« PreviousContinue »
course of this work, from every thing like controversial discussion of the critical merits of Mr. Malone: his reputation is too well established to require my support. I remember the sensible adage of Bentley, which no one more fully exemplified than that illustrious scholar, that "no man is written down but by himself;" and I was willing to rest contented with what poor Ritson threw out, as what he considered a stroke of double satire, that the publick and Mr. Malone appeared to entertain a reciprocal good opinion of each other *. Independently of this general rule which I have laid down, I had clearly no concern with any of the various publications in which he was attacked during his life-time; which he had read, and which he might himself have answered, if he had thought it worth his while. But since his death a work has come forth of such acknowledged excellence in other respects, and proceeding from a writer of such literary eminence, containing remarks of such a nature, that I cannot feel myself justified in passing them over in total silence.
Mr. Malone entertained a very high regard for Mr. Gifford: he admired his talents, but he respected him still more for the principles, congenial with his own, which directed him in their application: it was with singular satisfaction that he availed himself of an opportunity of affording him literary assistance; when he had certainly no reason to complain of the terms in which his courtesy was acknowledged; and during his intercourse with that gentleman, I know he flattered himself that they viewed each other with sentiments of mutual esteem. How then would he have been mortified and chagrined, if he had lived to peruse the last edition of Ben Jonson, in which not only his critical opinions are frequently treated with contempt, but even language (I trust hastily) employed, which might seem to cast an imputation on his moral character? It is to this point I speak: and Mr.
Cursory Criticisms on Malone's edition, p. ix.
Gifford, who himself knows no cold medium in his attachments, would probably despise me, I should certainly despise myself, if I did not come forward, and attempt, at least, to show that such charges are altogether unfounded.
Before I advert to any of Mr. Gifford's accusations in detail, I must make a few preliminary observations. In looking to the opinion which Mr. Malone had formed of Ben Jonson, and his hostility to Shakspeare, an opinion with which I must take this early opportunity of saying I never could coincide, it is important, with a view to appreciate his motives, that we should inquire how far those notions originated with himself, or had been taken up as transmitted by others. If the fair fame of Jonson, hitherto unimpeached, had by him been first called in question, he might then indeed have been stigmatised as a reviler of the illustrious dead, whom all preceding writers had mentioned with honour. But the truth is, that he only adopted opinions which had been almost universally prevalent for more than a century before he wrote, and commencing his literary career with this impression upon his mind, fomented as it was by correspond ing prejudices in the minds of those with whom he was first associated in his labours upon Shakspeare; the indignation which he felt against one, who he thought had been unjust to the god of his idolatry, made him look upon the subject with a jaundiced eye, and prevented him, at least in some measure, from applying to it that singular acuteness which on other occasions was so successfully employed in the investigation of truth and the detection of error. I say in some measure; for the reader will find in this later edition, many observations withdrawn, which he had discovered to be erroneous; and there are others yet remaining, which, had I felt myself at liberty to do so, I should gladly have expunged; from a conviction that as truth was at all times the sole object which my late friend had in view, he would have
gladly recalled whatever he had before mistakingly asserted. That the notion of Jonson's hostility to Shakspeare was of no modern date, it will not require many words to prove. It was not only handed down, as Mr. Gifford states, from Mr. Malone to Mr. Weber, but from Dryden, through almost every intermediate writer, to Mr. Malone. So strong, indeed, according to Mr. Gifford, was the general feeling upon this subject, that in speaking of an idle anecdote, related by Smollet of Ben Jonson, he has this remark *: "Smollet knew less of Jonson than even Mr. Malone; he knew enough, however, of the publick to be convinced that in calumniating him, he was on the right side." I admit that this great poet has been wrongfully treated; I lament that Mr. Malone was led by others into an injurious estimation of his character; but when Mr. Gifford proceeds to accuse my friend of wilful misrepresentation, I must show, as I think satisfactorily, that the charge is destitute of proof.
