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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 firit essay of his Poetry, be loft, yet it is said to have been fo 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, foon 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 enquir'd, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his Per, formance 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 a; 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 lealt 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 fo great, so justly and rightly conceiv'd in it felf, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approy'd by an impartial judgment at the first sight. 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 at the end of the fourth Act of Henry V. by a compliment very handsomely turn’d to the Earl of. Esex, lhews the Play to have been written when that Lord was General for the Queen in Ireland: And his Elogy upon Queen Elizabeth, and her fucceffor King James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII. is a proof of that Play's being written after the acceffion of the latter of those two Princes to the crown of England,

What

(a) The bigheft date of any I can get find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the Author was 33 years old; and Richard the 2d, and 34, in the next year, viz. the 3456 of his age.

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; to 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

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4 fair Veftal, Throned by the Weft.

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 pleasd with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two 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 obey'd, the Play it self is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falftaf is said to have been written originally under the name of a Oldcastle; fone of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleas'd to command him

to alter it; upon which he made use of Falfaff: 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 Lieutenant general,

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 confer'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 Efex. 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 Shakespear's, that if I had not been affur’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 (a) See the Epilogue to Henry 4th.

i

him.

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 diftinguish 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 cblig'd the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire

His acquaintance with Ben Johnson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Johnson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offer'd one of hisPlays to the Players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turn’d it carelesy and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an illnatur'd answer, that it would be of no service to their Company; when Shakespear luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it as to engage him firit to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Johnson and his writings to the publick. Johnson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespear; tho' at the same time I believe it must be allow'd, that what Nature gave the latter, was more than a balance for what Books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben Johnson; Sir John Suckling, who was a profess’d admirer of Shakespear, had undertaken his defence againit Ben Johnson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat Itill for some time, told 'em, That if Mr. Shakespear had not read the Ancients, he had likewise not folen any thing from 'em; and that if he would produce any one Topick finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to fbew something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakespear.

The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will with theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather 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 pleasurable wit, and good-nature, engag‘d him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remember'd in that VOL. I.

b.

country, a thousand! which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not “ told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that cir

country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: It happend that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespear in a laughing manner, that he fancy'd he intended to write his Epitaph, if he happend to out-live him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desir’d it might be done immediately: Upon which Shakespear gave him these four verses.

Ten in the hundred lyes here ingrav'd,
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd:
If any man ask, who lyes in this tomb?

Ob!'ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a. Combe. But the sharpness of the Satire is said to have ftung the man so leverely, that he never forgave it.

He dy'd in the 53d year of his age, and was bury'd on the north side of the chancel, in the great Church at Stratford, where a monument, as engrav'd in the plate, is plac'd in the wall. On his Grave-stone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust inclosed here.
Bleft be the man that spares these stones,
And curft be he that

Moves my

bones. He had three daughters, of which two liv'd to be marry’d; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three Sons, who all died without children; and Susannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was marry'd first to Thomas Nash, Esq; and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but dy'd likewise without issue.

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 Johnson 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 mention’d it as an honour “ to Shakespear, that in writing (whatsoever he penn'd) he never “ blotted out a line. My answer hath been, Would he had blotted was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature, had an ex« cellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein « he flow'd with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he « should be stopp'd : Suffiaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid 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 escape laughter; as when he faid in the person of Cæfar, one “ fpeaking to him,

cumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted : “ and to justifie mine own candour, for I lov'd the man, and do “ honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any.) He

6 Cæsar thou doft me wrong.

“ He reply'd:

“ Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause.

“ and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeem'd his “ vices with his virtues: There was ever more in him to be prais'd « than to be pardon'd.

As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakespear, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Johnson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcrib'd to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanza's, which have been printed in a late colle&tion of Poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Johnfon, there is a good deal true in it: But I believe it may be as well express’d by what Horace fays of the first Romans, who wrote Tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated 'em) in his epistle to Auguftus.

Naturâ fublimis & acer,
Nam fpirat Tragicum satis & feliciter Audet,

Sed turpem putat in Chartis metuitque Lituram. As I have not propos’d to my self to enter into a large and compleat collection upon Shakespear's Works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgments of others, to obferve some of those things I have been pleas'd with in looking him over.

His Plays are properly to be distinguish'd only into Comedies and Tragedies. Those which are call’d Histories, and even some of his Comedies, are really Tragedies, with a run or mixture of Comedy amongst 'em. That way of Tragi-comedy was the common mil, take of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the Engülh b 2

taste,

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