Shakespeare more heartily than when he was left to the friendship of Dennis or the favours of the Duke of Buckinghamshire. His _Art of Poetry_ is a dishonest compilation, which owes what value it has to the sprinkling of contemporary allusions. It even incorporates, without any acknowledgment, long passages from Sidney's _Apologie_. We should be tempted to believe that Gildon merely put his name to a hack-work collection, were it not that there is a gradual deterioration in his criticism.
John Dennis also replied to Rymer's Short View, and was classed afterwards as one of Rymer's disciples. In his Impartial Critick (1693) he endeavoured to show that the methods of the ancient Greek tragedy were not all suitable to the modern English theatre. To introduce a chorus, as Rymer had recommended, or to expel love from the stage, would, he argued, only ruin the English drama. But his belief in the classical rules made him turn the Merry Wives into the Comical Gallant. As he found in the original three actions, each independent of the other, he had set himself to make the whole "depend on one common centre." In the Dedication to the letters On the Genius and Writings of Shakespeare we read that Aristotle, "who may be call'd the Legislator of Parnassus, wrote the laws of tragedy so exactly and so truly in reason and nature that succeeding criticks have writ justly and reasonably upon that art no farther than they have adhered to their great master's notions." But at the very beginning of the letters themselves he says that "Shakespeare was one of the greatest geniuses that the world e'er saw." Notwithstanding his pronounced classical taste, his sense of the greatness of Shakespeare is as strong as Rowe's, and much stronger than Gildon's. His writings prove him a man of competent scholarship, who had thought out his literary doctrines for himself, and could admire beauty in other than classical garb. The result is that at many points his opinions are at marked variance with those of Rymer, for whom, however, he had much respect. Rymer, for instance, had said that Shakespeare's genius lay in comedy, but the main contention of Dennis's letters is that he had an unequalled gift for tragedy. As a critic Dennis is greatly superior to Rymer and his disciples. The ancients guided his taste without blinding him to modern excellence.
Even Lewis Theobald, whom some would consider Shakespeare's greatest friend in this century, believed in the rules. He complied with the taste of the town when he wrote pantomimes, but he was a sterner man when he posed as a critic. He would then speak of the "general absurdities of Shakespeare," and the "errors" in the structure of his plays. He passed this criticism both in his edition of Shakespeare and in the early articles in the Censor on King Lear, which are also of considerable historical interest as being the first essays devoted exclusively to an examination of a single Shakespearian play. His complacent belief in the rules prompted him to correct Richard II. "The many scattered beauties which I have long admired," he says naively in the Preface, "induced me to think they would have stronger charms if they were interwoven in a regular Fable." No less confident is a note on Love's Labours Lost: "Besides the exact regularity of the rules of art, which the author has happened to preserve in some few of his pieces, this is demonstration, I think, that though he has more frequently transgressed the unity of Time by cramming years into the compass of a play, yet he knew the absurdity of so doing, and was not unacquainted with the rule to the contrary."(10) Theobald was a critic of the same type as Gildon. Each had profound respect for what he took to be the accredited doctrines. If on certain points Theobald's ideas were liable to change, the explanation is that he was amenable to the opinions of others. We do not find in Theobald's criticism the courage of originality.
There is little about the rules in Pope's Preface. That Pope respected them cannot be doubted, else he would not have spoken so well of Rymer, and in the critical notes added to his Homer we should not hear so much of Le Bossu's treatise on the Epic.(11) But Pope was a discreet man, who knew when to be silent. He regarded it as a misfortune that Shakespeare was not so circumstanced as to be able to write on the model of the ancients, but, unlike the pedant theorists, he refused to judge Shakespeare by the rules of a foreign drama. Much the same is to be said of Addison. His belief in the rules appears in his Cato. His over-rated criticism of Paradise Lost is little more than a laboured application of the system of Le Bossu. But in the Spectator he too urges that Shakespeare is not to be judged according to the rules. "Our critics do not seem sensible," he writes, "that there is more beauty in the works of a great genius who is ignorant of the rules of art than in those of a little genius who knows and observes them. Our inimitable Shakespeare is a stumbling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid critics. Who would not rather read one of his plays where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic where there is not one of them violated?"(12) The rigid critics continued to find fault with the structure of Shakespeare's plays. In the articles in the Adventurer on the Tempest and King Lear, Joseph Warton repeats the standard objection to tragi-comedy and underplots. In the Biographia Britannica we still find it stated that Shakespeare set himself to please the populace, and that the people "had no notion of the rules of writing, or the model of the Ancients." But one whose tastes were classical, both by nature and by training, had been thinking out the matter for himself. It was only after long reflection, and with much hesitation, that Johnson had disavowed what had almost come to be considered the very substance of the classical faith. In his Irene he had bowed to the rules; he had, however, begun to suspect them by the time he wrote the Rambler, and in the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare suspicion has become conviction. His sturdy common sense and independence of judgment led him to anticipate much of what has been supposed to be the discovery of the romantic school. His Preface has received scant justice. There is no more convincing criticism of the neo-classical doctrines.(13)
Henceforward we hear less about the rules. Johnson had performed a great service for that class of critics whose deference to learned opinion kept them from saying fully what they felt. The lesser men had not been at their ease when they referred to Shakespeare. We see their difficulty in the Latin lectures of Joseph Trapp, the first Professor of Poetry at Oxford, as well as in the Grub Street Essay upon English Tragedy (1747) by William Guthrie. They admire his genius, but they persist in regretting that his plays are not properly constructed. Little importance attaches to Mrs. Montagu's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769).(14) It was only a well-meaning but shallow reply to Voltaire,(15) and a reply was unnecessary. Johnson had already vindicated the national pride in Shakespeare. That his views soon became the commonplaces of those critics who strike the average of current opinion, is shown by such a work as William Cooke's Elements of Dramatic Criticism (1775). But traces of the school of Rymer are still to be found, and nowhere more strongly than in the anonymous Cursory Remarks on Tragedy (1774). In this little volume of essays the dramatic rules are defended against the criticism of Johnson by a lame repetition of the arguments which Johnson had overthrown. Even Pope is said to have let his partiality get the better of his usual justice and candour when he claimed that Shakespeare was not to be judged by what were called the rules of Aristotle. There are laws, this belated critic urges, which bind each individual as a citizen of the world; and once again we read that the rules of the classical drama are in accordance with human reason. This book is the last direct descendant of Rymer's Short View. The ancestral trait appears in the question whether Shakespeare was in general even a good tragic writer. But it is a degenerate descendant. If it has learned good manners, it is unoriginal and dull; and it is so negligible that it has apparently not been thought worth while to settle the question of its authorship.(16)
The discussion on Shakespeare's attitude to the dramatic rules was closely connected with the long controversy on the extent of his learning. The question naturally suggested itself how far his dramatic method was due to his ignorance of the classics. Did he know the rules and ignore them, or did he write with no knowledge of the Greek and Roman models? Whichever view the critics adopted, one and all felt they were arguing for the honour of Shakespeare. If some would prove for his greater glory that parallel passages were due to direct borrowing, others held it was more to his credit to have known nothing of the classics and to have equalled or surpassed them by the mere force of unassisted genius.
