Imatges de pÓgina

thought, fomewhat too feverely; and, in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the firft effay of his poetry, be loft, yet it is faid to have been fo very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution againft 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 admirable 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 custom 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 inquired, 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 Ham let. Ifhould have been much more pleased, to have learned, from certain authority, which was the first play he wrotet; it would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind

* There is a ftage tradition, that his firft office in the theatre was that of prompter's attendant; whose employment is to give the performers notice to be ready to enter as often as the bufinefs of the play requires their appearance on the ftage. MALONE.

The higheft 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.

kind, to fee and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Shakespeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leaft perfect writings; art had fo little, and nature had 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 most fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the beft. 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 com monly fo great, fo justly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral pieces 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 handsomely turned to the earl of Effex, fhews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland; and his eulogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her fucceffor king James, in the latter-end of his Henry the Eight, 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 pleafed, to fee a genius arife from amongst them of fo pleafurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite


entertainments. Befides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a moft agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had feveral 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 veftal, throned by the weft.

Midfummer Night's Dream.

And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handfomely applied to her. She was fo well pleased with that admirable character of Falftaff, in The two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that fhe 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 fhe was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion 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 pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falftatf. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat to blame in the fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter and a licutenant-general, was a name of diftinguifhed merit in the wars in France in

* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.


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 friendfhip 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 inftance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare'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 almoft equal to that profufe generofity the prefent age hath 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 taste of merit, and could diftinguith men, had generally a juft value and efteem for him. His ex ceeding 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 most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.

His acquaintance with Ben Jonfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr Jonfon, who was at that time altogether un


known to the world, had offered one of his play's to the players, in order to have it acted; and the perfons in whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him with an ill-natured anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakespeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespeare; 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 hath given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this cafion was, I think, very juft and proper. In a converfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr Hales, who had fat ftill for fomè time, told them, That if Mr Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had likewife not fiolen 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 leaf as well written, by Shakespeare.


The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the converfatión 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


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