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Th E reader may observe that, contrary to former usage, no head of Shakspeare is presixed to the present edition of his Plays. The undisguised fact is this. The only portrait of him that even pre-" tends to authenticity, by means of injudicious cleaning, or some other accident, has become little better than the " shadow of a shade." * The late Sir Joshua Reynolds indeed once suggested, that whatever person it was designed for, it might have been left, as it now appears, unfinished. Various copies and plates, however, are said at different times to have been made from it; but a regard for truth obliges us to confess that diey are all unlike each other, t and convey no distinct resemblance of the poor remains of their avowed original. Of the drapery and curling hair exhi
* Such, we think, were the remarks, that occurred to us several yean ago, when this portrait was accessible. We wished indeed to have confirmed them by a second view of it; but a late accident in the noble family to which it belongs, has precluded us from that satisfaction.
+ Vertue's portraits have been over-praised on account of their fidelity; for we have now before us six different heads of Shakspeare engraved by him, and do not scruple to assert that they have individually a different cast of countenance. Cucullus nan facit monaclmm. The .chape of our author's ear-ring and falling-band may correspond in them all, but where shall we find an equal conformity in his features?
Few objects indeed are occasionally more difficult to seize, than the flcndfr traits that mark tbe character of a face; and the eye will otten
Vol. I. a
bited in the excellent engravings of Mr. Vertuc, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Knight, the painting does not afford a vestige; nor is there a feature or circumstance on the whole canvas, that can with minute precision be delineated.—We must add, that on very vague and dubious authority this head has hitherto been received as a genuine portrait of - our author, who probably left behind him no such memorial of his face. As he was careless of the future state of his works, his solicitude might not have extended to the perpetuation of his looks. Had any portrait of him existed, we may naturally suppose it must have belonged to his family, who (as Mark Antony says of a hair of Cæsar) would
. have mention'd it within their wills,
"Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
and were there ground for the report that Shakspeare was the real father of Sir William D'Avenant, and that the picture already spoken of was painted for him, we might be tempted to observe with our author, that the
"W>s kinder to his father, than his daughters
But in support of cither supposition sufficient
detect the want of them, when the most exact mechanical process cannot decide on the places in which they are omitted.—Vertue, in short, 'hough a laborious, was a very indifferent draughtsman, and his be*l copies (oo often exhibit a general instead of a particular resemblance.
dence has not been produced. The former of these tales has no better foundation than the vanity of our degener Neoptolemus, (see Vol. II. p. 428.)* and the latter originates from modern conjecture. The present age will probably allow the vintner's ivy to Sir William, but with equal justice will withhold from him the poet's bays.—r To his pretensions of descent from Shakspeare, one might almost be induced to apply a ludicrous passage uttered by Fielding's Phaeton in the Suds:
"———— by all the parish boys I'm flamm'd:
About the time when this picture found its way into Mr. Keek's hands,t the verification of por
* Nor does the same piece of ancient scandal derive much weight from Aubrey's adoption of it. The reader who is acquainted with the writings of this absurd gossip, will scarcely pay more attention to him on the present occasion, than when he gravely assures us that "Anno 1670, not far from Cirencestcr was an apparition; being demanded whether a good spirit or a bad? returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious perfume and most melodious twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a fairy." See Aubrey's Miscellanies, edit. 1784, p. 114.—Aubrey, in short, was a dupe to every wag who chose to practise on his credulity; and would most certainly have believed the person who should have told him that Shakspeare himself W2S a natural son of Queen flizabeth.
Mr. T. Warton has pleasantly observed (seep. 68.n. 3.) that he " cannot suppose Shakspeare to have been the father of a Doctor of Divinity who never laughed;" and—to waste no more words on Sir William D'Avenant,—let but our readers survey his heavy, vulgar, unmeaning face, and, if we mistake not, they will as readily conclude that Shakspeare "never holp to make it." So despicable, indeed, is his countenance as represented by i'aithorne, that it appears to have sunk that crlebrated engraver beneath many a common artist in the same line.
f Sec Vol. 1. p. 29.
traits was so little attended to, that both the Earl of Oxford, and Mr. Pope, admitted a juvenile one of King James I. as that of Shakspeare.* Among the heads of illustrious persons engraved by Houbraiken, are several imaginary ones, beside Ben Jonson's and Otway's; and old Mr. Langford positively asserted that, in the same collection, the grandfather of Cock the auctioneer » had the honour to personate the great and ami
able Thurloe, secretary of state to Oliver Cromwell.
From the price of forty guineas paid for the supposed portrait of our author to Mrs. Barry, the real value of it should not be inferred. The possession of somewhat more animated than canvas, might have been included, though not specified, in a bargain with an actress of acknowledged gallantry.
Yet allowing this to be a mere fanciful insinuation, a rich man docs not easily mis6 what he is ambitious to find. At least he may be persuaded
* Much respect is due to the authority of portraits that descend in families from heir to heir; but Httlc reliance can he placed on them
when they arc produced for sale (as in the present instance) by alien hands, almost a century after the death of the person supposed to be represented; and then, /as Edmund says in King Lear) "come pat, like the catastrophe of the old comedy." Shakspeare was buried in t6t6; and in 17C.8 the first notice of this picture occurs. Where sherc is such a chasm in evidence, the validity of it may be not unfairly questioned, and especially by those who remember a species ot fraudu>cnce recorded in Mr. Foote's T,ut£: "Clap Lord Dupe's arms on thai half-length of Erasmus; I have sold it him as his great grandtalher.'l third brother, for fifty guineas."