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'T H E

BRITISH PLUTARCH.

THE LIFE OF:

WILLIAM SHAKESPEAR.

T

HERE have been some ages in which

After a

remarkable manner, to display itself, in giving to the world the finest geniuses to illuminate a people formerly barbarous. long night of Gothic ignorance, after many ages of priestcraft and superstition, learning and genius vifited our island in the days of the renowned Elizabeth. It was then that liberty began to dawn, and the people, having shook off the restraints of priestly aufterity, presumed to think for themselves.

VOL. V.

B

At

At an æra so remarkable as this, so famous in history, it seems no wonder that the nation should be blessed with those immortal orna. ments of wit and learning, who all conspired at once to make it famous,

This astonishing genius, seemed to be commissioned from above, to deliver us not only from the ignorance under which we laboured as to poetry, but to carry poetry almost to its perfection. But to write a panegyric on Shakespear, appears as unnecessary as the attempt would be vain ; for whoever has any tatte for what is great, terrible, or tender, may meet with the ampielt gratification in Shakespear; aš may those allo who have a taste for drollery and true humour. His genius was almost boundless; and he succeeded alike in every part of writing.

I cannot forbear giving the character of Shakespear in the words of a great genius, in

Prologue spoken by Mr. Garrick when he first opened Drury-lane house as manager.

rose :

When Learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous

foes First trod the stage, - immortal Shakespear Each change of many-colour'd life he drew; Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new; Existence saw him fpurn her bounded reign, And panting Time toil'd after him in vain.

All

we

All men have discovered a curiosity to know the little stories and particularities of a great, genius, for it often happens, that, when we attend a man to his closet, and watch his mo. ments of folitude, we shall find such expresfions drop from him, or we may observe such instances of peculiar conduct, as will let us more into his real character, than ever can discover while we converse with him in public, and when, perhaps, he appears under a kind of malk.

There are but few things known of this great man; few incidents of his life have de. scended to posterity; and, though, no doubt, the fame of his abilities made a great noise in the age in which he fourished, yet his station was not such as to produce many incidents, as it was subject but to few vicislitudes. Mr. Rowe, who well understood, and greatly admired, Shakespear, has been at pains to collect what incidents were known, or were to be found, concerning him; and it is chiefly upon Mr. Rowe's authority we build the account now given.

Our author was the son of John Shakespear, and was born at Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire, in April, 1564, as it appears by the public records relating to that town. The family from which he is descended was of good figure and fashion there; and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a confiderable dealer in wool, being encumbered with a large family of ten children, could af

ford

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ford to give his eldest son but a slender education. He had bred him at a free-school, where he acquired what Latin he was master of ; but how well he understood that language; or whether, after his leaving the Ichool, he made a greater proficiency in it, has been disputed, and is a point very difficult to settle. However, it is 'certain, that Mr. John Shakespear, our author's father, was obliged to withdraw him early from school, in order to have his assistance in his own employment towards supporting the rest of the fainily.

It is without controversy,” says Rowe, " that in his works we scarce find any traces chat look like an imitation of the antients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own genius, equal, if not fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs, would certainly have led him to read and study them with lo much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed with, his own writings ; so 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 was disadvantageous to him or no, may admit of dispute ; for, though the knowledge of them might have made him more corre&t, yet it is not improbable, but the regularity and deference for them which would have attended that correaners, might have restrained

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