Pope, in a letter to Caryll, speaks of having pictures of Dryden, Milton, Shakespeare, &c., hung about his room, "that the constant remembrance of them may keep him always humble." To what extent this mental antiseptic protected him when in 1721-5 he was editing the last-named poet is unrecorded; but it certainly did not in any way influence the successor and collaborator who "revised" his work in 1747. For humility was by no means one of the prominent characteristics of the Reverend and learned William Warburton. Of all critics he was certainly the most "robustious;" of all commentators the most dogmatic and domineering; while his controversial language can often only be described as insufferably offensive. His heterogeneous erudition was admittedly enormous; but however well equipped as a fighting polemic and theologian, his literary judgement was not on a level with his pretensions. His conjectural emendations of Shakespeare are now generally discredited; but even in his own day, when the study of Shakespeare's text was still in leading-strings, there were not wanting readers independent enough to question the decrees of the self-constituted legislator whom his parasites extolled as an intellectual Colossus. One of the most vivacious of the objectors was Thomas Edwards, a barrister, of whose ironical Canons of Criticism it is now proposed to give some account. But in this particular instance there is so much more to be said of the work and its origin than of the writer himself, that it will be convenient to reverse the customary order of procedure and begin with the book. And this course is the more excusable because the scanty facts of Edwards's career chiefly concern his closing years.
In 1747, when, as already stated, Warburton issued his eight-volume edition of The Works of Shakespear, he had but four predecessors in the editorial field — Rowe, Pope, Theobald, and Hanmer. First, in 1709, had come Nicholas Rowe, the playwright and Poet Laureate, with the earliest attempt at a biography. This, the standard eighteenth-century life, opportunely garnered much floating tradition; but Rowe did little or nothing for the rectification of the text. To him, in 1725, succeeded Pope, more literary, but less practically equipped in stage-craft and in what he contemptuously called "the dull duty of an Editor." As might be expected, his Preface, full no doubt of good things, is the most memorable part of his performance. His notes, however, were sharply criticized by a lesser man, Lewis Theobald, the typical "Codrus" of English verse, so "distressed" as to be traditionally perpetuated in Hogarth's "sky-parlour," yet withal scholar and critic enough to earn for himself a vindictive pre-eminence in the Dunciad as the predecessor of Colley Cibber. It was Theobald whose "lucky guessing" — that "lucky guessing" which Jane Austen held has "always some talent in it" — by its substitution of "a' babbled of green fields" for the old version, "a table of green fields," shed parting radiance on the lifelike death-bed of Falstaff; and this was by no means Theobald's only palpable hit. Moreover, it is to "poor Tibb's" credit that he endeavoured to interpret his author's text not so much by an eighteenth-century standard as by the current speech — "the obsolete and uncommon phrases" — of that author's contemporaries. Theobald was the third of Warburton's predecessors. The fourth (1743-4) was Sir Thomas Hanmer of Mildenhall, near Newmarket in Suffolk, a cultivated country gentleman, who had been a dignified and respected Speaker of the House of Commons. As an editor he seems to have held Goldsmith's rule that the best commentator is common sense; and, for the rest, to have relied on the typography of the Clarendon Press and the artful aid of Frank Hayman's weedy designs, as translated by the sculptures" of Gravelot. Then, at length, thoughtfully trumpeted beforehand in volume ix of Birch's General Dictionary and The History of the Works of the Learned, came the announcement of "a more complete and accurate edition" from the Rev. William Warburton. At the date of publication, May 1747, Warburton had not been long married to Miss Gertrude Tucker, the niece of Ralph Allen of Prior Park, and had recently been appointed to the preachership of Lincoln's Inn Chapel, an office which had been procured for him by "silver-tongued" Murray, afterwards Lord Mansfield. But he was already famous as the author, of the never-completed Divine Legation of Moses, and had established himself in the affection of Pope by his adroit vindication of the nebulous orthodoxy of the Essay on Man — a work which, by the way, he had formerly assailed. As a natural consequence of this new alliance, Pope's labours on Shakespeare had assumed an exaggerated value in his eyes, and on his title-page he figured as Pope's coadjutor. But when, in 1747, the joint result at last appeared, Pope was dead.
