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Di sing Stakspeare's abode in this house, his pleasurable wit, and good nature, says Mr. Rowe, engage jim t'le ucquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighborhood. Among thein, Mr. Rowe tells a traditional story of a miser or usurer, named Combe, who, in converBatic 1 with Shakspeare, suid he fancied the poet intended to write his epitaph if he should survive him, and desired to know what he meant to say. On this Shakspeure gave him the following, probably extempore :
Ten in the hundred lies here engraved,
Oh! ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe. The sharpness of the satire is said to have stung, the man so severely, that he never forgave it These lines, however, or some which nearly resemble them, appeared in various collections, both before and after the time they were said to have been composed ; and the inquiries of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone, satisfactorily prove that the whole story is a fabrication. Betterton is said to have heard it when he visited Warwickshire on purpose to collect anecdotes of our poet, and probably thought it ct too much importance to be nicely examined. We know not whether it be worth adding on a story which we have rejected, that a usurer in Shakspeare's time did not mean one who took exorbitant, but any interest or usance for money, that ten in the hundred, or ten per cent., was then the ordinary interest of money. It is of more consequence, however, to record the opinion of Mr. Malone, that Shakspeare, during his retirement, wrote the play of Twelfth Night.
He died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April, 28, 1616, when he had exactly completed his fifty-second year, and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monnmeni is placed in the wall, on which he is represented under an arch, in a sitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left rested on a scroll of paper. The following Latin distitch is engraved under the cushion :
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arle Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus mæret Olympus habet. “The first syllable in Socratem,” says Mr. Steevens, “is here made short, which cannot be allowed. Perhaps we should read Sophoclem. Shakspeare is then appositely compared with a dramatic author among the ancients; but still it should be remembered, that the eulogium is lessened while the metre is reformed ; and it is well known, that some of our early writers of Latin poetry were uncommonly negligent in their prosody, especially in proper names. The thought of this distich, as Mr. Tollet observes, might have been taken from the Faery Queene of Spenser, B. ii, c. ix, st. 48, and c. x, st. 8.
“ To this Latin inscription on Shakspeare may be added the lines which are found underneath it OD his monument :
Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Obiit, Ano. Dni. 1616.
æt. 53, die 23 Apri. " It appears from the verses of Leonard Digges. that our anthor's monument was erected before the year 1623. It has been engraved by Vertue, and done in mezzotinto by Miller." On his grave-stone, underneath, are these lines, in an uncouth mixture of small and capital letters :
Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forbear
And curst be He moves my Bones. It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shakspeare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnel-houses"; and similar execrations are found in many ancieut Latin opitaphs.
We have no account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labors of this unrivalled and incomparable genius.
His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father's favorite, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1685, aged sixty. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, açad sixtysix. They left only one child. Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647 ; and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire ; but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married to a Mr. Thomas Quincy, and died February, 1661-62 in her seventy-seventh year. By Mr. Quincy she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. Sir Hugh Clopton, who was born two years after the death of Lady Barnard, which happened in 1669-70, related to Mr. Macklin, in 1742, an old tradition, that she had carried away with her from Stratford, many of her grandfather's papers. On the death of Sir John Barnard, Mr. Malone thinks these must have fallen into the hands of Mr. Edward Bagley, Lady Barnard's executor; and if any descendant of that gentleman be now living, in his custody they probably remain. To this account of Shakspeare's family we have
now to add, that among Oldys's papers is another traditional gossip's story of his having been the father of Sir William Davenant. Oldys's relation is thus given :
“ If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, Mr. John Davenant. (afterwards mayor of that city,) a grave melancholy man; who, as well kas his wife, used much to delight in Shakspeare's pleasant company. Their son, young Win. Davenunt, (afterwards Sir William,) was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see
The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, " he was a handsome well-shape: man;" sud adches, "verie good company, and of a verie ready, and pleasant and smooth wit."
him. One day, an old townsman, observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father Shakspeare There's a good boy, said the other, but have a care that you don't take God'8 name in vain. “This story, Mr. Pope told me at the Earl of Oxford's table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Saakspeare's monument, then newly erected in Westminster Abbey;"
This story appears to have originated with Anthony Wood, and it has been thought a presumption of its being true, that, after careful examination, Mr. Thomas Warton was inclined to believe it." Mr. Steevens, however, treats it with the utmost contempt; but does not, perhaps, argue with his usual ate tention to experience, when he brings Sir William Davenant's" heavy, vulgar, unmeaning face," as a proof that he could not be Shakspeare's son.
