VII. More Labour than I expect thanks:

                                          The legacy of Pope's edition.



Lewis Theobald; Johnson's and moderns' opinions on Pope and Theobald; The Dunciad──malice or critical principle; Some other reactions; Pope's mind and genius.



The next editor of Shakespeare after Pope, Lewis Theobald, found himself soon the hero of The Dunciad, Pope's mock-epic collection of those who were, in his opinion, the leading dunces of his time. The work in which Theobald published his critical decision on Shakespeare was entitled Shakespeare Restored, and subtitled `a Specimen of the Many Errors as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope in his Late Edition of this Poet. Designed Not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the True Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever yet publish'd.' The first part of the book was given over to various textual emendations, corrections and conjectures for the text of Hamlet; the lengthy appendix extended these considerations to other Shakespeare plays. Unlike Pope, Theobald had a confidence in the basic soundness of many printed Shakespeare plays, and believed that the full text could be rescued by the application of quiet editorial procedure: while Pope's editorial methods were - as we have seen - far-ranging and greatly alter the printed texts, Theobald's method's were much less disruptive to them. He believed that minute attention, followed by the emendation of words and phrases according to a general knowledge of Elizabethan English, could restore Shakespeare to his audience. In this, Shakespeare Restored is the work which established the model for the bulk of Shakespeare scholarship until the present day.

            The reasons for Pope's inclusion of Theobald in The Dunciad have in modern times become described in terms of satire and personal malice. Professor John Carey, in a review of Maynard Mack's weighty biography of Pope, analyses the incident as a process of cause and effect:


He [Pope] made Theobald the leading dunce of The Dunciad, because Theobald had rightly exposed the errors in Pope's amateurish edition of Shakespeare. The task of rescuing what Shakespeare wrote from the chaos of early printed editions required expert knowledge of Elizabethan English and a scientific grasp of textual criticism. Pope lacked these; Theobald had them - and was mocked accordingly.


Mack himself offers a similar description of Theobald's duncification: it is presented as an expression simply of Pope's pique.


If, then, we imagine ourselves reading Shakespeare Restored in Pope's shoes, we may readily recognize the storm of conflicting emotions that assailed him. Embarrassment at being shown up for the textual amateur he was. Deeper embarrassment from the revelation that he had not made the profit from the early editions that with more effort combined with more learning and experience he could and should have. Outrage at the false implication that he had made no effort at all. Resentment that no acknowledgement was made of his undeniable improvements, however sporadic, of the available texts [...][i]


The view of a nearer contemporary, Samuel Johnson, sees the conflict between `professional' and `amateur' in a way which gives less credit to the professional. He described Theobald as `a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsic splendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it.'[ii] However, despite Johnson's less-than-approving description of Theobald, he reacted unfavourably to Pope's poetic portrayal of him, referring to the `petulance and malignity' of The Dunciad and recording with a tone of disapproval, in his Preface to Shakespeare,


Confidence is the common consequence of success. They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly celebrated, are ready to conclude, that their powers are universal. Pope's edition fell below his own expectations, and he was so much offended, when he was found to have left any thing for others to do, that he passed the latter part of his life in a state of hostility with verbal criticism.


            But Johnson's response to Pope's editorial achievement, as opposed to his response to Pope's poetic crusade against dulness in general and Theobald in particular, was enthusiastic. As discussed at the beginning of this thesis, in the Life of Pope, Johnson singled-out some of Pope's qualities in such a way that it that it is Pope the editor, as much as Pope the poet, who is brought to mind:


[Pope] had before him not only what his own meditation suggested, but what he had found in other writers that might be accommodated to his present purpose.

            These benefits of nature he improved by incessant and unwearied diligence; he had recourse to every source of intelligence, and lost no opportunity of information. [...] He was one of those few whose labour is their pleasure, he was never elevated to negligence, nor wearied to impatience; he never passed a fault unamended by indifference, nor quitted it by despair.


In his Preface to Shakespeare, Johnson quarrels with Pope's reference to the `dull duty of an editor', asserting that `an emendatory critick would ill discharge his duty, without qualities very different from dulness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possibilities of expression.' `Conjectural criticism,' Johnson wrote, `demands more than humanity possesses', putting the task of editing Shakespeare satisfactorily beyond the powers either of himself or Pope.

            Johnson is by contrast unrestrained in his praise for Pope's Preface. He considered that it contained `a general criticism of his author, so extensive that little can be added, and so exact that little can be disputed.' And Mrs Thrale notes that `Of Pope as a writer he has the highest opinion, and once when a lady at our house talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to Pope's I fear not Madam (said he), the little fellow has done wonders.`[iii]


                                                             * * *


            A large part of Theobald's work lay in emending single words, and it is for this labour that he is mostly remembered today. However, some decisions were on a larger scale and consequently raised questions larger than that of Pope's proficiency with Elizabethan vocabulary.