The controversy proper begins with Rowe's Account of Shakespeare. On this subject, as on others, Rowe expresses the tradition of the seventeenth century. His view is the same as Dryden's, and Dryden had accepted Jonson's statement that Shakespeare had "small Latin and less Greek." Rowe believes that his acquaintance with Latin authors was such as he might have gained at school: he could remember tags of Horace or Mantuan, but was unable to read Plautus in the original. The plea that comparative ignorance of the classics may not have been a disadvantage, as it perhaps prevented the sacrifice of fancy to correctness, prompted a reply by Gildon in his Essay on the Stage, where the argument is based partly on the belief that Shakespeare had read Ovid and Plautus and had thereby neither spoiled his fancy nor confined his genius. The question was probably at this time a common topic of discussion. Dennis's abler remarks were suggested, as he tells us, by conversation in which he found himself opposed to the prevalent opinion. He is more pronounced in his views than Rowe had been. His main argument is that as Shakespeare is deficient in the "poetical art" he could not but have been ignorant of the classics, for, had he known them, he could not have failed to profit by them. Dennis is stirred even to treat the question as one affecting the national honour. "He who allows," he says, "that Shakespeare had learning and a familiar acquaintance with the Ancients, ought to be looked upon as a detractor from his extraordinary merit and from the glory of Great Britain."
The prominence of the controversy forced Pope to refer to it in his Preface, but he had apparently little interest in it. Every statement he makes is carefully guarded: there are translations from Ovid, he says, among the poems which pass for Shakespeare's; he will not pretend to say in what language Shakespeare read the Greek authors; Shakespeare appears to have been conversant in Plautus. He is glad of the opportunity to reply to Dennis's criticism of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, but though he praises the truthful representation of the Roman spirit and manners, he discreetly refuses to say how Shakespeare came to know of them. As he had not thought out the matter for himself, he feared to tread where the lesser men rushed in. But though he records the evidence brought forward by those who believed in Shakespeare's knowledge of the Ancients, he does not fail to convey the impression that he belongs to the other party. And, indeed, in another passage of the Preface he says with definiteness, inconsistent with his other statements, that Shakespeare was "without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them, without that knowledge of the best models, the Ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them."
During the fifty years between Pope's Preface and Johnson's, the controversy continued intermittently without either party gaining ground. In the Preface to the supplementary volume to Pope's edition—which is a reprint of Gildon's supplementary volume to Rowe's—Sewell declared he found evident marks through all Shakespeare's writings of knowledge of the Latin tongue. Theobald, who was bound to go astray when he ventured beyond the collation of texts, was ready to believe that similarity of idea in Shakespeare and the classics was due to direct borrowing. He had, however, the friendly advice of Warburton to make him beware of the secret satisfaction of pointing out a classical original. In its earlier form his very unequal Preface had contained the acute observation that the texture of Shakespeare's phrases indicated better than his vocabulary the extent of his knowledge of Latin. The style was submitted as "the truest criterion to determine this long agitated question," and the conclusion was implied that Shakespeare could not have been familiar with the classics. But this interesting passage was omitted in the second edition, perhaps because it was inconsistent with a less decided utterance elsewhere in the Preface, but more probably because it had been supplied by Warburton. In his earlier days, before he had met Warburton, he had been emphatic. In the Preface to his version of Richard II. he had tried to do Shakespeare "some justice upon the points of his learning and acquaintance with the Ancients." He had said that Timon of Athens and Troilus and Cressida left it without dispute or exception that Shakespeare was no inconsiderable master of the Greek story; he dared be positive that the latter play was founded directly upon Homer; he held that Shakespeare must have known Aeschylus, Lucian, and Plutarch in the Greek; and he claimed that he could, "with the greatest ease imaginable," produce above five hundred passages from the three Roman plays to prove Shakespeare's intimacy with the Latin classics. When he came under the influence of Warburton he lost his assurance. He was then "very cautious of declaring too positively" on either side of the question; but he was loath to give up his belief that Shakespeare knew the classics at first hand. Warburton himself did not figure creditably in the controversy. He might ridicule the discoveries of other critics, but his vanity often allured him to displays of learning as absurd as theirs. No indecision troubled Upton or Zachary Grey. They saw in Shakespeare a man of profound reading, one who might well have worn out his eyes in poring over classic tomes. They clutched at anything to show his deliberate imitation of the Ancients. There could be no better instance of the ingenious folly of this type of criticism than the passage in the Notes on Shakespeare, where Grey argues from Gloucester's words in Richard III., "Go you before and I will follow you," that Shakespeare knew, and was indebted to, Terence's Andria. About the same time Peter Whalley, the editor of Ben Jonson, brought out his Enquiry into the Learning of Shakespeare (1748), the first formal treatise devoted directly to the subject of controversy. Therein it is claimed that Shakespeare knew Latin well enough to have acquired in it a taste and elegance of judgment, and was more indebted to the Ancients than was commonly imagined. On the whole, however, Whalley's attitude was more reasonable than that of Upton or Grey, for he admitted that his list of parallel passages might not settle the point at issue.