In the year 1741, a monument was erected to our poet in Westminster Abbey, by the direction of the Earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It was the work of Scheemaker, (who received £300 for it,) after a design of Kent, and was opened in January of that year. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performance at Drury Lane theatre amounted to above £200, but the receipts at Covent Garden did not exceed £100.
From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labors of his biognphers and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an acconnt of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, hís moral and social qnalities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history, But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can be hereafter discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those wb have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory and illustrate his writings. In the sketch we have given, it the dates of his birth and death be excepted, what is there on which the reader can depend, or for which, if he contend dagerly, he may not be involved in controversy, and perplexed with contradictory opinions and authorities 1
It is usually said that the life of an author can be little else than a history of his works ; but this opinion is liable to many exceptions. If an author, indeed, has passed his days in retirement, his lifo can afford little more variety than that of any other man who has lived in retirement; but if, as is generally the case with writers of great celebrity, he has acquired a pre-eminence over his contemporaries, if he has excited rival contentions, and defeated the attacks of criticism or of malignity, or if he has plunged into the controversies of his age, and performed the part either of a tyrant or a hero in literature, his history may be rendered as interesting as that of any other public character. But whatever weight may be allowed to this remark, the decision will not be of much consequence in the case of Shakspeare. Unfortunately, we know as little of his writings as of his personal history. The industry of his illustrators for the last thirty years has been such, as probably never was surpassed in the annals of literary investigation ; yet so far are we from information of the conclusive or satisfactory kind, that even the order in which his plays were written, rests principally on conjecture, and of somo plays usually printed among his works, it is not yet deterrnined whether he wrote the whole, or any part.
Mach of our ignorance of every thing which it would be desirable to know respecting Shakspeare's works, must be imputed to the author himself. If we look merely at the state in which he left his productions, we should be apt to conclude, either that he was insensible of their value, or that, while he was the greatest, he was at the same time the humblest writer the world ever produced _" that he thought his works nnworthy of posterity—that he levied no ideal tribute upon future times, nor had any further prospect, than that of present popularity and present profit.”And such an opinion, although it apparently partakes of the ease and looseness of conjecture, may not be far from probability. But before we allow it any higher mcrit, or attempt to decide upon the affection or neglect with which be reviewed his labors, it may be necessary to consider their precise nature, and certain circumstances in his situation which atfected them; and, above all, we must take into our account the character and predominant occupations of the times in which he lived, and of those which followed his decease.
With respect to himself, it does not appear that he printed any one of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his lifetime. The reason assigned for this is, that he wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to the managers when only an actor, reserved them in mannscript when himself a manager, and when he disposed of his property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript to prevent their being acted by the rival houses. Copies of some of them appear to have been surreptitiously obtained, and published in a very incorrect state ; but we may suppose, that it was wiser in the author or managers to overlook this fraud, than publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear, therefore, that any publication of his plays by himself would have interferred, at first with his own interest, and afterwards with the interest of ihose to whom he had made over his share in them. But even had this obstacle been removed, we are not sure that be would have gained much by publication. If he had no other copies but those belonging to the theatre, the business of correction for the press must have been a toil which we are afraid the taste of the public at that time would have poorly rewarded. We know not the exact portion of fame he enjoyed : it was probably the highest which dramatic genius could confer; but dramatic genius was a new excellence, and not well understood. His claims were probably not heard out of the jurisdiction of the master of the revels, certainly not beyond the metropolis. Yet such was Shakspeare's reputation, that we are told his name was put to pieces which he never wrote, and that he felt himself too confident in popular favor to undeceive the public. This was singular resolution in a man who wrote so unequally, that at this day, the test of internal evidence must be applied to his doubtful productions with the greatest caution. But still how far his character would have been elevated by an examination of his plays in the closet, in an age when the refinements of criticism were not understood, and the sympathics of taste were seldom felt, may admit of a question. “His language,” says Dr. Johnson, " not being derigned for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be if it conveyed his meaning to the audience."