            Taking the comments on Hamlet first, it is noticeable that some emendations are strikingly minute in their consideration, such as No. 2:


So frown'd he once, when in an angry Parle [,]

He smote the sledded Polack on the Ice.


All the old Editions, which I have seen, read it rightly without the second Comma;


So frown'd he once, when in an angry Parle

He smote &c.


Theobald is here taking issue with Pope's addition of a comma. We can only conclude today that Theobald was being exceptionally pedantic, or displaying a more acute sensitivity to the implications of stopping than we have today.

            Other of Theobald's emendations are more useful, and display a considerable knowledge of the rarer words of Shakespeare's time. He for instance takes issue with an emendation of Pope's in Cymbeline, where the word `pow'rs' had been substituted for the Folio's `spurs':


                                                I do note,

That Grief and Patience, rooted in him Both,

Mingle their * POW'RS together.


                            * Spurs


Of this passage Theobald writes,


I must own, I cannot tell for what Reason, unless he did not remember the Signification of the Term, Mr. Pope has degraded Spurs here, and substituted Powers in its place. I am sure, there is much greater Consonancy of the Metaphor, in rooted and Spurs; than in rooted and Powers. For Spurs do not only signify those sharp Irons which we wear at our Heels to make a Horse mend his Pace; and those horny Substances upon a Cock's Legs, with which he wounds his Antagonist in fighting; but likewise the Fibres, or Strings, which shoot out from the Roots of Plants and Trees, and give them a Fixture and Firmness in the Earth. Neither Skinner, Cotgrave, nor Baily, remember to mention the Word in this Sense, but Shakespeare knew the Propriety of the Term, and, as Mr. Pope might have observed, has used it in this Signification in his very first Play.


                                    The Tempest, Page 66.


                        ------ The strong-bas'd Promontory

                        Have I made shake; and by the SPURS pluck'd up

                        The Pine and Cedar.


I think This therefore a sufficient Authority to restore this Term in the Passage now before us, as the most proper, and expressive of the Poet's Meaning.


Theobald's most famous emendation is on a similar scale. It attempts to resolve the passage in Henry V when the Hostess describes the moment when she realised that Falstaff was at the point of death. The 1623 Folio reads,


[...] I knew there was but one way: for his Nose was as sharpe as a Pen, and a table of greene fields.


In his edition, Pope alters the text to read simply `I knew there was but one way; for †his nose was a sharp as a pen.' He attached the following note:


  † his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a table of green fields. These words and a table of green fields are not to be found in the old editions of 1600 and 1608. This nonsense got into all the following editions by a pleasant mistake by the Stage-editors, who printed from the common piecemeal-written Parts in the Play-house. A Table was here directed to be brought in, (it being a scene in a tavern where they drink at parting) and this direction crept into the text from the margin. Greenfield was the name of the Property man in that time who furnish'd implements &c. for the actors. A Table of Greenfield's.


Theobald, in a very long note, disagrees with Pope at this point. I will follow Samuel Johnson's lead──he, presumably for reasons of length, omitted Theobald's note from his edition `in pity to [his] readers'.  The outline of Theobald's note is as follows. His first objection is that `Greenfield' was not likely to be anybody's name, `I positively deny that it was ever customary [...] to add the Property-Man's Name whose Business it was to provide [the Properties, or Implements wanted].' Next, Theobald takes issue with Pope's supposing that a table for the current scene should be indicated in the middle of that scene, `Surely, Mr. POPE cannot imagine, that when Implements are wanted in any Scene, the Direction for them is mark'd in the Middle of that scene.' Theobald then paves the way for his own reading,


I agree, indeed, with Mr. Pope, that these Words might be a Stage-Direction, and so crept into the Text from the Margin: But, I insist, that they must be a Direction then for the subsequent Scene, and not for the Scene in Action. I don't care therefore if I venture my Conjecture too upon the passage: I'll be sure at least, if it be not altogether right, it shall not be liable to the Absurdity of the Objection last struck at. I suppose, with the Editor, that over-against the Words of the Text, there might be this Marginal Quotation so close to them, that the Ignorance of the Stage-Editors might easily give them Admittance into the Text.


  ---his Nose was a sharp as a   Chairs, and a Table off. Green

  Pen.                                                             Fields.



Theobald took his cue next from an emendation he found already written in his edition by an unknown reader, which read, `for his Nose was as sharp as a Pen, and a'talked of green Fields.' It was but a short step to the famous conjecture which has become universally accepted. Theobald writes,


The Variation from Table to talked is not of a very great Latitude; tho' we may still come near to the Traces of the Letters, by restoring it thus;


----- for his Nose was as sharp as a Pen, and a' babled of green Fields,


To bable, or babble, is to mutter, or speak indiscriminately.



