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BY SIR NATHANIEL.
No. XIV.-RICHARD GRANT WHITE,
Mr. RICHARD GRANT WHITE, as we gather from incidental allusions in the volume* before us, is a gentleman connected with the American press--young (for Mr. Collier, he remarks, “had taken a respectable position in critical literature before I was born”), and enthusiastic in Shakspearian scholarship, and in the study of all contemporary and cognate appliances and means for the elucidation of his great Subject-Object. Until five years ago, it appears, Mr. White had read and delighted in Shakspeare, with an ear perversely, and of malice prepense, deaf to the charmings of commentators, charm they never so wisely—though in their case, perhaps, “wisely” is not quite the word; disgusted once for all with the speculations of Shakspearian speculators, the
reformations of Shakspearian reformers, the emendations of Shakspearian emendators, he had forsworn, while still in statu pupillari, the whole kith and kin of these “ tedious old fools;" the occasional cause of this systematic abjuration being Dr. Johnson's strictures, known but not read of all men, on the “ folly of the fiction, and absurdity of the conduct” of “Cymbeline," and the "unresisting imbecility” of its general character. This unkindest cut of all from the paw of the Great Bear was too much for Mr. White ; henceforth he could and he would be willingly ignorant, wilfully, because blissfully ignorant, of the critical guild in their practices on Shakspeare ; he would renounce them and all their works ; he would be cynical in his refusal to let them stand between him and the Sun. Doctor Samuel had almost been the death of him,-at the least would be the death to his enjoyment of “Cymbeline,” if allowed to go on still in his wickedness ; no wonder, then, if the indignant Shakspeare's Scholar exclaims—“Shocked, wounded, repelled, with a sense of personal wrong I flung the book aside, and mentally registered a solemn vow never to read again a criticism or comment of any kind upon Shakespeare's works.” But, five years ago, Mr. White, in a moment big with fate, purchased a copy of Knight's Pictorial Edition, believing that after his long abstinence from all intercourse with expositors, he might with indifference read a commentator again, and with impunity: The immediate result of acquaintance with Mr. Knight was to put his reader on the critical study of the text ; and from that time to this, with the exception of his professional duties, we have in that reader a diligent, earnest, loving, painful Shakspeare's Scholar. Five years “ of hard labour” have impressed him, vividly and vexatiously enough, with renewed and deepened scorn of the “ mass of mingled learning and ignorance, sense and folly, with which Shakespeare has been as nearly as possible overwhelmed.” The appearance of Mr. Collier's volume occasioned some contributions on the subject, by Mr. White, in Putnam's
* Shakespeare's Scholar: being Historical and Critical Studies of his Text, Characters, and Commentatars, with an Examination of Mr. Collier's Folio of 1632. By Richard Grant White, A.M. New York: 1854. Nov.-VOL. CII. NO. CCCCVII.
Magazine; these papers became the germ of a more comprehensive survey of the matter in question; other, previously written but unpublished essays, on some of Shakspeare's Characters, were added to the collection; and the amalgam of these miscellanies is presented to the world in the volume yelept “Shakespeare's Scholar."
The Scholar's hate of peddling emendators is that of a thorough good hater. Every pulse of his being beats time and keeps tune with the lament of Mathias :
Must I for SHAKESPEARE no compassion feel,
the chase ; I left it out of breath ;
I wish'd not to be in at SHAKESPEARE's death. Not merely is Mr. White impatient of the Beckets and laureat Pyes, and nibbling rats and mice and such small deer, which have been his mirth for seven long year, and upwards, but of the potent, grave, and reverend seniors-potent as Pope in his most potential mood, grave as Johnson in his most specific gravity, reverend as Warburton in his right reverend overseership. If he scouts the “narrow pedagogism of Seymour, the blatant stupidity of Becket, and the complacent feeble-mindedness of Jackson,” so does he “ the conceited wantonness of Pope, the arrogance of Warburton, the solemn inflexibility of Johnson, and the smartness and mechanical ear of Steevens"-all of whom he accuses of seeking to commit outrages on the text quite as insufferable as those of the small fry fore-going. Mr. Dyce is the editor in whom he seems to place most confidence, and from whose prospective labours he expects most, though Mr. Dyce is remonstrated with on his “needless diplays of reading of worthless books,” and his habit of heaping up, as if a good sorites were to come of it, "instance upon instance from old volumes in all modern languages
upon Shakespeare's text without illustrating it.” Mr. Knight is complimented, as unsurpassed, perhaps unequalled among fellow-editors in intelligent veneration for his Master, and a sympathetic apprehension of his thoughts-but is gently rated for his “superstitious veneration for the first folio.” Mr. Collier, too, is complimented on his devotion to the study of old English literature, especially to that of the Elizabethan age : but as an expositor of the Bard of all time, he is now regarded as stark naught. Mr. Collier's recent publication has excited our Shakspeare's Scholar to something like fever-heat—that publication* of marginalia, so multifarious in character and so mysterious in origin,, whereby hangs a tale.
