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AN ACCOUNT OF THE ENGLISH DRAMATIC
BY GERARD LANGBAINE.*
This well-known work is esteemed, and not without reason, for the great extent of information which it displays on the subject taken in hand by worthy Mr. Langbaine, who says, in a preface to this edition, “My former catalogue of plays has found so kind a reception from the generality of unbyassed judges, that I thought myself obliged by gratitude, as well as promise, to revise it, though it were only to purge it of those erratas contracted in the former edition.”
The candid reader may lawfully marvel at Langbaine's notion of correctness, and at what could have been the state of his work in its original form, when he is told that this amended edition rejoices in divers aberrations, over and above those which are acknowledged in a whole page of errata! Among these latter the benevolent student is besought to read, for “oracle,” “ Paradise;" and for “ before,”
Page 17, Mrs. Behn is called Astræa: her name was Aphra. Page 352, “ Philip Massinger was born at Salisbury, in the reign of King Charles I. He was sent by his father to the University of Oxford, at eighteen years of age, viz. in 1602. He wrote a play in
1655, and died in 1669." From which very accurate narration it appears that Philip Massinger, though born in the time of Charles I., was nevertheless eighteen years old in the last year of Queen Elizabeth, and must have been matriculated at Oxford a very considerable time before he came into this breathing world.
According to Langbaine, Tuke is called Sir Samuel T. The dull editor of “Pepys's Memoirs" records the author of “ The Adventures of Five Hours" as Sir George Tuke.
Langbaine says he does not know of any other plays by Edward Ravenscroft than those he enume
Ravenscroft wrote “The Anatomist; or, the Sham Doctor,” a comedy in three acts, performed at the New Theatre, Little Lincoln's-Inn Fields. I have the original edition, published 1697.
Of Ben Jonson, Langbaine merely states that he was buried in St. Peter's Church, Westminster, on the west side, near the belfry. But within these few years the poet's grave was accidentally opened, and his skeleton, which was that of a very short man, found with the head down and the heels up, perpendicularly placed, as if so interred originally: the published account adds, that on the bones of the feet lay a copy of, I believe, Shakspeare's Sonnets.
It may be made a question whether these were not the remains of some other person? Ben Jonson is not described by his biographers, or contemporaries, as being dwarfish in his proportions, or under the common size. On the contrary, he was probably an athletic man, for, while serving as a soldier in the Low Country wars, he challenged, fought, and killed one of the enemy's army; and, says the historian, carried off the spolia opima. Besides, Langbaine, who was near enough to the time of his death to have heard of the circumstance, is silent as to his supposed whimsical mode of burial.
This volume, “A Collection of Poems, &c.” was printed for the renowned Bernard Lintott, without date, but probably about 1700, or somewhat later. Lintott is mentioned as a known publisher, by Dunton, in his “Life and Errors ;” and Dunton brought out his extraordinary book in 1705.
The work, with the title of “Shakspeare's Poems,” was first printed fourteen years after the death of the great poet, whom, by the way, Lintott styles Mister William Shakspeare. It may be doubted if Shakspeare did write the sonnets contained in the volume; but some of those who believe them to be Shakspeare's, refer to sonnet 89th, to prove that he was lame.
The reverend and learned Mr. Hunter is of opinion that the lameness alluded to in the opening lines is but a poetical fiction : and that, had he been lame, he could scarcely have been employed as an actor. He might, however, have played the Ghost in his own
Hamlet,” yet have had a halt in his gait.
The sense of the lines is equivocal; and each reader must judge for himself:
“ SONNET LXXXIX.
Say that thou didst forsake me for some falt,
DR. HENRY'S HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN.
Henry's unfinished history is, as a book of reference and of wide research, one of great value; especially for the novel and perspicuous arrangement of its matter: the style, too, making no pretensions to elegance, is sufficiently good for the author's purpose.
But, in his chapter on manners," in the first volume, the writer is guilty of an act beneath the dignity and solemnity expected from a historian, however venial it might be thought in the author of
He cites, not only without apology, but with entire self-satisfaction, throughout the seventh chapter of book i. the “ Poems of Ossian,” as his authority for the general condition, ordinary domestic habits, &c. of the ancient Britons.
This may be exceedingly patriotic in Dr. Henry, and fraternal towards his fellow countryman, Blair ;
but is ludicrous in the eyes of such as have dispassionately examined the subject of the authenticity of that foolish farrago, and learned to deride Macpherson's clumsy and puerile forgery. Blair, in his dissertation, gravely supports the other side of the argument, and not without ingenuity : but an advocate must, at all hazards, do his best for his client!
I recollect, when a young man at ....... College, Oxford, a conversation taking place one evening in our junior common room, between a Scottish gentleman, the avowed champion of the antiquity and authenticity of Ossian's Poems, and an opponent of his opinions. Much dexterity was displayed by both parties ; till at last the anti-genuine orator thought he had his enemy at his mercy, and asked him triumphantly, how it happened that the poems were silent as to the existence of wolves in the olden time, unless it was that the inventor forgot to introduce those animals when he was composing his fiction. The Caledonian was ready for him, and replied, that the poems were of a date anterior to the coming of wolves into Scotland.
DOCTOR SHERWEN AND CHATTERTON.
The late learned and amiable Dr. Sherwen, of Bath, left behind him two most curious volumes in MS., expressly written by him to disprove the claims made for Chatterton as the author of what are called
Rowley's Poems ;” and his arguments are such as