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date: 14 June 2024

Malone, Edmondfree


Malone, Edmondfree

  • Peter Martin

Edmond Malone (1741–1812)

by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778, reworked 1786

Malone, Edmond (1741–1812), literary scholar and biographer, was born at Shinglas, co. Westmeath, Ireland, on 4 October 1741, the second son of Edmund Malone (1704–1774), member of the Irish House of Commons and judge of the court of common pleas, and his wife, Catherine Collier (d. 1765) of Essex. His uncle was Anthony Malone (1700–1776), distinguished parliamentary orator and chancellor of the exchequer from 1757 to 1761. His elder brother Richard Malone (1738–1816) [see under Malone, Edmund] inherited the family's estates at Shinglas and Baronston in co. Westmeath and also sat in the Irish House of Commons; he was raised to the peerage as Baron Sunderlin in 1785. After moving to London to take up a literary career, Edmond was always careful to remain close to his brother and two sisters, Henrietta and Catherine, as well as to a number of Irish connections from his youth.

Education and early years

Not much is known of Malone's youth, except that in 1747 he was sent to Dr Ford's Preparatory School in Molesworth Street, Dublin, and in 1757 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where a year earlier his father had received an honorary LLD. At Trinity he was consistently at the top of his class, earning several ‘premiums’, books stamped with the college arms. While there he wrote some worthwhile poetry, a translation of Oedipus, and a surprisingly erudite history of tragedy. In 1759 he travelled to England for the first time, accompanying his ailing mother to Bath where he left her and then returned home. He took his BA degree in February 1762, one of only three to earn the top mark, valde bene. In appearance, he was of less than average height, round-faced, and soft in countenance.

After a year at home in Shinglas reading some law but mainly literature, his great love, in January 1763 Malone followed in the footsteps of his father, uncle, and grandfather by entering the Inner Temple in London on his way to becoming an Irish barrister, notwithstanding a distaste for the profession that he had gleaned from his father. He remained in London for three years, spending much of his time at his favourite haunt, the Grecian Coffee House in Devereux Court, where he picked up literary and social gossip; he also began to interest himself in English and Irish politics, about which he wrote a few fugitive satirical articles. The most important event of this period in London was meeting Samuel Johnson at his rooms in Inner Temple Lane some time in 1764. They met several times over the next two years, meetings which were crucial in turning Malone's mind increasingly toward the muses and away from the law. When he could he visited his mother in Bath. She eventually died there in 1765.

On his return to Ireland after a few months in France, Malone was called to the Irish bar in 1767 and took up his duties as a barrister on the Munster circuit, working hard but taking little pleasure or profit from it. The first years of his practice were darkened by an unfortunate love affair with the enigmatic Susanna Spencer. His family disapproved of her and may have seen to it that she was removed to London, causing him to have a near nervous collapse. He plodded on as a lawyer until his father died in 1774, leaving him and his siblings modest incomes that gave him more time for literary pursuits and some involvement in politics that included friendships with the Irish patriots Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. Among his political writings during this period were contributions to Baratariana, a volume of 'Letters' by Flood, Grattan, and others attacking government policy on Ireland; he wrote for the newspapers as well. And in 1774 he also won Trinity College's nomination as its parliamentary candidate for the election in May 1776. He promptly gave up the nomination, however, when his uncle Anthony Malone died leaving him an annuity of about £1000. Without too much reflection, he also gave up the law and decided to dedicate himself to a life of literary scholarship.

First literary pursuits

Malone promptly began work toward a new (publishers') edition of Oliver Goldsmith, working on it both in Dublin and (briefly in 1776) in London, where he renewed his literary friendships with Johnson and perhaps others of his circle. He returned briefly to Dublin to settle his affairs and with his independent income moved permanently to London in May 1777, arriving just as Poems and Plays by Oliver Goldsmith was published with notes and an eight-page memoir of Goldsmith by him. Impressed, the Shakespearian George Steevens, whom he had met the previous year, invited him to contribute to his second edition of the Johnson–Steevens Shakespeare. Malone took up the invitation with alacrity. His first major project was to try to determine the chronology of Shakespeare's plays; he also provided a stream of notes and corrections for Steevens's edition, implying that he did not think highly of Steevens's accuracy and in the process arousing the first signs of Steevens's envy and rivalry. The edition was published in January 1778 and the first volume contained Malone's pioneering An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays Attributed to Shakespeare were Written. It was an early indication of the emerging literary biographer.