So also, for the matter of that, were Hanmer and Theobald, though — to do Warburton justice — there is no reason for supposing that their presence or absence on this planet would have prevented him from abusing them to the full of his bent. This he proceeded to do in his Preface. Both of them, if we are to believe him, had made unwarrantable use of his material: "The One [Theobald] was recommended to me as a poor Man; the Other [Hanmer] as a poor Critic: and to each of them, at different times, I communicated a great number of Observations, which they managed, as they saw fit, to the Relief of their several Distresses. As to Mr. Theobald, who wanted Money, I allowed him to print what I gave him for his own Advantage: and he allowed himself in the Liberty of taking one Part for his own, and sequestering another for the Benefit, as I supposed, of some future Edition. But, as to the Oxford Editor [Hanmer], who wanted nothing but what he might very well be without, the Reputation of a Critic, I could not so easily forgive him for trafficking with my Papers without my Knowledge; and, when that Project fail'd, for employing a number of my Conjectures in his Edition against my expressed Desire not to have that Honour done unto me."
There is more to the same effect; but seeing that Warburton's own biographer candidly confesses that "these passages contain much, we fear, that is disingenuous, not to say false," it is only waste of time to discuss them; and although it is plain that Warburton had personal relations with both Theobald and Hanmer, it is hopeless, at this date, to decide exactly how much he lent to, or borrowed from, either of them. But — at the risk of anticipating — it is instructive to contrast here with Warburton's malevolent and skilfully generalized indictment of his forerunners, honest old Johnson's treatment of Warburton himself when, eighteen years later, Warburton, in his turn, came up for judgement as a Shakespeare commentator. It is true that Warburton was alive when Johnson wrote; and that, with Voltaire, Johnson rightly recognized the obligation of "tenderness to living reputation." He also respected Warburton's extraordinary learning. "The table is always full, Sir," he said of the miscellaneous bill of fare provided in the Divine Legation. "He brings things from the north and the south, and from every quarter." And he also cherished a praiseworthy gratitude to Warburton for a commendatory word respecting some of his own tentative and unfriended efforts in Shakespeare criticism. But, although, for these reasons, his deliverance is perhaps a trifle laboured, especially when compared with the weighty passages on editorial futility by which it is succeeded, these considerations did not prevent him from writing what must always be regarded as the last word on Warburton's Shakespear: "The original and predominant errour of his [Warburton's] commentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts; that precipitation which is produced by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which presumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures; he at one time gives the author more profundity of meaning than the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities where the sense is plain to every other reader. But his emendations are likewise often happy and just; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned and sagacious. Of his notes I have commonly rejected those against which the general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incongruity immediately condemns and which, I suppose, the author himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to part I have given the highest approbation, by inserting the offered reading in the text; part I have left to the judgement of the reader, as doubtful, though specious, and part I have censured without reserve, but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness of insult."
This restrained, and even indulgent judgement would probably at no time have satisfied the inordinate vanity of Warburton, least of all when, in 1765, he first read it in type, having in the interim shouldered his way through various preferments to the Bishopric of Gloucester; and, presumably, long since spent the five hundred pounds (more than Johnson or Pope received) which he had extracted from Tonson for the copyright.
With commendable prudence, he said nothing in public; but he grumbled in writing to his henchman Hurd and another correspondent about the "folly" and "malignity" of "this Johnson" who had ventured to question his authority as a Shakespeare commentator. Of course, by this time, Johnson's praise or dispraise could matter little to Warburton, whose "chimerical conceits" (the phrase is Malone's) had already been sufficiently exposed by humbler men. One of these was Dr. Zachary Grey, the superabundant notes to whose edition of Butler's Hudibras Warburton had characterized as an "execrable heap of nonsense," though he himself had contributed to them. Another was John Upton, later the editor of Spenser, who, with special reference to Warburton, put forth a series of Observations on Shakespeare. But the most memorable of the group was Thomas Edwards, to whom we owe The Canons of Criticism.
