Imatges de pÓgina

matic Writings


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LIFE, &c.




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ry of excellent men, efpecially of thofe whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themselves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reafon, how fond do we fee fome people of difcovering any little perfonal ftory of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common incidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features, have been the fubject of critical inquiries. 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 defcribed 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 Shakefpeare 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 Shakespeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickfhire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fathion 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 truc, 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 controverfy, 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 theis), would certainly have led him to read and ftudy them with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themfelves 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 and deference for them, which would have attended that correctnefs, might have reftrained fome of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakespeare: and I believe we are better pleafed with thofe thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abundantly 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 neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of fettlement he contirued 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 him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occafion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatic 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 deer-ftealing 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,

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