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took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performance at Drury Lane theatre amounted to above two hundred pounds, but the receipts at Covent Garden did not exceed one hundred pounds.

From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pon, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can hereafter be discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory and illustrate his writings. In the sketch we have given, if the dates of his birth and death be excepted, what is there on which the reader can depend, or for which, if he contend eagerly, he may not be involved in controversy, and perplexed with contradictory opinions and authorities?

It is usually said that the life of an author can be little else than a history of his works; but this opinion is liable to many exceptions. If an author, indeed, has passed bis days in retirement, his life can afford little more variety than that of any other man who has lived in retirement; but if, as is generally the case with writers of great celebrity, he has aequired a pre-eminence over his contemporaries, if he has excited rival contentions, and defeated the attacks of criticism or of malignity, or if he has plunged into the controversies of his age, and performed the part either of a tyrant, or a hero in literature, his history may be rendered as interesting as that of any other public character. But whatever weight may be allowed to this remark, the decision will not be of much consequence in the case of Shakspeare. Unfortur:ately we know as little of the progress of his writings as of his personal history. The industry of bis illustrators for the last thirty years has been such as probably never was surpassed in the annals of literary investigation, yet so far are we from information of the conclusive or satisfactory kind, that even the order in which his plays were written rests principally on conjecture, and of some plays usually printed among his works, it is not yet determined whether he wrote the whole, or any part.

Much of our ignorance of every thing which it would be desirable to know respecting Shakspeare's works, must be imputed to the author himself. If we look merely at the state in which he left luis productions, we should be apt to conclude, either that he was insensible of their value, or that while he was the greatest, he was at the same time the bumblest writer the world ever produced; “ that he thought his works unworthy of posterity, that he levied no ideal tribute upon future times, por had any further prospect, than that of present popularity and present profit S.” And such an opinion, although it apparently partakes of the ease and looseness of conjecture, may not be far from probability. But before we allow it any higher merit, or attempt to decide upon the affection or neglect with which he reviewed his labours, it may be necessary to consider their precise nature, and certain circumstances in his situation which affected them; and, above all, we must take into our account the character

• Dr. Johnson's preface. (.

and predominant occupations of the times in which he lived, and of those which followed his decease,

With respect to himself, it does not appear that he printed any one of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his lifetime. The reason assigned for this is, that he wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to the managers when only an actor, reserved them in manuscript when himself a manager, and when he disposed of his property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript to prevent their being acted by the rival houses. Copies of some of them appear to have been surreptitionsly obtained, and published in a very incorrect state, but we may suppose that it was wiser in the author or managers to overlook this fraud, than to publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear therefore that any publication of his plays by himself would have interfered, at first with his own interest, and afterwards with the interest of those to whom he had made over his share in them. But even had this obstacle been removed, we are not sure that he would have gained much by publication. If he had no other copies but those belonging to the theatre, the business of correction for the press must have been a toil which we are afraid the taste of the public at that time would have poorly rewarded. We know not the exact portion of fame he enjoyed; it was probably the highest which dramatic genius could confer, but dramatic genius was a new excellence, and not well understood. Its claims were probably not heard out of the jurisdiction of the master of the revels, certainly not beyond the metropolis. Yet such was Shakspeare's reputation that we are told his name was put to pieces which he never wrote, and that he felt himself too confident in popular favour to undeceive the public. This was singular resolution in a man who wrote so unequally, that at this day the test of internal evidence must be applied to his doubtful productions with the greatest caution. But still how far his character would have been elevated by an examination of his plays in the closet, in an age when the refinements of criticism were not understood, and the sympathies of taste were seldom felt, niay admit of a question. “ His language,” says Dr. Johnson, “not being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be, if it conveyed bis meaning to the audience."

Shakspeare died in 1616, and seven years afterwards appeared the first edition of his plays, published at the charges of four booksellers, a circumstance from which Mr. Malone infers, “ that no single publisher was at that time willing to risk his money on a complete collection of our author's plays.” This edition was printed from the copies in the hands of his fellow-managers Heminge and Condell, which had been in a series of years frequently altered through convenience, caprice, or ignorance. Heminge and Condell had now retired from the stage, and, we may suppose, were guilty of no injury, to their successors, in printing what their own interest only had formerly withheld. Of this, although we have no documents amounting to demonstration, we may be convinced, by adverting to a circumstance which will in our days appear very extraordinary, namely, the declension of Shakspeare's popularity. We have seen that the publication of his works was accounted a doubtful speculation, and it is yet more certain that so much had the public taste turned from him in quest of variety, that for several years after bis death the plays of Fletcher were more frequently acted than his, and during the whole of the seventeenth century, they were made to give place to performances, the greater part of which cannot now be endured. During the same period only four editions of

his works were published, all in folio ; and perhaps this unwieldy size of volume may be an additional proof at they were not popular; nor is it thought that the impressions were numerous.

These circumstances which attach to our author and to his works, must be allowed a plausible weight in accounting for our deficiencies in his biography and literary career ; but there were circumstances enough in the history of the times to suspend the progress of that more regular drama of which he had set the example, and may be considered as the founder. If we wonder why we know so much less of Shakspeare than of his contemporaries, let us recollect that his genius, however highly and justly we now rate it, took a direction which was not calculated for permanent admiration, either in the age in which he lived, or in that which followed. Shakspeare was a writer of plays, a promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism; and an amusement which, although it has been classed among the schools of morality, has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral purposes, that the force of law has, in all ages, been called in to preserve it within the bounds of common decency. The church has ever been unfriendly to the stage. A part of the injunctions of queen Elizabeth is particularly directed against the printing of plays; and, according to an entry in the books of the stationers' company, in the forty-first year of her reign, it is ordered that no plays he printed except allowed by persons in authority. Dr. Farmer also remarks that, in that age, poetry and novels were destroyed publicly by the bishops, and privately by the paritans. The main transactions, indeed, of that period could not admit of much attention to matters of amusement. The Reformation required all the circumspection and policy of a loug reign, to render it so firmly established in popular favour as to brave the caprice of any succeeding sovereign. This was effected, in a great measure, by the diffusion of religious controversy, which was encouraged by the church, and especially by the puritans, who were the immediate teachers of the lower classes, were listened to with veneration, and usually inveighed against all public amusements, as inconsistent with the Christian profession. These coutroversies continued during the reign of James I. and were, in a considerable degree, promoted by him, although he, like Elizabeth, was a favourer of the stage, as an appendage to the grandeur and pleasures of the court. But the commotions which followed, in the unhappy reign of Charles I. when the stage was totally abolished, are sufficient to account for the oblivion thrown on the history and works of our great bard. From this time, no inquiry was made, until it was too late to obtain any information more satisfactory than the few bearsay scraps and contested traditions above detailed. " How little,” says Mr. Steevens, “ Shakspeare was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of The Tatler having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from Davenant's alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost every original beauty is either awkwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted 10.”

In fifty years after his death, Dryden mentions that he was then become “ a little obsolete.” In the beginning of the last century, lord Shaftesbury complains of his “ rude, unpolished style, and his antiquated phrase and wit." It is certain that, for nearly an hundred years after his death, partly owing to the immediate revolution and rebellion, and partly to the licentious taste encouraged in Charles II.'s time, and perhaps partly to

16 Mr. Steevens's Advertisement to the Reader, first printed in 1773.

the incorrect state of his works, he was almost entirely neglected. Mr. Malone bas justly remarked, that “if he had been read, admired, studied, and imitated, in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of bis theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life "."

His aduirers, however, if he had admirers in that age, possessed no portion of such enthusiasm. That curiosity which, in our days, has raised biography to the rank of an independent study, was scarcely known, and, where known, confined principally to the public transactions of eminent characters. And if, in addition to the circumstances already stated, we consider how little is known of the personal history of Shakspeare's contemporaries, we may easily resolve the question why, of all men who have ever claimed admiration by genius, wisdom, or valour, who have eminently contributed to enlarge the taste, promote the happiness, or increase the reputation of their country, we know the least of Shakspeare: and why, of the few particulars which seem entitled to credit, when simply related, and in which there is no manifest violation of probability, or promise of importance, there is scarcely one which has not swelled into a controversy. After a careful examination of all that modern research has discovered, we know not how to trust our curiosity beyond the limits of those barren dates which afford no personal history. The nature of Shakspeare's writings prevents that appeal to internal evidence wbich, in other cases, has been found to throw light on character. The purity of his morals, for example, if sought in his plays, must be measured against the licentiousness of his language; and the question will then be, how much did he write from conviction, and how much to gratify the taste of his hearers ? How much did he add to the age, and how much did he borrow from it? Pope says, “ He was obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company;" and Pope might have said more : for, although we bope it was not true, we have no means of proving that it was false.

