« PreviousContinue »
meaning (in many instances apparently lost) has been recovered, and much wild unfounded conjecture has been happily got rid of. By persverance in this plan, he effected more to the elucidation of his author than any if not all his predecessors, and justly entitled himself to the distinction of being confessed the best editor of Shakspeare.
The edition which now solicits the notice of the publick is faithfully printed from the copy given by Mr. Steevens to the proprietors of the preceding edition, in his life-time; with such additions as, it is presumed, he would have received, had he lized to determine on them himself. The whole was entrusted to the care of the present editor, who has, with the aid of an able and vigilant assistant, and a careful printer, endeavoured to fulfil the trust reposed in him, as well as continued ill health and depressed spirits would permit.
By a memorandum in the hand-writing of Mr. Steevens it appeared to be his intention to adopt and introduce into the prolegomena of the present edition some parts of two late works of Mr. George Chalmers. An application was therefore made to that gentleman for his consent, which was immediately granted; and to render the favour more acceptable, permission was given to divest the extracts of the offensive asperities of controversy.
The portrait of Shakspeare prefixed to the present edition, is a copy of the picture formerly belonging to Mr. Felton, now to Alderman Boydell,* and at present at the Shakspeare Gallery, in Pall Mall. After what has been written on the subject it will be only necessary to add, that Mr. Steevens persevered in his opinion that this, of all the portraits, had the tairest chance of being a genuine likeness of the author. Of the canvas Chandos picture he remained convinced that it possessed no claims to authenticity.
Some apology is due to those gentlemen who, during the course of the publication, have obligingly offered the present editor their assistance, which he should thankfully have received, had he considered himself at liberty to accept their favours. He was fearful of loading the page, which Mr. Steevens in some instances thought too much crouded already, and therefore confined himself to the copy left to his care by his deceased friend.
But it is time to conclude. He will therefore detain the reader no longer than just to offer a few words in extenuation of any errors or omissions that may be discovered in this part of the work; a work which, notwithstanding the utmost exertion of diligence, has never been produced without some im. perfection. Circumstanced as he has been, he is sensible how inadequate his powers were to the task imposed on him, and hopes for the indulgence of the reader. He feels that “ the inaudible and noiseless foot of time” has insensibly brought on
* The engraving given with this edition, was faithfully co. pied from the portrait alluded to. Am. Ed.
that period of life and those attendant infirmities which weaken the attachment to early pursuits, and diminish their importance :
“Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.” To the admonition he content to pay obedience; and satisfied that the hour is arrived when “ well-timed retreat” is the mea. sure which prudence dictates, and reason will approve, he here bids adieu to SHAKSPEARE, and his commentators; acknowledge ing the candour with which very imperfect efforts have been received, and wishing for his successors the same gratification he has experienced in his humble endeavours to illustrate the greatest poet the world ever knew.
ISAAC REED. Staple Inn, May 2, 1803.
BY MR. STEEVENS.
“WHEN I said I would die a bachelor, (cries Benedick) I did not think I should live till I were married.” The present editor of Shakspeare may urge a kindred apology in defence of an opinion hazarded in his prefatory advertisement; for when he declared his disbelief in the existence of a genuine likeness of our great dramatick writer, he most certainly did not suppose any portrait of that description could have occurred, and inuch less that he himself should have been instrumental in produce ing it.* He is happy, however, to find he was mistaken in both his suppositions; and consequently has done his utmost to promote the appearance of an accurate and finished engraving, from a picture which had been unfaithfully as well as poorly imitated by Droeshout and Marshall.
* See Mr. Richardson's Proposals, p. 12.
7“ Martin Droeshout. One of the indifferent engravers of the last century. He resided in England, and was employed by the booksellers. His portraits, which are the best part of his works, have nothing but their scarcity to recommend them. He engraved the head of Shakspeare, John Fox, the martyrologist, John Howson, Bishop of Durham,” &c.
Strutt's Dictionary of Engravers, Vol. I, p. 264. “ William Marshall. He was one of those laborious artists whose engravings were chiefly confined to the ornamenting of books. And indeed his patience and assiduity is all we can admire when we turn over his prints, which are prodigiously nu. merous. He worked with a graver only, but in a dry tasteless *vle; and from the similarity which appears in the design of all
ortraits, it is supposed that he worked from his own drawings
of the character repeatedly and deliberately bestowed by the same editor on the first of these old engravers, not a single word will be retracted; for, if the judgment of experienced artists be of any value, the plate by Droeshout now under consideration has (in one instance at least) established his claim to the title of “a most abominable imitator of humanity.”
Mr. Fuseli has pronounced, that the portrait described in the proposals of Mr. Richardson, was the work of a Flemish hand. It may also be observed, that the verses praise of Droeshouts performance, were probably written as soon as they were bespoke, and before their author had found opportunity or inclination to compare the plate with its original. He might previ. ously have known that the picture conveyed a just resemblance of Shakspeare; took it for granted that the copy would be ex. act; and, therefore, rashly assigned to the engraver a panegy. rick which the painter had more immediately deserved. It is lucky indeed for those to whom metrical recommendations are necessary, that custom does not require they should be delivered upon oath.
It is likewise probable that Ben Jonson had no intimate ac. quaintance with the graphick art, and might not have been oversolicitous about the style in which Shakspeare's lineaments were transmitted to posterity.
G. S. N. B. The character of Shakspeare as a poet; the condition of the ancient copies of his plays; the merits of his respective editors, &c. &c. have been so minutely investigated on former occasions, that any fresh advertisement of similar tendency might be considered as a tax on the reader's patience.