Although there is a legend that Edwards had once met Warburton in Allen's library at Prior Park, and had successfully confuted him (before his wife) about a passage from a Greek author, concerning which Warburton had manifestly relied on a French translation, there is no ground for supposing that Edwards was actuated by any hostile feeling. In fact, not long after the Canons had appeared, he wrote that he did not know Warburton personally, which, even if there were not other discrepancies, would be fatal to the story. Edwards was not a professed critic; indeed, as far as we are aware, though liberally educated, he had never been either at a public school or a university. But he was a natural scholar, devoted in particular to Spenser, Milton, and Shakespeare, whom he had studied in order to comprehend their meaning rather than to write about them. Warburton's fantastic and needless variations honestly roused in him that righteous indignation — the "noble anger" of King Lear — which Bishop Butler has declared to be "not only innocent, but a generous movement of mind." And Warburton, in his full-blown arrogance, had afforded him an excellent opportunity for retort — nay, had even indicated the very form it should take. He had once intended — his Preface loftily announced — to have given his readers "a body of Canons, for literal Criticism," drawn out in form; as well such as concern the art in general as those that arise from the nature and circumstances of the author's works in particular; but these uses — he complacently added — might be well supplied by what he had occasionally said on the subject in the course of his remarks. He had also designed to give "a general alphabetic Glossary" of peculiar terms; but as those were explained in their proper places, there seemed the less occasion for such an "Index." There could be no more inviting provocation to the profane than this pronouncement, and Edwards availed himself of it. He forthwith set to work to frame a burlesque code of Canons, deduced directly from Warburton's notes, with illustrations drawn from that writer's emendations. To these he subjoined a Glossary based — of course from his own point of view — on Warburton's indications. His essay, first issued in April 1748, by M. Cooper of Paternoster Row, as a shilling pamphlet, was advertised as a Supplement to Mr. Warburton's Edition of Shakespear "collected from the Notes in that celebrated Work, and proper to be bound up, with it" — the authorship being ascribed to a Gentleman of Lincoln's Inn." Later issues changed the title to The Canons of Criticism and Glossary, &c.
It would be superfluous to reprint the twenty-five Canons which Edwards prefixed to his pamphlet, as they are all much on the same lines; but a few may be reproduced as specimens. No. I runs:
A Professed Critic has a right to declare, that his Author wrote whatever He thinks he ought to have written; with as much positiveness, as if He had been at his Elbow.
No. II. He has a right to alter any passage which He does not understand.
No. IV. Where he does not like an expression, and yet cannot mend it; He may abuse his Author for it.
No. V. Or He may condemn it, as a foolish interpolation.
No. VII. He may find out obsolete words, or coin new ones; and put them in the place of such, as He does not like, or does not understand.
No. IX. He may interpret his Author so; as to make him mean directly contrary to what He says.
These are some only of the Canons, but a small handsel will suffice. To borrow the memorable words of Captain Cuttle's oracular friend, "The bearing of these observations lays in the application on them" rather than in any gnomic neatness they possess; and this application Edwards goes on to supply with considerable gusto. In this respect one may draw on him more liberally. Some of the examples he adduces are certainly marvels of editorial ineptitude. Thus when Othello (Act III, sc. iii) speaks of "the ear-piercing fife" (now almost as ancient a friend as the journalistic "welkin"), Warburton would substitute "th' fear-'spersing fife," on the unaccountable ground that "piercing the ear is not an effect on the hearers." His own ear must have been lamentably at fault since, in another place, he proposes to read, for the "Whoso draws a sword, 'tis present death" of I Henry VI, Act Ill, sc. iv, the unspeakable "Whoso draws a sword i' th' presence 't's death" — a line which, if we fail to follow Edwards in thinking that it seems "penned for Cadmus when in the state of a serpent," certainly proves that the "Professed Critic," with the modern parodist, liked—
to dock the smaller parts-o'-speech,
As we curtail the already cur-tailed cur.