In a recent study of Theobald's work, Peter Seary agrees that this is Theobald's greatest moment (an opinion which Pope might have concurred with since he included this emendation in his second edition). However Seary casually claims that Theobald is being ironic where he agrees with Pope that the stage directions could have been mistakenly incorporated into the spoken part, `With tongue in cheek, Theobald then suggests how the words might have functioned as a stage direction in the margin . . .'. Seary then goes on to criticise Johnson's indifference to the emendation, `Johnson failed to recognize the importance of Theobald's preoccupation with the manuscript from which the folio version of Henry V was printed.' In Seary's opinion, Theobald knew with certainty that he had correctly stripped the veil of print from the text and retrieved the handwritten original. Thus the professionalism of Theobald is accented (the emendation can now be seen as correct, rather than merely happy), and the thought that he could have half-agreed with Pope dismissed (this is `tongue-in-cheek' irony).

            Before examining the truth of this assertion, and the type of emendation this is, there is more evidence to consider. This comes in a hostile letter entitled `An Answer to Mr. Pope's Preface to Shakespear' written by the actor John Roberts and published in 1729. Roberts wastes no opportunity to attack Pope, and is delighted that Theobald confuted his note in the case of the green fields. He writes,


This conjecture Mr. Theobald has confuted, but agrees it might be a Stage-Direction, yet has rightly distinguish'd it, that it must be, even so, for the subsequent Scene, and a direction to the Scene-keepers, not to the Property-Man, and therefore renders it thus, Take TABLE OFF - - - and the next being an open Field scene in France, that the Scene-men should get ready the prospect of GREEN FIELDS.


The fact that a writer so hostile to Pope, and experienced in the business of the stage, should take Theobald's evidence as straight, not ironic, points to the real nature of Theobald's emendation. Roberts agrees with Theobald, and (though with detailed reservation) with Pope, that the `table' and `green fields' were probably stage directions. In this light, this most famous emendation of Theobald becomes one of his least `professional' and is closer to Pope in its intention than Seary would have us believe; Theobald thinks the text is probably corrupt beyond repair, but supplies some work of his own to get us by better than Pope could. As Theobald himself writes, `I don't care [...] if I venture my Conjecture too upon the passage: I'll be sure at least, if it be not altogether right, it shall not be liable to the Absurdity of the Objection last struck at.' This is, I think, the real voice of an uncertain man on the verge of his greatest moment; the internal evidence for reading it as an ironic profession of self-doubt is scanty: Theobald's lumbering prose style always signals plainly where irony is intended, and none, it seems, is intended here.

            Perhaps the most interesting of Theobald's comments come when he challenges Pope not on editing details at the micro level, but on larger textual questions, such as Pope's omission and degradation of passages. When Theobald ventures from the security of his minute knowledge of single words usages, he is on noticeably less sure ground. An example is from the moment in Hamlet before the play-with-the-play is performed. Pope cut the two lines in square brackets from the Folio text:


Haml. Lady, shall I lie in your Lap?

Ophel. No, my Lord.

[Haml. I mean, my head upon your lap?

Ophel. Ay, my Lord.]

Haml. Do you think I meant Country Matters?


Theobald comments, `Certainly, Hamlet's answer is more natural, and less abrupt, if we restore this passage. [...] But indeed, if ever the Poet deserved Whipping for low and indecent Ribaldry, it was for this Passage; ill-tim'd in all its Circumstances, and unbefitting the Dignity of his Characters, as well as of the Audience.'

            Theobald's assertion that the Folio reading is `more natural' contrasts directly with Pope's decision to cut. What is it that prompted Pope to make this change? This passage was allowed to stand broadly, indicating the Pope thought these lines and their bawdy joke Shakespeare's. It was something particular about the specific two lines, not the larger context which must have prompted him to act. Maybe he cut them because he considered them an unnecessary elaboration, or labouring of a point: A single punch-line perhaps seemed to him more effective than the pre-empted punch line of the Folio edition. Theobald agrees that Shakespeare's intentions here were `indecent', `ill-timed' and `unbefitting the Dignity of Characters', but this agreement is preceded by a `but indeed' which seems to be a deferential glance in Pope's direction, implying that Theobald thinks Pope has tried to make the passage more decent, and that his effort (laudable though it is), fails to reflect truly Shakespeare's impropriety. In fact, Pope's edition does not dilute the indecency if the scene; if anything, it intensifies it. It seems Pope's quarrel was with an actor's attempt to extract two rounds of laughter instead of the one the author had provided for.

            Another instance in Hamlet where Theobald thinks to agree with Pope  comes where Pope excised a couplet (marked here with square brackets) from Act 3, scene 8.


I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

My Tongue and Soul in this be hypocrites!

[How in my Words soever she be shent,

To give them Seals never my Soul consent.]


Theobald writes of this, `The Editor might have taken Notice that a Couplet follows here, in several of the printed Copies, which he mistrusted not to be Shakespeare's. I will not warrant the Lines to be his, but they are obsolete enough in Phrase to be so; neither are they so bad, as to be positively disputed. He has many Couplets full as bald and poor in his Dictions; and These have an Authority as old as the second Folio Edition, and have found a place in most of the more modern Copies too.`

            Here too Theobald is bowing to Pope in the matter of taste, but his assessment was that Shakespeare wrote these lines, whereas presumably Pope thought them so `bald and poor' that they must have been added by a player: they probably seemed to him redundant, perhaps added to alert the actors playing Claudius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their forthcoming entrance. So the difference between the two editors is here again a matter of what they thought Shakespeare capable of, not a difference between the `scientist' and the `amateur': from his Preface we know Pope thought Shakespeare `Childish, uncouth' in certain passages, but that the writing he degraded and omitted - that of the players - was usually noticeably worse even than this.


                                                             * * *


What exactly was it that Pope was criticising in The Dunciad? Is there any evidence that his criticism of Theobald was more than a malicious slight on an envied superior? It is worth reviewing some of the facts surrounding Pope's well known quarrel with Theobald, as this quarrel can be seen not only as a clash of literary rivals, but also of idea and principle. Here, overjoyed at his appointment as chief Dunce, Theobald makes an coronation speech as he is crowned the King of Dulness:


There, thy good Scholiasts with unweary'd pains

Make Horace flat, and humble Maro's strains;

Here studious I unlucky moderns save,

Nor sleeps one error in its father's grave,

Old puns restore, lost blunders nicely seek,

And crucify poor Shakespeare once a week.

For thee I dim these eyes, and stuff the head,

With all such reading as was never read.                                          (159-166)


Pope supplements the verses with a note,


  VERSE 162. Nor sleeps one error──Old puns restore, lost blunders, &c.]  As where he labours to prove Shakespear guilty of terrible Anacronisms, or low Conundrum, which Time had cover'd; and conversant in such authors as Caxton and Wynkin, rather than in Homer or Chaucer.


More information is given here on Pope's attitude to Theobald's work, than we can glean by guessing at his emotional state. Pope's use of the word `restore' to describe what Theobald had done, recalls the title of Theobald's Shakespeare Restored: a Specimen of the Many Errors as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope in his Late Edition of this Poet. Designed Not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the True Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever yet publish'd. It is not clear, however, whether Theobald is being accused of restoring the meaning of the old puns, or restoring old puns to the text where Pope has relegated or cut them. Nor is it clear whether Shakespeare is crucified weekly by having his own blunders shown him, or by Theobald's activities, or being held guilty of others' mistakes. For Pope, Theobald's activity is seen as dimming the eyes, while stuffing the head with `such reading as was never read' - an allusion to the many obscure Elizabethan works Theobald had read in order to increase his linguistic knowledge of the period. Pope is ready to acknowledge that Theobald had read more than he had, but the implication seems to be that the only effect is to `dim the eyes'. The general principle implied here was not new to Pope's thinking and cannot therefore have arisen solely as a result of Theobald's attack. Pope's description of Theobald recalls a figure from An Essay on Criticism,


The Bookful Blockhead, ignorantly read,

With Loads of Learned Lumber in his Head,

With his own Tongue still edifies his Ears,

And always List'ning to Himself appears.

All Books he reads, and all he reads assails,

From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales.                                 (612-617)


Pope makes the connection with his earlier thought explicit when in the 1729 Dunciad he described the contents of Theobald's garret:


            Where yet unpaun'd much learned lumber lay


Theobald had linguistic knowledge, Pope implies, but it obscured rather than aided him.

            In the 1742 version of The Dunciad, there is a new reference to Theobald and Shakespeare:


There hapless Shakespear, yet of Tibbald sore,

Wish'd he had blotted for himself before.                                           (133-134)


The implications of this couplet are intriguing. Pope commented in a note,


It was a ridiculous praise which the Players gave to Shakespear "that he never blotted a line." Ben Johnson honestly wish'd he had blotted a thousand; and Shakespear would certainly have wished the same, if he had lived to see those alterations in his works, which, not the Actors only (and especially the Hero of this poem) have made on the Stage, but the presumptions Critics of our days in their Editions.


Even with the help of the note, the point of the lines is not entirely clear. The note has Shakespeare's ghost pained by the `alterations' imposed upon him. The implication is presumably that had he blotted for himself, then his authorial authority would have put the text above the reach of sacrilegious hands. Pope's reference to `alterations' in the note, however, suggests expansions to the text rather than cuts. And in addition to this, the phrase `for himself' may imply that someone other than himself had done the blotting - and this other may well be Pope himself, whose work - simply because it does not bear Shakespeare's name - has been challenged by Theobald.

