EDMOND MALONE, a gentleman of great literary research, and one of the ablest commentators on Shakspeare, was descended from an Irish family of the highest antiquity, an account of which may be found in the seventh volume of Archdall's Peerage of Ireland, which, it is believed, was drawn up by Mr. Malone himself. All his immediate predecessors were distinguished men. His grandfather, while only a student at the Temple, was entrusted with a negociation in Holland; and so successfully acquitted himself, that he was honoured and rewarded by king William for his services. Having been called to the Irish bar about 1700, he became one of the most eminent barristers that have ever appeared in that country. His professional fame has only been eclipsed by that of his eldest son, the still more celebrated Anthony Malone, who as a lawyer, an orator, and an able and upright statesman, was confessedly one of the most illustrious men that his country has produced. Edmond, the second son of Richard, and the father of the late Mr. Malone, was born on the 16th of April 1704. He was called to the English bar in 1730, where he continued for ten years to practice; and, in 1740, removed to the Irish bar. After having sat in several parliaments, and gone through the usual gradations of professional rank, he was raised, in 1766, to the dignity of one of the judges of the court of common pleas in Ireland, an office which he filled till his death in 1774. He married, in 1736, Catherine, only daughter and heir of Benjamin Collier, esq. of Ruckholts, in the county of Essex, by whom he had four sons, Richard, now lord Sunderlin; Edmond, the subject of our present memoir; Anthony and Benjamin, who died in their infancy; and two daughters, Henrietta and Catherine.
Edmond Malone was born at his father's house in Dublin, on the 4th of October 1741. He was educated at the school of Dr. Ford, in Molesworth-street; and went from thence, in 1756, to the university of Dublin, where he took the degree of batchelor of arts. Here his talents very early displayed themselves; and he was distinguished by a successful competition for academical honours with several young men, who afterwards became the ornaments of the Irish senate and bar. It appears that at his outset he had laid down to himself those rules of study to which he ever afterwards steadily adhered. When sitting down to the perusal of any work, either ancient or modern, his attention was drawn to its chronology, the history and character of its author, the feelings and prejudices of the times in which he lived; and any other collateral information which might tend to illustrate his writings, or acquaint us with his probable views, and cast of thinking. In later years he was more particularly engrossed by the literature of his own country; but the knowledge he had acquired in his youth had been too assiduously collected, and too firmly fixed in his mind, not to retain possession of his memory, and preserve that purity and elegance of taste which is rarely to be met with but in those who have early derived it from the models of classical antiquity. He appears frequently at this period, in common with some of his accomplished contemporaries, to have amused himself with slight poetical compositions; and on the marriage of their present majesties contributed an ode to the collection of congratulatory verses which issued on that event from the University of Dublin. In 1763 he became a student in the Inner Temple; and in 1767 was called to the Irish bar, and, at his first appearance in the courts, he gave every promise of future eminence. But an independent fortune having soon after devolved upon him, he felt himself at liberty to retire from the bar, and devote his whole attention in future to literary pursuits, for which purpose he soon after settled in London, and resided there with very little intermission for the remainder of his life. Among the many eminent men with whom he became early acquainted, he was naturally drawn by the enthusiastic admiration which he felt for Shakspeare, and the attention which he had already paid to the elucidation of his works, into a particularly intimate intercourse with Mr. Steevens. The just views which he himself had formed led him to recognize in the system of criticism and illustration which that gentleman then adopted, the only means by which a correct exhibition of our great poet could be obtained. Mr. Steevens was gratified to find that one so well acquainted with the subject entertained that high estimation of his labours which Mr. Malone expressed; and very soon discovered the advantage he might derive from the communications of a mind so richly stored. Mr. Malone was ready and liberal in imparting his knowledge, which, on the other part, was most gratefully received.
