Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was matter of: but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his affittance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his taste, 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 itudy them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have infinuited themselves into, and becn mixed with his own writings; fo that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that correctness, might have reitrained some of that fire, irpetuolity, and even beautiful extravagance which we admirc in Shakespeare: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughis, altogether new and uncommon, which his oun imagination supplied him fo abundantly with, than if he had given us the moit beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was pollible for a master of the English language to deliver them.

lipon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; and in order to fettle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a subftantial yeorhan in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continued for fome time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of forced him bóth out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up; and though it seemed at firit to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a 'misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had by a mil

. fortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongit them, fome that made a frequent

4

practice

[ocr errors]

practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and thelter himself in London.

It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the playhouse. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst thofe of the other players, before fome old plays, but without any particular account of what sort of parts he used to play; and though I have enquired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first play he wrote*; it would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Shakespeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings; art had so little, and nature so large a Thare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the beft. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but that what he thought, was commonly so great, so justly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immee diately approved by an impartial judgment at the first sight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are pafsages

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

* The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author' was 33 years old; and Richard she Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age. Vol. I. [M]

io

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the
Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a
compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Effex,
shew's the play to have been written when that lord was ge-
neral for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen
Elizabeth, and her fucceffor king James, in the latter end
of bis Henry the Eighih, is a proof of that play's being writ-
ton after the acceflion of the latter of those two princes to
the crown of England. Whatever the particular times of
his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow
wonderfully fond of diversions of this kind, could not but
be highly pleased to see a genius arise from amongst them of
so pleasurable, fo rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of
furnishing their favourite entertainments. Belides the ad-
vantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man,
of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable com-
panion; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good
qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conver-
fations of those times. Queen Elizabcth had several of his
plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many
gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princess plain-
ly, whom he intends by
- A fair vefial, throned by the west.

Midsummer-Night's Dream. And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to thew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of IVindfor. How well the was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to obferre, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of * Oldcafile; some of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth,

general,

[ocr errors]

1

1

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in
France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times.
What grace foever the queen conferred upon him, it was
not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of
bis wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great
and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the earl
of Southampton, famous in the histories of that time for his
friendship to the unfortunate earl of Effex. It was to that
noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis.
There is one instance fo fingular in the magnificence of this
patron of Shakespeare's, that if I had not been assured that
the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who
was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should
not have ventured to have inserted, that my lord South-
ampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable
him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a
mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time,
and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age
has shewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.

What particular habitude or friendships he contracted
with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than
that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could diftin-
guith men, had generally a juft value and efteem for him.
His exceeding candour and good-nature must certainly have
inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the
power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate know-
ledge and polite learning to admire him.

His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after hava ing turned it carelesly and fuperciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespeare; though at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter, was more than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation be(M2)

tween

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

tween Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken 'his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat still for some time, told them, 7 hat if Mr. Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not fiolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would urdertake to fhuw something upon the same fubjedt at least as well written by Shakespeare.

I he latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his with; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasureable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost fill remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakespeare gave him there four verics.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Ten in the hundred lies here engravid,
'Tis a hundred to ten bis foul is not fav’d:
If any man afk, IVho lies in this tomb ?
Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Comie*,

* The Rev. Francis Peck, in his Memoirs of the Life and Po. et cal Works of Mr. John Nilton, 410. 1740, p. 223. has introduced another epitaph imputed on what authority is unknown) to Shakespeare. ' It is on Tom a Combe, alias Tbin-beard, brother to this John, who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe,

«Thin in beard, and thick in purie;
“ Never inan beloved worie ;
“ He went to the grave with many a cuse:
« The devil and he had both one nurie,” STEEVENS.

[ocr errors]

But

« AnteriorContinuar »