1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gerard Langbaine

Isaac D'Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature (1836; 1881) 3:500-02.



Oldys left ample annotations on Fuller's Worthies, and Winstanley's Lives of the Poets, and on Langbaine's Dramatic Poets. The late Mr. Boswell showed me a Fuller in the Malone collection, with Steevens's transcriptions of Oldys's notes, which Malone purchased for 43. at Steevens's sale; but where is the original copy of Oldys? The Winstanley, I think, also reposes in the same collection. The Langbaine is far-famed, and is preserved in the British Museum, the gift of Dr. Birch; it has been considered so precious, that several of our eminent writers have cheerfully passed through the labour of a minute transcription of its numberless notes. In the history of the fate and fortune of books, that of Oldys's Langbaine is too curious to omit. Oldys may tell his own story, which I find in the Museum copy, p. 336, and which copy appears to be a second attempt; for of the first Langbaine we have this account:—

"When I left London in 1724, to reside in Yorkshire, I left in the care of the Rev. Mr. Burridge's family, with whom I had several years lodged, among many other books, goods, &c., a copy of this Langbaine, in which I had wrote several notes and references to further knowledge of these poets. When I returned to London, 1730, I understood my books had been dispersed, and afterwards becoming acquainted with Mr. T. Coxeter, I found that he had bought my Langbaine of a bookseller who was a great collector of plays and poetical books: this must have been of service to him, and he has kept it so carefully from my sight, that I never could have the opportunity of transcribing into this I am now writing in the notes I had collected in that."

This first Langbaine, with additions by Coxeter, was bought, at the sale of his books, by Theophilus Cibber: on the strength of these notes he prefixed his name to the first collection of the Lives of our Poets, which appeared in weekly numbers, and now form five volumes, written chiefly by Shiels, an amanuensis of Dr. Johnson. Shiels has been recently castigated by Mr. Gifford.