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He was born in Dublin, the son of a barrister and Judge who was a member of the Irish House of Commons. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and was called to the Irish bar in 1767. The death of his father in 1774 assured him an income, and he went to London, where he frequented literary and artistic circles. He frequently visited Samuel Johnson and was of great assistance to James Boswell in revising and proofreading his Life, four of the later editions of which he annotated. He was friendly with Sir Joshua Reynolds, and sat for a portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery.
He was one of Reynolds' executors, and published a posthumous collection of his works (1798) with a memoir. Horace Walpole, Edmund Burke, George Canning, Oliver Goldsmith, Lord Charlemont, and, at first, George Steevens, were among Malone's friends. Encouraged by the two last, he devoted himself to the study of Shakespearian chronology, and the results of his Attempt to ascertain the Order in which the Plays of Shakespeare were written (1778) are still largely accepted. This was followed in 1780 by two supplementary volumes to Steevens's version. of Dr Johnson's Shakespeare, partly consisting of observations on the history of the Elizabethan stage, and of the text of doubtful plays; and this again, in 1783, by an appendix volume. His refusal to alter some of his notes to Isaac Reed's edition of 1785, which disagreed with, Steevens's, resulted in a quarrel with the latter.
The next seven years were devoted to Malone's own edition of Shakespeare in eleven volumes, of which his essays on the history of the stage, his biography of Shakespeare, and his attack on the genuineness of the three parts of Henry VI, were especially valuable. His editorial work was lauded by Burke, criticized by Walpole and damned by Joseph Ritson. It certainly showed indefatigable research and proper respect for the text of the earlier editions.
Malone published a denial of the claim to antiquity of the Rowley poems produced by Thomas Chatterton, and in this (1782) as in his branding (1796) of the Ireland manuscripts as forgeries, he was among the first to guess and state the truth. His elaborate edition of John Dryden's works (1800), with a memoir, was another monument to his industry, accuracy and scholarly care. In 1801 the University of Dublin made him an LL.D.
At the time of his death, Malone was at work on a new octavo edition of Shakespeare, and he left his material to James Boswell the younger; the result was the edition of 1821 generally known as the Third Variorum edition in twenty-one volumes. Lord Sunderlin (1738-1816), his elder brother and executor, presented the larger part of Malone's splendid collection of books, including dramatic varieties, to the Bodleian Library, which afterwards bought many of his manuscript notes and his literary correspondence. The British Museum also owns some of his letters and his annotated copy of Johnson's Dictionary.
A memoir of Malone by James Boswell is included in the prologemena to the edition of 1821. See also Sir J Prior's Life of Edmond Malone (1860).
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