« AnteriorContinuar »
Grandeur, as to astonish you with the Compass and Elevation of his Thought; and others copying Nature within so narrow, so confined a Circle, as if the Author's Talent lay only at drawing in Miniature.
In how many points of Light must we be obliged to gaze at this great Poet! In how many Branches of Excellence to consider and admire him! Whether we view him on the side of Art or Nature, he ought equally to engage our Attention : Whether we respect the Force and Greatness of his Genius, the Extent of his Knowledge and Reading, the Power and Address with which he throws out and applies either Nature or Learning, there is ample scope
both for our Wonder and Pleasure. If his Diction and the cloathing of his Thoughts attract us, how much more must we be charm’d with the Richness and Variety of his Images and Ideas! If his Images and Ideas steal into our Souls, and strike upon our Fancy, how much are they improv'd in Price, when we come to reflect with what Propriety and Justness they are apply'd to Character ! If we look into his Characters, and how they are furnish'd and proportion'd to the Employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the Mastery of his Portraits ! What Draughts of Nature! What Variety of Originals, and how differing each from the other ! How are they dress'd from the Stores of his own luxurious Imagination ; without being the Apes of Mode, or borrowing from any foreign Wardrobe ! Each of them are the standards of Fashion for themselves : like Gentlemen that are above the Direction of their Tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of Imitation. If other Poets draw more than one Fool or Coxcomb, there is the same Resemblance in them as in that Painter's Draughts, who was happy only at forming a Rose : you find them all younger Brothers of · the same Family, and all of them have a Pretence to give the same Crest : But Shakespeare's Clowns and Fops come all of a different House ; they are no farther allied to one another than as Man to Man, Members of the same Species : but as different in Features and
Lineaments of Character, as we are from one another in Face or Complexion. But I am unawares lanching into his Character as a Writer, before I have said what I intended of him as a private Member of the Republick.
Mr. Rowe has very justly observ'd, that People are fond of discovering any little personal Story of the Great Men of Antiquity; and that the common Accidents of their Lives naturally become the Subject of our critical Enquiries : That however trifling such a Curiosity at the first View may appear, yet, as for what relates to Men of Letters, the Knowledge of an Author may, perhaps, sometimes conduce to the better understanding his Works : And, indeed, this Author's Works, from the bad Treatment he has met with from Copyists and Editors, have so long wanted a Comment, that one would zealously embrace every Method of Information that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have so long lain o'erwhelm'd.
'Tis certain that if we have first admir'd the Man in his Writings, his Case is so circumstanc'd that we must naturally admire the Writings in the Man : That if we go back to take a View of his Education, and the Employment in Life which Fortune had cut out for him, we shall retain the stronger Ideas of his extensive Genius.
His Father, we are told, was a considerable Dealer in Wool ; but having no fewer than ten Children, of whom our Shakespeare was the eldest, the best education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own Business and Employment. I cannot affirm with any Certainty how long his Father liv’d; but I take him to be the same Mr. John Shakespeare who was living in the Year 1599, and who then, in Honour of his Son, took out an Extract of his Family Arms from the Herald's Office; by which it appears, that he had been Officer and Bailiff of Stratford upon
Avon in Warwickshire; and that he enjoy'd some hereditary Lands and Tenements, the Reward of his Great Grandfather's faithful and approved Service to King Henry VII.
Be this as it will, our Shakespeare, it seems, was bred for some Time at a Free-School; the very FreeSchool, I presume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but that his Father being oblig'd, thro' Narrowness of Circumstance, to withdraw him too soon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any Proficiency in the Dead Languages : A Point that will deserve some little Discussion in the Sequel of this Dissertation.
How long he continued in his Father's Way of Business, either as an Assistant to him, or on his own proper Account, no Notices are left to inform us : nor have I been able to learn precisely at what Period of Life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his Acquaintance with London and the Stage.