Another entirely unnecessary alteration is where the Fool in King Lear says (Act Ill, sc. ii): "I'll speak a prophecy, or e'er I go." This Warburton, on the pitiful pretence that "'or e'er I go' is not English," amends into: "I'll speak a proph'cy, or two, e'er I go." It is not necessary, at present, to give, as Edwards does, and mostly from the Bible, a page of illustrations defending the use of the locution "or e'er." It may, however, be urged, perhaps not unreasonably, that Warburton's emendations are more than a hundred and seventy years old; and that he wrote before Bartlett's and Mrs. Cowden-Clarke's indispensable Concordances, to say nothing of the glossaries of Dyce and his successors. And there is something, too, in Warburton's complaint to a sympathetic friend that "to discover the corruption in an author's text, and by a happy sagacity to restore it to sense, is no easy task: and when the discovery is made, then to cavil at the conjecture, to propose an equivalent, and defend nonsense, by producing out of the thick darkness it occasions a weak and faint glimmering of sense ... is the easiest, as well as dullest, of all literary efforts." That is so, unquestionably, when, in both cases, the result is naught. Who, however, would seek to better "a' babbled of green fields"! Here, in truth, the critic is "on a level with the author." But where is the "happy sagacity" — the "curiosa felicitas" — of Warburton's "enlard" for "enlarge" in the "and doth enlarge his rising" (2 Henry IV, Act I, sc. i), a perfectly legitimate alternative for "increase his army." Or where again is the necessity for converting "denier" into "taniere" in "My dukedom to a beggarly denier" (Richard III, Act I, sc. ii), odds — it may be noted in passing — as intelligibly extreme as the eighteenth-century "All Lombard Street to a China orange." "Denier" is the twelfth part of a sou; but "taniere," even if, as Warburton says, it may be taken to mean "a hut or cave" (which is by no means its ordinary signification), is a suggestion so far-fetched as scarcely to be worth the carriage. But perhaps the most astounding of Warburton's amendments is his correction of the much-discussed couplet in Amiens's song (As You Like It, Act II, sc. vii):
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen.
Warburton holds that "Without doubt, Shakespeare wrote 'Because thou art not sheen'" (obsolete for "shining"). This is more than "midsummer madness," it is sheer academic amentia, and instead of making matters clearer, serves solely to obscure what is obvious.
These illustrations might easily be extended by going farther afield. But, at this time of the day, it is not necessary to prove Warburton's self-sufficient perversity up to the hilt. One of the blunders which aroused the mirth of Edwards, and the discovery of which disturbed his victim much as a "banderilla" might be supposed to irritate a bull, was, it is possible, no more than an error of the press, though a most inconvenient one. In referring to Cinthio's Hecatommithi, a Shakespearean source, Pope had used the contraction, "Dec. 8, Nov. 5," which Warburton's over-zealous printer had amplified into "December 8, November 5," whereas, if expanded at all, it should have been "Decade 8, Novel 5"; and matters were not improved when, to Warburton's angry retort, Edwards gleefully rejoined that a mistake of the same kind had been made in speaking of a quotation from the Faerie Queene. There is, however, no lack of real aberration in Warburton's notes; and if our object were to do more than justify the protests of Edwards, it would, as we have said, be easy to "enlard" the schedule. What, for instance, could be the possible good of discussing the following senseless comment on the "prayers from preserved souls" of Measure for Measure (Act II, sc. ii) — "The metaphor is taken from fruits, preserved in sugar"? Or, from examples under Canon II: "He [the Critic] has a right to alter any passage which He does not understand," the following, "The 'Fixure' of her eye has motion in 't" (Winter's Tale, Act V, sc. iii, where Hermione is personating a statue)? Says Warburton: "This is sad nonsense. We should read "The Fissure of her eye," i.e. — the Socket" — a suggestion which might have come from the Damasippus of Horace. It is sufficient to say that fissure means a "split" and not a "socket," while "fixure" is good Shakespearean for "fixedness." This trick of replacing Shakespeare's word by another that resembles it, is part of Warburton'smodus operandi, though he may have caught the device from the "babbled" for "table" of Thcebald. Thus, he puts, not only "sheen" for "seen," but "wing" for "sing," "hymn" for "him," "mew" for" few," "blending" for "bending," "hallows" for "allows," "tallies" for "dallies," "vowels" for "bowels," and so forth — variations which, in every case, serve simply to support Johnson's preference for the older readings, and enforce his position that conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable, should not be "wantonly nor licentiously indulged." Warburton's notes are, in truth, a lucky-bag of lapses, into which one may plunge anywhere with the certitude of finding something to rival that real, or imagined, pedagogue (from Boeotia) who proposed, in lieu of the authorized version, to read "stones in the running brooks, Sermons in books"; or that other egregious wiseacre, fabled by Mr. Punch, who made the remarkable discovery that Yorick was Hamlet's father because, in handling Yorick's skull, Hamlet said "Pah!"
To give an idea of Warburton's anger and astonishment at the onslaught of Edwards would require a string of those preparatory similes which Fielding employs so effectively to introduce a thunderbolt. Warburton had no doubt counted on unqualified approbation; or, at the worst (if there could be a worst!), on the conventional homage usually accorded to eminent personages who take up unfamiliar tasks under pretence of pastime. But that the author of the Divine Legation should be "scotched and notched like a carbonado" by a nameless nobody — a mere Inns of Court amateur — was a thing to make angels weep. His indignation was irrepressible; and he exhibited his resentment in the most unworshipful manner. Public reply was, of course, out of the question — probably he felt that Edwards was far too "cunning of fence." But he poured contempt on him privately in all companies; and, as opportunity offered, inserted spiteful and irrelevant passages about him in the notes to Pope on which he was engaged. In the Essay on Criticism, referring to Edwards by name, he spoke of him disdainfully as a critic having neither parts nor learning, a "Fungoso" of Lincoln's Inn; and in the fourth book of the Dunciad, taking advantage of Pope's line about the children of Dullness: "Who study Shakespeare at the Inns of Court" (a line which had assuredly no connexion whatever with Edwards), he delivered himself of a scurrilous, and, at this date, rather unintelligible tirade against his adversary, on whose birth and social status he cast invidious reflections, and further stigmatized him as a "Mushroom," a "Caliban" for politeness, a "Grub street critic run to seed" — and so forth, all of which, in an ecclesiastic of eminence occupying the pulpit of Ussher and Tillotson, was most discreditable and deplorable.
Edwards, who had been quietly amplifying his evidence for enlarged editions of the Canons, was moved by these things to abandon his anonymity; and he did so in the later issues. He was manifestly wounded by the attempt to "degrade him of his gentility," though he did not condescend (as he might have done) to retort specifically to Warburton in this respect. But he naturally, and successfully, vindicated his right, equally with Warburton, to study Shakespeare, if he pleased; and to laugh, if he chose, at "unscholar-like blunders," "crude and far-fetched conceits," and "illiberal and indecent reflections," if they were "put-off upon the world as a standard of true criticism." Finally, he quoted Scaliger with crushing effect. "If," says he, "a person's learning is to be judged of by his reading, nobody can deny Eusebius the character of a learned man; but if he is to be esteemed learned, who has shown judgement together with his reading, Eusebius is not such." Here he certainly hits Warburton "i' the clout." At the same time he dedicated his book to Warburton as the person with whom it had originated; and he thanked him ironically for the "civil treatment, so becoming a Gentleman and a Clergyman," which he had received at his hands.
Edwards, during the rest of his life, continued to swell the bill against Warburton by further additions to the Canons, in many of which he was assisted by a friend, Mr. Richard Roderick, F.S.A. and F.R.S., a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and a son of the Master. In the contest with Warburton, Edwards had unquestionably the best of the battle. He was on the right side, and Warburton on the wrong. The labours of Edwards have now no doubt been surpassed by later students with larger facilities and ampler resources. But "Warburton on Shakespeare" (like "Lauder on Milton" in Hogarth's Beer Street) must have long since travelled irretrievably to "Mr. Pastem, the trunk-maker, in St. Paul's Church-yard," while Warton prophesied truly when he said that the great man's "attacks on Mr. Edwards were not of sufficient weight to weaken the effects of his excellent Canons of Criticism," which he also characterized as "allowed by all impartial critics to have been decisive and judicious." Walpole, too, who frequently contrives to be on the side of posterity, wrote to Zouch that Warburton's "preposterous notes ... would have died of their own folly, though Mr. Edwards had not put them to death with the keenest wit in the world." And Akenside (who had his own quarrel with the "tongue-doughty Pedant") went further still in his enthusiasm. He addressed an ode to Edwards, in which the "Swan of Avon" himself is made to thank his apologist personally for clearing his tomb of Warburton's "conceits."