Mr. Steevens having published a second edition of his Shakspeare, in 1778, Mr. Malone, in 1780, added two supplementary volumes, which contained some additional notes, Shakspeare's poems, and seven plays which have been ascribed to him. There appears up to this time to have been no interruption to their friendship; but, on the contrary, Mr. Steevens, having formed a design of relinquishing all future editorial labours, most liberally made a present to Mr. Malone of his valuable collection of old plays, declaring that he himself was now become "a dowager commentator." It is painful to think that this harmony should ever have been disturbed, or that any thing should have created any variance between two such men, who were so well qualified to co-operate for the benefit of the literary world. Mr. Malone, having continued his researches into all the topics which might serve to illustrate our great dramatist, discovered, that although much had been done, yet that much still remained for critical industry; and that a still more accurate collation of the early copies than had hitherto taken place was necessary towards a correct and faithful exhibition of the author's text. His materials accumulated so fast, that he determined to appear before the world as an editor in form. From that moment he seems to have been regarded with jealousy by the elder commentator, who appears to have sought an opportunity for a rupture, which he soon afterwards found, or rather created. But it is necessary to go back for a moment, to point out another of Mr. Malone's productions. There are few events in literary history more extraordinary in all its circumstances than the publication of the poems attributed to Rowley. Mr. Malone was firmly convinced that the whole was a fabrication by Chatterton; and, to support his opinion, published one of the earliest pamphlets which appeared in the course of this singular controversy. By exhibiting a series of specimens from early English writers, both prior and posterior to the period in which this supposed poet was represented to have lived, he proved that his style bore no resemblance to genuine antiquity; and by stripping Rowley of his antique garb, which was easily done by the substitution of modern synonymous words in the places of those obsolete expressions which are sprinkled throughout these compositions, and at the same time intermingling some archaeological phrases in the acknowledged productions of Chatterton, he clearly showed that they were all of the same character, and equally bore evident marks of modern versification, and a modern structure of language. He was followed by Mr. Warton and Mr. Tyrwhitt, in his second Appendix; and the controversy was soon at an end. While Mr. Malone was engaged in his Shakspeare, he received from Mr. Steevens a request of a most extraordinary nature. In a third edition of Johnson and Steevens's Shakspeare, which had been published under the superintendence of Mr. Reed, in 1785, Mr. Malone had contributed some notes in which Mr. Steevens's opinions were occasionally controverted. These he was now desired to retain in his new edition, exactly as they stood before, in order that Mr. S. might answer them. Mr. Malone replied, that he could make no such promise; that he must feel himself at liberty to correct his observations, where they were erroneous; to enlarge them, where they were defective; and even to expunge them altogether, where, upon further consideration, he was convinced they were wrong; in short, he was bound to present his work to the public as perfect as he could make it. But he added, that he was willing to transmit every note of that description in its last state to Mr. Steevens, before it went to press; that he might answer it if he pleased; and that Mr. Malone would even preclude himself from the privilege of replying. Mr. Steevens persisted in requiring that they should appear with all their imperfections on their head; and on this being refused, declared that all communication on the subject of Shakspeare was at an end between them. In 1790, Mr. Malone's edition, at last appeared; and was sought after and read with the greatest avidity. It is unnecessary to point out its merits; the public opinion upon it has been long pronounced. It cannot indeed be strictly said that it met with universal approbation. Mr. Ritson appeared against it in an angry and scurrilous pamphlet, replete with misrepresentations so gross, and so easy of detection, though calculated to mislead a careless reader, that Mr. Malone thought it worth his while to point them out in a letter which he published, addressed to his friend Dr. Farmer. Poor Ritson, however, has not been the only one who has attempted to persuade the world that they have been mistaken in Mr. Malone's character as a critic. Mr. Horne Tooke in particular, who, whatever were his talents as a grammarian, or his knowledge as an Anglo-Saxon, had by no means an extensive acquaintance with the literature of Shakspeare's age, has mentioned Mr. Malone and Dr. Johnson with equal contempt, and immediately after proceeds to sneer at Mr. Tyrwhitt. It may readily be supposed that Mr. Malone would not feel very acutely the satire which associated him with such companions. But, to counterbalance these puny hostilities, his work gained the highest testimonies of applause from all who were best qualified to judge upon the subject, and from men whose approbation any one would be proud to obtain. Dr. J. Warton, in a most friendly letter, which accompanied a curious volume of old English poetry which had belonged to his brother Thomas, and which he presented to Mr. Malone as the person for whom its former possessor felt the highest esteem and the most cordial regard, observes to him that his edition is by far, very far, the best that had ever appeared. Professor Porson, who, as every one who knew him can testify, was by no means in the habit of bestowing hasty or thoughtless praise, declared to Mr. Malone's biographer, that he considered the Essay on the three parts of Henry the Sixth as one of the most convincing pieces of criticism that he had ever read; nor was Mr. Burke less liberal in his praises.
Having concluded his laborious work, Mr. Malone paid a visit to his friends in Ireland; but soon after returned to his usual occupations in London. Amidst his own numerous and pressing avocations he was not inattentive to the calls of friendship. In 1791 appeared Mr. Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson, a work in which Mr. Malone felt at all times a very lively interest, and gave every assistance to its author during its progress which it was in his power to bestow. His acquaintance with this gentleman commenced in 1785, when, happening accidentally at Mr. Baldwin's printing-house to be shewn a sheet of the Tour to the Hebrides, which contained Johnson's character, he was so much struck with the spirit and fidelity of the portrait, that he requested to be introduced to its writer. From this period a friendship took place between them, which ripened into the strictest and most cordial intimacy, and lasted without interruption as long as Mr. Boswell lived. After his death, in 1795, Mr. Malone continued to show every mark of affectionate attention towards his family; and in every successive edition of Johnson's Life took the most unwearied pains to render it as much as possible correct and perfect. He illustrated it with many notes of his own, and procured many valuable communications from his friends, among whom its readers will readily distinguish Mr. Bindley. Any account of Mr. Malone would be imperfect which omitted to mention his long intimacy with that gentleman, who is not so remarkable as the possessor of one of the most valuable libraries in this country, as he is for the accurate and extensive information which enables him to use it, and the benevolent politeness with which he is always willing to impart his knowledge to others. There was no one whom Mr. Malone more cordially loved.
