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SHAKSPEARE'S GENIUS JUSTIFIED, &c.
BY Z. JACKSON.
A great portion of this extraordinary work is, in the highest degree, acute and ingenious ; though several of the author's suggestions are puerile and preposterous; and occasionally, unnecessarily coarse. Still it is a fact, that any unprejudiced person, who reads Jackson's book three times, will find himself of the author's opinion on doubtful points, more frequently than on the first, or second perusal.
His general plan for vindicating the poet's fame, is based upon a rational foundation. plausibly infers that the text of Shakspeare's dramatic works, as we possess it in the edition by Johnson and Steevens, has been grievously corrupted by transcribers, who have often inserted words totally without meaning, and authorized punctuation so erroneous, as to throw whole sentences, in each play, into confusion. And he fairly condemns the various editors and commentators, for so constantly acquiescing in these slovenly passages; for neglecting to try and clear them up; and for considering these absurdities as the property of the poet, instead of ascribing them, in common justice, to the copyist. As an instance of what may be effected by a reflecting reader, and one habituated to the business of the press, Mr. Jackson, among his notes, and proposed emendations, has the following most ingenious suggestion on a few words, or indeed, rather on a single word, in the first scene of Act 4th of Macbeth :
* London, 1819.
“ Twice; and once the hedge-pig whined.
Harper cries ;-'tis time, 'tis time.”
The transcriber, says Mr. Jackson, who wrote as another person recited, mistook the sound of the word, and wrote Harper (which Steevens supposed the name of the witch's familiar, and no commentator heretofore had attempted to explain), instead of “Hark her cries ;” that is, the whining of the hedgehog repeated.
It is surely much to the credit of Mr. Jackson's discernment to have thus ascertained the reading of Shakspeare's text, where it had evaded the acumen of Pope, Theobald, Warburton, Warton, Hurd, Johnson, Steevens, and many another eminent critic!
In the summer of 1834, I was allowed by a friend to examine the first volume of Pope's and Warburton's edition of Shakspeare's plays, Lond. 8vo. 1747. The copy had been Bishop Warburton's own, and had various corrections in the learned prelate's handwriting. In the first leaf he had written as follows:
“Of all the idiots (and they are not a few) who have scribbled upon Shakspeare, and against his editor, the most consummate, sure, is one Capell, who has wasted above thirty years of life in hunting after the text of Shakspeare, and has at last given it to us so ridiculously interpolated, that we are now at a loss to distinguish his nonsense from the nonsense of the first blundering printers. W.”
The copy above mentioned had belonged to the Rev. Martin Stafford Smith, of Bath, who was married to Warburton's widow.
It would appear that the stern bishop could himself overlook errors, and miss the discovery of the pure reading of Shakspeare's text, as well as Capell, whom he vituperates.
A word may here find a place on the nearly unimportant point of the orthography and pronunciation of the great poet's name. Johnson, in his title-page, has printed it erroneously, Shakespeare; and I, following the ordinary practice, have written Shakspeare. But from some remarks very lately brought before the public in the memoirs of Charles Mathews, &c., it is shown that the Bard has in three instances written his own name Shakspere; and it may be added, that a few years since, a traveller passing through Stratford-on-Avon, saw some boys at play in the street, and overheard one of them two or three times call a comrade Shaxspere.
From the incomplete condition in which the text of the plays has descended to our times, almost every one conceives himself at liberty to form and to announce his conjectures on various doubtful passages in the favourite plays of Shakspeare. George Frederick Cooke, an actor of great merit, gave, for instance, several new readings (and so did Kean), in representing Richard III. and Macbeth. These I have myself often heard from Cooke upon the stage; and, with others, at the moment, thought them ingenious. One passage was, I recollect, admired for the good sense with which he punctuated it. In Richard's directions to his soldiers at Bosworth, the printed copy has the lines pointed as delivered by all Cooke's predecessors in the character:
“ Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head;
Spur your proud coursers hard,” &c.
Cooke's variation here was-as if looking towards the infantry,
“Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head.”
Then, turning towards that part of the field where the cavalry might be imagined, and who could not be supposed to use the bow, he exclaimed,
Spur your proud coursers hard,” &c.
But the old and customary recitation was, after all, probably correct, and intended by the poet, who, in all likelihood, knew what is now ascertained to have been a military usage in former days; for it appears from a life, not long published, of Edward III. &c. that the king had five hundred archers, mounted on horseback, in his army.
Another of Cooke's readings was in Macbeth, and certainly more plausible than the one just recorded; though the thought never suggested itself to Kemble, nor, we may believe, to Garrick. Macbeth says to the messenger who brings him the fatal tidings of the forest moving towards Dunsinane,
“.. If thou speak'st false,
Cooke made a pause after the word hang, and then, with the fury of a fiend, shouted:
“ Alive—till famine cling thee !"
atrociously intimating, that to die of hunger, suspended to the limb of a tree, would be, indeed, a death of horror: whereas the old manner of pointing the sentence conveyed no particular meaning; all persons hanged in the ordinary way, being necessarily hanged alive. These and similar minutiæ are not noticed, though they might have been, in Jackson's work; but he has elucidated several passages of greater importance to the reputation of his author.
So very much has been spoken and written on the numberless beauties of Shakspeare's dramas, that I shall here, in the little I mean to say, confine myself to the subject of what may be termed their deformities.
From the slightest review of some of the plays, it will appear, contrary to a received notion, that everything in them is not a beauty; that many passages, in those the most popular, are admired, which, properly speaking, should be condemned; that multitudes of weak, half-educated, and well-meaning