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In 1614, the greater part of the town of Stratford was consumed by fire; butour Shakespeare's house, among someuthers, escaped the flames. This house was firit 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 causeway running at the west end thereof; as also for rebuilding the chapeladjoining to his house, and the cross-ille in the church there. It is remarkable of him, that, though he lived and died a batchelor, among the other extenlive charities which he left both to the city of London and town of Stratford, he bequeathed 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 had in wise families): good part of which estate is yet in the possession of Edward Clopton, efq; 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 fold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakespeare became the purchaser : who, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New-place; which the manfion-house, fince crected upon the fame spot, at this day retains. The house and lands, which attended it, continued in Shakespeare's descendants to the time of the Rosioration : when they were repurchased by the Clopton family, and the mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, knt. Again, near the wall on which this monument is erected, is a plain free-stone, under which his body is buried, with another epitaph, expressed in the following uncouth mixture of small and capital letters :
Good Frend for Iesus SAKE forbeare
And curst be Hemoves my Bones. STEEVENS.
To the favour of this worthy gentleman I owe the knowledge of one particular, in honour of our poet's once dwelling. houte, of which, I prefume, Mr. Rowe never was apprized. When the civil war raged in England, and king Charles the First's queen was driven by the necessity of affairs to make a recefs in Warwickshire, the kept her court for three weeks in New place. We may reasonably fuppose it then the best private house in the town; and her majesty preferred it to the college, which was in the potlession of the Combe family, who did not so strongly favour the king's party.
How much our author cmployed himself in poetry, after his retirement from the stage, does not so evidently appear : very few posthumous iketches of his pen have been recovered 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 scattered 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
I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the authority of this tradition : because his wife survived him seven years, and as his favourite daughter Susanna survived her twenty-six years, it is very improbable they should suffer such a treasure to be removed, and translated into a remoter branch of the family, without a fcrutiny 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 treafure, by whatever satality 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 gleaned from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Iritings: let us now take a fhort 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 to us.
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, fo obvious in him, is as varioufly to be accounted tor. llis education, we find, was at best but begun : and
he started early into a science from the force of genius, equally aslisted by acquired improvements. His fire, fpirit, and exuberance of imagination gave an impetuosity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a stream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever overbearing 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 Jublime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum fine vcnia placuit ingenium, fays 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 fee complaisance enough, in our days, paid to a bad taste. So that his clinches, false wit, and defcending beneath himself, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning barbari/m.
I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occasion offered, to take notice of some of our poet's grand touches of nature: fome, that do not appear fufficiently such; but in which he seems the most deeply initructed; and to which, no doubt, he has so much owed that happy preservation of his characters, for which he is justly celebrated. Great genius's, like his, naturally unambitious, are fatisfied to conceal their art in these points. It is the foible of your worfer poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little science they have; and to throw it out in the most ambitious colours. And whenever a writer of this class shall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author, and fall either think them easy, or practised by a writer for his ease, he will foon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imitation of them.
Speret idem, fudet multùm, fruftrâque laboret,
Indeed, to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakespeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as infipid, as endless; as tedious, as unnecessary: but the explanation of those beauties that are less obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just
THEOBAL D's PREFACE. criticism, and an exact knowledge of human life, thould deservedly have a share in a general critick upon the author. But to pass over at once to another subject:
It has been allowed on all hands, how far our author was indebted to nature; it is not so well agreed, how much he owed to languages and acquired learning. The decisions on this subject were certainly set on foot by the hint from Ben Jonson, that he had finall Latin and less Greek: and from this tradition, as it were, Mr. Rowe has thought fit peremptorily to declare, that, “ It is without controversy, as he had no knowledge of the writings of the ancient poets, « for that in his works we find no traces of any thing which « looks like an imitation of the ancients. For the delicacy “ of his tafte (continues he) and the natural bent of his own “ great genius (equal, if not superior, to some of the best “ of theirs) would certainly have led him to read and stu
dy them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine 5s images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, « and been mixed with his own writings: and so his not. “ copying, at least, something from them, may be an ar
gument of his never having read them.” I shall leave it to the determination of my learned readers, from the numerous passages which I have occasionally quoted in my notes, in which our poet seems closely to have imitated the claflicks, whether Mr. Rowe's affertion be so absolutely to be depended on. The result of the controversy mult certainly, either way, terminate to our author's honour: how happily he could imitate them, if that point be allowed; or how gloriously he could think like them, without owing any thing to imitation.
Though I should be very unwilling to allow Shakespeare so poor a scholar, as many have laboured to represent him, yet I shall be very cautious of declaring too positively on the other fide of the question; that is, with regard to my opinion of his knowledge in the dead languages.
And therefore the passages, that I occasionally quote from the classicks, shall not be urged as proofs that he knowingly imitated those originals; but brought to fhew how happily he has expressed himself upon the same topicks. A very learned critick of our own nation has declared, that a sameness of thought and fameness of expreflion too, in two writers of a different age, can hardly happen, without a violent fufpicion of the latter copying from his predeceffor. I thall ziot therefore run any great risque of a censure, though I
should venture to hint, that the resemblances in thought and expression of our author and an ancient (which we should allow to be imitation in the one, whose learning was not questioned) may sometimes take its rise from strength of memory, and those impressions which he owed to the school. And if we may allow a possibility of this, considering that, when he quitted the school, he gave into his father's profession and way of living, and had, it is likely, but a llender library of claflical learning; and considering what a number of translations, romances, and legends started about his time, and a little before (most of which, it is very evident, he read) I think it may easily be reconciled, why he rather schemed his plots and characters from these more laiter informations, than went back to those fountains, for which he might entertain a fincere veneration, but to which he could not have so ready a recourse.
In touching on another part of his learning, as it related to the knowledge of history and books, I fall advance fomething, that, at first sight, will very much wear the appeare ance of a paradox. For I shall find it no hard matter to prove, that, from the grossett blunders in history, we are not to infer his real ignorance of it: nor from a greater use of Latin words, than ever any other English author used, must we infer his intimate acquaintance with that language.
A reader of taste may easily observe, that though Shakespeare, almost in every scene of his historical plays, commits the grotlett offences against chronology, history, and ancient politicks; yet this was not through ignorance, as is generally supposed, but through the too powerful blaze of his imagination; which, when once raised, made all acquired knowledge vanish and disappear before it. But this licence in him, as I have said, must not be imputed to ignorance : fince as often we may find him, when occafion serves, reafoning up to the truth of history; and throwing out sentiments as justly adapted to the circumstances of his subject, as to the dignity of his characters, or dictates of nature in general.
Then to come to his knowledge of the Latin tongue, it is certain, there is a furprising effufion of Latin words made English, far more than in any one English author I have seen; but we must be cautious to imagine, this was of his own doing. For the English tongue, in his age, began extremely to fuffer by an inundation of Latin: and this, to be (14)