« PreviousContinue »
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 find 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 what it is scarcely possible to expect, greater sagacity, and more happy conjecture, than have hitherto 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 his 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 time has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonnetteer." 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 among 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 his 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 Po Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton; whose respective merits 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
era of Shakspeare's popularity. Nor, among the honours paid to his genius, ought we to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydeli. Still less ought it to be forgotten how much the reputation of Shakspeare was revived by the unrivalled excellence of Garrick's performance. His share in directing the public taste towards the study of Shakspeare was, perhaps, greater than that of any individual in his time; and such was his zeal, and such his success, in this laudable attempt, that he may readily be forgiven the foolish mummery of the Stratford Jubilee.
When public opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined to hold, he became the promising object of fraud and imposture. This, we have already observed, he did not wholly escape in his own time, and he had the spirit, or policy, to despise it". It was reserved for modern impostors, however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in which his history is involved. In 1751, a book was published, entitled "A compendious or brief Examination of certayne ordinary Complaints of divers of our Countrymen in those our Days: which, although they are in some parte unjust and frivolous, yet are they all by way of Dialogue, throughly debated and discussed by William Shakspeare, gentleman." This had been originally published in 1581; but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved, that W. S. gent. the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare in the reprinted edition, meant William Stafford, gent. Theobald, the same accurate critic informs us, was desirous of palming upon the world a play called Double Falsehood, for a posthumous one of Shakspeare. In 1770 was reprinted at Feversham, an old play called The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham and Black Will, with a preface attributing it to Shakspeare, without the smallest foundation. But these were trifles, compared to the atrocious attempt made in 1795-6, when, besides a vast mass of prose and verse, letters, &c. pretendedly in the hand-writing of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled Vortigern, was not only brought forward for the astonishment of the admirers of Shakspeare, but actually performed on Drury Lane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Steevens has very happily characterised as "the performance of a madman, without a lucid interval," or to enter more at large into the nature of a fraud so recent, and so soon acknowledged by the authors of it. It produced, however, an interesting controversy between Mr. Malone and Mr. George Chalmers, which, although mixed with some unpleasant asperities, was extended to inquiries into the history and antiquities of the stage, from which future critics and historians may derive considerable information 13.
" Mr. Malone has given a list of fourteen plays ascribed to Shakspeare, either by the editors of the two later folios, or by the compilers of ancient catalogues. Of these, Pericles has found advocates for
its admission into his works. C.
13 This sketch of Shakspeare's Life was drawn up by the present writer for a variorum edition of his works published in 1804; and no additional light having since been thrown on Shakspeare's history, it is here reprinted with very few alterations. C.
I KNOW not how I shall offend in dedicating my
Your honour's in all duty,
"Thrice fairer than myself," thus she began,
"The field's chief flower, sweet above compare, Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are; Nature that made thee, with herself at strife, Saith, that the world hath ending with thy life. "Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed,
And rein his proud head to the saddle bow;
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know:
But rather famish them amid their plenty,
Earth's sovereign salve to do a goddess good:
The precedent of pith and livelihood,
Under the other was the tender boy,
He red for shame, but frosty in desire.
Nimbly she fastens, (O how quick is love!)
To tie the rider she begins to prove :
Each leaning on their elbows and their hips:
And 'gins to chide, but soon she stops his lips; And kissing speaks, with lustful language broken, "If thou wilt chide, thy lips shall never open."
He burns with bashful shame; she with her tears Doth quench the maiden burning of his cheeks; Then with her windy sighs, and golden hairs,
To fan and blow them dry again she seeks: He says, she is immodest, blames her 'miss; What follows more, she smothers with a kiss.
Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,
Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone, Shaking her wings, devouring all in haste,
Till either gorge be stuff'd, or prey be gone; Even so she kiss'd his brow, the cheek, his chin, And where she ends, she doth anew begin.
Fore'd to content, but never to obey,
Panting he lies, and breathing in her face; She feedeth on the steam, as on a prey,
And calls it heavenly moisture, air of grace, Wishing her cheeks were gardeus full of flowers, So they were dew'd with such distilling showers.