Steevens still encouraged Malone to push on with a supplement to the Johnson–Steevens edition, though he irritated Malone by suggesting that the latter need not think he was doing the work for anything but 'mere amusement'. As he worked, Malone received help with notes and commentary from Thomas Percy, Samuel Henley, Edward Capell, Isaac Reed, William Blackstone, and a number of others, but he was firmly in charge. The supplement, containing Shakespeare's apocryphal plays as well as narrative poems and sonnets, appeared in April 1780 in two substantial volumes, generally to very positive reviews heralding Malone as a new Shakespearian prodigy, though a few reviewers cavilled at the particularity of his notes. He was praised especially for his close reading of early texts. In the spring of 1783 he published A Second Appendix to Mr. Malone's Supplement to the Last Edition of the Plays of Shakespeare, containing mostly textual emendations to his supplement.

Malone by now had become well known in the luminous Johnsonian circle of literary, social, and political personalities and a close friend of many of them, not least Sir Joshua Reynolds with whom he enjoyed an uninterrupted intimacy until Reynolds's death in 1792. Reynolds painted his portrait in 1778, bringing it up to date a few years later, and Malone acted as his literary executor after his death. It was not until 1782, however, that deeper friendships with the likes of Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Dr Charles Burney, James Boswell, Joseph Banks, William Windham, and Charles James Fox developed from his election to Johnson's famous Literary Club. He soon became the club's first treasurer, holding the office until his death and becoming its greatest promoter and historian. When Johnson died in 1784, Malone's long eulogistic obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine was the most detailed and accurate to be published; in homage to Johnson, he and Reynolds also saw to it that a monument to Johnson was set up in St Paul's Cathedral. Later he would do the same for Reynolds. The pattern of his sedentary London-centred, bachelor existence with its endless round of dinners was now well established and continued for the rest of his life. He fell in love two or three times and twice proposed marriage and twice was rejected. Boswell attributed Malone's failure to marry to his 'Irish stare'.

When Malone was not engaged in his scholarship or dining out, he was spending a large portion of his annuity on rare volumes of English literature, mainly Elizabethan poetry and plays, and collecting the 'Heads' (mostly engravings) of English poets which he prized as an important part of the biographer's and literary historian's evidence. He regularly attended book auctions, so that by the end of his life he owned one of the best collections of early English poetry and drama in England, the greatest portion of which was given to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, after his death.

In the early 1780s Malone also became acquainted with Horace Walpole and the actors Sarah Siddons and Philip Kemble in his efforts to revise and get staged a couple of plays by his boyhood friend Robert Jephson. Malone's friendship with Walpole was strengthened when in comprehensively exposing Thomas Chatterton's forgeries of the so-called Rowley poems in his pamphlet Cursory Observations on the Poems Attributed to Thomas Rowley (1782) he defended Walpole's treatment of Chatterton's forged poems several years earlier. The pamphlet was well received although it was also ridiculed by Burnaby Greene and others for its alleged pedantry and scholarly arrogance in censuring respected critics. It was not the last time Malone would attack literary forgers or alienate fellow critics. In 1783 he helped Jephson again by editing and seeing through the press the latter's Roman Portraits.