After such a display of misapplied learning it is refreshing to meet with the common sense of one who was a greater scholar than any of these pedants. Johnson has less difficulty in giving his opinion on the extent of Shakespeare's learning than in discovering the reasons of the controversy. The evidence of Shakespeare's contemporary, he says, ought to decide the question unless some testimony of equal force can be opposed, and such testimony he refuses to find in the collections of the Uptons and Greys. It is especially remarkable that Johnson, who is not considered to have been strong in research, should be the first to state that Shakespeare used North's translation of Plutarch. He is the first also to point out that there was an English translation of the play on which the Comedy of Errors was founded,(17) and the first to show that it was not necessary to go back to the Tale of Gamelyn for the story of As you like it. There is no evidence how he came by this knowledge. The casual and allusive manner in which he advances his information would seem to show that it was not of his own getting. He may have been indebted for it to the scholar who two years later put an end to the controversy. The edition of Shakespeare did not appear till October, 1765, and early in that year Johnson had spent his "joyous evening" at Cambridge with Richard Farmer.(18)
The Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare is not an independent treatise like Whalley's Enquiry, but rather a detailed reply to the arguments of Upton and his fellows. Farmer had once been idle enough, he tells us himself, to collect parallel passages, but he had been saved by his remarkable bibliographical knowledge. He found out that the literature of the age of Elizabeth was a better hunting ground than the classics for Shakespearian commentators. Again and again he shows that passages which had been urged as convincing proof of knowledge of Latin or Greek are either borrowed from contemporary translations or illustrated by contemporary usage. In so far as the Essay aims at showing the futility of the arguments advanced to prove Shakespeare's learning, it is convincing. The only criticism that can reasonably be passed on it is that Farmer is apt to think he has proved his own case when he has merely destroyed the evidence of his opponents. His conclusion regarding Shakespeare's knowledge of French and Italian may be too extreme to be generally accepted now, and indeed it may not be logically deducible from his examination of the arguments of other critics; but on the whole the book is a remarkably able study. Though Farmer speaks expressly of acquitting "our great poet of all piratical depredations on the Ancients," his purpose has often been misunderstood, or at least misrepresented. He aimed at giving Shakespeare the greater commendation, but certain critics of the earlier half of the nineteenth century would have it that he had tried to prove, for his own glory, that Shakespeare was a very ignorant fellow. William Maginn in particular proclaimed the Essay a "piece of pedantic impertinence not paralleled in literature." The early Variorum editions had acknowledged its value by reprinting it in its entirety, besides quoting from it liberally in the notes to the separate plays, and Maginn determined to do his best to rid them in future of this "superfluous swelling." So he indulged in a critical Donnybrook; but after hitting out and about at the Essay for three months he left it much as he found it.(19) He could not get to close quarters with Farmer's scholarship. His bluster compares ill with Farmer's gentler manner, and in some passages the quiet humour has proved too subtle for his animosity. There was more impartiality in the judgment of Johnson: "Dr. Farmer, you have done that which was never done before; that is, you have completely finished a controversy beyond all further doubt."(20)
After the publication of Farmer's Essay there was a change in the character of the editions of Shakespeare. Farmer is the forerunner of Steevens and Malone. He had a just idea of the importance of his work when he spoke of himself as the pioneer of the commentators. It did not matter whether his main contention were accepted; he had at least shown the wealth of illustration which was awaiting the scholar who cared to search in the literature of Shakespeare's age, and Steevens and Malone were not slow to follow. They had the advantage of being early in the field; but it is doubtful if any later editor has contributed as much as either of them did to the elucidation of Shakespeare's text. They have been oftener borrowed from than has been admitted, and many a learned note of later date may be found in germ in their editions. But with the advance of detailed scholarship the Prefaces deteriorate in literary merit. They concern themselves more and more with textual and bibliographical points, and hence, if they are of greater interest to the student, they are of less value as indications of the century's regard for Shakespeare. The change is already noticeable in Capell's Preface, on the literary shortcomings of which Johnson expressed himself so forcibly. Johnson is the last editor whose Preface is a piece of general criticism. It is an essay which can stand by itself.
By the time of Johnson and Capell the editor of Shakespeare has come to a clear idea of his "true duty." Rowe had no suspicion of the textual problems awaiting his successors. A dramatist himself, he wished merely to publish Shakespeare's plays as he would publish his own. Accordingly he modernised the spelling, divided the scenes, and added lists of dramatis personae; and the folio gave place to six octavo volumes. He was content to found his text on the fourth Folio, the last and worst; he had no idea of the superior claims of the first, though he professed to have compared the several editions. He corrected many errors and occasionally hit upon a happy emendation; but on the whole his interest in Shakespeare was that of the dramatist. Pope's interest was that of the poet. There is some truth in the criticism that he gave Shakespeare not as he was, but as he ought to be, though Pope might well have retorted that in his opinion the two conditions were identical. Whatever did not conform to his opinion of Shakespeare's style he treated as an interpolation. His collation of the texts, by convincing him of their corruption, only prompted him to a more liberal exercise of his own judgment. In the supplementary volume of Pope's edition, it had been suggested by Sewell that our great writers should be treated in the same way as the classics were, and the idea was put into practice by Theobald, who could say that his method of editing was "the first assay of the kind on any modern author whatsoever." By his careful collation of the Quartos and Folios, he pointed the way to the modern editor. But he was followed by Hanmer, who, as his chief interest was to rival Pope, was content with Pope's methods. It is easy to underestimate the value of Hanmer's edition; his happy conjectures have been prejudiced by his neglect of the older copies and his unfortunate attempt to regularise the metre; but what alone concerns us here is that he reverts to the methods which Theobald had discarded. Warburton, confident in his intellectual gifts, was satisfied with Theobald's examination of the early copies, and trusted to his own insight "to settle the genuine text." The critical ingenuity of editors and commentators, before the authority of the Folios was established, betrayed them into inevitable error. The amusing variety of conjectural readings was met by the exquisite satire of Fielding,(21) as well as by the heavy censure of Grub Street. "It is to be wished," says a catchpenny publication, "that the original text of Shakespeare were left unaltered for every English reader to understand. The numerous fry of commentators will at last explain his original meaning away."(22) This criticism was out of date by the time of Johnson and Capell. As it has long been the fashion to decry Johnson's edition, it is well to recall two statements in his Preface, which show that he had already discovered what later editors have found out for themselves:
"I collated all the folios at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first."(23)
"It has been my settled principle that the reading of the ancient books is probably true.... As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less."
Johnson's collation may not have been thorough; but no modern editor can say that he proceeded on a wrong method.
Johnson has included in his Preface an account of the work of earlier editors, and it is the first attempt of the kind which is impartial. He shows that Rowe has been blamed for not performing what he did not undertake; he is severe on Pope for the allusion to the "dull duty of an editor," as well as for the performance of it, though he also finds much to praise; he does more justice to Sir Thomas Hammer than has commonly been done since; and he is not silent on the weaknesses of Warburton. The only thing in this unprejudiced account which is liable to criticism is his treatment of Theobald. But the censure is as just as the praise which it is now the fashion to heap on him. Though Theobald was the first to pay due respect to the original editions, we cannot, in estimating his capacity, ignore the evidence of his correspondence with Warburton. In the more detailed account of his work given below, it is shown that there was a large measure of justice in the common verdict of the eighteenth century, but it was only prejudiced critics like Pope or Warburton who would say that his Shakespearian labours were futile. Johnson is careful to state that "what little he did was commonly right."
