Page images

his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is faid to have spent fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleafureable wit and goodnature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a ftory almost ftill 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 pleafant conversation amongst their common friends, 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 fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defired it might be done immediately; upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses:

"TEN IN THE HUNDRED lies here ingrav'd;

"Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd: "If any man ask, Who lies in this tomb? “Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe." But the sharpness of the fatire is faid to have ftung the man fo feverely, 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 is placed in the wall. On his grave-ftone underneath is, "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear "To dig the dust inclosed here.

"Blest be the man that spares these stones,
"And curst be he 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 Sufanna, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a phyfician of good re

putation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married firft to Thomas Nafhe, Efq. and afterwards to Sir John Barnard of Abington, but died likewise without issue.

This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is beft feen in his writings. But fince Ben Jonfon has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Difcoveries, I will give it in his words:

"I remember the players have often mentioned "it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in writing "(whatfoever he penned) he never blotted out a "line. My anfwer hath been, Would he had blotted

[ocr errors]

a thoufand! which they thought a malevolent "fpeech. I had not told pofterity this, but for "their ignorance, who chose that circumftance to "commend their friend by, wherein he most fault"ed: and to justify mine own candour, for I loved "the man, and do honour his memory, on this "fide idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, "honeft, and of an open and free nature, had an "excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expref"fions: wherein he flowed with that facility, that "fometimes it was neceffary he should be stopped: "Sufflaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid of Haterius. "His wit was in his own power; would the rule "of it had been fo too. Many times he fell into "thofe things which could not efcape laughter; as "when he faid in the perfon of Cæfar, one fpeak❝ing to him,

"Cæsar thou dost me wrong.

"He replied:

"Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause." "and fuch like, which were ridiculous. But he "redeemed his vices with his virtues: there was

"ever more in him to be praised than to be par "doned."

As for the paffage which he mentions out of Shakspeare, there is fomewhat like it in Julius Cafar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonfon.

Befides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have never feen, and know nothing of. He writ likewife Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in ftanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonfon, there is a good deal true in it : but I believe it may be as well expreffed by what Horace fays of the firft Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed tranflated them,) in his epistle to Augustus:

[ocr errors][merged small]

"Nam spirat tragicum satis, et feliciter audet,
"Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram."

As I have not propofed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticifm upon Shakspeare's works, fo I will only take the liberty, with all due fubmiffion to the judgment of others, to obferve fome of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.

His plays are properly to be diftinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called hiftories, and even fome of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become fo agreeable to the English tafte, that though the feverer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences feem to be better

pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windfor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy; the reft, however they are called, have fomething of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then ftrike at all ranks of people, as the fatire of the prefent age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleafing and a well-diftinguifhed variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falftaff is allowed by every body to be a mafterpiece; the character is always well fuftained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, though 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, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in fhort every way vicious, yet he has given him fo much wit as to make him almoft too agreeable; and I do not know whether fome people have not, in remembrance of the diverfion he had formerly afforded them, been forry to fee his friend Hal use him fo fcurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagan cies, in The Merry Wives of Windfor he has made him a deer-stealer, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire profecutor, under the name of Juftice Shallow; he has given him very near the fame coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, defcribes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parfon defcant very


pleafantly upon them. That whole play is admir able; the humours are various and well oppofed; the main defign, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealoufy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth-Night there is fomething fingularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantaftical steward Malvolio. The parafite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's Well that Ends Well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The converfation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rofalind, in As you like it, have much wit and fprightlinefs all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe, Therfites in Troilus and Creffida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be mafter-pieces of illnature, and fatirical fnarling. To thefe I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice; but though we have feen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian, yet I cannot but think it was defigned tragically by the author. There appears in it fuch a deadly fpirit of revenge, fuch a favage fiercenefs and fellnefs, and fuch a bloody defignation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the ftile or characters of comedy. The play itself, take it altogether, feems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakspeare's. The tale indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond given by Antonio, is too much removed from the rules of probability; but taking the fact for granted, we muft allow it to be very beautifully written. There is fomething.

« PreviousContinue »