            As well as the specific comments on Theobald, The Dunciad is useful to us as a source of less specific illustrations of Pope's view of scholarship and criticism. It is possible to view Pope's attack on Theobald not as the overflowing of a personal animosity, but as a crystallisation of a wider, and more impartial view of what must be defended, what satirised. It is almost as if Pope saw it as his duty to defend against the onset of the dull.

            Some of Ezra Pound's remarks are useful in this context. `Satire', he suggested, `reminds one that certain things are not worth while. It draws one to consider time wasted.' In an extended metaphor which compares the function of the serious artists to the job of a physician, Pound suggests that Satire is a necessary task. `Satire is surgery, insertions and amputations'.[iv] Pound's view is interesting in that it implies an impersonal need for the act of satire very far from the motives usually ascribed to Pope.

            If, in Pound's phrase, the function of satire is to `draw one to consider time wasted', we must account the poem a failure - or a curiously twisted kind of success - if we believe Mack's description. His implication is that the wasted time has been on Pope's part, and that by focusing on Theobald Pope allows a vent for `the storm of conflicting emotions' assailing him over his being shown to be `a textual amateur'. A cruder paraphrase of Pope's position as Mack has it is, `I know I'm wrong but I'll show him anyway'.

            It may have been, on the other hand, that Pope was genuinely concerned to attack what he saw as a general tendency to dulness, that he believed his edition far superior to Theobald's, and that Theobald's edition caused him not `outrage' or `embarrassment', but a sense of foreboding that such work should triumph over poetical intelligence. (This is not to deny that Pope's sense of his critical duty may not have been spiced by petulance.)

            The view of the first version of The Dunciad represented by Mack assumes that it is unquestionable that Pope was `a textual amateur' and that Theobald had done a better job of editing Shakespeare than Pope. The prevalence of this view is explainable by the fact that almost all professional editors see themselves as being in a direct line of descent from Theobald. The assumption made almost universally by editors during this century is that the process is essentially what Pope called `piddling'──a minute attention to minutiae. The modern editor's virtue is scrupulous thoroughness alone. So Mack writes at on point, `Pope's failure was to catch a serious printing fault that had crept into his copy text, one he would have caught if his collations had been as thorough as his title page and preface claim. Theobald was quite right to censure him.' Such a comment is to see Pope's edition entirely as Theobald saw it: as a collection of many small textual errors. Unwittingly, Mack places himself beside Theobald and asks why Pope should attack this man who did good work, though Mack himself admits that from Shakespeare Restored, only one of the thirty-three emendations currently survives. Mack's assumption is that Pope was hostile to `verbal criticism' because he was incapable of doing it himself.

            Perhaps the clearest indication of the reasons for Pope's objections to Theobald's procedures with Shakespeare are conveyed by those notes in the 1729 edition of The Dunciad which are ascribed to Martin Scriblerus, the fictitious scholiast who was supposed to be the work's editor. The great Goddess turns to Theobald after the visions of Dulness and says:


And are these wonders, Son, to thee unknown?

Unknown to thee? These wonders are thy own.

For works like these let deathless Journals tell,

"None but Thy self can be thy parallel.                                        (III, 269-272)


The editor annotates the last line quoted as follows:


  VERSE 272. None but thy self can be thy parallel.] A marvellous line of Theobald; unless the Play call'd Double Falsehood be, (as he would have it believed) Shakespeare's: But whether this line be his or not, he proves Shakespeare to have written as bad, (which methinks in an author for whom he had a Veneration almost rising to idolatry, might have been concealed) as for example [...]

            ──For Cogitation

            Resides not in the Man who does not think &c.


In the 1729 edition of The Dunciad, Pope ended the note with the comment: `it is granted they are all of a piece, and no man doubts but herein he is able to imitate Shakespear.' In 1735, however, he pointed out that the lines were


[...] no man's nonsense but Theobald's as he might have found had he read what follows


