1813 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Capell

James Boswell the Younger, in Memoir of Malone (1813); Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 5:451.



A few remarks will be sufficient to characterise to gentlemen, who, as Critics, may be fairly classed together — Mr. Capell and Mr. Jennens. Mr. Capell, with little judgment, and as little taste, was a man of considerable application. He had assiduously studied Shakspeare, and the writers of his age; he had collated most of the earlier editions, though not with accuracy upon which we can safely rely; and in many instances had set the example of adherence to the old copies, where they had been ignorantly or rashly altered by his predecessors. But he had not settled principles of criticism; his text has been drawn together from various quarters, according to the dictates of his own caprice; and if he has often discarded the corruptions of others, he has not unfrequently introduced new ones of his own. His notes afford us little information, when we have at last disentangled their meaning, which is a matter of no small difficulty, from the enigmatical obscurity of his language. Mr. Jennens undertook to enable every reader to become his own critic, by furnishing him with all the varieties which the folios, the quartos, or the suggestions of commentators could afford; and the plan, had it have been successfully pursued, would certainly have been of use; but the total want of discrimination with which he collected the most obvious typographical errors from the most spurious copies, expose him to the merciless ridicule of Steevens. Mr. Steevens was in many respects qualified for the duties of an Editor. With great diligence, an extensive acquaintance with early English literature, and a remarkably retentive memory; he was, besides, as Mr. Gifford has justly observed, "a wit and a scholar." But his wit, and the sprightliness of his, style, were too often employed to bewilder and mislead us. His consciousness of his own satirical powers made him much too fond of exercising them at the expence of truth and justice.