The sixth edition of the Canons was published by Bathurst in 1758, after Edwards's death. Besides including Remarks on Shakespear by Roderick who had died in August 1756, it comprises all Edwards's acknowledged literary remains. These consist of a little orthographical paper entitled "An Account of the Trial of the letter [gamma], alias Y," and a number of sonnets, thirteen of which had already appeared in the second volume of Dodsley's Collection. Their interest lies less in their matter than in their form; and the more ambitious of them — namely, those concerned with Shakespeare, Spenser, and Warburton — might be strengthened by a dash of Dryden's direct vocabulary. The prevailing note is reflective and domestic. But they deserve consideration on account of their technical excellence. All but four of them are on the Italian model, to which Edwards's attention had been directed by a friend, Daniel Wray, the titular recipient of two of them; and the conjectural date of their composition, 1745-57, entitles them, if only as a sustained effort, to a prominent place in the mid-eighteenth-century revival of the Miltonic sonnet. In fact, their only serious competitors are Gray's isolated essay in this way on the death of Richard West, written at Stoke in 1742, and that of Benjamin Stillingfleet to Dr. John Williamson, which Todd in his Milton dates 1746. But one of Edwards's sonnets, which can scarcely have been the first, is addressed to Lyttelton on his "Conversion of St. Paul," published in November 1747. On the other hand, Gray's beautiful poem, as — with all due deference to Wordsworth — we must continue to regard it, is not strictly Miltonic in structure, while those of Edwards and his "blue-stocking" competitor rigorously play the game.
This brings us at last to the scanty particulars of Edwards's life, the most authoritative of which are derived from the publisher's Advertisement prefixed to the sixth edition of the Canons. He was born in 1699. He was still a young man when, by his father's death, he inherited a "small estate" of 143 acres at Pitshanger (Pitch-hanger on the old maps), a manor, or manor-farm, in the parish of Ealing, Middlesex. He is said to have received a "liberal Education," and, like his father and grandfather, became a barrister, entering in 1721 at Lincoln's Inn. From No. v of his sonnets, "On a Family-Picture," we learn he had four brothers and four sisters, all of whom died before him, leaving him, in his own words, "Single, unpropp'd, and nodding to my fall." "Single" here, probably, means no more than "solitary" but he never married, though another sonnet clearly indicates an "Amoret," either disdainful or deceased. Nor did he ever seriously practise the law; but devoted himself to literature and the cultivation of his property. Until 1740 he lived chiefly at Pitshanger; but in that year he moved permanently to Turrick (now Terrick), an estate near Ellesborough in Buckinghamshire, where he resided until his death in 1757. His constitution, as may be inferred from the mortality in his family, cannot have been strong, and apparently unfitted him for anything but the "retirement's unambitious shade" which he desiderated and attained.