                                    Who does not think

            My wife is slippery


Several criticisms of Theobald are brought together here. The marvellous line `none but itself can be Its Parallel' occurs in The Double Falsehood, a play which Theobald put forward as a work of Shakespeare's and which he was believed to have revised himself. In Mist's Journal (April 27th, 1728) the line was defended by means of reference to the lines about `cogitation', which come from The Winter's Tale. The main charges are that Theobald is a dealer in nonsense, is unable to distinguish nonsense from good sense, and his own thought processes from those of Shakespeare. The marvellous line is merely a vicious circle; it is also an example of what is termed in PERI BATHOUS, `the Cumbrous' where the splendour of the diction is inversely proportional to the true meaning. The nonsense and tautology of the statement that `Cogitation Resides not in the Man who does not think' is immediately removed once it is realised that the statement (from Leontes) is part of a supporting clausal chain and not self-contained. From Pope's point of view Theobald is foisting nonsense on Shakespeare in order to defend nonsense of his own. The sting in Pope's note is the italicisation of the phrase describing Theobald's veneration for Shakespeare: `rising to idolatry'. (Theobald had written on page 3 of Shakespeare Restored, `I confess a Veneration, almost rising to Idolatry for the work of this inimitable Poet.') Ben Jonson, who as a critic of Shakespeare Pope treats with the utmost respect, was on record famously as having kept his admiration for Shakespeare `on this side Idolatry'. Pope's point is that Theobald's relation to Shakespeare is that of an idolator rather than of a literary critic. He is incapable of discrimination; he does not know when his author is good, or bad, or when plays or passages he calls Shakespeare's could not have been authentic.

            Put simply, Pope attacks Theobald not because of a few quibbles about missed lines and mistaken words, but because in his edition Theobald attributed to Shakespeare fifteen-hundred lines of poetry that were, in Pope's opinion, `excessively poor'. In Pope's eyes, we must assume, purely verbal questions were insignificant in comparison to the substantial amount of hack poetry Theobald was readmitting to the Shakespearean works.


                                                             * * *


An account of Pope's edition of Shakespeare more sympathetic to what I have been arguing were his intentions, is given by Felicity Rosslyn in Alexander Pope - A Literary Life. She writes,


If Pope's passion for good sense in poetry was part of his strength, it had peculiar consequences when applied to a poet who was aiming at something quite different. As an editor of Shakespeare, Pope was somewhat in the position of a gardener from Kew put down in the tropics--awestruck, but busy. Since Shakespeare was the greatest of dramatists, he should appear so, and Pope set about adjusting the text in both minor ways (regularising the scansion, improving the punctuation, and dividing the scenes) and major ones (degrading sub-standard lines or speeches to the bottom of the page, and resolving textual difficulties). Much of this labour was unavoidable, given the rough state of the early printings, and modern editors have done the same; but we catch the vast distinction between an age of linguistic buccaneering like Shakespeare's, and an age of linguistic decorum, in Pope's reluctance to let Macbeth say that his hand would "the multitudinous seas incarnadine", or let mad Lear cry out at the sight of Gloucester, "Hah! Goneril, with a white beard". (Pope adopts the flat quarto reading, "Hah! Gonerill! hah Regan!".) Dignity in language and station fetter Pope's imagination as they never fetter Shakespeare's [...]


The logic of Pope's edition is succinctly given in Rosslyn's phrase `since Shakespeare was the greatest of dramatists, he should appear so'. The present argument however differs from that offered by Rosslyn, over the question of what it might mean to Pope to consider Shakespeare to be `great'. In the first place, it is worth noting that in Pope's vocabulary the notion of the dramatist is included in the larger term `poet' (this was not, as we have seen, in any way to lessen the dramatic interest of the plays). It has been the contention of this thesis that the nearest parallel, the nearest point of comparison for Shakespeare in Pope's mind, was Homer, whose language


is indeed the strongest and most glowing imaginable, and touched with the greatest spirit. Aristotle had reason to say, He was the only poet who found out the living words; and there in him more daring figures and metaphors than in any good author whatever. [...] Yet his expression is never too big for the sense, but justly great in proportion to it. 'Tis the sentiment that swells and fills out the diction, which rises with it, and forms itself about it: and in the same degree that a thought is warmer, an expression will be brighter; as that is more strong, this will become more conspicuous: like glass in the furnace, which grows to a greater magnitude and refines to a greater clearness, only as the breath within is more powerful, and the heat more intense.


The weak point in Rosslyn's argument comes when she contrasts the age of linguistic decorum with the age of linguistic buccaneering. As we have seen in the quotation from the notes in The Dunciad, Pope was at pains to distinguish the language of the Elizabethan age from the language of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's language as Pope saw it is the expression of thought and fire `exact disposition, just thought, correct elocution, polished numbers may have been found in a thousand, but this poetic fire, this vivida vis animi, in a very few'. Even in works where all those are imperfect or neglected, this can overpower criticism and make us admire, even while we disapprove.' If Pope's editing of Shakespeare reveals a concern with `dignity in language and station', as Rosslyn maintains, then that would be directly contrary to his own impressions and intentions. The point can be made by turning again to Samuel Johnson, who wrote in his Life of Pope[v]:


Of his intellectual character the constituent and fundamental principle was good sense, a prompt and intuitive perception of consonance and propriety.


where, like Rosslyn, he seems to be making a connection between Pope's activities as an editor, and as a poet. In this sentence, for example, it seems that Johnson was thinking of Pope as the editor and reviser of his own work, and as the devoted student of the works of others:


He saw immediately, of his own conceptions, what was to be chosen, and what to be rejected; and, in the work of others, what was to be shunned, and what to be copied.


