1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmond Malone

Richard Ryan, in Biographica Hibernica. A Biographical Dictionary of the Worthies of Ireland (1819) 2:416-19.



EDMUND MALONE, a critic of considerable literary research, and one of the ablest commentators on Shakspeare, was descended from an Irish family of great antiquity, and was born in Dublin on the 4th of October, 1741. In 1756, he entered the university of that city, where he took his degree of bachelor of arts. In 1763, he became a student in the Inner Temple, and in 1767, was called to the Irish bar, where he gave every promise of future excellence; but, an independent fortune being bequeathed to him, he retired from the bar, and shortly after settled in London, where he devoted the whole of his attention to literary pursuits. He took great pains to strip the poetical works of Rowley of their antique garb, contending strongly, that the poems attributed to him were the productions of Chatterton; and those learned critics Warton and Tyrwhitt, being of the same opinion, 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. To a third edition of Johnson and Steevens's Shakspeare, which had been published under the superintendance of Mr. Reed, in 1783, 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. Steevens 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.

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 shew 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 correct and perfect as possible.

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. 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. In 1792, he had the misfortune to 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 publications and prefixed to it a very pleasing biographical sketch of their author. He collected together, and published in 1800, the prose works of Dryden; which, as they had lain scattered about, and were some of them appended to works which were little known, bad never impressed the general reader with that opinion of their excellence which they deserved. The narrative which he prefixed is a most important accession to biography. In 1808, he prepared for the press a few productions of the celebrated William Gerard Hamilton, to which he prefixed a sketch of his life. He also wrote a biographical memoir of that celebrated statesman Mr. Windham, which was not printed for sale. A gradual decay appears to have undermined his constitution; and when he was just on the point of going to press with his new edition of Shakspeare, he was interrupted by an illness of which he died on the 25th of May, 1812, in the seventieth year of his age, and his remains were interred in the family seat of Baronston, in the county of Westmeath.