But though he professed to live the life of a recluse, his sonnets prove that he had a sufficient circle of friends. Some of his efforts, those, for example, to Lord Chancellor Hardwicke and Archbishop Herring, were no doubt merely votive and complimentary; others imply closer relations. Daniel Wray, for example, he had known from childhood, and Wray must have been a notable man. He was not only the Deputy Teller of the Exchequer to Philip Yorke, later second Earl of Hardwicke, but he was a learned archaeologist who became a Trustee of the British Museum. What is more, he was one of the contributors to those famous Athenian Letters of 1741-3, which were once regarded as the best existing commentary on Thucydides. And Edwards seems to have known several of the other contributors. Charles Yorke, Philip's brilliant younger brother, whom he apostrophizes familiarly as "Charles" in Sonnet xv, wrote the Preface to the work; and Edwards addresses sonnets to three others of the company — to Philip Yorke himself, to the Rev. J. Lawry, and Dr. William Heberden, the "ultimus Romanorum" of Johnson and the "virtuous and faithful HEBERDEN" of Cowper. For Heberden, also Richardson's doctor, Edwards had a sincere affection. Heberden it was, he says, who caused him to exchange the "crouded Town" and the valley of the Brent for the "purer air" of the Chiltern Hills. It is possible, also, that Sonnet xlii, "To Miss —," discreetly veils the shrinking delicacy of Miss Catherine Talbot, the bosom friend of Eliza Carter of Deal, afterwards the translator of Epictetus. For Miss Talbot, young as she was in 1740, was one of the Athenian correspondents.
Another of Edwards's friends of long standing was Richard Owen Cambridge, Walpole's "Cambridge the Everything." Cambridge had been born in 1717, and entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1737. Edwards often visited him in his Gloucester home, at Wheatenhurst on the Stroud, a tributary of the Severn; and Sonnet i refers specifically to his participation in those promenades en bateau on "Sabrina's flood," which were Cambridge's hobby and delight. Edwards must frequently have taken a seat in the great pleasure-boat after the Venetian pattern, painted with Samuel Scott's panels, and carrying thirty cabin passengers; or adventured in those more perilous craft which his host had modelled on the fragile proas Anson had sought to introduce from the Malay archipelago. One of Cambridge's associates, who had lived on the same staircase with him at Lincoln's Inn, was the parodist Isaac Hawkins Browne. Browne, too, was doubtless of these water parties; and in any case must have been known to Edwards, since Edwards devotes two sonnets to him, Nos. xvi and xvii. In the former he acknowledges Browne's influence on his own versification; in the latter he invites him to return to his "native language," a transparent reference to the lengthy Latin poem by Browne on the Immortality of the Soul, an English translation of which by Soame Jenyns appears in Dodsley's sixth volume. Browne's parodies and some miscellaneous pieces had already figured in volume ii, where, also, he had written an ode to Charles Yorke. Of yet another friend of Edwards there are definite indications, since he sends him, with No. xlv, a batch of sonnets. This was Arthur Onslow, the genial and cultivated Speaker of the House of Commons from 1728 to 1761. At Imber or Ember Court, a pleasant country seat near Thames Ditton, with the Mole running through its grounds, Onslow was wont to draw about him a host of sympathetic or lettered guests. Edwards's Sonnet xxviii is addressed to his son George, afterwards first Earl of Onslow.
One of the visitors at Imber Court was Samuel Richardson, formerly an "obscure man," who, as he boasted at Bath, was eventually "admitted to the company of the first characters in the Kingdom." When he made the acquaintance of Edwards is uncertain; but the correspondence between them — or at least that portion of it which is printed by Mrs. Barbauld — extends over the last eight years of Edwards's life and is the main authority for the remaining facts of his biography. In January 1749 Edwards had evidently visited Richardson at North End, Fulham, and addressed to him an ecstatic appreciation of Clarissa, the three final volumes of which had not been long issued. A year later he also sent him a laudatory sonnet on the same theme, which its delighted recipient speedily set up in type, and a copy was forthwith dispatched by Edwards to Onslow, to go under Richardson's portrait. As the sonnet is unimpeachable in form, and no worse for its recollection, in the opening quatrain, of the quotation from Horace with which Fielding had greeted Clarissa in No. 5 of the Jacobite's Journal, it may here (despite the obscuring inversion of line 5) serve for a taste of Edwards's quality as a sonnet writer:
O Master of the heart, whose magic skill
The close recesses of the Soul can find,
Can rouse, becalm, and terrifie the mind,
Now melt with pity, now with anguish thrill,
Thy moral page while virtuous precepts fill,
Warm from the heart, to mend the Age design'd,
Wit, strength, truth, decency, are all conjoin'd
To lead our Youth to Good, and guard from Ill.