Shakspeare died in 1616; and seven years afterwards appeared the first edition of his plays, published st the charges of four booksellers,-a circumstance from which Mr. Malone infers, *that no single publisher was at that time willing to risk his money on a complete collection of our author's plays." This edition was printed from the copies in the hands of his follow-managers, Heminge and Condell, which had been in a series of years freqncolly altered through convenience, caprice, or ignorance.
guils of no injury
, the greater part editions of his works were pub. be all aduitionul proof that they
Hemingu and Condell had now retired from the stage; and, wit, and good naere mzar suppo we have no documents arounting to demonstration, we may I usurer, namedbe conced, by adverting to a circum. to their successors, in printing what their own interest only haip, of the gentler fornier intobeld. Of this although stance, which will, in our days, appcar very extraordinary, rtite his epitaph usmelr, the declension of Shakspeare's popularity. Wo have seen that the publication of his works are gave him 28 accounted a doubtful speculation;
ed from him in quest of variety, that and it is yet more certain, that so much had the public tuste turns for several years after his death the plays of Fletcher were more fr
Eg gently acted than his, and during
d; che whole of the seventeenth century, they were made to give plac of which cannot now be endured. During the same period, only to: ombe. .ished, all in folio; and perhaps this unwieldly size of volume may were not popular; nor is it thought that the impressions were numerou werely, thaus,
These circumstances which attach to our author and to his works, must us know ea bepilatsidie weighye in accounting for our deficiences in his biography and literary career ; but there were circumstances enough in the history of the times to suspend the progress of that more regular drama of which he had set the example, and may be considered as the founder. If we wonder why we know so much less of Slukspeure than of his contemporaries, let us recollect that his genius, however highly and justly we now rate it, took a direction which was not calculated for permanent admiration, either in the age in which he lived, or in that which followed. Shakspeure was a writer of plays, a promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism; and an amusement which, although it has been classed among the schools of morality, has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral purposes, that the force of law has, in all ages, been called in to preserve it within the bounds of common decency. The Church has ever been unfriendly to the stage. a part of the injunctions of Queen Elizabeth is particularly directed against the printing of plays; and, according to an entry in the books of the Stationers' Company, in the forty-first year of her reign, it is ordered, that no plays be printed, except allowed by persons in authority. Dr. Farmer also remarks, that in that age, poetry and novels were destroyed publicly by the bishops, and privately by the puritans. The main transactions, indeed, of that period, could not admit of much attention to natters of amusement. The Reformation required all the circumspection and policy of a long reign to render it so firmly established in popular favor as to brive the caprice of any succciding sovereign. This was cffected, in a great measure, by the diffusion of religious controversy, which was encouraged by the Church, and especially by the puritans, who were the inmediute teachers of the lower classes, were listened to with veneration, and usually inveighed ugainst all public amuseinents, as inconsistent with the Christian profession. These controversies continued during the reign of James I, and were, in a considerable degree, promoted by him, although he. like Elizabeth, was a favorer of the stage, is an appendage to the grandeur and pleasures of the Court. But the commotions which followed in the unhappy reign of Charles I, wlien" the stage was totally abolished, are sufficient to account for the oblivion thrown on the history and works of our great bard. From this time. uo inquiry was made, until it was too late to obtain any information more satisfactory, thau the few hearsay scraps and contested traditions above detailed. · How little,” says Mr. Steevens, “ Shakspeare was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, wus content to receive them from D'Avenant's alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost every original beauty is either awkwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted."8
In fifty years after his death, Dryden mentions that he was then become “a little obsolete.” In the deginning of the last century, Lord Shuftesbury complains of his “ rude unpolished style, and his antiquated phrase and wit.” It is certain, that for nearly a lundred years after his death, partly owing to the immediate revolution and rebellion, and partly to the licentious taste encouraged in Charles Il's time, and perhaps partly to the incorrect state of his works, he was almost entirely neglected. Mr. Malonc has justly remarked, “ that if he had been read, admired, studied, and imitated, in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last age would havo induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private lite.”
