may give us reason to believe, it was previous to our author. "Howe would it haue joyed braue Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that after he had lyen two hundred yeare in his toomb, he fhould triumph again on the stage; and haue his bones new embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (at feuerall times) who in the tragedian that reprefents his perfon, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.”—I have no doubt but Henry the Sixth had the fame author with Edward the Third, which hath been recovered to the world in Mr. Capell's Prolufions.

It hath been obferved, that the Giant of Rabelais is fometimes alluded to by Shakspeare: and in his time no translation was extant.-But the story was in every one's hand.

[ocr errors]

In a letter by one Laneham, or Langham, for the name is written differently, concerning the entertainment at Killingwoorth Castle, printed 1575, we have a list of the vulgar romances of the age: King Arthurz book, Huon of Burdeaus, Friar Rous, Howleglass, and GARGANTUA." Meres mentions him as equally hurtful to young minds with the Four Sons of Aymon, and the Seven Champions. And John Taylor hath him likewife in his catalogue of authors, prefixed to Sir Gregory Nonfence."

But to come to a conclufion. I will give you an irrefragable argument, that Shakspeare did not understand two very common words in the French and Latin languages.

According to the articles of agreement between the conqueror Henry and the king of France, the latter was to ftyle the former, (in the corrected French of the modern editions,)" Noftre tres cher filz Henry roy d'Angleterre; and in Latin, Præclariffimus filius," &c. "What," fays Dr. Warburton, "is tres cher in French, præclariffi

[blocks in formation]

mus in Latin! we should read præcariffimus.”—This appears to be exceedingly true; but how came the blunder? it is a typographical one in Holinfhed, which Shakspeare copied; but muft indifputably have corrected, had he been acquainted with the languages." Our faid father, during his life, shall name, call, and write us in French in this maner: Noftre tres chier filz, Henry roy d'Engleterre-and in Latine in this maner, Præclariffimus filius nofter." Edit. 1587, p. 574.

To corroborate this inftance, let me obferve to you, though it be nothing further to the purpose, that another error of the fame kind hath been the fource of a mistake in an historical paffage of our author; which hath ridiculoufly troubled the criticks.

Richard the Third harangues his army before the battle of Bofworth:

Remember whom ye are to cope withal,
A fort of vagabonds, of rafcals, runaways—
And who doth lead them but a paltry fellow
Long kept in Britaine at our mother's cost,
A milkfop, &c.

"Our mother," Mr. Theobald perceives to be wrong, and Henry was fomewhere fecreted on the continent: he reads therefore, and all the editors after him,

Long kept in Bretagne at his mother's coft.

But give me leave to transcribe a few more lines from Holinfhed, and you will find at once, that Shakspeare had been there before me:-"Ye fee further, how a companie of traitors, theeves, outlaws and runnagates be aiders and partakers of his feat and enterprife.And to begin with the erle of Richmond captaine of this rebellion, he is a Welsh milkfop-brought up by my moother's


meanes and mine, like a captive in a close cage in the court Francis duke of Britaine." P. 756.

Holinfhed copies this verbatim from his brother chronicler Hall, edit. 1548, fol. 54; but his printer hath given us by accident the word moother instead of brother; as it is in the original, and ought to be in Shakspeare.

I hope, my good friend, you have by this time acquitted our great poet of all piratical depredations on the ancients, and are ready to receive my conclufion.—He remembered perhaps enough of his fchool-boy learning to put the Hig, hag, hog, into the mouth of Sir Hugh Evans; and might pick up in the writers of the time, or the course of his conversation, a familiar phrafe or two of French or Italian: but his ftudies were moft demonftratively confined to nature and his own language.

In the course of this difquifition you have often smiled at all fuch reading, as was never read ;" and poffibly I may have indulged it too far: but it is the reading neceffary for a comment on Shakspeare. Those who apply folely to the ancients for this purpose, may with equal wisdom study the TALMUD for an expofition of TRISTRAM SHANDY. Nothing but an intimate acquaintance with the writers of the time, who are frequently of no other value, can point out his allufions, and afcertain his phrafeology. The reformers of his text are for ever equally pofitive, and equally wrong. The cant of the age, a provincial expreffion, an obfcure proverb, an obsolete custom, a hint at a person or a fact no longer remembered, hath continually defeated the best of our guessers: You must not fuppofe me to speak at random, when I affure you, that from fome forgotten book or other, I can demonftrate this to you in many hundred places; and I almost wish, that I had not been perfuaded into a different employment.


Though I have as much of the natale folum about me, as any man whatfoever; yet, I own, the primrose path is till more pleafing than the Fosse or the Watling-Street:

Age cannot wither it, nor cuftom stale

Its infinite variety.

And when I am fairly rid of the duft of topographical antiquity, which hath continued much longer about me than I expected; you may very probably be troubled again with the ever fruitful fubject of SHAKSPEARE and his COMMENTATORS.


This Edition of SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS is not only publifhed in 38 Numbers, at 25. each, with elegant Engravings; but also in 12 Volumes, without the Plates; forming a complete and uniform Collection of the Dramatic Works of our immortal Poet.









Drnamented with Plates.




« VorigeDoorgaan »