Edition of Shakespeare's works

In August 1783 Malone asked his friend John Nichols, editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, to announce his intended edition of the complete plays and poems of Shakespeare 'with select notes from all the commentators'. He planned two separate editions, the first a ‘portable’ family edition in duodecimo, the second a complete edition with extensive apparatus. For the latter not only would he provide a history of the English stage and correct and expand the Shakespearian biographical record, drawing on documentary evidence painstakingly (and at great cost to his eyes) unearthed in archives in London, Stratford, and country houses, but he would also consult the early quartos (many of which he borrowed from David Garrick) and folios of the plays more thoroughly than any scholar before him in order to establish an authoritative text, going far beyond the Johnson–Steevens edition. His research, especially on Shakespeare's life and the history of the English stage, was encouraged and helped by Johnson, Thomas Warton at Oxford, Richard Farmer at Cambridge, Percy, Reed, Burke, the Irish statesman the earl of Charlemont (with whom he carried on a lengthy correspondence about literature and politics), and a plethora of other scholars, with Steevens excepted, whose envy grew in proportion to Malone's influence. Malone more or less lived at the British Museum; he worked in chancery, at Dulwich College, the stamp office, the Tower of London, the diocese of Worcester, the remembrancer's office in the exchequer, the office of the lord chamberlain, and the Bodleian and Ashmolean libraries; and he spent weeks at Stratford combing through the corporation archives by dim candle-light that seriously damaged his eyesight. He took away with him from Stratford masses of the corporation archives that he kept for years in spite of strident requests to return them, knowing that he could well be using them for the rest of his life.

During these years Malone also struck up correspondence with James Davenport, vicar of Stratford, who lent him the parish registers and did some research for him, and the local poet and amateur historian John Jordan who provided so much romantic legendary chaff about Stratford and Shakespeare that Malone came to distrust almost everything he said on the subject. Malone's correspondence with these two Stratford citizens was published in very limited editions by J. O. Halliwell in 1864. Malone ended up debunking much erroneous tradition about Shakespeare that Nicholas Rowe had perpetuated in his 1709 biography, discovering more about the poet's life than was known before or has been discovered since. Sadly, he never got around to writing a biographical narrative for this edition, delaying that instead (he hoped) for his variorum edition. He also came up with two startling and rich archival discoveries of English stage history in 1789, the office-book of Sir Henry Herbert (master of the revels in the reigns of James I and Charles I) and (at Dulwich) Philip Henslowe's theatre diary and account book.

Malone delayed the ‘portable’ edition that would have got him into print earlier—it was brought out by Nichols in seven volumes several years later—but in 1786 he published his 'Conjectures concerning the date of … Macbeth' in the Hibernian Magazine and in 1787 his bombshell, A Dissertation on the Three Parts of Henry VI, providing exciting new scholarly perspective on Shakespeare's earliest work as a dramatist and new insights into his life.

Not everyone applauded Malone's efforts. Steevens grumbled, but caustic attacks surfaced from other quarters, chiefly from Joseph Ritson, a sound scholar whose bitter jealousies induced him to attack not only Malone, but also Warton, Percy, and other leading scholars within the Johnsonian circle. With Steevens's apparent encouragement, in 1783 Ritson published his Remarks angrily and astutely attacking Malone for arrogantly trying to establish the 'genuine' Shakespeare text and setting himself up as the leading Shakespearian. In 1788 Ritson again ridiculed and angered Malone in The Quip Modest, attacking his textual preference for the first folio over the second, his notes in the supplement and 1778 Johnson–Steevens, and his legion of 'mushroom assistants' in arrogating to himself the crown of Shakespearian studies.

In 1790, after numerous delays caused by new discoveries, Malone published The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare in ten volumes, which included his original and expansive 'Account of the English stage', a revised essay on the order of the plays, and a commentary on Shakespeare's life containing new information exploding many of the legendary stories about the poet. Criticism in the 1980s and 1990s attempted to minimize this monumental achievement in Shakespearian studies by discounting the importance of Malone's unprecedented documentary and textual research, but his work heralded a new age of scholarship in which he helped define the scholar's code for generations to come. Except for some cavilling over the length of the notes, the reviews were enthusiastic. Edmund Burke even praised it as a brilliant scholarly piece of service to the country, repaying Malone's efforts with his own 'brass' offering of 'The reflections on the French Revolution'. Horace Walpole complained that the edition was too heavy with notes but that Malone had been 'indefatigable'. Ritson, however, weighed in again with a caustic attack, Cursory Criticisms (1792), accusing Malone of 'profound ignorance' and a total want of 'ear' for poetry. More often than has generally been acknowledged, Ritson made legitimate points. Furious, Malone retaliated against the 'viper' Ritson a few weeks later with his important definition of editorial practice, A Letter to the Rev. Richard Farmer, D.D. Steevens, enviously and against his better judgement taking Ritson's side, reissued his own edition in 1793 with frequent criticism of Malone. In recognition of his work on Shakespeare, on 5 July 1793, Oxford University awarded Malone the degree of DCL (Foster, Alum. Oxon.). He was also granted the degree of LLD by Trinity College, Dublin, in 1801.

