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aiders and partakers of his feat and enterprise. —And to begin with the erle of Richmond, captaine of this rebellion, he is a Welsh milksop—brought up by my Moother's meanes and mine, like a captive in a close cage, in the court of Francis duke of Britaine."
p. 756. Holingshed copies this verbatim from his brother chronicler Hall, Edit. 1548, fol. 54 ; but his Printer hath given us by accident the word Moother instead of Brother; as it is in the Original, and ought to be in Shakespeare.
I hope, my good friend, you have by this time acquitted our great Poet of all piratical depredations on the Ancients, and are ready to receive my Conclusion.He remembered perhaps enough of his school-boy learning to put the Hig, hag, hog, into the mouth of Sir Hugh Evans; and might pick up in the Writers of the time, or the course of his conversation, a familiar phrase or two of French or Italian : but his Studies were most demonstratively confined to Nature and his own Language.
In the course of this disquisition, you have often smiled at “all such reading as was never read”: and possibly I may have indulged it too far: but it is the reading necessary for a Comment on Shakespeare. Those who apply solely to the Ancients for this purpose, may with equal wisdom study the Talmud for an Exposition of Tristram Shandy. Nothing but an intimate acquaintance with the Writers of the time, who are frequently of no other value, can point out his allusions, and ascertain his Phraseology. The Reformers of his Text are for ever equally positive, and equally wrong. The Cant of the Age, a provincial Expression, an obscure Proverb, an obsolete Custom, a Hint at a Person or a Fact no longer remembered, hath continually defeated the best of our Guessers : You must not suppose me to speak at random, when I assure you that, from some forgotten book or other, I can demonstrate this to you in many hundred Places ; and I almost wish that I had not been persuaded into a different Employment.
Tho' I have as much of the Natale Solum about me as
any man whatsoever; yet, I own, the Primrose Path is still more pleasing than the Fosse or the Watling Street :
Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale
It's infinite variety:And when I am fairly rid of the Dust of topographical Antiquity, which hath continued much longer about me than I expected, you may very probably be troubled again with the ever fruitful Subject of SHAKESPEARE and his COMMENTATORS.
An Essay on the Dramatic Character of
Sir John Falstaff
The following sheets were written in consequence of a friendly conversation, turning by some chance upon the Character of Falstaff, wherein the Writer, maintaining, contrary to the general Opinion, that this Character was not intended to be shewn as a Coward, he was challenged to deliver and support that Opinion from the Press, with an engagement, now he fears forgotten, for it was three years ago, that he should be answered thro' the same channel: Thus stimulated, these papers were almost wholly written in a very short time, but not without those attentions, whether successful or not, which seemed necessary to carry them beyond the Press into the hands of the Public. From the influence of the foregoing circumstances it is, that the Writer has generally assumed rather the character and tone of an Advocate than ot an Inquirer ;—though if he had not first inquired and been convinced, he should never have attempted to have amused either himself or others with the subject.—The impulse of the occasion, however, being passed, the papers were thrown by, and almost forgotten : But
having been looked into of late by some friends, who, observing that the Writer had not enlarged so far for the sake of Falstaff alone, but that the Argument was made subservient to Critical amusement, persuaded him to revise and convey it to the Press. This has been accordingly done, though he fears something too hastily, as he found it proper to add, while the papers were in the course of printing, some considerations on the Whole Character of Falstaff; which ought to have been accompanied by a slight reform of a few preceding passages, which may seem, in consequence of this addition, to contain too favourable a representation of his Morals.
The vindication of Falstaff's Courage is truly no otherwise the object than some old fantastic Oak, or grotesque Rock, may be the object of a morning's ride ; yet being proposed as such, may serve to limit the distance, and shape the course :
The real object is Exercise, and the Delight which a rich, beautiful, picturesque, and perhaps unknown Country, may excite from every side. Such an Exercise may admit of some little excursion, keeping however the Road in view ; but seems to exclude every appearance of labour and of toil.—Under the impression of such Feelings, the Writer has endeavoured to preserve to his Text a certain lightness of air, and chearfulness of tone; but is sensible, however, that the manner of discussion does not every where, particularly near the commencement, sufficiently correspond with his design. If the Book shall be fortunate enough to obtain another Impression, a separation may be made ; and such of the heavier parts as cannot be wholly dispensed with, sink to their more proper station,-a Note.
He is fearful likewise that he may have erred in the other extreme; and that having thought himself intitled, even in argument, to a certain degree of playful discussion, may have pushed it, in a few places, even to levity. This error might be yet more easily
reformed than the other.—The Book is perhaps, as it stands, too bulky for the subject; but if the Reader knew how many pressing considerations, as it grew into size, the Author resisted, which yet seemed intitled to be heard, he would the more readily excuse him.
The whole is a mere Experiment, and the Writer considers it as such : It may have the advantages, but it is likewise attended with all the difficulties and dangers, of Novelty.
ON THE DRAMATIC CHARACTER OF
SIR JOHN FALSTAFF The ideas which I have formed concerning the Courage and Military Character of the Dramatic Sir John Falstaff are so different from those which I find generally to prevail in the world, that I shall take the liberty of stating my sentiments on the subject; in hope that some person, as unengaged as myself, will either correct and reform my error in this respect; or, joining himself to my opinion, redeem me from, what I may call, the reproach of singularity.
I am to avow, then, that I do not clearly discern that Sir John Falstaff deserves to bear the character so generally given him of an absolute Coward ; or, in other words, that I do not conceive Shakespeare ever meant to make Cowardice an essential part of his constitution.
I know how universally the contrary opinion prevails ; and I know what respect and deference are due to the public voice. But if to the avowal of this singularity I add all the reasons that have led me to it, and acknowledge myself to be wholly in the judgment of the public, I shall hope to avoid the censure of too much forwardness or indecorum.
It must, in the first place, be admitted that the appearances in this case are singularly strong and