But 'tis an old tale now, and often told. We have all heard, it may be presumed, the story of Mr. Collier's singular purchase : how in the spring of 1849 he happened to be in the shop of the late Mr. Rodd, of
* Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare's Plays, from early MS. Corrections in a copy of the Folio, 1632, in the Possession of J. Payne Collier, Esq.,F.S.A. Second Edition. London: Whittaker. 1853.
Great Newport-street, at a time when a package of books arrived from the country; how, among the contents, two folios attracted his attention, one of which, bound in rough calf, was a copy of the second (1632) folio of Shakspeare's Plays, “much cropped, the covers old and greasy," and “imperfect at the beginning and end;" how, in spite of the cropping, and the grease, and the imperfections, he bought the thing—"an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own”-for thirty shillings sterling, paid down on the nail; how, when he got home, he repented of his bargain, so damaged and defaced was it intus et in cute ; and how, in a fit of disappointment, he threw it by, nor, for the space of a year, had a word to say to (or peradventure of) it. Then, however, on moving it from the dust and degradation of an upper shelf, Mr. Collier discovered, to his surprise, that there was hardly a page in the direspectable looking folio which did not present, in a handwriting of the time, some emendations in the pointing or in the text, while on most of them they were frequent, and on many numerous: The handwriting, he is of opinion, is one man's only, though the amendments must have been introduced from time to time, possibly during the course of several years. Who the ready writer was who handled the pen so industriously, is an interesting problem, but not easily “floored;" Mr. Collier, however, suggests a claim for Richard Perkins, the “great actor of the reign of Charles I.” As to the capital question of the authority upon which these emendations were introduced, he contends, in limine, that no authority is required, that they carry conviction (speaking generally) on the very face of them. “Many of the most valuable corrections of Shakespeare's text are, in truth, self-evident; and so apparent, when once suggested, that it seems wonderful how the plays could have through the hands of men of such learning and critical acumen, during the last century and a half . . . . without the detection of such indisputable blunders.” Mr. Collier avows his inclination to think that his possible Perkins, in some of the changes he made in the text, was indebted to his own sagacity and ingenuity, and merely guessed at arbitrary emendations ; hence, and so far, his suggestions are only to be taken as those of an individual, who lived, we may suppose, not very long after the period when the dramas he elucidates were written, and who might have had intercourse with some of the actors of Shakspeare's day. But again Mr. Collier argues, from certain characteristics in his emendator's handicraft, that he must have had recourse to some now not extant authority. The emendation has special reference to stage purposes; and this fact, taken together with the internal evidence, has induced some of Mr. Collier's ablest reviewers to concludet that the book in question was amended from
Collier: Introduction, p. xviii..
The Atheneum, for instance; which observed, at the first appearance of the Perkins' folio, that here an anonymous corrector had humbled the dogmatism of critical savans and the sagacity of conjectural emendation, by at once gathering a whole harvest off a field which had been reaped and gleaned by many of the finest intellects of the last two centuries. “In justice to them,” continues the reviewer, " as well as on many other grounds, we must think that this emendator had access to an authority which they and we have not.. With all the advantages and appliances which nearness to the author and to the first representation of his works may have given him over ourselves, it is to us an incredible supposition that any man should have done so infinitely more than all others put together, if he had de
some copy used by the prompter or stage-manager of a theatre in which these plays were performed, somewhere about the date of the folio, 1632.
