Page images
PDF
EPUB

of the tender friendship of Ford and Shakspeare, and the consequent envy of “the malignant Ben;" -in a word, every syllable of the charge as far as relates to the latter, is flung overboard without ceremony! Instead, however, of regretting his injustice, and expressing somewhat like contrition for the daring falsehood which he had advanced, and the calumnies he had fabricated; the editor returns to the attack, and is permitted by his illadvised friends to look back thirty years, for a proof of Jonson's enmity-not to Ford, but-to Shakspeare! “in that strong passage in the Return from Parnassus” (1602,)—which forms the only blot in Shakspeare's character, as it exhibits him wantonly joining a rabble of obscure actors in persecuting Jonson who was struggling for existence, and who had not offended him even in thought. So besotted is malice!

The note will now be changed, and, with an air of affected commiseration, I shall be askedfor old experience in these perversities has endued me with something like prophetic strain,--why, with the sentiments which I am known to entertain of the commentator, I have “ condescended” ---blessings on the phrase!—to notice him at length? or why, indeed, at all? I reply in the very words which I once heard Macklin himself make use of:—they cannot be much praised for

their courtesy, it must be admitted; but Macklin was not courteous.

“ I'll not answer that: But say it is my

humour;

is it answered ?" Reproof, indeed, does not always profit the object of it; nor is it expected that it should : for what censor was ever vain or mad enough to suppose that he could reform a detractor without feeling, a scribbler without shame! But the example is not lost on others, and on this consideration alone interference is fully justified. It is not, it never can be, good that petulance should find immunity in its wantonness, or malevolence in its excess; and, setting aside dramatic criticism for the moment, there are other departments of literature, in which the seasonable exposure of the stupendous ears of a maître âne (a Hunt or a Hazlitt, for example) frequently relieves the public from the wearisome braying of a drove of less audacious brutes.

And on what particular ground is Mr. Weber entitled to forbearance? Omitting his calumnies and his falsehoods, his insolence is, at least, as notorious as his ignorance. In the Introduction to Massinger,* I spoke of Monck Mason naso adunco, as I was abundantly warranted in doing :

* See Mass. vol. i.

P.

xcix.

but that gentleman did not always repose in his disgraceful negligence. He saw his error, acknowledged, and reformed it. He studied the old editions of our dramatic writers with care and success, and subsequently became one of the most acute and rational commentators on our great poet. It appears that he also meditated an edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, and had prepared a considerable body of notes to accompany it. The extent of the work alarmed him, and he laid it aside, after sending to the press a great number of emendations, and elucidatory remarks, creditable at once to his industry and his judgment. These fell, of course, into the hands of Mr. Weber, and constitute the only valuable part of his publication, for his own notes are of the most contemptible kind—yet he has the hardihood to speak of Mr. Monck Mason as if he had never advanced a step beyond his Massinger; and of every preceding editor of Beaumont and Fletcher with a contempt that, to say the least of it, strangely misbecomes him. Instances of this might be produced from every page. Assuredly, Simpson and Seward were no great champions in the field of criticism: compared with Mr. Weber, however, they were giants, and worthy to be cited by him without a scoff. We have seen with what contempt he speaks of “old Ben:”. but he even presumes to treat Dr. Johnson him

self without much more ceremony; he calls him in one place a “ literary bugbear,” and, in another, sneers at his“ superficial contest” with Mr. Steevens! And here-I know not how—but the name recals a little anecdote to my mind, which, as my best atonement, I am tempted to preserve from oblivion.

My friend, the late Lord Grosvenor, had a house at Salt-hill, where I usually spent a part of the summer, and thus became a neighbour of that great and good man, Jacob Bryant, who kindly encouraged me to visit him. Here the conversation turned one morning on a Greek criticism by Dr. Johnson, in some volume lying on the table, which I ventured (for I was then young) to deem incorrect; and pointed it out to him. I could not help thinking that he was somewhat of my opinion ; but he was cautious and reserved. But, Sir, said I- willing to overcome his scruples - Dr. Johnson himself (a fact which Mr. Bryant well knew) admitted that he was not a good Greek scholar. Sir,” he replied, with a serious and impressive air, “ it is not easy for us to say what such a man as Johnson would call a good Greek scholar.” I hope that I profited by the lesson-certainly, I never forgot it—and if but one of my readers do the same, I shall not repent placing it upon record.

To return to Ford. The tragedy reprinted by

Dodsley had both pleased and interested me; and Isaac Reed, to whom I applied, kindly furnished me with a complete collection of the author's works, so that I was prepared to welcome the New Edition—for of Mr. Weber, I only knew that he was patronized by two of the most liberal and kindhearted of men, and encouraged to copy and reprint some of our old metrical romances.

A slight glance convinced me that the republication was utterly worthless; and I proceeded, with my

habitual regard for truth, and reverence for the literary character of my country, to rescue not the worst of its poets from the ignorance which overlaid him, and disgraced the national press. I had no distinct notion of giving an edition of Ford myself at that time; for which, in truth, I had little leisure: but I ceased not to look forward to a period of less responsibility, when it might not be incompatible with my ordinary pursuits, and contented myself, in the interim, with occasional revises of the original text. Even thus, I should, perhaps, have yielded to the pressure of age and ever-recurring disease, and left the task to others, had I not perceived that the booksellers had profited little by experience, and that our old poetry was still foisted upon the public from the modern copies, without improvement, and, in fact, without knowledge: it was therefore morally certain that a reprint of this miserable

« PreviousContinue »