Imatges de pÓgina
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Written by Mr. ROWE.

IT

T feems to be a kind of refpect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themfelves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reason, how fond do we fee fome people of difcovering any little perfonal story of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features have been the fubject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this curiofity may feem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly fatisfied with an account of any remarkable perfon, 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 fometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may feem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.

He was the fon 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 confiderable dealer in wool, had fo large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldeft fon, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for fome time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: but the narrownefs of his circumftances, and the want of his affiftance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controverty, that in his works we fearce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his tafte, and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with fo much plcafure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with his own writings; fo that his not copying at least fomething from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a difadvantage to him or no, may admit of a difpute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity A 3

and

and deference for them, which would have attended that correctness, might have reftrained fome of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakspeare: and I believe we are better pleafed with thofe thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abun dantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was poffible for a mafter of the English language to deliver them.

Upon his leaving fchool, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propofed to him; and in order to fettle 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, faid to have been a fubftantial yeoman in the neigh bourhood of Stratford. In this kind of fettlement he continued for fome 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 feemed at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to hin, yet it afterwards happily proved the occafion 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 a frequent practice of deerftealing engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was profecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, fomewhat too feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first elay of his poetry, be loft, yet it is faid to have been fo very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and fhelter himself in London.

It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid to have made his first acquaintance in the playhoufe. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his adinirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the ftage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the cuflom was in thofe times, amongst thofe of the other players, before fome old plays, but without any particular account of what fort 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 Ghoft in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleated, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first play he wrote; it would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to fee and know what was the firft effay of a fancy like Shakipeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leat perfect writings: art had fo little, and nature fo large a fhare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the moft fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the best. "I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loofe and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but, that what he thought was commonly to great, fo juitly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately ap proved by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral picces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paffages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handfomely turned to the carl of Eflex, fhews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her fuccefior king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Eighth, is a proof of that play's being written after the acceffion of the latter of thofe 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 diverfions of this kind, could not but be highly pleated

*The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597,when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age.

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to fee a genius arife from amongit them of fo pleasurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plen tifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Belides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had feveral of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave hiin many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by

a fair weftal, throned by the weft.

Midfummer-Night's Dream.

And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hand fomely applied to her. She was fo well pleafed with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to fhew him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor. How well he was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to obferve, that this part of Falstaff is faid to have been written orginally under the name of * Oldcafile: fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falstaff. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat to blame in his fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of diftinguished 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 hiftories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Effex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance so fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I fhould not have ventured to have inferted, 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 profufe generofity the prefent age has fhewn 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 tafte of merit, and could diftinguish men, had generally a juft value and efteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature muft certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.

His acquaintance with Ben Jonion began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature: Mr. Jonfon, 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 perfons into whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fupercioutly over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him firft to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at the fame time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter, was more than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occafion was, I think, very juft and proper. converfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Por

In a

* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.

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ter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonfon with fome warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewife not ftolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame fubject at least as well written by ShakSpeare.

The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in cafe, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eftate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is faid to have spent fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasureable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury: it happened that, in a pleafant converfation amongit their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defired it might be done immediately upon which Shakspeare gave him thefe four verses :

Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd,

'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd:

If any man afk, Who lies in this tonib?

Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe*.

But the fharpness of the fatire is faid to have ftung the man fo feverely, that he never forgave it.

He died in the 53d year of his age, and was buried on the north-fide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jefus' fake forbear
To dig the duft inclosed here.

Bleft be the man that fpares thefe flones,
And curft be be that moves my bones.

He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quincy, by whom he had three fons, who all died without children; and Sufannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hail, a phyfician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married firit to Thomas Nath, efq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewife without iflue.

This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is beft feen in his writings. But fince Ben Jonfon has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Difcoveries, I will give it in his words:

"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, "that in writing (whatfoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My antwer "hath been, Would he had blotted a thorfand! which they thought a malevolent

The Rev. Francis Peck, in his Memoirs of the Life and Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton, 4to. 1740, p. 223. has introduced another epitapa imputed (on what authority is unknown) to Shakipcare. It is on Tom-a-Combe, alias Thin-beard, brother to this John who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe. Thin in beard, and thick in purfe; "Never man beloved worse:

"He went to the grave with many a curfe
"The devil and he had both one nurfe."

+ Mr Malone fays, that he died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completed his fifty-fecond year.

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fpeech. I had not told pofterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that "circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted: and to juf"tify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this "fide idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free "nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expreffions; wherein "he flowed with that facility, that fometimes it was neceflary he fhould be stop"ped: Suflaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid of Haterius. His wit was in his own

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power: would the rule of it had been fo too! Many times he fell into thofe things which could not efcape laughter; as when he faid in the perfon of Cæfar, one "fpeaking to him,

"Cafar, thou doft me wrong.

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"He replied:

Cafar did never wrong, but with just cause

"and fuch-like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his vir"tues: there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned."

As for the paflage which he mentions out of Shakipeare, there is fomewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the abfurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have feen, as quoted by Mr. Jonfon. Befides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcribed to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never feen, and know nothing of. He writ likewife Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in ftanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonfon, there is a good deal in it: but I believe it may be as well exprefled by what Horace fays of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models (or indeed tranflated them), in his epistle to Auguftus.

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Natura fublimis & acer,

Nam fpirat tragicum fatis & feliciter audet,
Sed turpem putat in chartis meruitque lituram.

As I have not propofed to myfelf to enter into a large and complete collection upon Shakspeare's works, fo I will only take the liberty, with all due fubmiffion to the judgment of others, to obferve fome of thofe things I have been pleased with in looking him over.

His plays are properly to be diftinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Thofe which are called hiftories, and even fome of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become fo agreeable to the English taste, that though the feverer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of cur audiences feem to be better pleafed with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windfor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, are all pure comedy; the reft, however they are called, have fomething of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and tho' they did not then ftrike at all ranks of people, as the fatire of the prefent age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleating and a well-diftinguifhed variety in thole characters which he thought fit to meddie with. Faittaff is allowed by every Lody to be a mafter-piece; the character is always well fuftained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, thongh it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in fhort every way vicious, yet he has given him fo much wit as to make him almoft too agreeable; and I do not know whether fome people have not, in remembrance of the divertion he had formerly

afforded

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