It would appear that Macaulay's estimate of Johnson's own edition has been generally accepted, even by those who in other matters remark on the historian's habit of exaggeration. "The Preface," we read, "though it contains some good passages, is not in his best manner. The most valuable notes are those in which he had an opportunity of showing how attentively he had, during many years, observed human life and human nature. The best specimen is the note on the character of Polonius. Nothing so good is to be found even in Wilhelm Meister's admirable examination of Hamlet. But here praise must end. It would be difficult to name a more slovenly, a more worthless edition of any great classic. The reader may turn over play after play without finding one happy conjectural emendation, or one ingenious and satisfactory explanation of a passage which had baffled preceding commentators."(24) And we still find it repeated that his edition was a failure. Johnson distrusted conjecture; but that there is not one happy conjectural emendation is only less glaringly untrue than the other assertion that there is not one new ingenious and satisfactory explanation. Even though we make allowance for Macaulay's mannerism, it is difficult to believe that he had honestly consulted the edition. Those who have worked with it know the force of Johnson's claim that not a single passage in the whole work had appeared to him corrupt which he had not attempted to restore, or obscure which he had not endeavoured to illustrate. We may neglect the earlier eighteenth-century editions of Shakespeare, but if we neglect Johnson's we run a serious risk. We may now abandon his text; we must rely on later scholarship for the explanation of many allusions; but, wherever a difficulty can be solved by common sense, we shall never find his notes antiquated. Other editions are distinguished by accuracy, ingenuity, or learning; the supreme distinction of his is sagacity. He cleared a way through a mass of misleading conjectures. In disputed passages he has an almost unerring instinct for the explanation which alone can be right; and when the reading is corrupt beyond emendation, he gives the most helpful statement of the probable meaning. Not only was Johnson's edition the best which had yet appeared; it is still one of the few editions which are indispensable.
The third quarter of the eighteenth century, and not the first quarter of the nineteenth, is the true period of transition in Shakespearian criticism. The dramatic rules had been finally deposed. The corrected plays were falling into disfavour, and though Shakespeare's dramas were not yet acted as they were written, more respect was being paid to the originals. The sixty years' controversy on the extent of his learning had ended by proving that the best commentary on him is the literature of his own age. At the same time there is a far-reaching change in the literary appreciations of Shakespeare, which announces the school of Coleridge and Hazlitt: his characters now become the main topics of criticism.
In the five essays on the Tempest and King Lear contributed by Joseph Warton to the Adventurer in 1753-54, we can recognise the coming change in critical methods. He began them by giving in a sentence a summary of the common verdicts: "As Shakespeare is sometimes blamable for the conduct of his fables, which have no unity; and sometimes for his diction, which is obscure and turgid; so his characteristical excellences may possibly be reduced to these three general heads—his lively creative imagination, his strokes of nature and passion, and his preservation of the consistency of his characters." Warton himself believed in the dramatic conventions. He objected to the Edmund story in King Lear on the ground that it destroyed the unity of the fable. But he had the wisdom to recognise that irregularities in structure may be excused by the representation of the persons of the drama.(25) Accordingly, in his examination of the Tempest and King Lear, he pays most attention to the characters, and relegates to a short closing paragraph his criticism of the development of the action. Though his method has nominally much in common with that of Maurice Morgann and the romantic critics, in practice it is very different. He treats the characters from without: he lacks the intuitive sympathy which is the secret of later criticism. To him the play is a representation of life, not a transcript from life. The characters, who are more real to us than actual persons of history, and more intimate than many an acquaintance, appear to him to be creatures of the imagination who live in a different world from his own. Warton describes the picture: he criticises the portraits of the characters rather than the characters themselves.
The gradual change in the critical attitude is illustrated also by Lord Kames, whom Heath had reason to describe, before the appearance of Johnson's Preface, as "the truest judge and most intelligent admirer of Shakespeare."(26) The scheme of his Elements of Criticism (1762) allowed him to deal with Shakespeare only incidentally, as in the digression where he distinguishes between the presentation and the description of passion, but he gives more decisive expression to Warton's view that observance of the rules is of subordinate importance to the truthful exhibition of character. The mechanical part, he observes, in which alone Shakespeare is defective, is less the work of genius than of experience, and it is knowledge of human nature which gives him his supremacy. The same views are repeated in the periodical essays. The Mirror regards it as "preposterous" to endeavour to regularise his plays, and finds the source of his superiority in his almost supernatural powers of invention, his absolute command over the passions, and his wonderful knowledge of nature; and the Lounger says that he presents the abstract of life in all its modes and in every time. The rules are forgotten,—we cease to hear even that they are useless. But the Elements of Criticism gave Kames no opportunity to show that his attitude to the characters themselves was other than Warton's.
No critic had questioned Shakespeare's truth to nature. The flower of Pope's Preface is the section on his knowledge of the world and his power over the passions. Lyttleton showed his intimacy with Pope's opinion when in his Dialogues of the Dead he made him say: "No author had ever so copious, so bold, so creative an imagination, with so perfect a knowledge of the passions, the humours and sentiments of mankind. He painted all characters, from kings down to peasants, with equal truth and equal force. If human nature were destroyed, and no monument were left of it except his works, other beings might know what man was from those writings." The same eulogy is repeated in other words by Johnson. And in Gray's Progress of Poesy Shakespeare is "Nature's Darling." It was his diction which gave most scope to the censure of the better critics. An age whose literary watchwords were simplicity and precision was bound to remark on his obscurities and plays on words, and even, as Dryden had done, on his bombast. What Shaftesbury(27) or Atterbury(28) had said at the beginning of the century is repeated, as we should expect, by the rhetoricians, such as Blair. But it was shown by Kames that the merit of Shakespeare's language lay in the absence of those abstract and general terms which were the blemish of the century's own diction. "Shakespeare's style in that respect," says Kames, "is excellent: every article in his descriptions is particular, as in nature." And herein Kames gave independent expression to the views of the poet who is said to have lived in the wrong century. "In truth," said Gray, "Shakespeare's language is one of his principal beauties; and he has no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in this than in those other great excellences you mention. Every word in him is a picture."(29)
The first book devoted directly to the examination of Shakespeare's characters was by William Richardson, Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow. His Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of some of Shakespeare's remarkable Characters, which dealt with Macbeth, Hamlet, Jaques, and Imogen, appeared in 1774; ten years later he added a second series on Richard III., King Lear, and Timon of Athens; and in 1789 he concluded his character studies with his essay on Falstaff. As the titles show, Richardson's work has a moral purpose. His intention, as he tells us, was to make poetry subservient to philosophy, and to employ it in tracing the principles of human conduct. Accordingly, he has prejudiced his claims as a literary critic. He is not interested in Shakespeare's art for its own sake; but that he should use Shakespeare's characters as the subjects of moral disquisitions is eloquent testimony to their truth to nature. His classical bias, excusable in a Professor of Latin, is best seen in his essay "On the Faults of Shakespeare,"(30) of which the title was alone sufficient to win him the contempt of later critics. His essays are the dull effusions of a clever man. Though they are not inspiriting, they are not without interest. He recognised that the source of Shakespeare's greatness is that he became for the time the person whom he represented.