In a little over a year the edition was almost sold out and Malone announced his intention of producing another in fifteen volumes, a plan he abandoned in 1796 for a new octavo edition in twenty volumes that would become known as the third variorum edition. His scheme was to include as centrepieces of the edition a complete and revolutionary biography of Shakespeare and an expanded history of the English stage. But the prevalent theme of Malone's Shakespearian work for the rest of his life was interruption. He plodded on amassing material and working on the text, but physical and emotional problems conspired to distract him, and in the 1790s especially when he still had the energy and strength, he found it easier and more palatable to turn to other literary projects. He also became the target of considerable ridicule when on a visit to Stratford in 1793 he had Shakespeare's coloured bust in Holy Trinity Church whitewashed, incorrectly assuming that was its original colour. And when in 1792–3 he immersed himself in the John Aubrey manuscripts at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, a rich source of biography for Shakespeare, he took the liberty of rearranging the papers with a view to publishing them (which he never did) and high-handedly kept other interested scholars like James Caulfield at bay. Citing Malone's 'big bloated pride', in 1797 Caulfield got his revenge by publishing an extravagant indictment of Malone's scholarly behaviour in his stinging pamphlet, An enquiry into the conduct of Edmond Malone esq. concerning the manuscript papers of John Aubrey.

Final years

One of Malone's major literary distractions from Shakespeare was James Boswell. They met in 1781 but their famous friendship did not develop until 1785 when Malone, dubbed by Boswell as 'Johnsonianissimus', decided to dedicate himself to encouraging and helping Boswell write and publish his Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. It was one of the greatest literary collaborations in English literature, Malone spending hundreds of hours with Boswell, advising him, revising his manuscript, and helping to bring it to publication later that year. Then after helping Boswell bring out a third edition in 1786, Malone prodded him to proceed immediately with his monumental Life of Johnson, over the next five years serving as midwife to the biography, correcting the manuscript as Boswell wrote it, encouraging him against depression with endless advice, and generally keeping him to the task. It is not improbable that without Malone Boswell would never have written the Life. The Life was published in 1791, after which Malone helped Boswell revise it for a second edition in 1793 and, after Boswell's death in 1795, performed as editor for several more editions, the last (sixth) in 1811. As one of Boswell's executors, he saw to it that after his friend's death in 1795 his manuscripts and collections were organized and sent up to Scotland, where they awaited sensational rediscovery in the first half of the twentieth century.

Other significant interruptions of his work on Shakespeare included a false start on a new edition of Pope to supersede Warburton's, whose scholarship he denigrated; a comprehensive and sensational exposure of the Shakespeare forgeries by William Henry Ireland, An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers … Attributed to Shakespeare (1796); an edition of his dear friend Sir Joshua Reynolds's works, complete with an extensive biography of the artist (1797, 1798); and his edition, The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden (1800), again with a thoroughly researched biography of the poet on which Sir Walter Scott later would lean heavily for his own edition of Dryden. The latter elicited one of those recurring literary reprisals Malone had to endure on account of his fame for copious scholarship, a hilarious and successful parody by George Hardinge, The Essence of Malone, which Hardinge followed up a few months later with Another Essence of Malone, or, The ‘Beauties’ of Shakspeare's Editor.

