Edmond Malone

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Malone, Edmond, Shaksperian commentator and author, nephew of the preceding, was born in Dublin, 4th October 1741. He was first educated at Ford's school in Molesworth-street (with Robert Jephson, Marquis of Lansdowne, General Blakeney and many who subsequently became distinguished), and then passed on to Trinity College, where steadiness rather than shining abilities characterized him. In 1763 he entered the Temple, and three years afterwards we find him travelling in France. He was called to the Irish Bar, and for a time rode the Munster circuit, but being possessed of a competence, he gradually yielded to the charms of a literary life, and in 1777 settled permanently in London. Remaining unmarried to the last, almost his whole life was devoted to the study and elucidation of Shakspere. The result of these labours, a New Edition of Shakspeare, appeared in 11 vols. 8vo. in 1790. In 1821, some years after his death, a second edition, in 21 vols., was edited by his friend James Boswell. The principal of his other numerous works were, History of the English Stage (1790), Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1797), Prose Works of Dryden (1800).

He was a prominent member of "The Club," and was consequently intimate with Johnson, Burke, Charlemont, and the best men of his time. "Of Malone it is not, perhaps, very high praise to say that he was without doubt the best of the commentators on Shakspere. He is, compared with his predecessors, more trustworthy in his assertions, more cautious in his opinions, and more careful to interpret what he found in the text than to substitute his own conjectures. But he belonged to an age when the merits of Shakspere were not properly appreciated; and he is, like the rest of his brethren, cold and captious. He was of a critical school which, to a great extent, is fortunately extinct."[97]

The Saturday Review says: "In diligence, integrity, and veneration for Shakspere himself, Malone stands second to none of the Shaksperian commentators. But his was not the subtle and catholic spirit to discover under the rough integument of first essays the sacred fire of genius, or to make allowance for the passion and vigour which streak and sometimes redeem their extravagance. Malone was an excellent ferret in charter warrens, but there his skill ended; for the higher matters of criticism he was as blind as a mole."

After twenty-three years' residence in England we find him advising his Irish friends against voting for the Union. Intimate with men high in power, his influence was courted on both sides — by Lord Clare as well as by the members of the opposite party. Two of his correspondents lost their appointments for following his advice. Mr. Malone died, principally from over study and sedentary habits, 25th May 1812, aged 70. Lord Sunderlin, his brother, buried him by the family mansion at Baronstown in Westmeath.

Although it is stated to have been his wish that his splendid library should go to Trinity College, where he had been educated, Lord Sunderlin made it over to the Bodleian at Oxford, in the belief that it would there be useful to a larger number of persons than if sent to Ireland. His biographer says: "His countenance had a most pleasing expression of sensibility and serenity... He wore a light blue coat, white silk stockings, and I think buckles in his shoes. His hair was white, and tied behind." There are numerous references to him and his writings in Notes and Queries, especially in the 2nd Series.

Sources

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

97. Cyclopaedia, Penny, with Supplement. 29 vols. London, 1833.
D'Alton, John, see Nos. 12, 117a, 197b.

231. Malone, Edmund, Life: Sir James Prior. London, 1860.

254. Notes and Queries. London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

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