Now, Mr. White will not hear of “authority” being due to our possible Perkins. The corrections are many of them, he contends, anachronistic, such as no paulo-post Shakspeare-corrector could have perpetrated; some of them he can fix on the eighteenth century; and the share of various hands, writing at sundry times and in divers manners, in the concoction of the ensemble, he treats as beyond controversy. Besides, and this he adduces as an overpowering argument against both the authority and the intelligence of the MS. corrector, very many of the corrections are “ inadmissible, and could not possibly have formed a part of the text.” And he insists, with more emphasis than discretion, maybe, that if we defer to a single change in Mr. Collier's folio because of its 6
authority,” we must defer to all whereas its best advocates exercise their individual judgment in accepting or rejecting its proposed changes, and, by so doing, refuse actual deference to its authority. What Mr. White maintains, is, that the only source of any authority for the text of Shakspeare is in the original folio of 1623, as published by the poet's friends, fellow-actors, and theatrical partners ; that when that text is utterly incomprehensible from the typographical errors which deform it, and then only, we should seek emendations ; that those emendations should be first looked for in the quartos, because they were contemporaneous with Shakspeare, although surreptitiously published, or at least entirely neglected by him; that only such corrupted passages as the quartos do not make clear are proper subjects for the exercise of conjecture ; and that such of these as conjecture does not amend, in a manner at once consistent with the context, with common sense, and with the language and customs of Shakspeare's day, should be allowed to stand untouched. Not what Shakspeare might, could, would, or should have written, but what, according to the best evidence, he did write, is held up as the only admissible object of the labours of his editors and verbal critics—the only guaranty for the integrity of his works consisting in the preservation of the words of the only authentic edition, when those words are understood by minds of ordinary intelligence, or supported by comparison with the language and manners of the author's day, or those of the immediately antecedent age. Until the self-elected editorial reformers of the text have taken out letters patent to improve it, would it not be better for them, Mr. White suggests, to confine themselves to editing it? seeing it is the function of no man to re-write Shakspeare, even to improve him, and our object being to arrive at what he wrote, not what, in our opinion, he should have written ; nor would it ever do to say that if a suggested change be for the better, it must be accepted, because Shakspeare was sure to choose the most beautiful and
pended solely on the same power of conjecture which those others possessed.”— Ath. No. 1315.
So, again, a reviewer of weight in Mr. White's own country, thinks it impossible that some of these corrections should have been “invented, or made up by mere conjecture, by a poor player in the earlier part of the seventeenth century (pet. princ.] when conjectural emendation of an English author was an art as yet unheard of,” &c.—North American Review, April, 1854.
forcible expression-since any such rule would put it into the power of every critic,
every reader in fact, to decide what is the most beautiful and forcible.*
Mr. White has exercised his right of private judgment with much discriminative taste. In the cultu both of head and heart, he shows his competency to deal with a subject so replete with difficulty—now marked by rough gnarled obstacles, that seem to defy all “ tooling," and now by delicate nuances, which to conserve and present with the bloom on them requires a subtle spirit, and a tender, akin to Shakspeare's own. But, keeping in mind his stand-point, he does seem at times to be a little over-peremptory in his rejection, as preposterous, of emendations which fellow-critics, in their right of private judgment, accept as highly felicitous. There is a soupçon of the Sir Oracle in his voice and mien, when he insists on this as the true reading because it commends itself to his judgment, and scornfully repudiates that as a base cheat and rank impostor, though it commends itself to the judgment of a Dyce, or a Singer, or a Collier. Against Mr. Collier, indeed, his tone is by no means “nice;" and considering the extent to which, after all, he adopts the Perkins' corrections—small as the proportion adopted may numerically be to that disallowed—he might have treated “ Perkins's Entire" more tenderly. It is a thousand pities to see how Shakspearian critics and commentators fall out by the way, and how utterly they ignore the nil disputandum in minute points de gustibus, and substitute for that broken law a habit, become second nature, disputandi in sæcula sæculorum. Placable bystanders must make up their minds to see hard blows interchanged in these conflicts, and a determined essay of the pugilists to spoil each other's beauty,—as in this present dashing attempt (if we may strain an old verse)
to beat the luckless COLLIER White. Mr. White's own house of defence is, perhaps, sufficiently glassy to justify caution in his manner of flinging stones; some of his conjectures and expositions in Shakspearian lore being quite open to attack, or strenuous demur: witness his criticism on Isabella in “ Measure for Measure,”his theory of the Sonnets,- his rejection of the rhyming dialogue in the “Cymbeline” apparition scene, and of the dirge in the same play, &c. Or where, on the Clown's saying, in “Othello," to the musicians, "Why, masters, have your instruments been in Naples
, that they speak i' the nose thus ?” he asks---a proper query !-whether this knowledge of a minute provincial peculiarity is not an evidence that Shakspeare knew more of Italy than by books or hearsay? Or where, in his dissertation on Othello's complexion, which he is anxious to prove was not at all of the Uncle Tom hue, he explicitly lays it down that Shakspeare “had doubtless never seen either a Moor or a negro, and might very naturally confuse their physiological traits”—although so slight an allusion, ut suprà, to the nasal tones of the Neapolitans is enough to make Shakspeare so far-travelled a gentleman. While he is very prompt, again, to ridicule some of his fellow-commentators (if he will allow of the fellowship) for the superfluity and gratuitous character of their occasional glosses, he
* White, pp. 80, 85, 87, 276, 461, 501.