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author's illustration, were of so little account in their time, that what now we can scarce procure. at any price, was then the furniture of the nursery or stall. In fifty years after our poet's death,
"My blood begins my safer guides to rule; "And passion, having my best judgment collied," &c. So also, Edgar, in King Lear:
"The safer sense will ne'er accommodate
The price of books at different periods may serve in some measure to ascertain the taste and particular study of the age. At the sale of Dr. Francis Bernard's library in 1698, the following books were sold at the annexed prices:
Gower de Confessione Amantis.
Now sold for two guineas.
Caxton's Recueyll of the Histories of Troy, 1502.
This book is now frequently sold for ten guineas.
Turberville on hawking and hunting.
This book is now usually sold for a guinea.
Powell's History of Wales.
0 2 6
0 4 0 064
6 10 1 10 6
The two volumes of Painter's Palace of Pleasure are now usually sold for three guineas.
Metamorphosis of Ajax, by Sir John Harrington. 0 0 4
Dryden mentions that he was then become "a little obsolete." In the beginning of the present century Lord Shaftesbury complains of his "rude unpolished stile, and his ANTIQUATED phrase and wit;" and not long afterwards Gildon informs us that he had been rejected from some modern collections of poetry on account of his obsolete language. Whence could these representations have proceeded,but because our poet,not being diligently studied, not being compared with the contemporary writers, was not understood? If he had been " read, admired, studied, and imitated," in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last 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 such person was found; no anxiety in the publick sought out any particulars concerning him after the Restoration, (if we except the few which were collected by Mr.Aubrey,) though at that time the history of his life must have been known to many; for his sister Joan Hart, who must have known much of his early years, did not die till 1646: his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, lived till 1649; and his second 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 sword, survived our poet above forty years, having died at Stratford in 1657. His elder brother, William Combe, lived till 1667. Sir Richard Bishop, who was born in 1585, lived at Bridgetown near Stratford till 1672; and his son, Sir William Bishop, who was born in 1626, died there in 1700. From all these persons without doubt many circumstances relative to
Shakspeare might have been obtained; but that was an age as deficient in literary curiosity as in
It is remarkable that in a century after our poet's death, five editions only of his plays were publish ed; which probably consisted of not more than three thousand copies. During the same period three editions of the plays of Fletcher, and four of those of Jonson had appeared. On the other hand, from the year 1716 to the present time, that is, in seventy-four years, but two editions of the former writer, and one of the latter, have been issued from the press; while above thirty thousand copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England. That nearly as many editions of the works of Jonson as of Shakspeare should have been demanded in the last century, will not appear surprising, when we recollect what Dryden has related soon after the Restoration: that "others were then generally preferred before him." By others Jonson
• Notwithstanding our high admiration of Shakspeare, we are yet without a splendid edition of his works, with the illustrations 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 almost as much propriety, be called their works, as those 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 some future, and no very distant time, I mean to furnish the publick with an elegant edition in quarto, (without engravings,) in which the text of the present edition shall be followed, with the illustrations subjoined in the same page.
In the year 1642, whether from some capricious vicissitude in the publick taste, or from a general inattention to the drama, we find Shirley complaining that few came to see our author's performances:
and Fletcher were meant. To attempt to show to the readers of the present day the absurdity of
"What audience we have: what company
"To Shakspeare comes? whose mirth did once beguile
Prologue to The Sisters. "Shakspeare to thee was dull, whose best jest lies "I'th lady's questions, and the fool's replies; "Old fashion'd wit, which walk'd from town to town, "In trunk-hose, which our fathers call'd the clown; "Whose wit our nicer times would obsceneness call, "And which made bawdry pass for comical. "Nature was all his art; thy vein was free "As his, but without his scurrility."
Verses on Fletcher, by William Cartwright,
After the Restoration, on the revival of the theatres, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were esteemed so much superior 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 testimony needed any corroboration, the following verses
would afford it:
"In our old plays, the humour, love, and passion,
Prologue to Shirley's Love Tricks, 1667.
At every shop, while Shakspeare's lofty stile Neglected lies, to mice and worms a spoil, "Gilt on the back, just smoking from the press, "The apprentice shews you D'Urfey's Hudibras, "Crown's Mask, bound up with Settle's choicest labours, "And promises some new essay of Babor's."
SATIKE, published in 1680.
against old as well as new to rage,
"Is the peculiar frenzy of this age.
Shakspeare must down, and you must praise no more,
"Soft Desdemona, nor the jealous Moor:
such a preference, would be an insult to their understandings. When we endeavour to trace any thing like a ground for this preposterous taste, we are told of Fletcher's ease, and Jonson's learning. Of how little use his learning was to him, an ingenious writer of our own time has shown with that vigour and animation for which he was distinguished. "Jonson, in the serious drama, is as much an imitator, as Shakspeare is an original. He was very learned, as Sampson was very strong, to his own hurt. Blind to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it. We see nothing of Jonson, nor indeed of his admired (but also murdered) ancients; for what shone in the historian 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 less, if he had read more? Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty genius, indeed, through the most mountainous oppression would have breathed
"Shakspeare, whose fruitful genius, happy wit,
Prologue by Sir Charles Sedley, to the Wary Widow,
To the honour of Margaret Duchess of Newcastle be it remembered, that however fantastick in other respects, she had taste enough to be fully sensible 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.