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his Majesty's Pleasure (A Copy of which Licence is
Ten in the hundred lies here ingravid,
Oh! oh! quoth the Devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe.
lyeth interr'd the Body of John Combe, Esq; who dy'd the roth of July, 1614, who bequeathed several Annual Charities to the Parish of Stratford, and 100l. to be lent to fifteen poor Tradesmen from three years to three years, changing the Parties every third Year, at the Rate of fifty Shillings per Annum, the Increase to be distributed to the Almes-poor there.”—The Donation has all the Air of a rich and sagacious Usurer.
Shakespeare himself did not survive Mr. Combe long, for he dy'd in the Year 1616, the 53d of his Age. He lies buried on the North Side of the Chancel in the great Church at Stratford; where a Monument, decent enough for the Time, is erected to him, and plac'd against the Wall. He is represented under an Arch in a sitting posture, a Cushion spread before him, with a Pen in his Right Hand, and his Left rested on a Scrowl of Paper. The Latin Distich, which is placed under the Cushion, has been given us by Mr. Pope, or his Graver, in this Manner.
INGENIO Pylium, Genio Socratem, Arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, Populus mæret, Olympus habet. I confess, I don't conceive the Difference betwixt Ingenio and Genio in the first Verse. They seem to me intirely synonymous Terms; nor was the Pylian sage Nestor celebrated for his Ingenuity, but for an Experience and Judgment owing to his long Age. Dugdale, in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, has copied this Distich with a Distinction which Mr. Rowe has follow'd, and which certainly restores us the true Meaning of this Epitaph.
JUDICIO Pylium, Genio Socratem, &c. In 1614, the greater Part of the Town of Stratford was consumed by Fire ; but our Shakespeare's House, among some others, escap'd the Flames. This House was first built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a younger Brother of an ancient Family in that Neighbourhood, who took their Name from the Manor of Clopton. Sir Hugh was Sheriff
of London in the Reign of Richard III. and Lord Mayor in the Reign of King Henry VII. To this Gentleman the Town of Stratford is indebted for the fine Stonebridge, consisting of fourteen Arches, which at an extraordinary Expence he built over the Avon, together with a Cause-way running at the West-end thereof; as also for rebuilding the Chapel adjoining to his House, and the Cross-Isle in the Church there. It is remarkable of him, that, tho' he liv'd and dy'd a Bachelor, among the other extensive Charities which he left both to the City of London and Town of Stratford, he bequeath'd considerable Legacies for the Marriage of poor Maidens of good Name and Fame both in London and at Stratford. Notwithstanding which large Donations in his Life, and Bequests at his Death, as he had purchased the Manor of Clopton, and all the Estate of the Family, so he left the same again to his elder Brother's Son with a very great Addition (a Proof how well Beneficence and Economy may walk hand in hand in wise Families) : Good Part of which Estate is yet in the Possession of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally descended from the elder Brother of the first Sir Hugh: Who particularly bequeathed to his Nephew, by his Will, his House, by the Name of his Great-House in Stratford.
The Estate had now been sold out of the Clopton Family for above a Century, at the time when Shakespeare became the Purchaser : who, having repair'd and modell’d it to his own Mind, chang'd the Name to New-place ; which the Mansion-house, since erected upon the same Spot, at this day retains. The House and Lands, which attended it, continued in Shakespeare's Descendants to the Time of the Restoration : when they were repurchased by the Clopton Family, and the Mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. To the Favour of this worthy Gentleman I owe the Knowledge of one Particular, in Honour of our Poet's once Dwelling-house, of which, I presume, Mr. Rowe never was appriz'd. When the Civil War raged in England, and K. Charles the First's Queen was driven by the Necessity of Affairs to make a Recess in Warwickshire, she kept her Court for three Weeks in New-place. We may reasonably suppose it then the best private House in the Town; and her Majesty preferr'd it to the College, which was in the Possession of the Combe Family, who did not so strongly favour the King's Party.
How much our Author employ'd himself in Poetry, after his Retirement from the Stage, does not so evidently appear : Very few posthumous Sketches of his Pen have been recover'd to ascertain that Point. We have been told, indeed, in Print, but not till very lately, That two large Chests full of this Great Man's loose Papers and Manuscripts, in the Hands of an ignorant Baker of Warwick (who married one of the Descendants from our Shakespeare), were carelessly scatter'd and thrown about, as Garret-Lumber and Litter, to the particular Knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consumed in the general Fire and Destruction of that Town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the Authority of this Tradition; because as his Wife surviv'd him seven Years, and as his Favourite Daughter Susanna surviv'd her twenty-six Years, 'tis very improbable they should suffer such a Treasure to be remov'd, and translated into a remoter Branch of the Family, without a Scrutiny first made into the Value of it. This, I say, inclines me to distrust the Authority of the Relation : but, notwithstanding such an apparent Improbability, if we really lost such a Treasure, by whatever Fatality or Caprice of Fortune they came into such ignorant and neglectful Hands, I agree with the Relater, the Misfortune is wholly irreparable.
To these Particulars, which regard his Person and private Life, some few more are to be glean'd from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Writings : Let us now take a short View of him in his publick Capacity, as a Writer: and, from thence, the Transition will be easy to
the State in which his Writings have been handed down
No Age, perhaps, can produce an Author more various from himself than Shakespeare has been universally acknowledged to be. The Diversity in Stile, and other Parts of Composition, so obvious in him, is as variously to be accounted for. His Education, we find, was at best but begun: and he started early into a Science from the Force of Genius, unequally assisted by acquir’d Improvements. His Fire, Spirit, and Exuberance of Imagination gave an impetuosity to his Pen : His Ideas flow'd from him in a Stream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever
over-bearing its Shores. The Ease and Sweetness of his Temper might not a little contribute to his Facility in Writing : as his Employment, as a Player, gave him an Advantage and Habit of fancying himself the very Character he meant to delineate. He used the Helps of his Function in forming himself to create and express that Sublime which other Actors can only copy, and throw out, in Action and graceful Attitude. But Nullum sine Venia placuit Ingenium, says Seneca. The Genius that gives us the greatest Pleasure, sometimes stands in Need of our Indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakespeare I would willingly impute it to a Vice of his Times. We see Complaisance enough, in our Days, paid to a bad Taste. So that his Clinches, false Wit, and descending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a Deference paid to the then reigning Barbarism. I have not thought it out of
Province, whenever Occasion offer'd, to take notice of some of our Poet's grand Touches of Nature: Some that do not appear superficially such ; but in which he seems the most deeply instructed; and to which, no doubt, he has so much ow'd that happy Preservation of his Characters, for which he is justly celebrated. Great Genius's, like his, naturally unambitious, are satisfy'd to conceal their Art in these Points. 'Tis the Foible of your worser Poets to make a