« PreviousContinue »
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 deer-flealing, 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 first 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 bufinefs and family in Warwickfhire, 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 admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the ftage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in thofe times, amongst those 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 Ghoft in his own Hamlet. I fhould have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the firft 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 be ginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leaft perfect writings; art had fo little, and nature fo large a fhare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the moft vigorous, and had the most fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the beft. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy
7 There is a stage tradition, that his first office in the theatre was that of Call-boy, or prompter's attendant; whofe employment it is to give the performers notice to be ready to enter, as often as the business of the play requires their appearance on the stage. MALONE.
fancy was fo loofe and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but what he thought, was commonly fo great, fo jultly and rightly conceived in itfelf, 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 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 Fifih, by a compliment very hand fomely 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 clogy 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 of the latter of thofe 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 pleafed to fee a genius arife amongst them of io pleafurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Belides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great fweetness in his manners, and a moit agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had fever..1 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 veftal, throned by the weft.
A Midfummer-Night's Dream. and that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handfomely applied to her. She was fo well pleafed with that admirable character of Falitaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to fhow 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 Falstaff 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 Falftaff. 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 Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of diftinguifhed 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 friendfhip from the earl of Southampton, famous in the histories 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 magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the story 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 him a thousand gave 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 taste of merit, and could diftinguifh men, had generally a juft value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature muft 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;
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 anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakfpeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him firit 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. 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 againft Ben Jonfon with fome warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewife not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame Jubject at least as well written by Shakspeare.
The latter part of his life was fpent, as all men of good fense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eftate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is faid to have fpent 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 almoft 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 converfation 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
defired it might be done immediately; upon which Shakfpeare gave him these four verses:
"Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd;
'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd:
"If any man afk, Who lies in this tomb?
"Oh! ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe." But the fharpness 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 Jefus' fake forbear
"Bleft be the man that fpares thefe ftones,
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 Hail, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married first to Thomas Nafhe, efq.3 and afterwards to Sir John Barnard of Abington, but died likewife without issue.
8 In this circumftance Mr. Rowe must have been mis-informed. 'In the Register of Stratford, no mention is made of any daughter of our author's but Sufanna and Judith. He had indeed three children; the two already mentioned, and a fon, named Hamnet, of whom Mr. Rowe takes no notice. He was a twin child, born at the fame time with Judith, Hence probably the mistake. He died in the twelfth year of his age, in 1596. MALONE.
This alf) is a mistake. Judith was Shakspeare's youngest daughter, She died at Stratford-upon-Avon a few days after he had completed her feventy fventh year, and was buried there, Feb. 9, 1661-62. She was married to Mr. Quiney, who was four years younger than herself, on the 10th of February, 1615-16, and not, as Mr. West supposed, in the year 1616-17. MALONE.
2 Sufanna's hufband, Dr. John Hall, died in Nov. 1635, and is interred in the chancel of the church of Stratford near his wife. He was buried on the 26th of November. MALONE.
3 Elizabeth, our poet's grand-daughter, who appears to have been a favourite,