The upshot was that Malone's work on Shakespeare came virtually to a halt in the late 1790s and, though he fitfully continued with documentary research, he never recovered any momentum with the edition. In spite of encouragement from many friends, ennui set in, he dabbled, and his eyesight worsened. When the Shakespearian Isaac Reed died in 1807, Malone called himself 'the last of the Shakspearians', but by then he had little Shakespeare or any other kind of scholarship left in him. In 1805 he laid out plans and did some research for an essay on Shakespeare's metre that he never completed. After his death it fell to James Boswell jun. to edit it, as well as his incomplete biography of Shakespeare, into something like a coherent work. In 1808 Malone had privately printed his Account of the incidents, from which the title and part of the story of Shakespeare's Tempest were derived; and its true date ascertained; and in 1809, Parliamentary Logick, an edition of his friend the statesman William Gerard Hamilton's (mostly unpublished) political writings, together with a biographical preface generous with praise. The latter effort won him only ridicule, however, mainly from Francis Jeffrey of the Edinburgh Review, for political triviality and extremism. In 1808 Malone also contemplated an expanded edition of Dr Johnson's Dictionary that he never published but toward which he systematically annotated the work—almost 3000 annotations in all, an astonishing expenditure (and perhaps misuse) of time and energy. In 1810 he came out with A Biographical Memoir of the Late Right Honourable William Windham, another panegyric in memory of the statesman and his dear friend and fellow club member.

After an undetermined illness of several weeks in the spring of 1812 Malone died at Queen Anne Street East, London, on 25 May, survived by his brother Lord Sunderlin and two sisters in Ireland. His body was interred at the family seat of Baronston in co. Westmeath. Lord Sunderlin left most of his brother's library and papers to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, while the rest was dispersed by auction in London in May 1825. Malone left his portrait by Reynolds and his collection of the 'Heads' of English writers to the Revd Thomas Rooper; the collection (now lost) was last seen in the Hove Public Library, Sussex. A few of the papers and Malone's annotated copy of Dr Johnson's Dictionary are in the British Library. For most of the time from Malone's death until 1825, Malone's library and papers were at the disposal of James Boswell jun., who in gratitude for Malone's untiring help to his father took his chaotically organized Shakespeare material and spent almost a decade preparing the twenty-one-volume third variorum edition, The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare (1821). Young Boswell also wrote a lengthy memoir of Malone for the Gentleman's Magazine in May 1812, describing his mildness and steadiness as a friend, his sincerity and manly independence. More recently, critics and biographers have drawn attention also to Malone's impatience, temper, and indignation where literature and politics were concerned. He is still regarded as the greatest eighteenth-century Shakespearian editor and commentator and one of the earliest scholars to stake all on documentary evidence.