Before the appearance of Richardson's Philosophical Analysis, Thomas Whately had written his Remarks on Some of the Characters of Shakespeare; but it was not published till 1785. The author, who died in 1772, had abandoned it in order to complete, in 1770, his Observations on Modern Gardening. The book contains only a short introduction and a comparison of Macbeth and Richard III. The fragment is sufficient, however, to indicate more clearly than the work of Richardson the coming change. The author has himself remarked on the novelty of his method. The passage must be quoted, as it is the first definite statement that the examination of Shakespeare's characters should be the main object of Shakespearian criticism:
"The writers upon dramatic composition have, for the most part, confined their observations to the fable; and the maxims received amongst them, for the conduct of it, are therefore emphatically called, The Rules of the Drama. It has been found easy to give and to apply them; they are obvious, they are certain, they are general: and poets without genius have, by observing them, pretended to fame; while critics without discernment have assumed importance from knowing them. But the regularity thereby established, though highly proper, is by no means the first requisite in a dramatic composition. Even waiving all consideration of those finer feelings which a poet's imagination or sensibility imparts, there is, within the colder provinces of judgment and of knowledge, a subject for criticism more worthy of attention than the common topics of discussion: I mean the distinction and preservation of character."
The earlier critics who remarked on Shakespeare's depiction of character had not suspected that the examination of it was to oust the older methods.
A greater writer, who has met with unaccountable neglect, was to express the same views independently. Maurice Morgann had apparently written his Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff about 1774, in an interval of political employment, but he was not prevailed upon to publish it till 1777. The better we know it, the more we shall regret that it is the only critical work which he allowed to survive. He too refers to his book as a "novelty." He believes the task of considering Shakespeare in detail to have been "hitherto unattempted." But his main object, unlike Whately's or Richardson's, is a "critique on the genius, the arts, and the conduct of Shakespeare." He concentrates his attention on a single character, only to advance to more general criticism. "Falstaff is the word only, Shakespeare is the theme."
Morgann's book did not meet with the attention which it deserved, nor to this day has its importance been fully recognised. Despite his warnings, his contemporaries regarded it simply as a defence of Falstaff's courage. One spoke of him as a paradoxical critic, and others doubted if he meant what he said. All were unaccountably indifferent to his main purpose. The book was unknown even to Hazlitt, who in the preface to his Characters of Shakespeare's Plays alludes only to Whately(31) and Richardson as his English predecessors. Yet it is the true forerunner of the romantic criticism of Shakespeare. Morgann's attitude to the characters is the same as Coleridge's and Hazlitt's; his criticism, neglecting all formal matters, resolves itself into a study of human nature. It was he who first said that Shakespeare's creations should be treated as historic rather than as dramatic beings. And the keynote of his criticism is that "the impression is the fact." He states what he feels, and he explains the reason in language which is barely on this side idolatry.(32)
Nicholas Rowe's Account of the Life, etc., of Mr. William Shakespear forms the introduction to his edition of Shakespeare's plays (1709, 6 vols., 8vo).
Rowe has the double honour of being the first editor of the plays of Shakespeare and the first to attempt an authoritative account of his life. The value of the biography can best be judged by comparing it with the accounts given in such books as Fuller's Worthies of England (1662), Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum (1675), Winstanley's English Poets (1687), Langbaine's English Dramatick Poets (1691), Pope Blount's Remarks upon Poetry (1694), or Jeremy Collier's Historical and Poetical Dictionary (1701). Though some of the traditions—for which he has acknowledged his debt to Betterton—are of doubtful accuracy, it is safe to say that but for Rowe they would have perished.
The Account of Shakespeare was the standard biography during the eighteenth century. It was reprinted by Pope, Hanmer, Warburton, Johnson, Steevens, Malone, and Reed; but they did not give it in the form in which Rowe had left it. Pope took the liberty of condensing and rearranging it, and as he did not acknowledge what he had done, his silence led other editors astray. Those who did note the alterations presumed that they had been made by Rowe himself in the second edition in 1714. Steevens, for instance, states that he publishes the life from "Rowe's second edition, in which it had been abridged and altered by himself after its appearance in 1709." But what Steevens reprints is Rowe's Account of Shakespeare as edited by Pope. In this volume the Account is given in its original form for the first time since 1714.
Pope omitted passages dealing only indirectly with Shakespeare, or expressing opinions with which he disagreed. He also placed the details of Shakespeare's later years (pp. 21-3) immediately after the account of his relationship with Ben Jonson (p. 9), so that the biography might form a complete portion by itself. With the exception of an occasional word, nothing occurs in the emended edition which is not to be found somewhere in the first.
A seventh and supplementary volume containing the Poems was added in 1710. It included Charles Gildon's Remarks on the Plays and Poems and his Essay on the Art, Rise, and Progress of the Stage in Greece, Rome, and England.
John Dennis's three letters "on the genius and writings of Shakespear" (February 1710-11) were published together in 1712 under the title An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakespear. The volume contained also two letters on the 40th and 47th numbers of the Spectator. All were reprinted in Dennis's Original Letters, Familiar, Moral and Critical, 2 vols., 1721. The Dedication is to George Granville, then Secretary at War. "To whom," says Dennis, "can an Essay upon the Genius and Writings of Shakespear be so properly address'd, as to him who best understands Shakespear, and who has most improv'd him? I would not give this just encomium to the Jew of Venice, if I were not convinc'd, from a long experience of the penetration and force of your judgment, that no exaltation can make you asham'd of your former noble art."
In 1693 Dennis had published the Impartial Critick, a reply to Rymer's Short View of Tragedy; but there is little about Shakespeare in its five dialogues, their main purpose being to show the absurdity of Rymer's plea for adopting the Greek methods in the English drama. Dennis had, however, great respect for Rymer's ability. In the first letter to the Spectator he says that Rymer "will always pass with impartial posterity for a most learned, a most judicious, and a most useful critick"; and in the Characters and Conduct of Sir John Edgar he says that "there was a great deal of good and just criticism" in the Short View.
In 1702 he brought out a "corrected" version of the Merry Wives with the title of the Comical Gallant or the Amours of Sir John Falstaffe. The adaptation of Coriolanus, which was the occasion of the Letters given in this volume, appeared as the Invader of his country, or the Fatal Resentment. It was produced at Drury Lane in November, 1719, but ran for only three nights. It was published in 1720. An account of it will be found in Genest's English Stage, iii. 2-5. It is the subject of Dennis's letter to Steele of 26th March, 1719 (see Steele's Theatre, ed. Nichols, 1791, ii. pp. 542, etc.).
Pope's edition of Shakespeare was published by Tonson in six quarto volumes. The first appeared in 1725, as the title-page shows; all the others are dated "1723."
In the note to the line in the Dunciad in which he laments his "ten years to comment and translate," Pope gives us to understand that he prepared his edition of Shakespeare after he had completed the translation of the Iliad and before he set to work on the Odyssey. His own correspondence, however, shows that he was engaged on Shakespeare and the Odyssey at the same time. There is some uncertainty as to when his edition was begun. The inference to be drawn from a letter to Pope from Atterbury is that it had been undertaken by August, 1721. We have more definite information as to the date of its completion. In a letter to Broome of 31st October, 1724, Pope writes: "Shakespear is finished. I have just written the Preface, and in less than three weeks it will be public" (Ed. Elwin and Courthope, viii. 88). But it did not appear till March. Pope himself was partly to blame for the delay. In December we find Tonson "impatient" for the return of the Preface (id. ix. 547). In the revision of the text Pope was assisted by Fenton and Gay (see Reed's Variorum edition, 1803, ii. p. 149).
A seventh volume containing the poems was added in 1725, but Pope had no share in it. It is a reprint of the supplementary volume of Rowe's edition, "the whole revised and corrected, with a Preface, by Dr. Sewell." The most prominent share in this volume of "Pope's Shakespeare" thus fell to Charles Gildon, who had attacked Pope in his Art of Poetry and elsewhere, and was to appear later in the Dunciad. Sewell's preface is dated Nov. 24, 1724.
Pope made few changes in his Preface in the second edition (1728, 8 vols., 12mo). The chief difference is the inclusion of the Double Falshood, which Theobald had produced in 1727 as Shakespeare's, in the list of the spurious plays.
The references in the Preface to the old actors were criticised by John Roberts in 1729 in a pamphlet entitled An Answer to Mr. Pope's Preface to Shakespear. In a Letter to a Friend. Being a Vindication of the Old Actors who were the Publishers and Performers of that Author's Plays.... By a Stroling Player.
Theobald's edition of Shakespeare (7 vols. 8vo) appeared in 1733. The Preface was condensed in the second edition in 1740. It is here given in its later form.
Theobald had long been interested in Shakespeare. In 1715 he had written the Cave of Poverty, a poem "in imitation of Shakespeare," and in 1720 he had brought out an adaptation of Richard II. But it was not till 1726—though the Dedication bears the date of March 18, 1725—that he produced his first direct contribution to Shakespearian scholarship,—Shakespeare restored: or, a Specimen of the Many Errors, as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope in his Late Edition of this Poet. Designed Not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the True Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever yet publish'd.
We learn from a letter by Theobald dated 15th April, 1729, that he had been in correspondence with Pope fully two years before the publication of this volume. (See Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, ii., p. 221). Pope, however, had not encouraged his advances. In the same letter Theobald states that he had no design of commenting on Shakespeare till he saw "how incorrect an edition Mr. Pope had given the publick." This remark was prompted by a note in the Dunciad of 1729, where it was stated that "during the space of two years, while Mr. Pope was preparing his Edition of Shakespear, and published advertisements, requesting all lovers of the author to contribute to a more perfect one, this Restorer (who had then some correspondence with him, and was solliciting favours by letters) did wholly conceal his design, 'till after its publication." But if Theobald had not thought of issuing comments on Shakespeare's plays till Pope's edition appeared, he must have known them well already, for Shakespeare Restored is not a hasty piece of work.
Despite the aggressiveness of the title, Theobald protests his regard for Pope in such passages as these:
"It was no small Satisfaction therefore to me, when I first heard Mr. Pope had taken upon him the Publication of Shakespeare. I very reasonably expected, from his known Talents and Abilities, from his uncommon Sagacity and Discernment, and from his unwearied Diligence and Care of informing himself by an happy and extensive Conversation, we should have had our Author come out as perfect, as the want of Manuscripts and original Copies could give us a Possibility of hoping. I may dare to say, a great Number of Shakespeare's Admirers, and of Mr. Pope's too, (both which I sincerely declare myself,) concurred in this Expectation: For there is a certain curiosa felicitas, as was said of an eminent Roman Poet, in that Gentleman's Way of working, which, we presum'd, would have laid itself out largely in such a Province; and that he would not have sate down contented with performing, as he calls it himself, the dull Duty of an Editor only."
"I have so great an Esteem for Mr. Pope, and so high an Opinion of his Genius and Excellencies, that I beg to be excused from the least Intention of derogating from his Merits, in this Attempt to restore the true Reading of Shakespeare. Tho' I confess a Veneration, almost rising to Idolatry, for the writings of this inimitable Poet, I would be very loth even to do him Justice at the Expence of that other Gentleman's Character."
Whether or not these declarations were sincere, they would hardly have stayed the resentment of a less sensitive man than Pope when passage after passage was pointed out where errors were "as well committed as unamended." Theobald even hazarded the roguish suggestion that the bookseller had played his editor false by not sending him all the sheets to revise; and he certainly showed that the readings of Rowe's edition had occasionally been adopted without the professed collation of the older copies. The volume could raise no doubt of Theobald's own diligence. The chief part of it is devoted to an examination of the text of Hamlet, but there is a long appendix dealing with readings in other plays, and in it occurs the famous emendation of the line in Henry V. describing Falstaff's death,—"for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a' babled of green fields." It should be noted that the credit of this reading is not entirely Theobald's. He admits that in an edition "with some marginal conjectures of a Gentleman sometime deceased" he found the emendation "and a' talked of green fields." Theobald's share thus amounts to the doubtful improvement of substituting babbled for talked.
