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THE

LIFE

OF

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.

SECTION I.

OF all the accounts of literary men which have been given to the world, the history of the life of Shakspeare would be the most curious and in

Before we proceed further, it may be proper to ascertain the orthography of our poet's name. That the pronunciation of his own time was Shakspeare, is proved decisively, by illiterate persons, who spelt by the ear, writing the name either Shaxspere, or Shackspere; of which, instances from authentick documents will be given hereafter: and that he himself wrote his name without the middle e, appears from his autograph, of which a fac-simile will be found in a subsequent page. With respect to the last syllable of his name, the people of Stratford appear to have generally written the name Shakspere, or Shackspere: and I have now great doubts whether he did not frequently write the final syllable so himself; for I suspect that what was formerly supposed to be the letter a over his autograph above-mentioned, was only a coarse and broad mark of a contraction; and in the signatures of his name subscribed to his will (as a very ingenious anonymous correspondent observes to me), certainly the letter a is not to be found in the second syllable. It should be remembered, that in all words where per occurred, in old English VOL. II.

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structive, if we were acquainted with the minute circumstances of his fortunes, the course and extent of

writing, this contraction () was generally substituted. The true origin, I believe, of his countrymen thus spelling the latter part of his name, was this: instead of speare (hasta) following the sound, they constantly wrote spere; and hence the name of Sperepoynt, another family in Stratford, was thus exhibited. Mr. Richard Quiney, and many of the Stratfordians, in consequence of this being the common mode of spelling the word spear or speare, and of being used to the contraction above-mentioned, frequently wrote our poet's name thus: Mr. Shaksp.; and in some of the writings of the borough, I have found the name written at length Shaksper, which was probably the vulgar pronunciation. But as spere was a mispelling of the word speare, from the cause already assigned; and as it is not so properly old spelling, as false spelling; in my opinion it ought not to be adopted in exhibiting our author's name at this day; and therefore I write Shakspeare, and not Shakspere. Mr. Thomas Greene, a solicitor in Chancery, a contemporary and relation of our author, followed the orthography which we now adopt, as will be seen hereafter.

The various modes in which our poet's name has been exhibited, have been the subject of much disquisition; but those who are conversant with the laxity of ancient orthography, must have met with so many instances of the same kind, that this variance can be no novelty to them. "The same surname (says Fuller, in his English Worthies, p. 51), hath been variously altered in writing: first, because time teacheth new orthography, altering spelling, as well as speaking: secondly, the best gentlemen anciently were not the best scholars; and, minding matters of more moment, were somewhat too incurious in their names. Besides, writers engrossing deeds were not over-critical in spelling of names, knowing well where the person appeared the same, the simplicity of that age would not fall out about misnomer. Lastly, ancient families have been often removed into several counties, where several writings follow the several pronunciations." So variously was the name of Percy written, that the learned and ingenious Bishop of Dromore has, I think, enumerated above twenty different ancient modes of spelling that name. The name of Villiers, Fuller observes, was spelt fourteen different ways: and

his studies, and the means and gradations whereby he acquired that consummate knowledge of mankind, which, for two centuries, has rendered him the delight and boast of his countrymen: but many of the mate

in the spelling of the name of Gascoygne, Thoresby and Oldys have exhibited twenty-one variations. Sir Walter Ralegh has written his name in a book in the Bodleian Library, as I now have done; yet his contemporaries much more frequently wrote Rawleigh, or Raleigh, or Rawley; nor was he himself, I believe, uniform in his practice. Mr. Abraham Sturley, an alderman of Stratford, with whom the reader will be better acquainted here. after, as often wrote his name Strelley as Sturley: and the name of our poet's son-in-law was written Hawle, Halle, Haule, and Hall; in the first and the last of these ways he himself wrote it at different periods of his life. A similar variance is to be found in the names of Burghley, which is exhibited in four or five different ways; of Habington the historian (frequently written and printed Abington), Massinger and Dekker the poets, and many others. Edward Alleyn, the player, wrote his name sometimes Allin, sometimes Allen, and at others Aleyn or Alleyn. The names of Heminges and Condell, our poet's fellow comedians, are written differently in the very volume which they themselves published. And lastly, to come nearer to our own time, instead of John Dryden, the name to which we are now familiarized, we have before the second edition of his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, and also in an advertisement in the London Gazette, N 1, John Dreyden; and in the last page this name was also writte Driden and Dreydon.

Fuller, writing on this subject, concludes like a tru、 antiquary: "However such diversity appeareth in the eye of others, I dare profess that I am delighted with the prospect thereof." Though I fear my readers may not have so much enthusiasm (as I "dare profess" I have not), yet I trust they will pardon the length of this disquisition, which perhaps nothing but the name of Shakspeare could justify. Under the protection of that seven-fold shield an editor may set criticks and cavillers at defiance.

ὑπ' Αιαντος σακεϊ Τελαμωνιάδας.

Στη δ'

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rials for such a biographical detail being now unattainable, we must content ourselves with such particulars as accident has preserved, or the most sedulous industry has been able to collect.

From Sir William Dugdale, who was born in 1605, and bred at the school of Coventry, but twenty miles from Stratford upon Avon, and whose Antiquities of Warwickshire appeared in 1656, only thirty years after the death of our poet, we might reasonably have expected some curious memorials of his illustrious countryman: but he has not given us a single particular of his private life; contenting himself with a very slight mention of him in his account of the church and tombs of Stratford upon Avon.

The next biographical printed notice that I have found, is in Fuller's Worthies, folio, 1662, in Warwickshire, p. 116; where there is a short quibbling account of our poet, furnishing very little information concerning him. In Theatrum Poetarum, which was not published till 1675 (though in the Bodleian, and other catalogues, that book is mentioned as having appeared in MDCLX, in consequence of the last two figures (xv) having, in some copies, dropped out of their place, at the press), Edward Phillips gives this character of our author:

"William Shakspeare, the glory of the English stage, whose nativity at Stratford upon Avon is the highest honour that town can boast of, from an actor of tragedies and comedies, he became a maker; and such a maker, that though some others may perhaps pretend to a more exact decorum and economy, especially in tragedy, never any expressed a more lofty and tragick height; never any represented nature

more purely to the life and where the polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleaseth with a certain wild and native elegance; and in all his writings hath an unvulgar style, as well in his Venus and Adonis, his Rape of Lucrece, and other various poems, as in his dramaticks."

I had long since observed, in the margin of my copy of this book, that the hand of Milton, who was the author's uncle, might be traced in the preface, and in the passage above quoted. The book was licensed for publication two months before the death of that poet. My late friend, Mr. Warton, has made the same observation.

Winstanley, in his Lives of the Poets, 8vo. 1687, merely transcribed Dugdale and Fuller; nor did Langbaine, in 1691, Blount, in 1694, or Gildon, in 1699, add any thing to the former meagre accounts of our poet.

That Antony Wood, who was himself a native of Oxford (but thirty-six miles from Stratford), and was born but fourteen years after the death of our author, should not have collected any anecdotes of Shakspeare, has always appeared to me extraordinary. Though Shakspeare had no direct title to a place in the Athenæ Oxonienses, that diligent antiquary could have easily found a niche for his Life, as he has done for many others, not bred at Oxford. The Life of Davenant afforded him a very fair opportunity for such an insertion.

About the year 1680, that very curious and indefatigable searcher after anecdotes relative to the

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