1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lewis Theobald

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:30-32.



To the laborious Mr. Lewis Theobald are we to ascribe the pages of the Censor. This gentleman was born at Sittingbourn in Kent, and, having received a grammatical education at Isleworth in Middlesex, applied himself to his father's profession, which was that of the Law. This, however, he soon relinquished to become a poet, an essayist, and an editor; in the first of these departments he early published a pamphlet called the Cave of Poverty, and which Bond, in Nos. 23 and 25 of his Spectator, has loaded with ridiculous and hyperbolical praise.

To this succeeded, in the same year, the first volume of the Censor, the numbers of which originally appeared in Mist's Weekly Journal, a mode of publication to which Pope alludes in the following lines from the quarto edition of the Dunciad in 1728.

But what can I? my Flaccus cast aside,
Take up the Attorney's (once my better) guide
Or rob the Roman geese of all their glories,
And save the state by cackling to the Tories?
Yes, to my Country I my pen consign,
Yes, from this moment, mighty Mist! am thine

After some abortive efforts in dramatic poetry, one of which, The Double Falsehood, he endeavoured to impose upon the public as a production of Shakspeare, our author fortunately directed his talents into their proper channel, and by becoming the editor of our great dramatic poet, conferred an obligation of some weight upon the numerous admirers of the illustrious bard. It was in the year 1726 that he first entered upon the subject, by publishing a pamphlet entitled Shakspeare Restored, in which his vanity led him to affirm "that what care might for the future be taken either by Mr. Pope, or any other assistants, he would give above five hundred emendations that would escape them all;" an assertion that gave just offence to Mr. Pope, and which occasioned the immediate elevation of Mr. Theobald to the honours of the Hero of the Dunciad; a station, however, from which he was soon after hurled, to make way for the enthronement of Cibber.

The year 1733 ushered in our author's Shakspeare in eight volumes; a work which, notwithstanding the abuse of Pope and Warburton, merited and acquired much reputation: it is indeed, superior to any preceding attempt of the kind, and has laid a firm foundation, by pointing out the proper path of illustration, for the valuable commentaries of Johnson and of Steevens. Theobald survived this, his best, undertaking nine years, closing in 1742 a life of poverty and literary labour....