Rosslyn moves from a `passion for good sense' to an implication that `good sense' was what Pope (unlike Shakespeare) was `aiming at', thereby making him an ill-suited editor for Shakespeare. In contrast Johnson went on explain exactly what he meant by `good sense', glossed it carefully, and then elaborated and qualified his opinion:


[Pope] had before him not only what his own meditation suggested, but what he had found in other writers that might be accommodated to his present purpose.

            These benefits of nature he improved by incessant and unwearied diligence; he had recourse to every source of intelligence, and lost no opportunity of information. [...] He was one of those few whose labour is their pleasure, he was never elevated to negligence, nor wearied to impatience; he never passed a fault unamended by indifference, nor quitted it by despair.


Unlike Rosslyn, however, Johnson took `good sense' to be the foundation, not the edifice, of Pope's mind:


But good sense alone is a sedate and quiescent quality, which manages its possessions well, but does not increase them; it collects few materials for its own operations, and preserves safety, but never gains supremacy. Pope had likewise genius; a mind active, ambitious, and adventurous, always investigating, always aspiring; in its widest searches still longing to go forward, in its highest flights still wishing to be higher; always imagining something greater than it knows, always endeavouring more than it can do.


Not all the parts of Johnson's description of Pope's mind and genius can be easily applied to his edition of Shakespeare. However, it has been the suggestion of this thesis that the important editorial decisions were prompted by a the genius described by Johnson, and not `good sense alone'.

            In this light, it is interesting that Pope has attracted from Rosslyn the tag `Kew Gardener'. In reality, Pope's garden was very different from Kew, where the chief aim was to grow in formal patterns as many varieties of flora as possible. In gardens Pope could not endure the over-decorous or formal, and had written


There is certainly something in the amiable Simplicity of unadorned Nature, that spreads over the Mind a more noble Sort of Tranquillity, and a loftier Sensation of Pleasure, than can be raised from the nicer scenes of Art.[vi]


This passage taken out of context could as easily be Pope on literature as Pope on gardening, and indeed it is a short step from Pope's horticultural, to Pope's literary opinions. His comments in the Preface to his translation of Homer, for example, indicate that what he considered to be the most elevated literature had a design which made a gardening simile appropriate:


Our author's work is a wild paradise, where, if we cannot see all the beauties so distinctly as in an ordered garden, it is only because the number of them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious nursery, which contains the seeds and first productions of every kind [...]


This account of Homer closely resembles Pope's description of the plenitude and almost unlimited variety of Shakespeare's excellences and originality. These suggestions must now be tested against Rosslyn's counter-argument that we can detect the inadequacy of Pope as an editor of Shakespeare, and


catch the vast distinction between an age of linguistic buccaneering like Shakespeare's, and an age of linguistic decorum, in Pope's reluctance to let Macbeth say that his bloody hand would `the multitudinous seas incarnadine', or let mad Lear cry out at the sight of Gloucester, `Hah! Gonerill, with a white beard!'.


A number of considerations apply to the King Lear extract which Rosslyn cites. Here is the 1623 Folio version to which she refers:


  Edg. Sweet Marjorum.

  Lear. Passe.

  Glou. I know that voice.

  Lear. Ha! Gonnerill with a white beard? They flatter'd

me like a Dogge, and told mee I had the white hayres in

my Beard, ere the Black ones were there. To say I, and

no, to every thing that I said: I, and no too, was no good

Divinity. When the raine came to wet me once, and the

winde to make me chatter: when the Thunder would not

peace at my bidding, there I found 'em, there I smelt 'em

out. Go too, they are not men o' their words; they told

me I was every thing: 'Tis a Lye, I am not Agu-proofe.


It may be that the decorum that prompted Pope to emend the passage was poetic and dramatic rather than merely linguistic. Rosslyn asserts that here Lear `cries at the sight of Gloucester'──an idea rooted in a theatrical tradition that Lear is exclaiming at the sight of Gloucester, rather than continuing his own internal musings. Pope seems to have seen the context of the scene as a whole as making it more likely that Lear is still harping on the unjust treatment he has endured at his daughters' hands, and for that reason, he does not notice Gloucester. The issue turns perhaps on the degree to which it is considered there is method in Lear's madness. The speech of Pope's Lear justifies its use of the pronoun `they' as he is referring to both his daughters. As we have seen, Pope's suspicions were raised by writing `in the mad way' generally in Shakespeare and in King Lear in particular. It seems to have been part of his picture of the corrupting players that they had a penchant for insisting on the wilder expressions of insanity. Another possibility is that the subsequent mention of `white hayres' may have somehow become incorporated earlier. Pope, holding no opinion about the authority of the relative authority of the folio and quarto texts, attributed the less histrionic text to Shakespeare, and `Gonnerill with a white beard' to accident or an interpolator. Pope's restoration of the quarto reading may seem flatter than the folio text (Johnson in his edition described it as `not so forcible') but it is hardly indicative of a monstrous insensitivity to Shakespeare's ways.


  Lear. Ha! Goneril! hah Regan! they flatter'd me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my beard, ere the black ones were there. To say ay, and no, to every thing that I said----Ay and no too, was no good divinity.


Another set of considerations apply to the other example cited by Rosslyn, that in Macbeth. Here is the context of Macbeth's line as it appears in the 1623 Folio,


  Macb. Whence is that knocking?

How is't with me, when every noyse appalls me?

What Hands are here? hah: they pluck out mine Eyes.

Will all great Neptune's Ocean wash this blood

Cleane from my Hand? no: this my hand will rather

The multitudinous Seas incarnadine,

Making the Greene one, Red.


It is interesting to imagine what Pope's thought processes might have been when reading these lines. Act 2 scene 3 of Macbeth was one of the few select scenes which Pope prefaced with an asterisk, indicating that he considered it a scene `where the beauty [lay] not in particulars but in the whole'. Rosslyn suggests by the use of this example that the modern reader, with an eye for linguistic buccaneering, will see a choice example of that art here, whereas Pope - a product of an age of linguistic decorum - acted as the age demanded, and deleted that most buccaneering line of all `The multitudinous Seas incarnadine'.

            This thesis has attempted to demonstrate that Pope had developed a large and yet precise sense of the kind of alterations the players might make to the text. Part of that sense might well be described as `buccaneering'──a tendency to overdo every effect, a liking for the forcibly feeble. Everything else in the scene seeming to be inspired by poetic fire as if from heaven, the last two lines of the extract must have struck Pope as in some way an example of bathos. He seems to have thought that the text had been tampered with here by somebody eager to capitalise on Shakespeare's good image with a very fantastical banquet of words. His suspicions would have been raised by the problems that have always faced editors concerned with deciding whether `the Greene one' is made `red', or the `the green', `one red'. There may also have been problems associated with the two polysyllabic words. A likely association of the invented word `incarnadine' would have been the `Carnadine' - the modern Carnation──with its etymological connection with `flesh'. In his dictionary Johnson glosses `Carnation' as the `the name of the natural flesh colour; from whence perhaps the flower is named'. This word, apparently, did not suggest to Pope the very different colour of bloody water. The problem with `multitudinous' would have been that the word is used elsewhere by Shakespeare as an adjective pertaining to the mob, the multitude. Coriolanus instructs Brutus


at once pluck out

The multitudinous tongue, let them not lick

The sweet which is their poison.                                             (Act 3 Scene 1)


(Pope, on looking back at his childhood verse, had laughed at his own use of the word `formidinous'.) The word `multitudinous' may have struck Pope as a grandiose way of saying `multitudes of seas', which itself would be an unnecessary inflation. Shakespeare's `fire from heaven' may have seemed to have shaped the thought, the sentiment, and to have expressed itself properly in the description `all great Neptune's ocean', while the line, `The multitudinous Seas incarnadine' may have seemed an example of the language swelling without the thought. The rest of the scene Pope perhaps saw as a place where the sentiment `swells and fills out the diction, which rises with it, and forms itself about it'. The image Pope uses to illustrate this notion, taken from glass blowing, connects the heat and fire of a powerful thought, with transparency: in the greatest poetry, the more powerful the thought, the clearer the expression: `like glass in the furnace, which grows to a greater magnitude and refines to a greater clearness, only as the breath within is more powerful, and the heat more intense'. Pope's version of the line adheres to this principle.


Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? no, this my hand will rather

Make the green ocean red-----


Pope's contributions as an editor of Shakespeare would no doubt be valuable to some degree even if they were dictated by good sense alone. It has been my contention throughout this thesis that his mind was not fettered as Rosslyn suggests, but that on the contrary, we have something uniquely valuable in his edition of Shakespeare: a work produced by the meeting of two poetic, rather than purely scholarly, minds. The successes and the failures of Pope's Shakespeare are attributable to the nature both of the materials before him, and the nature of his own poetic genius, `always imagining something greater than it knows, always endeavouring more than it can do'.

                                                Notes for Chapter VII



[i]. Mack, Alexander Pope: A Life, p. 433.

[ii]. in the Preface to Shakespeare (op. cit.).

[iii]. see Miscellanies, I, 184-5.

[iv].  The Serious Artist (Collected Essays, op. cit.)

[v]. This and subsequent quotations from the Oxford edition (op. cit.).

[vi]. The Guardian No. 173, 29th September 1713.