Malone is born to Edmond Malone Sr. (1704–1774), MP of the Irish House of Commons and judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Ireland, and Catherine Collier, the niece of Robert Knight, 1st Earl of Catherlough. He has two sisters, Henrietta and Catherine, and an older brother, Richard (later Lord Sunderlin). His father is a successful lawyer and politician in England, but his practice fails and he returns to Ireland. Little is known of his childhood and adolescence except that in 1747 he is sent to Dr. Ford’s preparatory school in Molesworth Street, Dublin. The next record of his education is ten years later, in 1757, when he enters Trinity College, Dublin. He receives his BA degree on February 23, 1762.
After practicing in Ireland as a lawyer and journalist, Malone settles in London in 1777. There he numbers among his literary friends Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole, and the ballad collector Thomas Percy, the Bishop of Dromore. He also is an associate of the statesmen Edmund Burke and George Canning and of the dean of English painters, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who paints his portrait and whose literary works he collects and publishes (1797). The portrait now resides in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
In the following months Malone sends a steady stream of notes and corrections to George Steevens, who, by then the inheritor, from Samuel Johnson, of the editor’s mantle for the Jacob Tonson edition of Shakespeare’s collected works, is busy preparing a second edition. His main contribution appears in the first volume as “An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in Which the Plays Attributed to Shakspeare Were Written.”
Malone’s three supplemental volumes (1780–1783) to Steevens’ edition of Johnson’s Shakespeare, containing apocryphal plays, textual emendations, and the first critical edition of the sonnets, are landmarks in Shakespearean studies. His “Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage, and of the Economy and Usages of the Ancient Theatres in England” (1800) is the first treatise on English drama based on original sources. His own edition of Shakespeare in 11 volumes appears in 1790. A new octavo edition, unfinished at his death, is completed by James Boswell, the son of Samuel Johnson’s biographer, and published in 1821 in 21 volumes. This work, which includes a memoir of Malone, is the standard edition of Shakespeare’s writings for more than a century.
Malone dies at the age of 70 in London on May 25, 1812.
(Pictured: Portrait of Edmond Malone by Joshua Reynolds (1778), National Portrait Gallery)