Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 10. Hughes; Rowe; Edwards; Heath; Upton; Zachary Grey

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

V. Arbuthnot and Lesser Prose Writers

§ 10. Hughes; Rowe; Edwards; Heath; Upton; Zachary Grey

John Hughes, born in 1677, collected materials for the first two volumes of a History of England (1706), which is generally known as White Kennett’s, who wrote the third volume. He translated Fontenelle’s Dialogues of the Dead and wrote an opera; and, in 1715, he published The Works of Mr. Edmund Spenser … with a glossary explaining the old and obscure words. This, the first attempt at a critical edition of Spenser, appeared at a time when there was some wish in the air for relief from the rimed couplet. Prior, in the preface to Solomon, said, “He that writes in rhymes, dances in fetters”; and he had real respect for Spenser, though he considered the verse of the older writers “too dissolute and wild.” But, to Spenser’s first editor, his stanza seemed “defective” and his general composition “monstrous.” Hughes’s own verse is of no importance; reference has been already made to his one tragedy, The Siege of Damascus (1720), which has some merit, and was very successful; but the author died on the night of its production. Johnson says that Hughes was “not only an honest but a pious man.” Swift and Pope agreed that he was among the mediocrities in prose as well as verse, and that he was too grave for them. Hughes had written for The Tatler and The Spectator, and Steele, in The Theatre, said that his pen was always engaged in raising the mind to what was noble and virtuous.

A word must be added here as to several other editors of English classics, to some of whom reference is made also in other chapters of this work. Nicholas Rowe has been previously treated, both as a dramatist and as the producer, in 1709, of the first edition of Shakespeare that can in any way be called critical. His chief service in the latter capacity lay in his preserving, in the “Life” which he prefixed to the plays, information, derived largely from Betterton, which might otherwise have been forgotten. To subsequent editions of Shakespeare belonging to this period, it is unnecessary again to refer.

To Warburton’s edition (1747), Thomas Edwards, a barrister who devoted most of his time to literature, published a Supplement, which, in the third edition (1748), was called The Canons of Criticism, and a Glossary, “being a supplement to Mr. Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare, collected from the notes in that celebrated work, and proper to be bound up with it.” The Canons are satirical, with illustrations from Edwards’s victim; e.g., a critic “has a right to alter any passage which he does not understand”; “He may explain a difficult passage by words absolutely unintelligible.” Johnson compared Edwards’s attack to a fly stinging a stately horse; but, as Warton says, the attack was allowed “by all impartial critics to have been decisive and judicious.” Warburton retorted in notes to The Dunciad. Edwards died in 1757, at Samuel Richardson’s house. His Canons of Criticism went through many editions.

Benjamin Heath, a town clerk of Exeter, with literary tastes, published notes on the Greek dramatists, and, in 1765, A Revisal of Shakespeare’s Text, “wherein the alterations introduced into it by the more modern editors and critics are particularly considered.” Heath attacked Pope, Hanmer and Warburton, but agreed that the public was under real obligations to Theobald. He himself was not so fortunate as to be furnished with the Shakespeare folios, still less the quartos; but he concluded that all readings deserving of attention were given by Pope or Theobald. Some of his annotations were included in a collection published in 1819. Among the manuscripts which he left unpublished on his death, in 1766, were notes (used by Dyce) on Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays.

John Upton, rector of Great Rissington and prebendary of Rochester, edited Epictetus and Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1758), and published Critical Observations on Shakespeare (1746). In the Spenser, old spelling was preserved, and the notes were numerous and learned. There had been a preliminary Letter concerning a new edition of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1751), in which Upton spoke contemptuously of Hughes and Pope as editors, and said that his edition of Spenser had been undertaken at Gilbert West’s advice. In a preface to the second edition of Critical Observations on Shakespeare, Upton replied to and attacked Warburton.

Another clergyman of literary tastes, Zachary Grey, rector of Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, wrote much on church questions, but is mentioned here because of his edition of Hudibras, “with large annotations and a preface,” which appeared in 1744, with illustrations by Hogarth. The text was explained by plentiful quotations from puritan and other contemporaries. Warburton rendered some help, which he apparently thought was not sufficiently acknowledged; for, in his Shakespeare, he said that he doubted whether “so execrable a heap of nonsense had ever appeared in any learned language as Grey’s commentaries on Hudibras.” A Supplement to Grey’s valuable work, with further notes, appeared in 1752. Grey attacked Warburton in several pamphlets, and charged his antagonist with passing off Hanmer’s work as his own. In 1754, Grey published Critical, Historical and Explanatory Notes on Shakespeare. He died in 1766.

The notice of the criticisms which followed on the work of the first editors of Shakespeare has taken us rather far into the eighteenth century; and later critics must be left to another volume.