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there, and are mention'd as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large ar family, ten children in all, that tho' he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, 'tis true, for some time at a Free-school, where 'tis probable he acquir'd that little Latin he was master of: But the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forc'd his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversie, that he had no knowledge of the writings of the antient poets, not only from this reason, but from his works themselves, where we find no traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of 'em ; the delicacy
of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great 1 Genius, equal, if not superior to some of the best of
theirs, would certainly have led him to read and study 'em with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own writings; so that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read 'em. Whether his ignorance of the Antients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: For tho' the knowledge of 'em 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 restrain'd some of that fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance which we admire in Shakespear; And I believe we are better pleas'd with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supply'd him so abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was possible for a master of the English language to deliver 'em. Some Latin without question he did know, and one may see up and down in his Plays how far his reading that way went : In Love's Labour lost, the Pedant comes out with a verse of Mantuan; and in Titus Andronicus, one of the Gothick princes, upon reading
Integer vitæ scelerisque purus
Non eget Mauri jaculis nec arcu— says, 'Tis a verse in Horace, but he remembers it out of his Grammar: which, I suppose, was the Author's case. Whatever Latin he had, 'tis certain he understood French, as may be observ'd from many words and sentences scatter'd up and down his Plays in that language ; and especially from one scene in Henry the Fifth written wholly in it. Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given intirely into that way of living which his father propos'd to him; and in order to settle 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 substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continu'd for some time, 'till an extravagance that he was guilty of forc'd him both out of his country and that way of living which he had taken up; and tho it seem'd at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily prov'd the occasion of exerting one of the greatest Genius's that ever was known in dramatick Poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag'd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd 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 tho’ 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 oblig'd to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the Play-house. He was receiv'd 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, soon distinguish'd him, if not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other Players, before some old Plays, but without any particular account of what sort of parts he us’d to play ; and tho' I have inquir'd, 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 pleas'd to have learn'd from some 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 Shakespear'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 share in what he did, that, for ought I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in 'em, were the best. 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 conceiv'd in it self, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approv'd by an impartial judgment at the first sight. Mr. Dryden seems to think that Pericles is one of his first Plays ; but there is no judgment to be form’d on that, since there is good reason to believe that the greatest part of that Play was not written by him ; tho' it is own'd, some part of it certainly was, particularly the last Act. But tho' the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus in the beginning of the fifth Act of Henry V. by a compliment very handsomly turn’d to the Earl of Essex, shews
the Play to have been written when that Lord was General for the Queen in Ireland: And his Elogy upon Q. Elizabeth, and her successor K. James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII. is a proof of that Play's being written after the accession 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 pleas'd to see a Genius arise amongst 'em 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-natur'd 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, whom he intends by - A fair Vestal, Throned by the West.
Midsummer Night's Dream. And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely apply'd to her. She was so well pleas'd with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one Play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well she was obey'd, the play it self is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle ; some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleas’d to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided ; but I don't 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 Lieutenantgeneral, was a name of distinguish'd merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace soever the Queen conferr'd upon him, it was not to her only he ow'd the fortune which the reputation of his 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 Essex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his Poem of Venus and Adonis, the only piece of his Poetry which he ever publish'd himself, tho' many of his Plays were surrepticiously and lamely printed in his life-time. There is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this Patron of Shakespear's, that if I had not been assur'd that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventur'd 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 Eunuchs.
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 distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and good nature must certainly have inclin'd all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit oblig'd the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him. Amongst these was the incomparable Mr. Edmond Spencer, who speaks of him in his Tears of the Muses, not only with the praises due to a good Poet, but even lamenting his absence with the tenderness of a friend. The passage is in Thalia's Complaint for the