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'T seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially
of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver some account of themfelves, as well as their works, to posterity. For this reason, how fond do we fee fome people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity! their familjes, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, makė, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly fatistied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described even to the very clothes he wears.
As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may seem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickthire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fainion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had To large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own einployment.
He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of : but the narrownels of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controverly, that in his works we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an iinitation 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 belt of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themielves 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 were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute : for though the knowledge of them might have made him inore 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, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakípeare: anu i believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supplied him to abun. dantly with, than if he had given us the moit beautiful fassages out of the Greck and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was potlible for a maiter of the English language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving school, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed 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, taid to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continued for some time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up; and though it seemed at first to be a blemith upon his good manners, and a mistortune to hins, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniufis that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen i nto ill company; and amongit them, tome that made a frequent practice of deerIt ealing engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was profecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the firit etlay of his poctry, be los, yet it is faid to have been to very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his businets and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and shelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid 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 adinirable wit, and thc natural turn of it to the stage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an cxcellent writer. His name is printeil, as the custom was in thote times, amongst those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particular account of what fort 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 Ghoit in his own Hamlet. I should have been much inore pleated, 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 eftay of a fancy like Shaktpeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thote of other authors, among their leat perfect writings : art had so littie, and nature to large a fhare 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 thein, 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 to great, fo quitly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the firit fight. But though the order of time in which the leveral pieces were written be generaily uncertain, yet there are passages in fome tew of them which seem to fix their datés. So the Ciorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very haudfomely turned to the earl of Etex, shews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland : and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her fuccefior king James, in the latter end of his terry the Eig!ılı
, 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 wondefully fond of diverfions of this kind, could not but be highly pleated
* The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age.
to see a genius arise from amongst them of fo pleasurable, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Belides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a moit agreeable companion ; to that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the belt conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave hin many gracious marks of her favour : it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by
a fair veftal, throned by the west.
Midsummer-Night's Dream. And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hando fomely applied to her. She was fo well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Tivo 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 Windsor. How well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occation it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falítaff is said to have been written orginally under the name of * Uldcafile : fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleated 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, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-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 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. There is one instance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare'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 thould 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 profufe 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 talte of merit, and could diitinguish men, had generally a juft value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature muit 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. Jonton, who was at that time altogether unknown to the worid, had ottered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted ; and the perlons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and supercilivully over, were juít upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it wvaid be of no service to their company; when Shaklpeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonton was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; 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 judg. ment of a great man upon this occafion was, I think, very just and proper: con erfatioa between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Por
* Sce the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.
ter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson ; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffeu admirer of Shaktpeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had fat itill for fome time, told them, That if Mr. Shakipeare had not read the ancients, be had likewise not stolen any thing from them ; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of ibern, he would undertake to faecu something upon the same fiebject at least as well written by ShakSpeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will with theirs may be, in cale, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eitate equal to his occalion, and, in that, to his with ; and is faid 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 friendfhip, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intiinacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and uiury: it happened that, in a plealant convertition amongit their common iriends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and lince he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he delired it might be done immediately : upon which Shakipeare gave him there four verses :
Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd,
Oh! ob! quoth tbe devil, 'tis my Fobn-a-Combe *. But the sharpness of the fatire is said to have ftung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age t, and was buried on the north-lide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
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 she had three sons, who all died without children; and Susannan, who was his favourite, so Dr. John Hail, a plıyfician of good reputation in that country.
She left one child only, a daughter, who was married firit to Thomas Nath, esq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewile without illue.
· This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family : the character of the man is built teen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Dilioveries, I will give it in his words :
" I remember the players have otten mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, “ that in writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer “ hath been, Would he had blotter a thousand! which they thought a malevolent
* The Rev. Francis Pock, in his Menors of the Life and Poetical l'orks of Mr. John Milton, glo. 1740, p. 223. has introduced another epitapo imputed on what authority is unknown) to Shak1pcare. It is on d'um-u-Combe, alias Thin-teaid, brother to this John who is mentioncd by Mr. Rowe.
-Thin in beard, and thick in purse ;
Vrver man beioved wole;
* The devil and he had both one nurse." + Mr Malone says, that he died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completed his' fifty-lecond year.
• speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that s circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted : and to jus“ tify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this “ lide idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free
nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions ; wherein “ he Howed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary. he should be stop“ ped: Suffiaminandus erat, as Augustus faid of Hatcrius. 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 escape laughter; as when he said in the perfon of Cæfar, one s speaking to him,
“ Cafar, thou doft me wrong. “ He replied:
Casar did never wrong, but with juft canfem " and such-like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his viccs with his vir. “ tues: there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”
As for the pattage which he mentions out of Shakipeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæjar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever ineet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonton. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never feen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonton, there is a good deal in it: but I believe it
be as well exprefled by what Horace says of the fire Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models (or indeed tranilated them), in his epistle to Auguftus.
-Natură sublimis & acer,
Sed turpem putat in chartis meiuitque lituram.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, and even fome of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy ainongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common miltake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taite, that though the severer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of cur audiences leem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wishes of Windjir, The Comedy of Errors, and I he 7 aming of the Shrew, are all pure comedy ; the reit
, however they are called, have fomething of both kinds. It is not very eary to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and tho' they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the fatire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-uttinguiihed variety in chole characters which he thought fit to meddie with. Faistaii is allowed by every Lody to be a master-piece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landiady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, thongh it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardiy, vain-glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him to much wit as to make hiin almost too agrecable; and I do not know whether tome people have not, in remembrance of the divertion he had formerly