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band, a man infirm of purpose, to plunge into a succession of the heaviest crimes in order to obtain the Scottish sceptre. In Maginn's paper, she is humanized, and a strong case in her favor is made out, to show her“ more sinned against than sinning" — rather ruled than ruling.
Edward Kenealy (who wrote an excellent biography of Maginn, for the Dublin University Magazine), says that these papers
“ consist of some of the ablest and most beautiful characters of our dramatist that adorn the language. They incline a little too much, perhaps, to paradox, but their great ability is universally admitted. Combined with his Essay on Dr. Farmer' they form a most valuable and interesting body of facts, surmises, and annotations of our great poet.” Maginn had long meditated critical editions of Homer and Shakespeare, but never had time to apply continuously to the labor. In this memoir, among recollections of Maginn's conversation, we have “Talking on one occasion about his . Shakespeare Papers,' I asked him why he did not write the character of Hamlet ?. 'I have often thought of it,' he said, “but never could make up my mind to it. I am afraid of him.'' On another occasion Maginn said, "I think Shakespeare intended The Tempest to be nothing more than a grand pantomime, in which he could lay aside all rules of composition, and allow his imagination to revel at will, without the fear of criticism ; inserting in it many speeches and ideas that had long been floating in his fancy; and I think it was the last play he wrote.” (De Quincey and Campbell also believe, with Malone, that in this drama, Shakespeare, like Prospero, symbolically broke his enchanter's wand.] Maginn told Kenealy that, whenever he had time, he would write a paper on Falstaff's Page. Many a one like him," added he, " have I met in my time, in the shape of a printer's devil. He is the prince of all boys.”
Much has been written on the questio vexata of Shakespeare's learning. His poetry so abounds with classical allusions that one might wonder how his scholarship could have been ever doubted. But Ben Jonson's declaration, as to his having had little Latin and less Greek, appears, from the first, to have been the foundation for a belief that he really was almost un
educated. Hume, the historian, a writer who is well known to foreigners, declares that Shakespeare could not for any time uphold a reasonable propriety of thought. Nay, although scholarship was abundant, and even fashionable in his time (not only Ascham’s gentle Scholar, the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, was a scholar and a ripe one,” but Elizabeth and the ladies of her court were acquainted with Latin and Greek, and taught even to speak the former), Hume speaks of him as "Born in a rude age, and educated without any instruction either from the world or from books.” It appears a double anomaly that Shakespeare should have mixed in society, as a manager and author, with the leading writers of his time, as well as with some of the most distinguished of the nobility, without obtaining any “instruction from the world,” and that he should have exhibited so many proofs of erudition without having had recourse to books.
For a long time, however, the general opinion was opposed to giving Shakespeare credit for the learning he must have possessed. Dr. Farmer's Essay, here dissected by Maginn, was published in 1766, and went through three editions in a few
years. Its author was a very well-read man, and, on his death in 1797, the sale of his library occupied thirty-five days, and produced £2,200. Maginn, closely as he criticised the critic, by no means exhausted the subject.
The idea, so long a favorite with the commentators upon Shakespeare (including Addison, whose knowledge of English Literature was scanty, and Johnson, who appears to have gone through an extensive and constant perusal of the dramatic literature of the Elizabethan era), that Shakespeare was not noticed until the eighteenth century, is now generally admitted to be incorrect. He was personally noticed by Elizabeth, with all her faults one of the greatest — by James, with all his pedantry one of the most learned — of sovereigns. Sir Walter Scott has adroitly reminded us in “Woodstock") that the volume containing Shakespeare's writings was the closet companion of Charles I. He obtained the warmest praise from contemporary and immediately succeeding poets of the first order --- including Ben Jonson, Milton, and Dryden. At an age when, from various causes,
the sale of books was necessarily tardy, Shakespeare had four folio editions in sixty years—a period including the whole
period of the Commonwealth, during which stage-playing was prohibited. That such a poet should have been so careless of his fame, as not to have himself collected and revised his writings, can only be accounted for by supposing that Shakespeare really did not imagine, when he was rapidly producing drama after drama, to supply a succession of novelties for his theatre, that he was actually writing things worthy of eternal regard and praise. Yet, only on this self-abnegation of his own merit can his practical contempt of fame be accounted for. This is not my own humble conjecture alone;- it also is the opinion of one of the best actors and dramatists now in this country.
It is strange that, as yet, the authentic information respecting Shakespeare is so scanty. I suspect that in the munimentchests of the descendants of the Elizabethan nobles and squires, much valuable materials remain unknown. Of this there can be little doubt, when we recollect how much light was thrown upon Shakespeare's personal history, twenty years ago, by the publication of Mr. Collier's New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare, and New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakespeare, which were principally derived from the Ellesmere manuscripts, preserved at Bridgewater House, London, by the Earl of Ellesmere (better known, perhaps, as a man of letters, by his former titles of Lord Francis Leveson Gower, and Lord Francis Egerton), the present representative of that Lord Ellesmere, who is well known in English history as Keeper of the great seal to Queen Elizabeth, and Lord-Chancellor to James I. Among other ascertained incidents, recorded in these documents (which are principally legal and necessarily exact, therefore), is the important one which shows Shakespeare's connection with the Black Friar's Theatre (previously dated as having commenced in 1596), to have existed seven years earlier—for, in November, 1589, he appears, by the Ellesmere MSS., to have been one of the fifteen "sharers” or proprietors of that theatre. This was only two years after his arrival in London, and the fact that, in so brief an interval, he had attained such a position, goes far to disprove the story that he had commenced his London career by holding horses at the playhouse-door.
It is probable that Shakespeare, during the period of his London life, had travelled into France and Italy. His descriptions of continental scenery are too faithful to have been derived from any thing short of personal observation, and his allusions to foreign manners and customs, are too accurate to have been suggested by others. The oversight of giving a seaport to the inland kingdom of Bohemia is constantly brought against him, to show his deficiency in geographical knowledge; but the persons who thus refer to it never think of condemning (and with equal justice they might) Virgil as a Know-Nothing as regards History, because he incorrectly made Æneas contemporary with Dido. — Those who, like myself, have visited most of the places in England and Scotland, which Shakespeare has brought into his dramas, will not readily believe that he could have described their leading features so clearly as he has done, without having actually seen them.
Collier regretfully admits that “after all that has been discovered and written, we really know so little about Shakespeare, that it is almost impossible to arrive at what even approaches certainty upon any point, excepting that he was the greatest dramatic poet that ever lived !” There is some plausibility in Maginn's conjecture—“The reason why we know so little of Shakespeare is, that when his business was over at the theatre, he did not mix with his fellow-actors, but stepped into his boat, and rowed up to Whitehall, there to spend his time with the Earl of Southampton, and other gentlemen about the court.” – We must not despair of yet learn
. · ing a good deal about Shakespeare. As it is, we really know less about him than we do of Chaucer, the father of English Poetry.
R. SHELTON MACKENZIE. New YORK, February 5, 1856.