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TATE, KEMBLE, &c., THEIR KNOW.
LEDGE OF SHAKESPEARE.
In the days of the Restoration, there lived a poet upon the face of the earth, his name was Nahum Tate.* If the number of editions his verses have gone through, is a criterion of his excellence, we have no hesitation in saying, Nahum Tate is the greatest poet England ever produced.
* Nahum Tate was the son of Dr. Faithful Tate, and was born in Dublin in 1652. At the age of sixteen, he was admitted to the college there. He succeeded Shadwell as Poet Laureate, and continued in that office until his death, which happened on the 12th of August, 1715, in the Mint, and was buried in St. George's Church. He was remarkable for a downcast look, and had seldom much to say for himself, but a free, good-natured, drinking companion. His dramatic works are - Brutus of Alba, T., 4to, 1678. The Loyal General, T., 4to, 1680. King Lear, T., altered from Shakespeare, 4to, 1681. Richard II.; or, the Sicilian Userper, Hist. Play, 4to, 1681 ; printed under the latter title, 4to, 1691. The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth; or, the Fall of Coriolanus, 4to, 1682. Cuckold's Haven ; or, an Alderman no Conjurer, F., 4to, 1685. Duke and no Duke, F., 4to, 1685; taken from Sir Aston Cockayne's Trappolin. The Island Princess, Tragic Com., 4to, 1687. Injured Love; or, the Cruel Husband, T., 4to, 1707. Dido and Æneas, Op.-Oxberry's Edition of Lear, by N.T.
We have all sung “to the praise and glory of God” and Nahum Tate. Now, Nahum Tate knew not Shakespeare, and doubtless would have gone to his grave in that happy ignorance; but Nahum Tate had a friend, who, as Bacon says, "redoubleth joys.”
John Boteler, Esq., said unto Nahum Tate“Once upon a time there was a man called Shakespeare, who wrote a thing called Lear : a great genius such as you are, might make it into a play.”
Now, Nahum Tate prided himself on playwriting as much as Psalmody, so he determined to do this very thing.
When he had done it, he wrote a private letter to John Boteler, Esq. In those days of heavy postage, a single letter was a chargeable affair, and one that contained anything so heavy as Nahum Tate's thoughts would have been very expensive indeed. It was our habit, therefore, in those days to enclose letters in books and parcels. We believe it was felony to do so; few things in those days were not felony. A man could hardly stir without rendering himself liable to the penalty of hanging. However, few of the age of forty can own themselves free from this fault. Nahum Tate put his private letter into his published book, and we have purloined it. We
have done, as they ordinarily do at the Post-officetaken it because we thought there was something in it worth having; and whatever penalty it may have subjected us to, it will at least save the reader the penalty of purchasing the book.
Here the letter is :
“To my esteemed Friend, Thos. Boteler, Esq., 1681.
“SIR,—You have a natural right to this piece, since by your advice I attempted the revival of it with alterations. Nothing but the power of your persuasion, and my zeal for all the remains of Shakespeare could have wrought one to so bold an undertaking. I found that the new modelling of this story would force me sometimes on the difficult task of making the chiefest persons speak something like their characters, on matter whereof I had no ground in my author. Lear's real, and Edgar's pretended madness, have so much of extravagant nature (I know not how else to express it), as could never have started but from our Shakespeare's creating fancy. The images and language are so odd and surprising (and yet so agreeable and proper), that whilst we grant that none but Shakespeare could have formed such conceptions, yet we are satisfied that they are the only things that ought to be said on such occasions. I find the whole to answer your account of it—a heap of jewels, unstrung and unpolished, yet so dazzling in their disorder, that I soon perceived that I had seized a treasure. It was my good fortune to light on one expedient, to rectify what was wanting in the regularity and probability of the tale, which was to run through the whole, a love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia, that never changed word with each other in the original. This renders Cordelia's indifference, and her father's passion, in the first scene probable. It likewise gives countenance to Edgar's disguise; making that a generous design that was before a poor shift to save his life. The distress of the story is evidently heightened by it; and it particularly gave occasion to a new scene or two, of more success (perhaps) than merit. This method necessarily threw me on making the tale conclude in a success to the innocent distrest persons, otherwise I should have encumbered the stage with dead bodies, which conduct makes many tragedies conclude with unseasonable jests. Yet was I rackt with no small fears for so bold a change, till I found it well received by the audience; and if this will not satisfy the reader, I can produce an authority which questionless will. [He then quotes Mr. Dryden's Preface to the Spanish Friar.] Neither is it so trivial a matter to make a tragedy end happily, for it is more difficult to save than to kill. The dagger and cup of poison are always in readiness; but to bring the action to the last extremity, and then by probable means to recover all, will require the art and judgement of a writer, and cost him many a pang in the performance. One thing more I have to apologize for, which is, that I have used less quaintness of expression, even in the newest parts of this play. I confess 'twas design in me partly to comply with my author's style, to make the scenes of a piece, and partly to give it some resemblance of the times and persons here represented. “ Your obliged friend and humble servant,
“ N. TATE."
Of course, Nahum Tate struck the Fool out of the play. The Poet Laureate knew that fools were not fit companions for kings. There have been profane persons who have said, that there have been kings who, when quite alone, had a fool to their company; but Nahum Tate was not a profane person; for, though given to drunkenness and