1773 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lewis Theobald

Anonymous, "Shakespeare in the Shades" St. James's Chronicle (21 October 1773).



As Shakespeare rang'd over the Regions below,
With the Muses attending his Side,
The first of his Critics he met with was Rowe,
Tho' to keep our of Sight he had try'd.

"How comes it, Friend Nicholas," said the old Bard,
(While Nic was preparing a Speech)
"My Ruins so coarsely by you were repair'd,
Who Grace to the Graces could teach?

"Had the Time you employed when the Biter you wrote,
So hiss'd by the critical Throng,
Been spent upon mending the Holes in my Coat,
It had not been ragged so long."

Rowe blush'd, and made way for diminutive Pope,
Whom Shakespeare address'd with a Frown,
And said, — "Some Apology sure I may hope
From you, and your friend in the Gown.

"Had the murderous Knife which my Plays has destroy'd,
By lopping full many a Scene,
To make you a Lover like him, been employed,
How flat Cibber's Letter had been!

Pope sneak'd off confounded; and Hanmer drew near,
Whose Softness a Savage might melt;
So, Shakespeare said only, "Sir Thomas, I fear
With Gloves on, my Beauties you felt."

Supported by Caxton, by Winkin upheld,
Next Tibbald crept forward to Sight:—
"Is this (quoth the poet) the Thing that rebell'd,
And dar'd even Pope to the Fight?

"To Kennel, good Tib, for a Time will arrive
When all in their Senses shall know,
That Half of your Consequence, Tib, you derive
From the Lash of so envied a Foe.

"Eight Hundred old Plays thou declar'st thou hast read;
How couldst thou the Public so cozen?
Yet the Traces I see (spite of what thou hast said)
Of not many more than a Dozen.

"If all thou hadst dug, how could Farmer, my Tib,
Or Steevens find Gold in the Mine?—
Thy Trade of Attorney sure taught thee to fib,
And Truth was no Client of thine.

"And yet, to appease me for all thou hast done,
And shew thou art truly my Friend;
Go watch, and to me with Intelligence run
When Johnson and Capel descend.

"For Johnson, with all his Mistakes, I must love;
Ev'n love from the injur'd he gains;—
But Capel a Comrade for Dullness will prove,
And him thou may'st take for thy Pains."

Theobald, in the Preface to his first Edition of Shakespeare, asserts, that exclusive of the Works of Beaumont and Ben Jonson, he had read above Eight Hundred old English Plays, to ascertain the uncommon and obsolete Phrases in his Author. The reader, who can discover the Fruits of this boasted Industry in his notes, may safely believe him ; and those who cannot, may surely claim the Liberty, like myself, to doubt somewhat of his Veracity. This Assertion, however, Theobald had sufficient Modesty to omit in the Preface to his second Edition, together with all the Criticisms on Greek Authors, which I am assured he had collected from such Papers of Mr. Wycherley as had been entrusted to his Care for very different Purposes. It is much to be questioned whether there are Five Hundred old Plays extant, by the most accurate Perusal of which the works of Shakespeare could receive Advantage; I mean of Dramas prior, contemporary, or within half a Century before and after his own.