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tended confirmation of them, refer to documents which have not, nor ever had, existence.”*
I have no wish to afflict the reader with the details of this scandalous transaction, and shall therefore merely observe that Macklin, who, in 1745, was alike ignorant of Ford and his works, (see vol. ii. p. 2,) shortly became so familiar with both, that, in 1748, he fixed upon one of his plays (“The Lover's Melancholy”) for his wife's benefit. As the piece was new to the town, Macklin inserted a letter in the “ General Advertiser, " dilating on its surprizing merits, which are fully accounted for, by the “ close intimacy that subsisted between the author and Shakspeare, as appears from several of Ford's sonnets and verses”! As the public did not appear to interest themselves much in this connection, a new stimulant was found necessary. The performance was put off for a week, during which Macklin laboriously exerted himself in fabricating a libel against Jonson, of whom he had not even thought before, in which every calumny that avarice, working
ignorance and impudence, could devise, is brought forward against an innocent man, for the unworthy purpose of disposing of a few additional tickets.t
* Letter to W. Gifford, p. 24.
+ If the reader wishes for more on this subject, let him have the goodness to turn to the introductory remarks on the New Inn,
The reader may wonder, perhaps, why this exploded stuff was admitted into the Variorum. It may be easily explained. In reprinting the
Commendatory Poems” on Shakspeare, it became necessary to commence with that of Jonson " to the memory of his beloved friend :” gyric, be it said, which was not only the first
(Jonson, vol. v. p.315.) where sufficient to gratify his curiosity will be found, in a connected narrative.
It has not been observed that this republication of Macklin's forgeries might lead, in some degree, to the fabrications of young Master Ireland. Macklin, who only wanted his trick to succeed for a night or two, was satisfied with referring to · Ford's Sonnets and Poems,' as a convincing proof that he lived in strict friendship with Shakspeare; but his more enterprizing follower, who saw a fair prospect of raising a fortune on the gullibility of this great lubber the town, prudently chose to take the Shaksperian papers ( Sonnets and Poems and Plays') into his owu hands; and bequeath them, in the name of the great poet, to an ancestor of bis own-a certain W. H. Ireland, Esq. who, like Ford,“ lived in strict friendship with Sbakspeare," and was entrusted with the care of his MSS.!
It is mortifying to look back a few years, to this disgraceful event, and to see George Chalmers fighting knee-deep in authorities for the authenticity of this most ridiculous stuff; and Dr. Parr on his knees, reverently kissing a vulgar scrawl dangling from a dirty piece of red tape, with Dr. Warton close behind him !*
It is still more mortifying to reflect, that had this youth, who was a poor illiterate creature, possessed but a single grain of prudence, and known when and where to stop, his wortbless forgeries might, at this moment, be visited by anniversary crowds of devoted pilgrims, in some splendid shrine set apart, in his father's house,
for these pious purposes.
* Scc" H. Ireland's Confessions."
in date, but which, in warmth of affection and judicious and zealous praise, is worth all that has since appeared on the subject. To leave Jonson,
, with the impression of this most cordial testimony to the talents and virtues of our great poet on the reader's mind, was death to Steevens; and he had hardly patience to copy the last word of it, before he again burst forth—What you have just seen is mere hypocrisy; I will now show you Jonson's real sentiments: and, accordingly, he brings forward the forgeries of Macklin from some old newspapers, where they had lain covered with dust for nearly half a century,“ without entertaining," as Mr. Weber is pleased to assure us, (Introduction, p. xxiv.) “ any suspicion of their authenticity”!
I have elsewhere called Steevens the Puck of Commentators; and I know not that I could have described him more graphically. Yet, in this, strict justice, I fear, is hardly done to Puck. Both delighted to mislead; and both enjoyed the fruits of their mischievous activity: but the frank and boisterous laugh, the jolly hoh! hoh! hoh! of the fairy hobgoblin degenerated, in his follower, to a cold and malignant grin, which he retired to his cell to enjoy alone. Steevens was an acute and apprehensive mind, cankered by envy and debased.
With respect to the credulity of this subdolous
spirit, for the sincerity of which the undoubting Mr. Weber so freely vouches, there is not a syllable of truth in it. Mr. Malone assured me, over and over, that Steevens did not believe one word of it. The last conversation which I had with this gentleman, (which took place as we were walking in Piccadilly,) turned upon
very subject, when he repeated his assurances; adding that Steevens, exclusively of other causes, espoused the forgery with the insidious hope of deceiving others. With Mr. Malone, who, as he frankly confesses, was prompt to believe the worst of Jonson, he was completely successful at first: but, before he could avail himself of his triumph, his colleague anticipated his discovery, and, with the assistance of Whalley, and a few well-ascertained facts and dates, exposed, at once, the ignorance and impudence of this malicious fabrication.
Had Mr. Weber contented himself with simply copying his predecessor's calumnies, though he would not have gained much as an author, he might have escaped censure: but this was not enough for his ambition; he saw how little was required to insult a man of integrity, learning and genius, and he aspired to the honour of adding his name to the long list of Jonson's persecutors, and fabricating new charges against him. Could he be suspected of reading the works on which he has
been occasionally employed, it might be thought that he had adopted, with regard to Jonson, as too many others have done, the advice and opinion of the old romancer :
“ Hew off his honde, his legge, his theye, his armys:
It is the Turk !—though he be sleyn, noon harm is"!
It is but Jonson !
Here, however, Mr. Weber's better Genius forsook him : for his additional violation of truth called forth that “Letter" to which I have so often alluded, and levelled the whole of his audacious calumnies in the dust. What Mr. Weber thought of this detection of his falsehood, this exposure of his ignorance, is only known to his inmates. To justify himself was impossible; and signals of distress were therefore thrown out on every side :-
forthwith to his aid was run'by some of his early friends; one of whom did every thing that kindness could suggest, and prepared a species of apology, (defence there could be none,) which was subsequently inserted in the prefatory matter, and in the notes, to the last edition of Beaumont and Fletcher.
The sequel of this transaction is curious. The whole of Macklin, which occupies so large a part of Mr. Weber's Introduction, together with “ the authentic documents," in Mr. Weber's possession,