Reed, Isaac (DNB00)
REED, ISAAC (1742–1807), editor of Shakespeare, son of a baker, was born on 1 Jan. 1741–2, at Stewart Street, near the old Artillery Ground, London. His father, whose shop was in Fleet Street, was a man of intelligence and inspired his son with a love of reading (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ii. 375–6). After being educated at a private school at Streatham, Reed became an articled clerk to Messrs. Perrot & Hodgson, a firm of London solicitors. On the expiry of his articles he assisted a Lincoln's Inn conveyancer named Hoskins, but at the end of a year set up for himself as a conveyancer in chambers at Gray's Inn, whence he soon removed to Staple's Inn. He secured a good practice, but had no enthusiasm for his profession.
From boyhood Reed studied literature and archæology, and through life devoted his leisure to literary research. He collected a large and valuable library in his rooms at Staple's Inn, and there welcomed many congenial fellow-workers, at whose disposal he freely placed his books and his personal knowledge. He sent notes to Dr. Johnson in 1781 when the latter was preparing his ‘Lives of the Poets.’ Boswell declared Reed's extensive and accurate knowledge of English literature and history to be ‘wonderful,’ while, Boswell added, all ‘who have the pleasure of his acquaintance can bear testimony to the frankness of his communications in private society’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, iv. 37). John Nichols, whom Reed often accompanied in walks about Enfield, owed much to his suggestions when preparing his collection of William King's works and supplement to Swift's works in 1776, his ‘Anecdotes of Bowyer’ in 1782, and his ‘History of Leicestershire’ in 1795 (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 228–9). Reed corresponded with Horace Walpole and Bishop Percy, but his most intimate friends were Dr. Farmer, master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, with whom he spent a month each autumn, and George Steevens, whose ill-temper he has the unique distinction of never having provoked. He also knew James Bindley [q. v.], the painters Romney and Hayley, Edmund Malone, J. P. Kemble, H. J. Todd, the editor of Milton, and Ralph Heathcote [q. v.], with whom he visited Holland in 1777. Most of these were members of the ‘Unincreasable Club’ meeting at the Queen's Head, Holborn, of which Reed was for many years president. He was also a frequent guest at the literary parties of the publisher Dilly, and was elected F.S.A. on Gough's recommendation on 12 June 1777.
Of singularly retiring disposition Reed wrote little. His vocation was mainly that of commentator or editor, and almost all his publications were issued anonymously. He would prefer, he wrote in 1778, to stand in the pillory rather than put his name to a book. In 1768 he collected the poetical works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; and in 1778 he printed a few copies of Middleton's ‘Witch’ for his friends, and edited the sixth volume of Dr. Young's ‘Works.’ In 1777 he edited ‘Historical Memoirs of Dr. William Dodd,’ which are sometimes attributed in error to John Duncombe [q. v.], and Dr. Dodd's ‘Thoughts in Prison.’ From 1773 to 1780 he contributed biographical articles to the ‘Westminster Magazine,’ and wrote in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ and in the ‘European Magazine.’ Of the latter he was for a time part proprietor; but he denied in 1800 that he took any part in the editing (Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, vii. 48).
Reed gradually concentrated his attention on the drama. In 1782 he published ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ a useful expansion of Baker's ‘Companion to the Playhouse.’ It was re-edited by Stephen Jones in 1812. A similar venture, ‘Notitia Dramatica,’ a chronicle of English theatrical history from November 1734 to 31 Dec. 1785, remains in manuscript at the British Museum (Add. MSS. 25390–2); it was mainly compiled from the ‘Public Advertiser,’ a file of which was lent to the compiler by Woodfall. In 1780 Reed prepared a new edition of Dodsley's ‘Old Plays’ (12 vols.). Subsequently his friends, Dr. Farmer and George Steevens, urged him to re-edit the variorum edition of Shakespeare known as Johnson and Steevens's edition, which had originally appeared in 1773. Reed completed his labours in 1785, when the work was published in 10 vols. 8vo. Reed performed his task conscientiously, but added little of importance to the results of his predecessors. Joseph Ritson sneered at his textual criticism in ‘A Quip Modest’ (1788). When another issue of the work was called for, Steevens resumed the office of editor, but corrected all the proof-sheets through the night in Reed's chambers, and benefited largely by Reed's suggestions. This edition was completed in fifteen volumes in 1793. In 1800 Steevens died, leaving Reed his corrected copy of Shakespeare and two hundred guineas. In 1803 Reed produced an elaborately revised version, in twenty-one volumes, which is generally known as the ‘first variorum.’ Reed received 300l. for his services (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 655). The reissue of 1813, known as the ‘second variorum,’ contains little new matter; the third and best ‘variorum’ (of 1821), which was begun by Edmund Malone and completed by James Boswell the younger, has many additions of value.
Reed died, after many years of suffering, from a paralytic affection at Staple's Inn on 5 Jan. 1807, and was buried at Amwell, where he had a country residence. A slab in the church there bears a curious rhyming inscription, warning the passer-by that he must die, though he read till his eyes ache (cf. Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, vii. 66–7; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. i. 237). Reed's will, with twelve codicils, was printed in the ‘Monthly Mirror’ (1807, p. 130). His large library—which was especially rich in English dramatic and poetical literature and in pamphlets—was sold by auction in London in November and December 1807; the sale lasted thirty-nine days, and the 8,957 lots brought 4,386l. 19s. 6d. In the British Museum, beside the MS. Notitia Dramatica noted above, are Reed's collections respecting Chatterton (in print and manuscript), his copies, with his manuscript notes, of Cibber's ‘Lives of the Poets’ and Grammont's ‘Memoirs’ (in the latter a subsequent owner, John Mitford, has inserted additional manuscript comments). Haslewood, in his copy of Langbaine's ‘Dramatick Poets’ (also in the Museum), has transcribed a series of notes made by Reed. To the sale catalogue—‘Bibliotheca Reediana’ (1807), with preface by H. J. Todd—is prefixed a poorly engraved portrait after a painting by Romney. Besides the works noticed, Reed compiled the biographical notes for both Dodsley's and Pearch's collections of poems (published respectively in 1782 and 1783). He also edited ‘A Complete Collection of the Cambridge Prize Poems, from their institution in 1750 till the present time,’ 1773, 8vo, and ‘The Repository, a Select Collection of fugitive pieces of Wit and Humour’ (1777–83, 4 vols. 8vo).[Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 664 sq. and passim; Mathias's Pursuits of Lit. p. 137; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Gent. Mag. 1807, i. 80–2 (by Nichols).]