Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in fome 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 Essex, shew's the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Ilizabeth, and her successor king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Lighti, is a proof of that play's being written after the acccflion 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, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good. qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princess plainly, whoin he intends by

A fair vista!, throned by the west. :

Midsummer. Night's Dream. And that whole passage 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 Paris of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to thew him in love. This is faid to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of * Oldiafile; some of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made ule 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, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant

* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.

general, 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 soever the queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendthip 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 so 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 Southampton 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 singers.

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 distinguilh men, had generally a just value and esteem 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 knowledge 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 having turned it carelesly and superciliously 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. Jonson 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 fora mer; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, rory jult and proper. In a conversation be. (M 2]

tween

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

tween Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endy-
mion 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, That if Mr. Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had
likewise not fiolen any thing from them; and that if he would pro.
duce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would under-
take to Mew something upon the same subject at leajt as well writ-
ten by Shakespeare.
. The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good
sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the
conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to ga.
ther an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his
wish; 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 still 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 amongit their com-
mon 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 these four verses.

Ten in the hundred lies here engravid,
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not favd:
If any man ask, who lies in this tomb ?
Ob! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe *.

* The Rev. Francis Peck, in his Memoirs of the Life and Pou etical Works of Mr. John Milton, 4t0, 1740, p. 223. has intro. duced another epitaph imputed (on what authority is unknown) to Shakespeare. It is on Tom a Combe, alias Tbin-board, brother to this John, who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe.

" Thin in beard, and thick in purse;
“ Never man beloved worse ;
" He went to the grave with many a curle:
« The devil and he had both one nurse." STEEVENS.

But

But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man ío severely, that he never forgave it.

He died in the 53d year of his age *, and was buried on the north fide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument, as engraved in the plate, is place ed in the wail. On his grave-stone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jesus' fake forbear
To dig the dust inclosed here.
Bleft be the man that spares these fones,
And curft be be that moves my bones.

He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom The had three fons, who all died without children; and Susannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a phyfician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married first to Thomas Nash, esq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewise without iffue.

This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words:

" I remember the players have often mentioned it as an “ honour to Shakespeare, that in writing (whatsoever he ~ penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath

been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought

a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but « for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to com“ mend their friend by, wherein he most faulted: and to « justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do “ honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as “ any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free “ nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gen“ tle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that “ sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped: Suffiau minandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was " in his own power, would the rule of it had been so too. " Many times he fell into those things which could not es

• He died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly compleated his fifty-second year.

MALONE. (M 3]

" cape “ cape laughter; as when he said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him,

" Cafar thou doft me wrong. “ He replied:

« C«far did never wrong, but with just cause. « And such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed « his vices with his virtues: there was ever more in him to « be praised than to be pardoned.” .

As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakespeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cesar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucreci, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal in it: but I believe it may be as well expresied by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models (or indeed translated them) in his epistle to Augustus.

-Naturâ fublimis & acer,
Nam fpirat tragicum fatis & feliciter audet,
Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram.

As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete collection upon Shakespeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over. . · His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, ar,d even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of tragicomedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the feverer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with

an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Corne.dy of Errers, and The Taming of the Shrew, are all pure co

. .. ,: . medy;

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »