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author's illustration, were of fo little account in their time, that what now we can scarce procure at any price, was then the furniture of the nurfery or ftall.2 In fifty years after our poet's death, Dryden mentions that he was then become "a
"My blood begins my Jafer guides to rule;
"And paffion, having my best judgment collied," &c. So alfo, Edgar, in King Lear:
"The fafer fenfe will ne'er accommodate
* The price of books at different periods may ferve in fome measure to ascertain the tafte and particular study of the age. At the fale of Dr. Francis Bernard's library in 1698, the following books were fold at the annexed prices :
Gower de Confeffione Amantis.
Now fold for two guineas.
Caxton's Recueyll of the Hiftories of Troy, 1502.
Holinfhed's Chronicle, 1587.
This book is now frequently fold for ten guineas.
Turberville on hawking and hunting.
This book is now ufually fold for a guinea.
Powell's Hiftory of Wales.
The two volumes of Painter's Palace of Pleasure are now ufually fold for three guineas.
Metamorphofis of Ajax, by Sir John Harrington. 004
little obfolete." In the beginning of the prefent century Lord Shaftesbury complains of his " rude unpolished ftile, and his ANTIQUATED phrafe and wit;" and not long afterwards Gildon informs us that he had been rejected from fome modern collections of poetry on account of his obfolete language. Whence could these representations have proceeded, but becaufe our poet, not being diligently ftudied, not being compared with the contemporary writers, was not underflood? If he had been "read, admired, ftudied, and imitated," in the fame degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of fome one or other of his admirers in the laft age would have induced him to make some enquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life. But no fuch perfon was found; no anxiety in the publick fought out any particulars concerning him after the Restoration, (if we except the few which were collected by Mr. Aubrey,) though at that time the hiftory of his life muft have been known to many; for his fifter Joan Hart, who muft have known much of his early years, did not die till 1646 his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, lived till 1649; and his fecond daughter, Judith, was living at Stratford-upon-Avon in the beginning of the year 1662. His grand-daughter, Lady Barnard, did not die till 1670. Mr. Thomas Combe, to whom Shakspeare bequeathed his fword, furvived our poet above forty years, having died at Stratford in 1657. His elder brother, William Combe, lived till 1667. Sir Richard Bifhop, who was born in 1585, lived at Bridgetown near Stratford till 1672; and his fon, Sir William Bishop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these persons without doubt many circumftances relative to
Shakspeare might have been obtained; but that was an age as deficient in literary curiofity as in taste.
It is remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five. editions only of his plays were publifhed; which probably confifted of not more than three thousand copies. During the fame period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of thofe of Jonfon had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 1716 to the present time, that is, in feventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been iffued from the prefs; while above thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England.3 That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonfon as of Shakspeare fhould have been demanded in the last century, will not appear furprifing, when we recollect what Dryden has related foon after the Restoration: that "others were then generally preferred before him."4 By others Jonfon
3 Notwithstanding our high admiration of Shakspeare, we are yet without a splendid edition of his works, with the illuftrations which the united efforts of various commentators have contributed; while in other countries the most brilliant decorations have been lavished on their distinguished poets. The editions of Pope and Hanmer, may, with almoft as much propriety, be called their works, as thofe of Shakspeare; and therefore can have no claim to be admitted into any elegant library. Nor will the promised edition, with engravings, undertaken by Mr. Alderman Boydell, remedy this defect, for it is not to be accompanied with notes. At fome future, and no very diftant time, I mean to furnish the publick with an elegant, edition in quarto, (without engravings,) in which the text of the prefent edition fhall be followed, with the illuftrations fubjoined in the fame page.
4 In the year 1642, whether from fome capricious viciffitude in the publick tafte, or from a general inattention to the drama, we find Shirley complaining that few came to fee our author's performances:
and Fletcher were meant. To attempt to fhow to the readers of the prefent day the abfurdity of
"To Shakspeare comes? whose mirth did once beguile
Prologue to The Sifters. Shakspeare to thee was dull, whofe beft jeft lies "I'th lady's queftions, and the fool's replies; "Old fashion'd wit, which walk'd from town to town, "In trunk-hofe, which our fathers call'd the clown; "Whose wit our nicer times would obsceneness call, "And which made bawdry pafs for comical. "Nature was all his art; thy vein was free "As his, but without his fcurrility."
After the Reftoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were esteemed fo much fuperior to those of our author, that we are told by Dryden, "two of their pieces were acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's." If his teftimony needed any corroboration, the following verfes would afford it:
Verses on Fletcher, by William Cartwright, 1647.
"In our old plays, the humour, love, and paffion,
Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667, "At every fhop, while Shakspeare's lofty stile "Neglected lies, to mice and worms a spoil, "Gilt on the back, juft fmoking from the prefs, "The apprentice fhews you D'Urfey's Hudibras, " Crown's Mask, bound up with Settle's choiceft labours, "And promifes fome new effay of Babor's."
SATIRE, published in 1680.
Is the peculiar frenzy of this age.
Shakspeare muft down, and you must praise no more, "Soft Desdemona, nor the jealous Moor:
against old as well as new to rage,
fuch a preference, would be an insult to their understandings. When we endeavour to trace any thing like a ground for this prepofterous tafte, we are told of Fletcher's eafe, and Jonfon's learning. Of how little ufe his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has shown with that vigour and animation for which he was diftinguished. "Jonfon, in the serious drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakspeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampfon was very ftrong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. We fee nothing of Jonfon, nor indeed of his admired (but alfo murdered) ancients; for what fhone in the hiftorian is a cloud on the poet, and Catiline might have been a good play, if Sallust had never written.
"Who knows whether Shakspeare might not have thought lefs, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonfon's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the moft mountainous oppreffion would have breathed
"Shakspeare, whofe fruitful genius, happy wit,
"The pride of nature, and the shame of schools,
Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widow,
To the honour of Margaret Duchefs of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantaftick in other respects, she had taste enough to be fully fenfible of our poet's merit, and was one of the first who after the Restoration published a very high eulogy on him. See her Sociable Letters, folio, 1664, p. 244.