In 1795 he was again called forth to display his zeal in defence of Shakspeare, against the contemptible fabrications with which the Irelands endeavoured to delude the public. Although this imposture, unlike the Rowleian poems, which were performances of extraordinary genius exhibited about the same proportion of talent as it did of honesty, yet some persons of no small name were hastily led into a belief of its authenticity. Mr. Malone saw through the falsehood of the whole from its commencement; and laid bare the fraud, in a pamphlet, which was written in the form of a letter to his friend lord Charlemont, a nobleman with whom he lived on the most intimate footing, and maintained a constant correspondence. It has been thought by some that the labour which he bestowed upon this performance was more than commensurate with the importance of the subject; and it is true that a slighter effort would have been sufficient to have overthrown this wretched fabrication; but we have reason to rejoice that Mr. Malone was led into a fuller discussion than was his intention at the outset; we owe to it a work which, for acuteness of reasoning, and the curious and interesting view which it presents of English literature, will retain its value long after the trash which it was designed to expose shall have been consigned to oblivion. Mr. Malone, in 1792, had the misfortune o lose his admirable friend sir Joshua Reynolds, and his executors, of whom Mr. Malone had the honour to be one, having determined in 1797 to give the world a complete collection of his works, he superintended the publication, and prefixed to it a very pleasing biographical sketch of their author. Although his attention was still principally directed to Shakspeare, and he was gradually accumulating a most valuable mass of materials for a new edition of that poet, he found time to do justice to another. He drew together, from various sources, the prose works of Dryden, which, as they had lain scattered about, and some of them appended to works which were little known, had never impressed the general reader with that opinion of their excellence which they deserved; and published them in 1800. The narrative which he prefixed is a most important accession to biography. By active inquiry, and industrious and acute research, he ascertained many particulars of his life and character that had been supposed to be irrecoverably lost, and detected the falsehood of many a traditionary tale that had been carelessly repeated by former writers. In 1808 he prepared for the press a few productions of his friend, the celebrated William Gerard Hamilton, with which he had been entrusted by his executors; and prefixed to this also a brief but elegant sketch of his life. In 1811 his country was deprived of Mr. Windham. Mr. Malone, who equally admired and loved him, drew up a short memorial of his amiable and illustrious friend, which originally appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, and was afterwards, in an enlarged and corrected state, printed in a small pamphlet, and privately distributed. But the kind biographer was too soon to want "the generous tear he paid." A gradual decay appears to have undermined his constitution; and when he was just on the point of going to the press with his new edition of Shakspeare, he was interrupted by an illness, which proved fatal; and, to the irreparable loss of all who knew him, he died on the 25th of May 1812, in the 70th year of his age. In his last illness he was soothed by the tender and unremitting attentions of his brother, lord Sunderlin, and his youngest sister; the eldest, from her own weak state of health, was debarred from this melancholy consolation. He left no directions about his funeral; but his brother, who was anxious, with affectionate solicitude, to execute every wish he had formed, having inferred from something that dropt from him, that it was his desire to be buried among his ancestors in Ireland, his remains were conveyed to that country, and interred at the family seat of Baronston, in the county of Westmeath.
Mr. Malone, in his person, was rather under the middle size. The urbanity of his temper, and the kindness of his disposition, were depictured in his mild and placid countenance. His manners were peculiarly engaging. Accustomed from his earliest years to the society of those who were distinguished for their rank or talent, he was at all times and in all companies easy, unembarrassed, and unassuming. It was impossible to meet him, even in the most casual intercourse, without recognizing the genuine and unaffected politeness of the gentleman born and bred. His conversation was in a high degree entertaining and instructive; his knowledge was various and accurate, and his mode of displaying it void of all vanity or pretension. Though he had little relish for noisy convivial merriment, his habits were social, and his cheerfulness uniform and unclouded. As a scholar, he was liberally communicative. Attached, from principle and conviction, to the constitution of his country in church and state, which his intimate acquaintance with its history taught him how to value, he was a loyal subject, a sincere Christian, and a true son of the Church of England. His heart was warm, and his benevolence active. His charity was prompt, but judicious and discriminating; not carried away by every idle or fictitious tale of distress, but anxious to ascertain the nature and source of real calamity, and indefatigable in his efforts to relieve it. His purse and his time were at all times ready to remove the sufferings, and promote the welfare of others, and as a friend he was warm and steady in his attachments.