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in the most agreeable manner that it was poffible for a mafter of the English language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving fchool, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propofed to him; and in order to fettle 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, faid to have been a fubftantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of fettlement he continued for fome 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 feemed at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occafion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, fome that made a frequent practice of deerftealing, engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he was profecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, fomewhat too feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the firft effay of his poetry, be loft, yet it is faid to have been fo very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and fhelter himfelf in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid to have made his firft acquaintance in the play houfe. He was received into the company then in being, at firft, in a very mean rank, but
his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the ftage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an execllent writer. His name is printed as the custom was in thofe times, amongst thofe of the other players, before fome old plays, but without any particular account of what fort of parts he used to play; and though I have inquired, 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. Ifhould have been much more pleased, 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 fee and know what was the first effay of a fancy like Shakspeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leaft perfect writings; art had fo little, and nature so 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 moft fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the beft. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loofe 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 conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the firft fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paffages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handfomely turned to the earl of Effex, fhows 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 the Eighth, is a proof of that play's being written after the acceffion to 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 diverfions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to fee a genius arife amongst them of fo pleafurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Befides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a moft agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations 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 princefs plainly, whom he intends by
a fair vestal, throned by the west.
A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.
and that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was fo well pleased with that admirable character of Falftaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor. How well fhe was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to obferve, that this part of Falftaff is faid to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle: fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falstaff. The prefent offence was
indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat to blame in his fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falftaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of diftinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace foever 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 hiftories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Effex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one inftance fo fingular in the magnifi cence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I fhould not have ventured to have inferted; 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 almoft equal to that profufe generofity the prefent age has fhown 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 tafte of merit, and could diftinguifh men, had generally a juít value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good.nature must 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 knowledge and polite learning to admire him,
His acquaintance with Ben Jonfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Jonfon, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the perfons into whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him firft to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at the fame 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 judgment of a great man upon this occafion was, I think, very juft and proper. In a converfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonfon, Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonfon with fome warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewife not ftolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhews fomething upon the fame fubje&t at least as well written by Shakspeare.
The latter part of his life was fpent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eftate equal to