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PROPOSALS OF MR. RICHARDSON.
WHEN the newly discovered Portrait of our
great Dramatick Writer was firft fhown in Caftle Street, the few remaining advocates for the Chandofan canvas obferved, that its unwelcome rival exhibited not a fingle trait of Shakspeare. But, all on a fudden, these criticks have fhifted their ground; and the reprefentation originally pronounced to have been fo unlike our author, is fince declared to be an immediate copy from the print by Martin Droefhout.
But by what means are fuch direct contrarieties of opinion to be reconciled? If no veftige of the Poet's features was difcernible in the Picture, how is it proved to be a copy from an engraving by which alone thofe features can be afcertained? No man will affert one thing to have been imitated from another, without allowing that there is fome unequivocal and determined fimilitude between the objects compared.-The truth is, that the first point of objection to this unexpected Portrait was foon overpowered by a general fuffrage in its favour. A fecond attack was therefore hazarded, and has yet more lamentably failed.
As a further note of the originality of the Head belonging to Mr. Felton, it may be urged, that the artist who had ability to produce fuch a delicate and VOL. I.
finished Portrait, could most certainly have made an exact copy from a very coarse print, provided he had not difdained fo fervile an occupation. On the contrary, a rude engraver like Droefhout, would neceffarily have failed in his attempt to express the gentler graces of fo delicate a picture. Our ancient handlers of the burin were often faithless to the character of their originals; and it is conceived that fome other performances by Droefhout will furnish no exception to this remark.
Such defective imitations, however, even at this period, are fufficiently common. Several prints from well-known portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Romney, are rendered worthless by fimilar infidelities; for notwithstanding these mezzotints preserve the outlines and general effect of their originals, the appropriate characters of them are as entirely loft as that of Shakspeare under the hand of Droefhout.-Becaufe, therefore, an engraving has only a partial resemblance to its archetype, are we at liberty to pronounce that the one could not have been taken from the other?
It may alfo be observed, that if Droefhout's plate had been followed by the painter, the line in front of the ruff would have been incurvated, and not have appeared ftraight, as it is in the fmaller print by Marthall from the fame picture. In antiquated English portraits, examples of rectilineal ruffs are familiar; but where will be found fuch another as the German has placed under the chin of his metamorphofed poet? From its pointed corners, refembling the wings of a bat, which are conftant indications of mifchievous agency, the engraver's ruff would have accorded better with the purfuits of his necromantick countryman, the celebrated Doctor Fauftus.
In the mean while it is afferted by every adequate judge, that the coincidences between the picture and the print under confideration, are too ftrong and too numerous to have been the effects of chance. And yet the period at which this likeness of our author muft have been produced, affords no evidence that any one of our early limners had condefcended to borrow the general outline and difpofition of his portraits from the tastelefs heads prefixed to volumes iffued out by bookfellers. The artist, indeed, who could have filched from Droefhout, like Bardolph, might have "ftolen a lute-cafe, carried it twelve leagues, and fold it for three halfpence."
But were the print allowed to be the original, and the painting a mere copy from it, the admiffion of this fact would militate in full force against the authenticity of every other anonymous and undated portrait from which a wretched old engraving had been made; as it would always enable cavillers to affert, that the painting was fubfequent to the print, and not the print to the painting. True judges, however, would seldom fail to determine, (as they have in the prefent inftance,) whether a painting was coldly imitated from a lumpish copper-plate, or taken warm from animated nature.
For the difcuffion of fubjects like thefe, an eye habituated to minute comparison, and attentive to peculiarities that elude the notice of unqualified obfervers, is also required. Shakspeare's countenance deformed by Droefhout, resembles the fign of Sir Roger de Coverley, when it had been changed into a Saracen's head; on which occafion the Spectator obferves, that the features of the gentle Knight were still apparent through the lineaments of the ferocious Muffulman.
That the leading thought in the verses annexed
to the plate by Droefhout is hacknied and common, will moft readily be allowed; and this obfervation would have carried weight with it, had the lines in queftion been anonymous. But the fubfcription of Ben Jonfon's name was a circumftance that rendered him immediately refponfible for the propriety of an encomium which, however open to difpute, appears to have escaped contradiction, either metrical or profaick, from the furviving friends of Shakspeare. But, another mifreprefentation, though an involuntary one, and of more recent date, fhould not be overlooked.
In the matter prefatory to W. Richardfon's Propofals, the plate by Vertue from Mr. Keck's (now the Chandos) picture, is faid to have fucceeded the engraving before Mr. Pope's edition of Shakspeare, in fix volumes quarto. But the contrary is the fact; and how is this circumftance to be accounted for? If in 1719 Vertue fuppofed the head which he afterwards admitted into his Set of Poets, was a genuine representation, how happened it that his next engraving of the fame author, in 1725, was taken from quite a different painting, in the collection of the Earl of Oxford? Did the artift, in this inftance, direct the judgment of his Lordship and Mr. Pope? or did their joint opinion over-rule that of the artist? These portraits, being wholly unlike each other, could not (were the flightest degree of refpect due to either of them) be both received as legitimate representations of Shakspeare.-Perhaps, Vertue (who is defcribed by Lord Orford as a lover of truth,) be
2 This mistake originated from a paffage in Lord Orford's Anecdotes, &c. 8vo. Vol. V. p. 258, where it is faid, and truly, that Vertue's Set of Poets appeared in 1730. The particular plate of Shakspeare, however, as is proved by a date at the bottom of it, was engraved in 1719.
gan to doubt the authenticity of the picture from which his firft engraving had been made, and was therefore easily perfuaded to expend his art on another portrait, the fpurioufnefs of which (to himfelf at leaft) was not quite fo evident as that of its predeceffor.
The publick, for many years paft, has been familiarized to a Vandyckish head of Shakspeare, introduced by Simon's mezzotinto from a painting by Zouft. Hence the countenance of our author's monumental effigy at Weftminster was modelled; and a kindred representation of him has been given by Roubiliac. Such is ftill the Shakspeare that decorates our libraries, and feals our letters. But, ætatis cujufque notandi funt tibi mores. On a little reflection it might have occurred, that the cavalier turn of head adopted from the gallant partizans of Charles I. afforded no just resemblance of the fober and chaftifed countenances predominating in the age of Elizabeth, during which our poet flourished, though he furvived till James, for about thirteen years, had difgraced the throne.-The foregoing hint may be purfued by the judicious examiner, who will take the trouble to compare the looks and air of Shakspeare's contemporaries with the modern fculptures, &c. defigned to perpetuate his image. The reader may then draw an obvious inference from thefe premises; and conclude, that the portrait lately exhibited to the publick is not fuppofititious because it presents a lefs fpritely and confident affemblage of features than had ufually been imputed to the modeft and unaffuming parent of the British theatre. It is certain, that neither the Zouftian or Chandofan canvas has difplayed the leaft trait of a quiet and gentle bard of the Elizabethan age.
To ascertain the original owner of the portrait