O long enjoy, what thou so well hast won,
The grateful tribute of each honest heart
Sincere, nor hackney'd in the ways of men;
At each distressful stroke their true tears run,
And Nature, unsophisticate by Art,
Owns and applauds the labors of thy pen.
Edwards must at once have been made free of the North End consistory of "Muses and Graces," for in the second letter printed by Mrs. Barbauld, he has already become acquainted with two of Richardson's "high-life" touchstones, Mrs. Delany's clever Irish friend, Miss Anne Donnellan, and Miss Sutton. (The latter was apparently a little "difficult," as her father, Sir Robert Sutton, had been Warburton's earliest patron.) He had also visited Miss Hester (or Hecky) Mulso, in later years Mrs. Chapone, who was already known (to her circle) as an ode-writer. She had a beautiful voice, which induced Edwards to call her "the Linnet," and they speedily interchanged compliments in verse. The contribution of Edwards is Sonnet xxiv in the Canons. He was also "sonnetized" by Miss Highmore, the daughter of the painter. He must have listened, in the famous North End Grotto, to the readings from Sir Charles Grandison, then in the making, although he does not actually figure in the little picture which the clever young lady aforesaid made of one of these "seances." But that he was sometimes in the audience on these occasions is plain from the fact that he had the courage to remonstrate with Richardson respecting certain injudicious utterances in Miss Harriet Byron's letters, which — needless to say — Richardson hastily expunged. Miss Susannah Highmore, it may be added, subsequently married the Rev. John Duncombe, the author of the Feminead: or, Female Genius, a poem to which Edwards, notwithstanding his dislike to "omne quod exit in ad" (he must have forgotten Cambridge's Scribleriad!), was easily reconciled, since it not only contained portraits of those bright particular stars, Miss "Eugenia" Highmore and Miss "Delia" Mulso, but made complimentary reference to himself.
The Edwards-Richardson correspondence, as we have it, is not particularly fruitful in literary gossip. There are some oft-quoted outbursts, on Richardson's part, against Fielding, to which Edwards, as might be anticipated, replies in kindred vein; and there are references to Richardson's troubles with the Irish pirates, Messrs. Exshaw, Wilson, and Saunders. Richardson seems to have been anxious to induce his friend to follow up the Canons by some more extended critical or editorial work. He suggested that he should edit his "ever-honoured Spenser," a new edition of whom was in contemplation. But Edwards was not to be persuaded. He knew his own limitations; and he shrank from the responsibilities of the task. His standard of editing was as high as that afterwards so amply outlined by Johnson in his Proposals of 1755; and he was as heartily sick of the hidebound Warburtons and Newtons as he was of the vamped-up subscription issues of the booksellers, with their obtrusive typography and their copperplates "made in Holland." Richardson next tried to tempt him with Pope — with a rival edition to that of Warburton. But here Edwards's objections were even stronger. Though he had formerly been actually in communication with Pope, and admired him as a poet, he did not care for him as an individual. If, as he argued, he was to take off the patches with which Warburton had tinkered the Essay on Man, matters would not therefore be mended. Then again (an unsurmountable reason!), Warburton had Pope's papers. In all this, it is probable that lack of authorities and opportunity had more influence than lack of ability. Editing was "a work," to use Edwards's own words, "not to be done with a wet finger." And it is obvious from his later letters that his health was steadily failing. He died, aged fifty-eight, after a short illness, on January 3, 1757, when visiting Richardson at Parson's Green; and he was buried in Ellesborough churchyard under a lengthy epitaph by his nephews and heirs. One of his last sonnets was addressed to the sexton of the parish, whom he adjured to guard his "monumental hillock" from "trampling cattle" — an illustration of the days when God's acre was used as a grazing ground. Edwards was a worthy, amiable, well-educated gentleman, with an inborn love of books. His literary record is not large, or lasting. But it is something to have smitten the Goliath of pedantry with the pebble of common sense: something, also, to have made a sustained attempt to revive the sonnet of Milton under the sovereignty of Pope.