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The object of the following Inquiry having been clearly announced in the Title-page, and fully explained in the Introduction which is to follow the present Address, nothing remains for me to state here, but why I have undertaken the work, and what facilities I possessed towards its proper execution.—To each of these points in their order. To profess a love for the writings of such a genius as Shakspeare, may be received as a declaration, which acquits a man of the charge of vanity, inasmuch as it claims no other credit than that of not being totally insensible to the highest literary earcellence. A period of my life of something more than forty years has been devoted to the '' study of Shakspeare's works; and on some outrageous liberties which in the year 1796 were taken with his name, I had the honour to address a Letter to the late George Steevens, Esq. which brought before the v Public the first detection of an impudent and very unskilful forgery. Upon that occasion, the great Commentator ea pressed a very agreeable opinion of my little work, by saying with his accustomed point, “Sir, you have very fairly gibbeted the culprit, and Mr. Malone will take him down and dissect him”—a task performed by him with an anatomical minuteness, which left not the smallest nerve of that body of fraud unexposed to the public eye.
Slight as the work was, published by myself upon that occasion, I received many compliments from men distinguished in literary criticism; and I was encouraged to persevere in the peculiar studies to which the illustration of Shakspeare had given birth among us. But I confess, in spite of the recommendation of Jonson, that I sometimes allowed myself to be drawn from his works to their writer; the plays sent me back to the portrait before them, and the portrait seldom failed to return me to a more ardent perusal of the plays. And as my love for his productions induced me to collect the most authentic copies of his Works, my fondness for the Writer led me to obtain the most accurate resemblances of his countenance. In a series of years I have seen every thing conducive to both these objects, and been so fortunate as to obtain all that I myself desired to possess.
But as I thought I saw something partial, and therefore deficient, in the account which had been given by others of the Portrairs of our Poet, I some years ago commenced a very particular eacamination of the Pictures themselves, and of the evidence on which they have claimed to be received as genuine. The result of this inquiry I now presume to lay before the Public. It seemed unnecessary to give longer existence to fading impositions, when they were once detected: the spurious Portraits have therefore not been engraved on the present
occasion; they have been allowed to
“Come like shadows—so depart.”
The genuine, by being recalled to a more punctilious examination,
have increased their claims to public favour, and have consequently
now been engraved with perfect accuracy, and brought together, that in one work may be preserved every thing conducive to reasonable gratification. As to the manner of this Inquiry, I shall I hope be pardoned for not confining myself to a dry and barren statement. Though the object be rather antiquarian than critical, I yet trust that some occasional remarks, illustrative of the life and poetical character of Shakspeare, will not be thought out of place; and that if I state some interesting facts with accuracy, I may be earcused for occasionally deviating into what I can only hope to be sportive, and at most entertaining. I have in truth been most ably seconded by the zeal and the talent of the Artists who have adorned the present work. My son, Mr. John Boaden, very kindly drew the Stratford Bust for me; and, in the opinion of able judges, he has perfectly expressed the effect of that venerable sculpture. During the progress of all the Engravings, he occasionally inspected the proofs; and such is the modesty of true genius, that I found the different Artists solicitous, may pleased, that their labours should have the advantage of what they termed a fresh eye, to alter or confirm their view of the subject. I detain the Reader, therefore, no longer from a work on which I have bestowed considerable pains, and which I would hope may not be quite the feeblest, among the tributes of admiration which are continually gathering about the shrine of our immortal Bard.