  • P. Martin, Edmond Malone, Shakespearean scholar: a literary biography (1995) [incl. bibliography]
  • S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare's lives, new edn (1991)
  • J. Prior, Life of Edmond Malone, editor of Shakespeare (1860)
  • M. de Grazia, Shakespeare verbatim: the preproduction of authenticity and the 1790 apparatus (1991)
  • J. K. Walton, ‘Edmond Malone: an Irish Shakespeare scholar’, Hermathena, 99 (1964), 5–26
  • The correspondence of James Boswell with David Garrick, Edmund Burke, and Edmond Malone, ed. G. M. Kahrl and others (1986), vol. 4 of The Yale editions of the private papers of James Boswell (1966–)
  • The correspondence of Thomas Percy and Edmond Malone, ed. A. Tillotson (1944), vol. 1 of The Percy letters, ed. C. Brooks, A. N. Smith, and A. F. Falconer (1944–88)
  • The correspondence of Edmond Malone, the editor of Shakespeare, with the Rev. James Davenport, D.D., vicar of Stratford-on-Avon (1864)
  • Boswell: the applause of the jury, 1782–1785, ed. I. S. Lustig and F. A. Pottle (1981), vol. 12 of The Yale editions of the private papers of James Boswell (1950–89)
  • Boswell: the English experiment, 1785–1789, ed. I. S. Lustig and F. A. Pottle (1986), vol. 13 of The Yale editions of the private papers of James Boswell (1950–89)
  • Boswell: the great biographer, 1789–1795, ed. M. K. Danziger and F. Brady (1989), vol. 14 of The Yale editions of the private papers of James Boswell (1950–89)
  • F. Brady, James Boswell: the later years, 1769–1795 (1984)
  • P. Martin, A life of James Boswell (1999)
  • A. Sherbo, The birth of Shakespeare studies: commentators from Rowe (1709) to Boswell-Malone (1821) (1986)
  • J. M. Osborn, ‘Edmond Malone and Baratariana’, N&Q, 188 (1945), 35
  • J. M. Osborn, ‘Edmond Malone and Dr. Johnson’, Johnson, Boswell, and their circle, ed. M. Lascelles (1965), 1–20
  • J. M. Osborn, ‘Edmond Malone and Oxford’, Eighteenth-century studies in honor of Donald F. Hyde, ed. W. H. Bond (1970)
  • J. M. Osborn, ‘Edmond Malone: scholar–collector’, Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 3rd ser., 19 (1964), 11–37
  • A. Brown, ‘Edmond Malone and English scholarship’ [inaugural lecture at UCL, 21 May 1963]
  • W. S. Lewis, ‘Edmond Malone, Horace Walpole, and Shakespeare’, Evidence in literary scholarship: essays in memory of James M. Osborn, ed. R. Wellek and A. Ribeiro (1979)
  • J. Dover Wilson, ‘Malone and the upstart crow’, 2 Henry VI (1952)
  • P. Martin, ‘Edmond Malone, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Dr. Johnson's monument in St. Paul's Cathedral’, Age of Johnson, 3 (1989), 331–51
  • F. A. Pottle, Pride and negligence: the history of the Boswell papers (1981)
  • D. Buchanan, The treasure of Auchinleck: the story of the Boswell papers (1974)
  • [B. Bandinel], A catalogue of the early English poetry and other miscellaneous works illustrating the British drama, collected by E. Malone … in the Bodleian Library (1836) [with memoir of Malone by James Boswell]
  • J. Caulfield, An enquiry into the conduct of Edmond Malone Esq. concerning the manuscript papers of John Aubrey, F.R.S. in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1797)
  • G. Chalmers, An apology for the believers in the Shakspeare-papers (1797)
  • M. Duff, Annals of the club, 1764–1914 (1914)
  • G. Hardinge, The essence of Malone (1800)
  • G. Hardinge, Another essence of Malone (1801)
  • Farington, Diary, 12.4320–21


  • BL, letters to Charles Burney, M/436
  • BL, notes to journal of Reynolds in Netherlands and Belgium in 1781, Egerton MS 2165
  • BL, notes on Shakespeare's plays, Add. MS 30943
  • BL, corresp. with Thomas Warton, Add. MSS 30375, 42561
  • BL, biographical notes on William Windham, Add. MS 37934
  • BL, letters to William Windham and others, Add. MS 37854
  • Boston PL, letters and papers
  • NL Scot., corresp. with Sir William Forbes
  • NRA, priv. coll., letters to Sarah Loveday
  • Royal Irish Acad., corresp. with Lord Charlemont
  • Shakespeare Birthplace Trust RO, Stratford upon Avon, corresp. with John Jordan
  • Sheff. Arch., corresp. with Edmund Burke
  • Stamford Public Library, Lincolnshire, corresp. with Octavius Gilchrist
  • V&A, corresp.
  • Yale U., Beinecke L., corresp. with James Boswell
  • Yale U., Beinecke L., annotated copy of Peck's Desiderata curiosa


  • J. Reynolds, oils, 1778, NPG; reworked 1786 [see illus.]
  • F. Bartolozzi, stipple, pubd 1787 (after J. Reynolds), BM, NPG
  • O. Humphrey, engraving, 1797
  • engraving (after J. Reynolds, 1779), repro. in J. Bell, The poets of Great Britain, 109 vols. (1777–83)

Wealth at Death

valuable collection of books and papers, the bulk of which was given to the Bodleian Library, Oxford; income of approximately £1000 p.a.

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Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC
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Sheffield Archives
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National Portrait Gallery, London
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J. Farington, ed. K. Garlick, A. Macintyre, K. Cave, & E. Newby, 17 vols. (1978–98)
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G. D. Burtchaell & T. U. Sadleir, eds., (1924); [2nd edn], with suppl., in 2 pts (1935)
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Royal Irish Academy, Dublin
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National Register of Archives, private collection
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Boston Public Library, Massachusetts
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British Library, London
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Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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Bodleian Library, Oxford
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British Museum, London
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Notes and Queries
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National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh