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grandest inspirations and most exquisitely wrought fancies of the great dramatist were as a sealed book. Many an humble individual whom the learned bear growled atwe do not hesitate to include even “Bozzy" himself — appreciated Shakespeare better than the literary dictator did. The Doctor did not hesitate to say, that one passage in that clever fop Congreve's Mourning Bride was finer than any thing in all Shakespeare's works. And who can forget, or forgive, the manner in which he abuses Sweet Will, when he does not understand him; or, worse yet, the insufferable arrogance with which he patronizes him, and pats him on the head, when he does ? Who ever read, without an ebullition of wrath, this curt, savage, and pedagoguish dismissal of Cymbeline :
“This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes ; but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the iction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation."
Poor great moralist ! obtuse wise man! ignorant Doctor of Laws ! For thee Imogen, that purest, that most enchanting, most noble creation, that loveliest, most lovable, most loving, and so most womanly of women,- that peerless lady among Shakespeare's peerless ladies, was spoken into being in vain! In vain, for thee the glowing thoughts, the gorgeous imagery, the dainty utterance ! In vain for thee the wondrous self-development of character by dialogue and dramatic action! In vain for thee
“the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phæbus 'gins arise,
On chalic'd flowers that lies."
for thy rectilinear vision is fixed upon “the confusion of names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life,” and, besides,
springs that lies," is ungrammatical ! All the fine writing in the Doctor's high sounding preface will not atone for his treatment of Shakespeare in the body of the work. It is worth while to read here his note on the passage,
“One inch of delay is a South Sea of discovery.
Prithee tell me, &c.," Warburton's treatment of which has just been noticed.
“ This sentence is rightly noted by the commentator as nonsense, but not so happily restored to sense. I read thus : 'One inch of delay is a South Sea. Discover, I prithee, tell me, &c.'”
In the same play Johnson gravely proposes to read Silvius' entreaty to Phebe,
“Will you sterner be Than he that dies and lives by bloody drops?”
“Will you sterner be Than he that dyes his lips by bloody drops ?” It seems difficult to believe that the author of the Rambler and the Idler should have given us such emendations by the score ; but these are favorable specimens of a large proportion of his notes; and in those very publications, criticisms occur not less deplorable to the appreciative reader of the bard of all time.
Edward Capell was one of the most learned and laborious of the editors of Shakespeare. He published in 1759 a quarto volume entitled, “Notes and various Readings of Shakespeare;" in 1768 he issued an edition of Shakespeare in ten volumes octavo ; and in 1779 his "Notes and Various Readings,” with many additions and the “School of Shakespeare,” were republished in three formidable quarto volumes. The critical student of Shakespeare must have these books, and, alas ! must read them. Capell's words are not without knowledge ; but they often do as much to darken counsel as has been accomplished by the most ignorant of his co-laborers. Infinite pains and trouble and the closest thinking are sometimes required, to divine what he would be at. The obscurest passage in the author whom he strives to elucidate is luminous as the sun, compared with the convoluted murkiness of his page ; and when by chance he quotes a passage for comment, as its clear significance flashes upon the mind, we involuntarily think of the people who sat in darkness and saw a great light. And yet Capell did something for the text. He too, like most of his predecessors and successors, made some conjectural emendations which at once commended themselves to the general sense of the readers of Shakespeare, and which have been preserved, while the mass of his labors are thrust aside, for rare consultation, upon the shelves of the critical or the curious. His collocation of the various readings of the old editions is invaluable for reference.
At about this period Shakesperian criticism became rampant. The publication of Warburton's edition in 1747 had provoked controversy and given new stimulus to investigation. From that day commentary trod upon the heels of commentary, and panting pamphleteers toiled on after each other in the never-ending struggle to reach the true text of Shakespeare; a goal which seemed to recede faster than their advance. The commentators were nearly all learned men ; and many were men of remarkable ability. But their labors were almost altogether in vain. When they strove most, displayed the most learning, exercised the most ingenuity, they were most at fault: when they were successful, it was generally by chance, and upon some point which they regarded as of little consequence. To estimate their services to the text, compared with the harm they did it, as "two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff,” is to pass a lenient judgment upon their labors. There were reasons for all this. Critical Dogberrys that they were, they went not the way to examine. Their learning, the school in which they had been educated, the taste of the day - formed as it was by the remnants of the French taste of Dryden's dynasty, and the chilling influence of the cold and polished correctness of the school of Addison and Pope, overlaid by the lexicographical style of Johnson,-joined to their own conceit and the want of a just appreciation of the genius of Shakespeare, led them entirely astray. They did not recognize him as their master, at whose feet they were to sit and learn. They did not go to their task in an humble, docile spirit. Milton had written,
“Sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child
Warbles his native wood notes wild ;”. a petty puling dribble of belittling, patronizing praise, for which he should never have been forgiven, had he not atoned for it by that grand line in the Epitaph,—one of the grandest and most imaginative he ever wrote,-in which he calls Shakespeare,
“Dear son of memory, great heir of fame.” But the first encomium, which might not inaptly be passed upon a missy contributor to a Ladies' Magazine, chimed with the taste of the middle of the last century; and Shakespeare was regarded as an untutored genius, sadly in need of pruning and training ; a charming, but unsophisticated songster, whose "native wood notes wild,” if their exuberance could be tamed down to the barrel-organ standard of the poet fanciers of the day, would be meet
entertainment for persons of quality,--if they were not too exacting as to the unities. In editing his works for the closet, the constant effort was, not to imbibe his spirit and touch his work with reverential hand, but to make him conform as much as possible to the standard which the critics had set up. No one of them seemed to suspect that Shakespeare could have been a law unto himself. In adapting his plays to the stage, a yet more outrageous desecration of his genius was the fashion for nearly a hundred years. The soul of Procrustes seemed to have migrated into every play-wright and stage-manager in England, from the day of the Restoration; and Shakespeare's plays, when they were presented at all, were so curtailed, distorted, mosaicked, patched, vamped and garbled, that the original work was lost almost beyond recognition. The second Scene of the first Act of Dryden's version of the Tempest, actually begins :
“Prospero. Miranda, where is your sister?
Miranda. I left her looking from the pointed rock,” &c.; and in Nahum Tate's adaptation of King Lear, the tragedy ends in farce, and Lear dances at the wedding of Cordelia with Edmund. The stage library groans under heaps of these abominations; and to this day we have not escaped their baleful influence. Although we owe much to Mr. Macready and Mr. Charles Kean in this regard, hardly a play of Shakespeare's is now put upon the stage with the dramatic sequence and the development of character preserved exactly as he left them to us.
No one can complain of the omission of a few gross expressions, admissible when Shakespeare wrote, but offensive now : the grievance is, that it seems to be forgotten that Shakespeare was an actor and a manager ; that he wrote his plays to please the people and make money ; and that, his audiences being constituted of all sorts and conditions of men, he succeeded.