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Thorold, Sir John, Bart.
Vanbrugh, Edward, Esq. Bath
Woodford, John, Esq.
Aprley, near Wooburn, Bedfordshire
32d Regiment of Foot, Dublin Watson, William, Esq; Dublin
Young, Sir William, Bart. Yoe, James, Esq.
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Nicol, Mr. George, three Copies
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Payne and Son
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Sleater, Mr. William, Dublin Hollis, Mr. Printer, Rumsey
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Trewman, Robert and Son, Exeter
V. Keymour, Mr. William, Colchester, three Vernor, Mr. 12 Copies
Wheble, Mr. J. Printer Longmate, Mr. Engraver
Wilson, Spence, and Mauman, York Lowndes, Mr. three Copies
Ward, Mr. William, Sheffield Lewis, Mr.
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Williams, Messrs. E. and T. three Copios
T seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially count of themselves, as well as their works, to posterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling soever this curiofity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described even to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may seem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy some little account of the man himself inay not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of : but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his aslistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated theinselves into, and been mixed with his own writings; so that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his Lever having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity
and deference for them, which would have attended that correctness, might have restrained some of that fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakspeare: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supplied him to abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was possible for a master of the English language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; and in order to settle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continued for some time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up; and though it seemed at firit to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, fome that made å frequent practice of deerstealing engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first eslay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution again it him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and shelter hinself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the playhouse. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mcan rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, foon distinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongit those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particuiar account of what sort of parts he used to play; and though I have enquired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the 'Ghost in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the firit play he wrote * ; it would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first eflay of a fancy like Shakípeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings: art had so little, and nature to large a Mare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the inost vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the beit. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was to loose and extravagant, as to be independent op the rule and government of judgment; but, that what he thought was commonly fo grcat, fo juftly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately a proved by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are pallages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Effex, thews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her fucceilor king James, in the latter end of his fienry the Eigbob, is a proof of that play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two princes to the crown of England. Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of diverlions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased
* The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Julier in 1597, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard :bc Secord, and Ibird, in the next year, viz. in the 34th year of his age.
to see a genius arise from among them of so pleasurable, so rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable companion ; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by
a fair treftal, throned by the west.
Midsummer Night's Dream.
And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handfomely applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well fhe was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proot. Uporr this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of * Oldcastle : fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff
. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace foever the queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Essex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I mould not have ventured to have inserted, that my lord" Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has thewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.
What particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one, who had a true talte of merit, and could distinguish men, had generally a juft value and etteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature must certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the moit delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature: Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it careletsly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakspeare luckily cait his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him firit to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonson was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shaktpeare ; though at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the late ter, was more than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great inan upon this occafion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter,
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.