It may be proper indeed to observe, that the errors we have discovered in our last edition are here corrected; and that some explanations, &c. which seemed to be wanting, have likewise been supplied.
To these improvements it is now become our duty to add the genuine portrait of our author. For a particular account of the discovery of it, we must again refer to the proposals of M. Rich. ardson,* at whose expence two engravings from it have been already made.
We are happy to subjoin, that Messieurs Boydell, who have resolved to decorate their magnificent edition of Shakspeare with a copy from the same original picture lately purchased by them from Mr. Felton, have not only favoured us with the use of it, but most obligingly took care, by their own immediate superin tendance, that as much justice should be done to our engraving, as to their own.
after the life, though he did not add the words ad vivum, as was common upon such occasions. But if we grant this to be the case, the artist will acquire very little additional honour upon that account; for there is full as great a want of taste manifest in the design, as in the execution of his works on copper." &c. Ibid. Vol. II, p. 125. * See p. 12.
TO MR. RICHARDSON'S PROPOSALS, &c. 1794.
BEFORE the patronage of the publick is solicited in favour of a new engraving from the only genuine portrait of Shakspeare, it is proper that every circumstance relative to the discovery of it should be faithfully and circumstantially related.
On Friday, August 9, Mr. Richardson, print-seller, of Castle street, Leicester square, assured Mr. Steevens that, in the course of business having recently waited on Mr. Felton, of Curzon street, May Fair, this gentleman showed him an ancient head resembling the portrait of Shakspeare as engraved by Martin Droeshout in 1623.
Having frequently been misled by similar reports founded on inaccuracy of observation or uncertainty of recollection, Mr. Steevens was desirous to see the portrait itself, that the authenticity of it might be ascertained by a delibrate comparison with Droeshout's performance. Mr. Felton, in the most obliging and liberal manner, permitted Mr. Richardson to bring the head, frame and all, away with him; and several unquestionable judges have concurred in pronouncing that the plate of Droeshout conveys not only a general likeness of its original, but an exact and particular one as far as this artist bad ability to execute his undertaking. Droeshout could follow the outlines of a face with tolerable accuracy,* but usually left them as hard as if hewn out of
* Of some volunteer infidelities, however, Droeshout may be convicted. It is evident from the picture that Shakspeare was partly bald, and consequently that his forehead appeared unusually high. To remedy, therefore, what seemed a defect to the engraver, he has amplified the ow on the right side. For the sake of a more picturesque effect, he has also incurvated the line in the fore part of the ruff, though in the original it is mathematically straight. See notes in the next page.
It may be observed, however, to those who examine trifles with rigour, that our early-engraved portraits were produced in the age when few had skill or opportunity to ascertain their faithfulness or infidelity. The confident artist therefore assumed the liberty of altering where he thought he could improve. The rapid workman was in too much haste to give his outline with correctness; and the mere drudge in his profession contented himself by placing a caput mortuum of his original before the publick. In short, the inducements to be licentious or inaccurate, were numerous; and the rewards of exactness were selodm attainable, most of our ancient heads of authors being done, at stated prices, for booksellers, who were careless about the veri. similitude of engravings which fashion not unfrequently obliged them to insert in the title-pages of works that deserved no such expensive decorations.
a rock. Thus, in the present instance, he has servilely transferred the features of Shakspeare from the painting to the copper, omitting every trait of the mild and benevolent character which his portrait so decidedly affords.-There are, indeed, just such marks of a placid and amiable disposition in this resemblance of our poet, as his admirers would have wished to find.
This portrait is not painted on canvas, like the Chandos head, but on wood. Little more of it than the entire countenance and part of the ruff is left; for the pannel having been split off on one side, the rest was curtailed and adapted to a small frame.f On the back of it is the following inscription, written in a very old hand: “Guil. Shakspeare,# 1597.9 R. N.” Whether these ini. tials belong to the painter, or a former owner of the picture, is uncertain. It is clear, however, that this is the identical head from which not only the engraving by Droeshout in 1623, but that of Marshall in 1640 was made; and though the hazards our author's likeness was exposed to, may have been numerous, it is still in good preservation.
* A living artist, who was apprentice to Roubiliac, declares that when that elegant statuary undertook to execute the figure of Shakspeare for Mr. Garrick, the Chandos picture was borrowed; but that it was, even then, regarded as a performance of suspicous aspect; though for want of a more authentick archetype, some few hints were received, or pretended to be received, from it.
Roubiliac, towards the close of his life, amused himself by painting in oil, though with little success. Mr. Felton has his poor copy of the Chandos picture, in which our author exhibits the complexion of a Jew, or rather that of a chimney-sweeper in the jaundice.
It is singular that neither Garrick, or his friends, should have desired Roubiliac at least to look at the two earliest prints of Shakspeare; and yet even Scheemaker is known to have had no other model for our author's head, than the mezzotinto by Zoust.
† A broker now in the Minories declares, that it is his usual practice to cut down such portraits, as are painted on wood, to the size of such spare frames as he happens to have in his possession.
# It is observable, that this hand-writing is of the age of Eli. zabeth, and that the name of Shakspeare is set down as he him. self has spelt it.
$ The age of the person represented agrees with the date on the back of the picture. In 1597 our author was in his 33d year, and in the meridian of his reputation, a period at which his resemblance was most likely to have been secured.
It has hitherto been supposed that Marshall's production was borrowed from that of his predecessor. But it is now mani. fest that he has given the very singular ruff of Shakspeare as it stands in the original picture, and not as it appears in the plate from it by Martin Droeshout.