Though this volume has undoubted merits, it is not difficult to understand why the name of Theobald came to convey to the eighteenth century the idea of painful pedantry, and why one so eminently just as Johnson should have dubbed him "a man of heavy diligence, with very slender powers." While his knowledge is indisputable, he has little or no delicacy of taste; his style is dull and lumbering; and the mere fact that he dedicated his Shakespeare Restored to John Rich, the Covent Garden manager who specialised in pantomime and played the part of harlequin, may at least cast some doubt on his discretion. But he successfully attacked Pope where he was weakest and where as an editor he should have been strongest. "From this time," in the words of Johnson, "Pope became an enemy to editors, collators, commentators, and verbal critics; and hoped to persuade the world that he had miscarried in this undertaking only by having a mind too great for such minute employment."
Not content with the errors pointed out in Shakespeare Restored—a quarto volume of two hundred pages—Theobald continued his criticisms of Pope's edition in Mist's Journal and the Daily Journal, until he was ripe for the Dunciad. Pope enthroned him as the hero of the poem, and so he remained till he was replaced by Colley Cibber in 1741, when the alteration necessitated several omissions. In the earlier editions Theobald soliloquised thus:
Here studious I unlucky Moderns save, Nor sleeps one error in its father's grave, Old puns restore, lost blunders nicely seek, And crucify poor Shakespear once a week. For thee I dim these eyes, and stuff this head, With all such reading as was never read; For the supplying, in the worst of days, Notes to dull books, and prologues to dull plays; For thee explain a thing 'till all men doubt it, And write about it, Goddess, and about it.
Theobald is introduced also in the Art of Sinking in Poetry among the classes of authors described as swallows and eels: the former "are eternally skimming and fluttering up and down, but all their agility is employed to catch flies," the latter "wrap themselves up in their own mud, but are mighty nimble and pert." About the same time, however, Pope brought out the second edition (1728) of his Shakespeare, and in it he incorporated some of Theobald's conjectures, though his recognition of their merit was grudging and even dishonestly inadequate. (See the preface to the various readings at the end of the eighth volume, 1728.) Yet one's sympathies with Theobald are prejudiced by his ascription to Shakespeare of the Double Falshood, or the Distrest Lovers, a play which was acted in 1727 and printed in the following year. Theobald professed to have revised it and adapted it to the stage. The question of authorship has not been settled, but if Theobald is relieved from the imputation of forgery, he must at least stand convicted of ignorance of the Shakespearian manner. Pope at once recognised that the play was not Shakespeare's, and added a contemptuous reference to it in the second edition of his Preface. It was the opinion of Farmer that the groundwork of the play was by Shirley (see the Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, p. 181).
Theobald now sought to revenge himself on Pope, and, in his own words, he "purposed to reply only in Shakespeare" (Nichols, id. ii., p. 248). His first plan was to publish a volume of Remarks on Shakespeare. On 15th April, 1729, he says the volume "will now shortly appear in the world" (id., p. 222), but on 6th November he writes to Warburton, "I know you will not be displeased, if I should tell you in your ear, perhaps I may venture to join the Text to my Remarks" (id., p. 254). By the following March he had definitely determined upon giving an edition of Shakespeare, as appears from another letter to Warburton: "As it is necessary I should now inform the publick that I mean to attempt to give them an edition of that Poet's [i.e. Shakespeare's] text, together with my corrections, I have concluded to give this notice, not only by advertisements, but by an occasional pamphlet, which, in order to retaliate some of our Editor's kindnesses to me, I mean to call, An Essay upon Mr. Pope's Judgment, extracted from his own Works; and humbly addressed to him" (id. ii., p. 551). Of this he forwards Warburton an extract. The pamphlet does not appear to have been published. The Miscellany on Taste which he brought out anonymously in 1732 contains a section entitled "Of Mr. Pope's Taste of Shakespeare," but this is merely a reprint of the letter of 15th (or 16th) April, which had already been printed in the Daily Journal. A considerable time elapsed before arrangements for publication were completed, the interval being marked by a temporary estrangement from Warburton and an unsuccessful candidature for the laureateship. Articles with Tonson were signed in November, 1731 (id. ii., pp. 13, 618), and at the same time the correspondence with Warburton was renewed. The edition did not appear till 1733. The Preface had been begun about the end of 1731.
From March, 1729, with the short break in 1730, Theobald had been in steady correspondence with Warburton, and most of his letters, with a few of those of Warburton, have been preserved by Nichols (see id. ii., pp. 189, 607). But it would have been more fortunate for Theobald's reputation had they perished. The cruel contempt and bitterness of Warburton's references to him after their final estrangement may be offensive, but the correspondence shows that they were not without some justification. Theobald submits his conjectures anxiously to the judgment of Warburton, and again and again Warburton saves him from himself. In one of the letters Theobald rightly condemns Pope's proposed insertion of "Francis Drake" in the incomplete line at the end of the first scene of Henry VI., Part 1.; but not content with this flawless piece of destructive criticism he argues for inserting the words "and Cassiopeia." The probability is that if Warburton had not condemned the proposal it would have appeared in Theobald's edition. "With a just deference to your most convincing reasons," says Theobald, "I shall with great cheerfulness banish it as a bad and unsupported conjecture" (id. ii., p. 477); and this remark is typical of the whole correspondence. A considerable share of the merit of Theobald's edition—though the share is mostly negative—belongs to Warburton, for Theobald had not taste enough to keep him right when he stepped beyond collation of the older editions or explanation by parallel passages. Indeed, the letters to Warburton, besides helping to explain his reputation in the eighteenth century, would in themselves be sufficient to justify his place in the Dunciad.
Warburton had undoubtedly given Theobald ungrudging assistance and was plainly interested in the success of the edition. But as he had gauged Theobald's ability, he had some fears for the Preface. So at least we gather from a letter which Theobald wrote to him on 18th November, 1731:
"I am extremely obliged for the tender concern you have for my reputation in what I am to prefix to my Edition: and this part, as it will come last in play, I shall certainly be so kind to myself to communicate in due time to your perusal. The whole affair of Prolegomena I have determined to soften into Preface. I am so very cool as to my sentiments of my Adversary's usage, that I think the publick should not be too largely troubled with them. Blockheadry is the chief hinge of his satire upon me; and if my Edition do not wipe out that, I ought to be content to let the charge be fixed; if it do, the reputation gained will be a greater triumph than resentment. But, dear Sir, will you, at your leisure hours, think over for me upon the contents, topics, orders, etc., of this branch of my labour? You have a comprehensive memory, and a happiness of digesting the matter joined to it, which my head is often too much embarrassed to perform; let that be the excuse for my inability. But how unreasonable is it to expect this labour, when it is the only part in which I shall not be able to be just to my friends: for, to confess assistance in a Preface will, I am afraid, make me appear too naked. Rymer's extravagant rancour against our Author, under the umbrage of criticism, may, I presume, find a place here" (id. ii., pp. 621, 622).