A note written by Mr. Steevens, which was originally appended to Jonson's Commendatory Verses on Shakspeare, but which in the present edition is placed in juxta-position to the Essay in its confutation, had been referred to by Mr. Malone in a note on Mr. Rowe's Life of the Poet.. The following is the remark of Mr. Gifford:
See also (he says) Mr. Steevens's note on those verses. -With pain I have seen it; and with disgust will the reader learn, that this note of Mr. Steevens is neither more nor less than the identical letter of Macklin's which Mr. Malone himself had previously employed nearly thirty pages in proving to be a forgery from end to end! Ther exposure occurs in the first volume, the note' at the end of the second; so that Mr. Malone intrepidly hurries past his own refutation in quest of a known falsehood to bolster up a recorded lie.+" 17 1
vad enennd *Gifford's Jonson, vol. viii. p. 453.99. À Let It The same, vol. i. p. ccliii. ?] veż mocowy
These are hard words: and Mr. Gifford, I am confident, will regret his having used them, when he shall find that he is altogether mistaken in the fact. He has informed us that all his quotations are taken from the edition in 1793, and this, for purposes of general reference, might have been amply sufficient; but when such language is applied to a note of Mr. Malone's, founded, in a great measure, on the place which it occupies, it might have been wished that Mr. Gifford had cast his eye upon the only edition for which Mr. Malone can be considered as responsible, his own in 1790. He would have there found Mr. Steevens's note, vol. i. p. 202; and in the same volume, one hundred and eighty pages afterwards, he would have seen Mr. Malone's refutation. But this is by no means the only instance in which Mr. Malone has been judged by the acts of another. ·
In speaking of The Winter's Tale, Mr. Gifford remarks, that Mr. Malone's "text and his notes confound each other." They certainly do so, if we are satisfied to take them as they are exhibited by Mr. Steevens. But how stands the fact? Mr. Malone, in his Essay on the Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays, had ascribed The Winter's Tale to the year 1604; but having afterwards procured an inspection of Sir Henry Herbert's office book, he discovered that he had been in an error before his work had finally issued from the press, and pointed it out in his Emendations. The first and erroneous statement Mr. Steevens retained as the text, and then converted the subsequent correction into a note to the very passage which it was designed to overthrow; and thus, by the gross negligence, if ignorantly done, or if otherwise, by the petty trick of a rival editor, Mr. Malone is exposed to the charge of having written nonsense. Another remark by Mr. Gifford arises from his inattention to dates. He commences with an extract from Mr. Malone.
"The Comedy of Humours, played eleven times between 25th Nov. 1596 and 11th Maye, 1597. Perhaps,
Mr. Malone, (on this extract from Henslowe's memorandum-book,) Every Man in his Humour. It will appear that Ben Jonson had money dealings with Mr. Henslowe, the manager of this theatre, (the Rose,) and that he wrote for him. The play might afterwards have been purchased from this company by the Lord Chamberlain's servants, (Shakspeare, Burbage, Heminge, Condell, &c.) by whom it was acted in 1598.' Shak. vol. ii. p. 457.
"Would the reader believe, on any authority but the writer's own, that the Mr. Malone, who drew up this plain paragraph, could be the same Mr. Malone who, not merely in one, or two, but in a hundred places, has grossly reviled Jonson on the score of ingratitude to Shakspeare for introducing him to the stage, and bringing out this very play!"
There can be no difficulty in believing it to be the same Mr. Malone who drew up this paragraph, when he had acquired information of which he was not possessed before. He introduces his extracts from the Henslowe MSS. with these words:-"Just as this work was issuing from the press, some curious manuscripts, relative to the stage, were found at Dulwich College, and obligingly transmitted to me from thence." It is evident that these papers could not, without the gift of prophecy, have enabled Mr. Malone to correct what appeared in an early part of his work, if they did not meet his eye till the conclusion. I may add, that their discovery and polite transmission to the historian of the stage, will add little support to Mr. Gifford's terms of "sloth and ignorance," so harshly applied to the members of that institution. The censures which are passed on Mr. Malone upon slighter matters, will not require me to detain the reader long.
"Mr. Malone had previously employed several pages (vol. i. pp. 611-15,) in proving Twelfth Night to be written in 1614, that is, sixteen years before the appearance of Every Man out of his Humour; he had also positively affirmed (p. cclxxv) that he did not believe