« PreviousContinue »
16 MR. RICHARDSON'S PROPOSALS.
must be confessed, that this change might have been introduced for no other reason than more effectually to discriminate his own production from that of his predecessor. On the same account also he might have reversed the figure.
N. B. The plates to be delivered in the order they are subscribed for; and subscriptions received at Mr. Richardson's, where the original portrait (by permission of Samuel Felton, Esq.) will be exhibited for the inspection of subscribers, together with the earlier engravings from it by Droeshout in 1623, and Marshall in 1640.1
Castle Street, Leicester Square,
It is common for an artist who engraves from a painting that has been already engraved, to place the work of his predecessor before him, that he may either catch some hints from it, or learn to avoid its errors. Marshall most certainly did so in the present instance; but while he corrected Droeshout's ruff, he has been led by him to desert his original in an unauthorised expansion of our author's forehead.
PROPOSALS OF MR. RICHARDSON.
WHEN the newly discovered Portrait of our great Dramatick Writer was first shown in Castle Street, the few remaining advocates for the Chandosan canvas observed, that its unwelcome rival exhibited not a single trait of Shakspeare. But, all on a sudden, these criticks have shifted their ground; and the representation originally pronounced to have been so unlike our author, is since declared to be an immediate copy from the print by Martin Droeshout.
But by what means are such direct contrarieties. of opinion to be reconciled? If no vestige of the Poet's features was discernible in the Picture, how is it proved to be a copy from an engraving by which alone those features can be ascertained? No man will assert one thing to have been imitated from another, without allowing that there is some unequivocal and determined similitude between the objects compared.-The truth is, that the first point of objection to this unexpected Portrait was soon overpowered by a general suffrage in its favour. A second attack was therefore hazarded, and has yet more lamentably failed.
As a further note of the originality of the Head belonging to Mr. Felton, it may be urged, that the artist who had ability to produce such a delicate
and finished Portrait, could most certainly have made an exact copy from a very coarse print, provided he had not disdained so servile an occupation. On the contrary, a rude engraver like Droeshout, would necessarily have failed in his attempt to express the gentler graces of so delicate a picture. Our ancient handlers of the burin were often faithless to the character of their originals; and it is conceived that some other performances by Droeshout will furnish no exception to this remark.
Such defective imitations, however, even at this period, are sufficiently common. Several prints from well-known portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Romney, are rendered worthless by similar infidelities; for notwithstanding these mezzotints preserve the outlines and general effect of their originals, the appropriate characters of them are as entirely lost as that of Shakspeare under the hand of Droeshout.-Because, therefore, an engraving has only a partial resemblance to its archetype, are we at liberty to pronounce that the one could not have been taken from the other?
It may also be observed, that if Droeshout's plate had been followed by the painter, the line in front of the ruff would have been incurvated, and not have appeared straight, as it is in the smaller print by Marshall from the same picture. In antiquated English portraits, examples of rectilineal ruffs are familiar; but where will be found such another as the German has placed under the chin of his metamorphosed poet? From its pointed corners, resembling the wings of a bat, which are constant indications of mischievous agency, the engraver's ruff would have accorded better with the pursuits of his necromantick countryman, the celebrated Doctor Faustus.
In the mean while it is asserted by every ade quate judge, that the coincidences between the picture and the print under consideration, are too strong and too numerous to have been the effects of chance. And yet the period at which this likeness of our author must have been produced, affords no evidence that any one of our early limners had condescended to borrow the general outline and disposition of his portraits from the tasteless heads pre. fixed to volumes issued out by booksellers. The art ist, indeed, who could have filched from Droeshout, like Bardolph, might have "stolen a lute-case, carried it twelve leagues, and sold it for three halfpence.
But were the print allowed to be the original, and the painting a mere copy from it, the admission of this fact would militate in full force against the authenticity of every other anonymous and undated portrait from which a wretched old engraving had been made; as it would always enable cavillers to assert, that the painting was subsequent to the print, and not the print to the painting. True judges, however, would seldom fail to determine, (as they have in the present instance,) whether a painting was coldly imitated from a lumpish copper-plate, or taken warm from animated nature.
For the discussion of subjects like these, an eye habituated to minute comparison, and attentive to peculiarities that elude the notice of unqualified observers, is also required. Shakspeare's countenance deformed by Droeshout, resembles the sign of Sir Roger de Coverley, when it had been changed into a Saracen's head; on which occasion the Spectator observes, that the features of the gentle Knight were still apparent through the lineaments of the ferocious Mussulman.
That the leading thought in the verses annexed
to the plate by Droeshout is hacknied and common, will most readily be allowed; and this observation would have carried weight with it, had the lines in question been anonymous. But the subscription of Ben Jonson's name was a circumstance that rendered him immediately responsible for the propriety of an encomium which, however open to dispute, appears to have escaped contradiction, either metrical or prosaick, from the surviving friends of Shakspeare.
But, another misrepresentation, though an involuntary one, and of more recent date, should not be overlooked.
In the matter prefatory to W. Richardson's Proposals, the plate by Vertue from Mr. Keck's (now the Chandos) picture, is said to have succeeded the engraving before Mr. Pope's edition of Shakspeare, in six volumes quarto.' But the contrary is the fact; and how is this circumstance to be accounted for? If in 1719 Vertue supposed the head which he afterwards admitted into his Set of Poets, was a genuine representation, how happened it that his next engraving of the same author, in 1725, was taken from quite a different painting, in the collection of the Earl of Oxford? Did the artist, in this instance, direct the judgment of his Lordship and Mr. Pope? or did their joint opinion over-rule that of the artist? These portraits, being wholly unlike each other, could not (were the slightest degree of respect due to either of them) be both received as legitimate representations of Shakspeare.-Perhaps, Vertue (who is described by
This mistake originated from a passage in Lord Orford's Anecdotes, &c. 8vo. Vol. V. p. 258, where it is said, and truly, that Vertue's Set of Poets appeared in 1730. The particular plate of Shakspeare, however, as is proved by a date at the bottom of it, was engraved in 1719.