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HE Attempt to write upon SHAKESPEAR is
splendid Dome thro' the Conveyance of a narrow and obscure Entry. A Glare of Light suddenly breaks upon you beyond what the Avenue at first pomis'd : and a thousand Beauties of Genius and Character, like so many gaudy Apartments pouring at once upon the Eye, diffuse and throw themselves out to the Mind. The Prospect is too wide to come within the Compass of a single View : ’ris a gay Confusion of pleasing Objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general Admiration ; and they must be separated, and ey'd distinctly, in order to give the proper Entertainment.
And as in great Piles of Building, some Parts are often finish'd up to hit the Taste of the Connoiseur ; others more negligently put together, to strike the Fancy of a common and unlearned B. holder : Soine Parts are made ftupendously magnificent and grand, to surprize with the vast Design and Execution of the Architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his Neatness and Elegance in litte. So, in Shakespear, we may Gnd Traits that will stand the Test of the sevéreit Judgment; and strokes as careleily bit off, to the Level of the more ordinary Capacities: Some Defcriptions rais'd to that Pitch of Grandeur, as to astonich you with the Compass and Elevation of his
Thought; and others copying Nature within so narrow, lo confined a Circle, as if the Author's Talent lay only at drawing in Miniature.
In how many points of Light must we be obliged to gaze at this great Poet! In how many Branches of Excellence to consider, and admire him! Whether we view him on the side of Art or Nature, he ought equally to engage our Attention: Whether we respect the Force and Greatness of his Genius, the Extent of his Knowledge and Reading, the Power and Address with which he throws out and applies either Nature, or Learning, there is ample Scope both for our Wonder and Pleasure. If his Diction, and the cloathing of his Thoughts attract us, how much more muft we be charm’d with the Richness, and Variety, of his Images and Ideas! If his Images and Ideas fttal into our Souls, and strike upon our Fancy, how much are they improv'd in Price, when we come to reflect with whac Propriety and Justness they are apply'd to Character! If we look into his Characters, and how they are furnilh'd and proportion’d to the Employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the Mastery of his Portraits! What Draughts of Nature! What Variety of Originals, and how differing each from the other! How are they dress’d from the Stores of his own luxurious Imagination ; without being the Apes of Moe, or borrowing from any foreign Wardrobe! Each of them are the Standards of Fashion for themselves : like Gentlemen that are above the Direction of their Tailors, ad can adorn themselves without the aid of Imitation. If other Poets draw more than one Fool or Coxcomb, there is the same Resemblance in them, as in that Painter's Draughts, who was happy only at forming a Rose: you find them all younger Brothers of the fame Family, and all of them have a Pretence to give the same Creft : But Shakespear's Clowns and Fop. come all of a different House : they are no farther allied to one another
than as Man to Man, Members of the same Species : but as different in Features and Lineaments of Character, as we are from one another in Face, or Complexion. But I am unawares lanching into his Character as a Writer, before I have said what I intended of him as a private Member of the Republick.
Mr. Rowe has very juftly observ’d, that People are fond of discovering any little personal Story of the Great Men of Antiquity, and that the common Accidents of their Lives naturally become the Subject of our critical Enquiries : That however trifling such a Curiosity at the first View may appear, yer, as for what relates to Men of Letters, the Knowledge of an Author may, perhaps, fometimes conduce to the better understanding his Works : And, indeed, this duthor's Works, from the bad Treatment he has met with from Copyifts and Editors, have so long wanted a Comment, that one would zealously embrace every Method of Information, that could contribute to recover them from the Injuries with which they have so long lain o'erwhelm’d.
'Tis certain, that if we have first admir'd the Man in his Writings, his Case is so circumstanc'd, that we must naturally admire the Writings in the Man : That if we go back to take a View of his Education, and the Employment in Life which Fortune had cut out for him, we shall retain the stronger Ideas of his extensive Genius.
His Father, we are told, was a considerable Dealer in Wool; but having no fewer than ten Children, of whom our Shakespeer was the eldest, the best Education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own Bulness and Employment. I cannot afirm with any Certainty how long his Father liv’d; but I take bim to be the same Mr. John ShakeSpieler who was livi g in the Year 1599, and who chen, in Honour of his Son, took out an Extract of his Family-Arms from the Herald's Office; by which it
appears, that he had been Officer and Bailiff of Strata ford upon Avon in Warwickshire; and that he enjoy'd some hereditary Lands and Tenements, the Reward of his Great Grandfather's faithful and approved Service to King Henry VII.
Be this as it will, our Shakespear, it seems, was bred for some Time at a Free-School; the very Free School, I presume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was Mafter of: but, that his Facher being oblig'd, thro’ Narrowness of Circumstance, to withdraw him too soon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any Proficiency in the Dead Languages : A Point that will deserve some little Discussion in the sequel of this Dissertation.
How long he continued in his Father's Way of Bu. finess, either as an Asistant to him, or on his own pro. per Account, no Notices are left to inform us : nor have I been able to learn preci ely at what Period of Life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his Aç. quaintance with London and the Slage.
In order to settle in the World after a Family-manner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain, he did fo: for by the Monument, in Stratford Church, erected to the Memory of his Daughter Sufanna, the Wife of John Hall, Gentleman, it appears, that she died on the 2d Day of July, in the Year 1649, aged 66. So that she was born in 1583, when her Father could not be full 19 Years old; who was himself born in the Year 1564. Nor was the his eldest Child, for he had another Daughter, Judich, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Sbakespear must have entred into Wedlock by that Time he was turn'd of seventeen Years.
Whether the Force of Inclination merely, or some concurring Circumstance of Convenience in the March, prompted him to marry so early, is not easy to be deVOL. 1.
términ'd at this Distance: but 'tis probable, a View of Interest might partly fway his Conduct in this Point: for he married the Daughter of one Hathaway, a subftantial Yeoman in his Neighbourhood, and she had the Start of him in Age no less than eight Years. She surviv'd him notwithstanding, seven Seasons, and dy'd that very Year in which the Players publish'd the first Edition of his works in Folio, Anno Dom. 1623, at the Age of 67 Years, as we likewise learn from her Monument in Stratford Church.
How long he continued in this kind of Settlement, upon his own Native Spot, is not more easily to be determin’d. But if the Tradition be true, of that Extravagance which forc'd him both to quit his Country and Way of Living; to wit, his being engaged, with a Knot of young Deer-fealers, to rob the Park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Cberlecot near Stratford : the Enterprize favours lo much of Youth and Levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full Man. Besides, confidering he has left us fix and thirty Plays, at least, avow'd to be genuine ; and confidering too, that he had retir'd from the Stage, to spend the latter Part of his Days at his own Native Stratford; the Interval of Time, necessarily required for the finishing fo many Dramatic Pieces, obliges us to fuppofe he threw himself very early upon the Playhouse. And as he could, probably, contract no ACquaintance with the Drama, while he was driving on the Affair of Wool at home; fome Time must be loft, even after he had commenc'd Player, before he could ártain Knowledge enough in the Science to qualify himfelf for turning Author.
It has been obferv'd by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other Extravagancies which our Author has given to his Sir John Feltoffe, in the Merry Wives of IVindsor, he has made him a Deer-stealer; and that he might at the same Time remember his Warwickbire Profecutor, under the Name of Jufiice Shallow, he has given