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admired and applauded. The earl of Southampton was his patron from the commencement of his dramatic career; the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery are recorded, in the dedication of the posthumous edition of his plays by Hemminge and Condell, as distinguished favorers of the author and his works; and the gracious encouragement extended to him by queen Elizabeth, and afterwards by her successor, is well known. From the circumstance of his being enrolled a member of the celebrated Mermaid club, founded by Raleigh and frequented by the most eminent literary characters of the age, we may infer that his habits were not sordid, nor his life obscure ; and that the frankness and gaiety of his temper rendered him the delight of every society in which he mingled, is testified by all who have spoken of him from personal knowledge or recent tradition. “I loved the man,” says Jonson, “and do honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free naturea.” Neither was it the melancholy destiny of the poet to survive either his own powers or the associates of his youthful days; it was in the 53rd year of his age, and in the second only of his retreat from the busy scenes of the metropolis to the enjoyment of an honorable privacy in his native Stratford, that we find him stealing out of the world absolutely unnoticed by any annalist or memoir-writer of the time, and almost “without the meed of some melodious tear."
A striking peculiarity in the character, or at least in the practice, of the poet himself, seems to offer the most probable solution of these circumstances. In that age of eulogy, no one dealt so little in the splendid traffic” of praise for praise, or in the sordid one of praise for pay, as Shakespeare. With the exception of a brief expression of his admiration of Spenser, contained in one of his early sonnets, and a few lines, written in conjunction with that general panegyrist Jonson, on the poems of one Chester, not a single line in honor of any contemporary writer is found in all his acknowledged works; nor has he ever been detected as an anonymous contributor to the vast collections of commendatory verses which the poets of that age were proud of prefixing to their volumesa. No one therefore stood pledged to eulogise him, by the claims of an equitable reciprocity; and it seems to have been not until the striking inferiority of his successors and imitators had deeply impressed upon the public mind the sense of his incomparable excellencies, that his praises became the favorite theme of the poets. A more becoming excuse for their silence was indeed suggested by one of his admirers :
66 It is not fit each humble muse should make
Thy worth his subject......
. This remark is borrowed from Mr. Gifford's Memoirs of Jonson, where however the lines on Spenser are not noticed. See Gifford's Jonson, vol. i. p. cxcvII.
Jonson, in fact, the only dramatist who could be regarded as in any manner the rival of Shakespeare, appears to have had the honor of being his earliest as well as his warmest and his most judicious eulogist. His well-known lines “to the memory of his beloved Shakespeare and what he hath left us,” worthy at once of the author and of the object, will stand an enduring monument to the fame of both, and to the disgrace of those calumniators of Jonson who have delighted to reproach him with a malignant and envious hostility against his great contemporary
It would be at once superfluous and presumptuous to enter in this place on such a theme as the perfections of our illustrious poet; but a few remarks on such passages of his works as tend to illustrate his individual character, and the sentiments entertained by him on the principal topics of contemporary interest, may be regarded as not inappropriate.
That the silence of Shakespeare respecting the merits of other writers proceeded neither from envy nor from a cynical austerity, may safely be inferred from the amenity, the air of benevolence mingled with gaiety, which pervades his pieces and forms one of their most delightful characteristics. At the same time, the traits of ridicule which he often lances against the absurdities of the elder dramatists, and the parodies with which he amuses himself, evince a quick sense of the ludicrous, and a taste which disdained the efforts of laborious mediocrity and pedantic affectation ; and he must undoubtedly be
classed as a satirist, though the most playful and goodhumored of the tribe. His general freedom from the vice of adulation, is equally striking and honorable. Even in the dedication of his early poems to lord Southampton, he dared to rise above the servility of the times. The few passages of compliment to queen Elizabeth interspersed in his plays are modest, tasteful, and probably the sincere dictate of his feelings. The eulogy of her successor, which appears as if compulsorily inserted in Cranmer's prophetic speech, has at least the merit, or the excuse, of insisting very little on the personal qualities of the monarch. But there was a native generosity of soul in Shakespeare which would not permit him to content himself with negative merits. There can be little doubt that in the direction which sir Toby, in the play of Twelfth Night, gives to sir Andrew Aguecheek for his challenge; “Taunt him with the license of ink; if thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss ;" he designed to express his esteem for the injured Raleigh, and to stigmatise the arrogance of Coke, who had insulted him on his trial with this identical expression of contempt. The desire of the same idiotical sir Andrew to beat Malvolio for “no exquisite reason," but because he is told that he is a puritan, and the horror with which he speaks of a Brownist, are keen strokes of satire on the intolerance of the time, which, under all the circumstances, deserve high praise. The puritans were at once objects of detestation to king James, the patron of the poet, and implacable enemies to
the stage and all connected with it; and the treatment which they were in the habit of receiving from the dramatic writers in return, may best be learned from Jonson's “Bartholomew Fair” and various contemporary pieces.
On the other hand, Shakespeare has so sedulously abstained throughout his works from that ridicule of the catholic mysteries, and those satirical representations of the manners of their clergy, the favorite common places of the protestant poets, that he has been strongly suspected of inheriting his father's attachment to the ancient communion. But the energetic protest against papal domination in the play of King John, seems incompatible with this opinion, and the forbearance must be attributed not to his faith but his candor. The invective of Shakespeare was chiefly pointed against pride, cruelty, treachery and oppression; and his ridicule lashed the foreign and fantastical affectations in speech and behaviour, the sententious pedantry, the tiresome ceremonial, and the rage for complimenting, which infected the manners of that transition-age between gothic barbarism and the refinements of modern Europe.
In the number, the variety, the exquisite beauty of his portraitures of female character, no writer of his own time and language,—or perhaps of any other,--can sustain a comparison with Shakespeare, excepting Spenser, the object of his early admiration, from whom it seems no improbable conjecture that his first vivid impressions of the “good and