The only life wbich has been prefixed to all the editions of Shakspeare of the eighteenth century, is that drawn up by Mr. Rowe, and which he modestly calls “ Some Account, &c.” In this we have what Rowe could collect when every legitimate source of information, was closed, a few traditions that were floating nearly a century after the author's death, Some, inaccuracies in his account have been detected, in the valuable notes of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone ; who, in other parts of their respective editions, have scattered a few brief notices, which are incorporated in the present sketch. The whole, however, is unsatisfactory. Shakspeare, in his private character, in his friendships, in his amusements, in his closet, in his family, is no where before us; and such was the nature of the writings on which his fame depends, and of that employment in which he was engaged, that, being in no important respect connected with the history of his age, it is in vain to look into the latter for any information concerning him.

Mr. Capell is of opinion that he wrote some prose works, because “ it can hardly be supposed that he, who had so considerable a share in the confidence of the earls of Essex and Southampton, could be a mute spectator only of controversies in which they were so much interested." This editor, however, appears to have taken for granted a degree of confidence with these two statesmen which he ought first to have proved. Shakspeare might bave enjoyed the confidence of their social hours, but it is mere conjecture that

u Mr. Malone's Preface to his edition, 1790.

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they admitted him into the confidence of their state affairs. Mr. Malone, whose opinions are entitled to a higher degree of credit, thinks that his prose compositions, if they should be discovered, would exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we fiod in his plays. It is unfortunate, however, for all wishes and all conjectures, that not a line of Shakspeare's manuscript is known to exist, and his prose writings are no where hinted at. We have only printed copies of his plays and poems, and those so depraved by carelessness, or ignorance, that all the labour of all his commentators has not yet been able to restore them to a probable purity; many of the greatest difficulties attending the perusal of them yet remain, and will require wbat it is scarcely possible to expect, greater sagacity, and more happy conjecture, than have bitherto been employed.

Of his Poems, it is, perhaps, necessary that some notice should be taken, although they have never been favourites with the public, and have seldom been reprinted with bis plays. Shortly after his death, Mr. Malone informs us, a very incorrect impression of them was issued out, which in every subsequent edition was implicitly followed, until be published a correct edition, in 1780, with illustrations, &c. But the peremptory decision of Mr. Steevens, on the merits of these poems, must not be omitted. “We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c. of Shakspeare, because the strongest act of parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service. Had Shakspeare produced no other works than these, his name would have reached us with as little celebrity as tiine has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sopnetteer.” Severe as this may appear, it only amounts to the general conclusion which modern critics have formed. Still it cannot be denied that there are many scattered beauties amoug his Sonnets, and in The Rape of Lucrece; enough, it is hoped, to justify their admission into the present collection, especially as the Songs, &c. from his plays have been added, and a few smaller pieces selected by Mr. Ellis. Although they are now lost in the blaze of his dramatic genius, Mr. Malone remarks, “ that they seem to have gained him more reputation than bis plays: at least, they are oftener mentioned, or alluded to."

The elegant Preface of Dr. Johnson gives an account of the attempts made, in the early part of the last century, to revive the memory and reputation of our poet, by

ve, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton; whose respective marits he has characterised with candour, and with singular felicity of expression. Shakspeare's works may be overloaded with criticism; for what writer has excited so much curiosity, and so many opinions ! But Johnson's Preface is an accompaniment worthy of the genius it celebrates. His own edition followed in 1765; and a second, in conjunction with Mr. Steevens, in 1773. The third edition of the joint editors appeared in 1785, the fourth in 1793, and the last, and most complete, in 1803, in twenty-one volumes, octavo. Mr. Malone's edition was published in 1790, in ten volumes, crown octavo, and is now become exceedingly scarce. His original notes and improvements, however, are incorporated in the editions of 1793 and 1803, by Mr. Steevens. Mr. Malone says, that from the year 1716 to the date of his edition in 1790, that is, in seventy-four years, " above thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England.” To this we may add, with confidence, that since 1790 that number has been doubled, During the year 1803, no fewer than nine editions were in the press, belonging to the proprietors of this work; and if we add the editions printed by others, and those published in Scotland, Ireland, and America, we may surely fix the present as the highest

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