1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmond Malone

A Particular Friend, "Character of Mr. Malone" Walker's Hibernian Magazine (February 1791) 131.



Mr. Malone was called to the Irish bar, where the abilities of his uncle, the right hon. Anthony Malone, had shone with such unrivalled lustre, and he had really given hopes of his being the successor to his character and reputation.

Common accidents often give habits and dispositions which pervade our lives. From his youth he had a turn for theatrical compositions and representations. Some plays had been acted at a private school where he was educated, previous to his admission in the university of Dublin. Jephson, the author of Braganza, as well as Malone, acted in those representations which were superintended by Macklin.

Whether his diffidence did not allow him to think himself qualified for a situation where so much was expected, or whether forensic labour and exertion were not adapted to a mind devoted to the Belles Lettres, he soon quitted the bar. Possibly a competent fortune left him by his father induced him to follow his own inclination, and to devote himself to science.

Of his edition of Shakespeare, of his labour, minute accuracy, and subtle investigation, too much can scarcely be said. Mr. Malone has that happy combination of good qualities, so concisely, but happily, expressed in Dr. Barrow's epitaph, Summa eruditio, par modestia.

Upon the merits of the various editors of Shakespeare who can confidently decide, while the names of Pope, Johnson, and Steevens stand in comparison? Perhaps it may be said with truth, that Mr. Malone is the best biographer of our immortal bard.

Johnson's Lives of the Poets, and Sheridan's Life of Swift, which are now detached from their respective editions, are universally read and approved. If Mr. Malone's History of the Drama were printed separately in a fair practicable character, it would be a valuable present to the learned world; and if it were continued to the present time, it would be still more agreeable.

Mr. Malone would then appear as an original author, and as Shakespeare's best biographer. The labours of the editor do not always attain that praise, nor meet with that compensation which they deserve. While originality claims admiration, the genius of Pope employed in editing Shakespeare appears like the skill and mastery of a Raphael, occupied in cleaning a portrait.