This confession of weakness is valuable in the light of Warburton's Preface to his own edition of 1747. His statement of the assistance he rendered Theobald is rude and cruel, but it is easier to impugn his taste than his truthfulness. Theobald did not merely ask for assistance in the Preface; he received it too. Warburton expressed himself on this matter, with his customary force and with a pleasing attention to detail, in a letter to the Rev. Thomas Birch on 24th November, 1737. "You will see in Theobald's heap of disjointed stuff," he says, "which he calls a Preface to Shakespeare, an observation upon those poems [i.e. L'Allegro and Il Penseroso] which I made to him, and which he did not understand, and so has made it a good deal obscure by contracting my note; for you must understand that almost all that Preface (except what relates to Shakespeare's Life, and the foolish Greek conjectures at the end) was made up of notes I sent him on particular passages, and which he has there stitched together without head or tail" (Nichols, ii., p. 81). The Preface is indeed a poor piece of patch-work. Examination of the footnotes throughout the edition corroborates Warburton's concluding statement. Some of the annotations which have his name attached to them are repeated almost verbatim (e.g. the note in Love's Labour's Lost on the use of music), while the comparison of Addison and Shakespeare is taken from a letter written by Warburton to Concanen in 1726-7 (id. ii., pp. 195, etc.). The inequality of the essay—the fitful succession of limp and acute observations—can be explained only by ill-matched collaboration.
Warburton has himself indicated the extent of Theobald's debt to him. In his own copy of Theobald's Shakespeare he marked the passages which he had contributed to the Preface, as well as the notes "which Theobald deprived him of and made his own," and the volume is now in the Capell collection in Trinity College, Cambridge. Mr. Churton Collins, in his attempt to prove Theobald the greatest of Shakespearean editors, has said that "if in this copy, which we have not had the opportunity of inspecting, Warburton has laid claim to more than Theobald has assigned to him, we believe him to be guilty of dishonesty even more detestable than that of which the proofs are, as we have shown, indisputable."(33) An inspection of the Cambridge volume is not necessary to show that a passage in the Preface has been conveyed from one of Warburton's letters published by Nichols and by Malone. Any defence of Theobald by an absolute refusal to believe Warburton's word can be of no value unless some proof be adduced that Warburton was here untruthful, and it is peculiarly inept when Theobald's own page proclaims the theft. We know that Theobald asked Warburton for assistance in the Preface, and gave warning that such assistance would not be acknowledged. Warburton could have had no evil motive in marking those passages in his private copy; and there is surely a strong presumption in favour of a man who deliberately goes over seven volumes, carefully indicating the material which he considered his own. It happens that one of the passages contains an unfriendly allusion to Pope. If Warburton meant to be "dishonest"—and there could be no purpose in being dishonest before he was Theobald's enemy—why did he not disclaim this allusion some years later? The simple explanation is that he marked the passages for his own amusement while he was still on friendly terms with Theobald. They are thirteen in number, and they vary in length from a few lines to two pages. Four of them are undoubtedly his, and there is nothing to disprove that the other nine are his also.(34)
Theobald quotes also from his own correspondence. On 17th March, 1729-30, he had written to Warburton a long letter dealing with Shakespeare's knowledge of languages and including a specimen of his proposed pamphlet against Pope. "Your most necessary caution against inconsistency, with regard to my opinion of Shakespeare's knowledge in languages," he there says characteristically, "shall not fail to have all its weight with me. And therefore the passages that I occasionally quote from the Classics shall not be brought as proofs that he imitated those originals, but to shew how happily he has expressed themselves upon the same topics" (Nichols, ii., pp. 564, etc.). This part of the letter is included verbatim three years afterwards in the Preface. So also is the other passage in the same letter replying to Pope on the subject of Shakespeare's anachronisms. Theobald borrows even from his own published writings. Certain passages are reproduced from the Introduction to Shakespeare Restored.
If Theobald could hardly acknowledge, as he said, the assistance he received in writing the Preface, he at least admitted his editorial debt to Warburton and others punctiliously and handsomely. After referring to Dr. Thirlby of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Hawley Bishop, he thus writes of his chief helper:
"To these, I must add the indefatigable Zeal and Industry of my most ingenious and ever-respected Friend, the Reverend Mr. William Warburton of Newark upon Trent. This Gentleman, from the Motives of his frank and communicative Disposition, voluntarily took a considerable Part of my Trouble off my Hands; not only read over the whole Author for me, with the exactest Care; but enter'd into a long and laborious Epistolary Correspondence; to which I owe no small Part of my best Criticisms upon my Author.
"The Number of Passages amended, and admirably Explained, which I have taken care to distinguish with his Name, will shew a Fineness of Spirit and Extent of Reading, beyond all the Commendations I can give them: Nor, indeed, would I any farther be thought to commend a Friend, than, in so doing, to give a Testimony of my own Gratitude."
So the preface read in 1733. But by the end of 1734 Warburton had quarrelled with Theobald, and by 1740, after a passing friendship with Sir Thomas Hanmer, had become definitely attached to the party of Pope. This is probably the reason why, in the Preface to the second edition, Theobald does not repeat the detailed statement of the assistance he had received. He wisely omits also the long and irrelevant passage of Greek conjectures, given with no other apparent reason than to parade his learning. And several passages either claimed by Warburton (e.g. that referring to Milton's poems) or known to be his (e.g. the comparison of Addison and Shakespeare) are also cancelled.
The merits of the text of Theobald's edition are undeniable; but the text is not to be taken as the sole measure of his ability. By his diligence in collation he restored many of the original readings. His knowledge of Elizabethan literature was turned to good account in the explanation and illustration of the text. He claims to have read above eight hundred old English plays "to ascertain the obsolete and uncommon phrases." But when we have spoken of his diligence, we have spoken of all for which, as an editor, he was remarkable. Pope had good reason to say of him, though he gave the criticism a wider application, that
Pains, reading, study are their just pretence, And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.
The inner history of his Preface would prove of itself that Theobald well deserved the notoriety which he enjoyed in the eighteenth century.
Sir Thomas Hanmer.
Sir Thomas Hanmer's edition of Shakespeare, in six handsome quarto volumes, was printed at the Clarendon Press in 1743-44. As it appeared anonymously it was commonly called the "Oxford edition." It was well known, however, that Hanmer was the editor. Vols. ii., iii., and iv. bear the date 1743; the others, 1744.