Look how a bird lies tangled in a net,
So fasten'd in her arms Adonis lies;
Pure shame and aw'd resistance made him fret,
Still she entreats, and prettily entreats,
For to a pretty ear she tunes her tale; Still is he sullen, still he low'rs and frets,
"Twixt crimson shame and anger, ashy-pale; Being red, she loves him best; and, being white, Her best is better'd with a more delight.
Look how he can, she cannot choose but love;
Till he take truce with her contending tears, Which long have rain'd, making her cheeks all wet; And one sweet kiss shall pay this countless debt.
Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
Like a di-dapper peering through a wave, Who being look'd on, ducks as quickly in;
So suffers he to give what she did crave; But when her lips were ready for his pay, He winks, and turns his lips another way.
Never did passenger in summer's heat
More thirst for drink, than she for this good turn. Her help she sees, but help she cannot get;
She bathes in water, yet in fire must burn: "Oh pity," 'gan she cry, "flint-hearted boy; 'T is but a kiss I beg; why art thou coy?
"I have been woo'd, as I entreat thee now, Even by the stern and direful god of war, Whose sinewy neck in battle ne'er did bow,
Who conquers where he comes, in every jar; Yet hath he been my captive and my slave, And begg'd for that which thou unask'd shall have.
"Over my altars hath he hung his lance,
His batter'd shield, his uncontrolled crest, And for my sake hath learn'd to sport and dance, To coy, to wanton, dally, smile, and jest ; Scorning his churlish drum, and ensign red, Making my arms his field, his tent my bed.
"Thus him that over-rul'd, I oversway'd,
Leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain: Strong-temper'd steel his stronger strength obey, Yet was he servile to my coy disdain.
O be not proud, nor brag not of thy might,
"Touch but my lips with those fair lips of thine
(Though mine be not so fair, yet are they red) The kiss shall be thine own as well as mine:
What see'st thou in the ground? hold up thy head; Look in mine eye-balls where thy beauty lies: Then why not lips on lips, since eyes on eyes?
"Art thou asham'd to kiss? then wink again,
And I will wink, so shall the day seem night; Love keeps his revels where there be but twain,
Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight: These blue-vein'd violets whereon we lean, Never can blab, nor know they what we mean.
The tender spring upon thy tempting lip Shows thee unripe; yet may'st thou well be tasted; Make use of time, let not advantage slip;
Beauty within itself should not be wasted: Fair flowers that are not gather'd in their prime, Rot and consume themselves in little time.
"Were I hard favour'd, foul, or wrinkled old,
Ill natur'd, crooked, churlish, harsh in voice, O'erworn, despised, rheumatic, and cold,
Thick-sighted, barren, lean, and lacking juice, Then migh'st thou pause, for then I were not for
But having no defects, why dost abhor me?
Mine eyes are grey, and bright, and quick in turnMy beauty as the spring doth yearly grow, [ing;
My flesh is soft and plump, my marrow burning; My smooth moist hand, were it with thy band felt, Would in thy palm dissolve, or seem to melt.
"Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear,
Or, like a fairy, trip upon the green,
Dance on the sands, and yet no footing seen :
"Witness this primrose bank whereon I lie; [me;
These forceless flowers like sturdy trees support Two strengthless doves will draw me through the sky,
From morn till night, even where I list to sport me: Is love so light, sweet boy, and may it be That thou shouldst think it heavy unto thee?
"Is thine own heart to thine own face affected ? Can thy right hand seize love upon thy left? Then woo thyself, be of thyself rejected,
Steal thine own freedom, and complain of theft. Narcissus so, himself himself forsook, And dy'd to kiss his shadow in the brook.
"Torches are made to light, jewels to wear, Dainties to taste, fresh beauty for the use, Herbs for their smell, and sappy plants to bear;
Things growing to themselves are growth's abuse: Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breadeth beauThou wert begot-to get it is thy duty. [ty.