In order to settle in the World after a Family-manner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did so : for by the Monument in Stratford Church, erected to the Memory of his Daughter Susanna, the Wife of John Hall
, Gentleman, it appears that she died on the 2d Day of July, in the Year 1649, aged 66. So that she was born in 1583, when her Father could not be full 19 Years old ; who was himself born in the Year 1564. Nor was she his eldest Child, for he had another Daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakespeare must have entred into Wedlock by that Time he was turn'd of seventeen Years.
Whether the Force of Inclination merely, or some concurring Circumstances of Convenience in the Match, prompted him to marry so early, is not easy to be determin'd at this Distance : but' 'tis probable, a View of Interest might partly sway his Conduct on this point : for he married the Daughter of one Hathaway, a substantial Yeoman in his Neighbourhood, and she had the Start of him in Age no less than eight Years. She surviv'd him, notwithstanding, seven Seasons, and dy'd that very Year in which the Players publish'd the first Edition of his works in Folio, Anno Dom. 1623, at the Age of 67 Years, as we likewise learn from her Monument in Stratford Church.
How long he continued in this kind of Settlement, upon his own Native Spot, is not more easily to be determin'd. But if the Tradition be true of that Extravagance which forc'd him both to quit his Country and Way of Living ; to wit, his being engag'd, with a Knot of young Deer-stealers, to rob the Park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot near Stratford : the Enterprize favours so much of Youth and Levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full Man. Besides, considering he has left us six and thirty Plays, at least, avow'd to be genuine ; and considering too, that he had retir'd from the Stage, to spend the latter Part of his Days at his own Native Stratford ; the Interval of Time, necessarily required for the finishing so many Dramatic Pieces, obliges us to suppose he threw himself very early upon the Playhouse. And as he could, probably, contract no Acquaintance with the Drama, while he was driving on the Affair of Wool at home; some Time must be lost, even after he had commenc'd Player, before he could attain Knowledge enough in the Science to qualify himself for turning Author.
It has been observ'd by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other Extravagancies which our Author has given to his Sir John Falstaffe, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a Deer-stealer ; and that he might at the same Time remember his Warwickshire Prosecutor, under the Name of Justice Shallow, he has given him very near the same Coat of Arms, which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that County, describes for a Family there. There are two
Coats, I observe, in Dugdale, where three Silver Fishes are borne in the Name of Lucy; and another Coat, to the Monument of Thomas Lucy, Son of Sir William Lucy, in which are quarter'd in four several Divisions twelve little Fishes, three in each Division, probably Luces. This very Coat, indeed, seems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen White Luces, and in Slender saying he may quarter. When I consider the exceeding Candour and Good-nature of our Author (which inclin'd 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); and that he should throw this humorous Piece of Satire at his Prosecutor, at least twenty Years after the Provocation given ; I am confidently persuaded it must be owing to an unforgiving Rancour on the Prosecutor's Side : and if This was the Case, it were Pity but the Disgrace of such an Inveteracy should remain as a lasting Reproach, and Shallow stand as a Mark of Ridicule to stigmatize his Malice.
It is said, our Author spent some Years before his Death, in Ease, Retirement, and the Conversation of his Friends, at his Native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain Intelligence, when he relinquish'd the Stage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by some, that Spenser's Thalia, in his Tears of the Muses, where she laments the Loss of her Willy in the Comic Scene, has been apply'd to our Author's quitting the Stage. But Spenser himself, 'tis well known, quitted the Stage of Life in the Year 1598 ; and, five Years after this, we find Shakespeare's Name among the Actors in Ben Jonson's Sejanus, which first made its Appearance in the Year 1603. Nor, surely, could he then have any Thoughts of retiring, since, that very Year, a Licence under the Privy-Seal was granted by K. James I. to him and Fletcher, Burbage, Phillippes, Hemings, Condel, &c. authorizing them to exercise the Art of playing Comedies, Tragedies, &c. as well at their usual House call'd the Globe on the other side of the Water, as in any other parts of the Kingdom, during