His culmirers, however, if he had admirers in that age, possessed no portion of such enthusiasm. That curiosity, which in our days has raised biography.to the rank of an independent study, was senreely known, und where known, contined principally to the public transactions of eminent characters. And if, in addition to the circumstances already stated, we consider how little is known of the persona) history of Shakspeare's contemporaries, we may easily resolve the question, why, of all men that have ever claimed admiration by genius, wisdom, or valor, who have eminently contributed to enlarge the taste, promote the happiness, or increase the reputation of their country, we know the least of Shakspeare: and why. of the few particulars which seem entitled to credit, when simply related, and in which there is no manifest violation of probability, or promise of importance, there is scarcely one which has not swelled into a controversy. After a careful examination of all that modern research has discovered, we know not how to trust our curiosity beyond the limits of those barren dates which afford no personal history. The nature ot' Shakspeare's writings prevents that appeal to internal evidence, which in other cases has been found to throw light on character. The purity of his morals, for example, it sought in his plays, niust be measured against the licentiousness of his language, and the question will then be, how much did he write from conviction, and how much to gratify the taste of his hearers? How ninch did he add to the age, and how much did he borrow from it? Pope says, “ he was obliged w please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company;' and Pope might have said more: for although we hope it was not true, we have no means of proving that it was false.
The only lite which has been prefixed to all the editions of Shakspeare of the eighteenth century, is that drawn up by Mr. Rowe, and which he modestly calls, “Some Account," &c. In this we hapo what Rowe could collect when every legitimate source of information was closed, a few traclitions that were floating nearly a century after the author's death. Some inaccuracies in his account have been detected in the valuable notes of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone, who, in other parts of their respectiva editions, have scattered a few brief notices which we have incorporated in the prr sent sletch. The whole, however, is unsatisfactory. Shakspeare, in his private character, in his friendships, ir, his amv 50menis, in his closet, in his family, is no where before us; and such was the nature of the writings on which his fame depends, and of that employment in which he was engaged, that be:-ig ir no important respect connected with the history of his age, it is in vain to look into the latter for any iuformati ja oncerning him.
& Mr. Steevens's Advertisement to the Reader, first printed in 1773.
opinion, that he wrote some prose works, because “ it can bardiy be supposed that siderable a share in the contidence of the Earls of Essex and Southampton, could be ply of controversies in which they were so much interested.” This editor, however,
sken for granted, a degree of contidence with these two statesmen, which he ought first to follando Shakspeare might have enjoyed the confidence of their social hours; but it is mere
hey admitted him into the confidence of their state affairs. Mr. Malone, whose opirdarbinne i to a higher degree of credit, thinks that his prose compositions, if they should be fra beigald exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same clegance and \igor, which wagen plays. It is unfortunate, however, for all wishes and all conjectures, that not a line of
xiounuscript is known to exist, and his prose writings are no where hinted at. We have
opies of his plays and poems, and those so depraved by carelessness or ignorance, that all Le savon all his comnientators has not yet been able to restore them to a probable purity. Many of the greatest difficulties attending the perusal of them, yet remain, and will require, what it is scarcelý perrible to expect, greater sagacity and more happy conjecture than have hitherto been employed.
Of bis Poems, it is perhaps necessary, that some notice should be taken, although they have never ben favorites with the public, and have seldom been reprinted with his plays. Shortly after his death, Mr. Malone informs us, a very incorrect impression of them was issued out, which in every subsequent edition was implicitly followed, until he published a corrected edition in 1780 with illustrations, &c. 'But iše peremptory decision of Mr. Steevelis on the merits of these poems must be our apology for omitling them in the present abridgment of that critic's labors. We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c., » Shakspeare, because the strongest act of Parliament that could be framed would fail to compel reuders into their service. Had Shakspeare produced no other works than these, his name would have tached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonnetteer.”
The eiegant prefuce of Dr. Johnson gives an account of the attempts made in the early part of the last century to revive the memory and reputation of our poet, by Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, whose respective merits he has characterized with candor, and with singular felicity of expreviou. Shakspeare's works may be orerloaded with criticism, for what writer has excited so much curiosity, and so many opinions! but Johnson's preface is an accompaniment worthy of the genius it atlebrates. His own edition followed in 1765; and a second, in conjunction with Mr. Stoever.s, in 1773. The third edition of the joint editors appeared in 1785, the fourth in 1793, and the last and most compiee, in 1903, in twenty-one volumes octavo. Mr. Malene's edition was published in 1790, in ten volumes, crown octavo, and is now become exceedingly scarce. His original notes and improvements, however
, are incorporated in the editions of 1793 and 1803, by Mr. Steevens. Mr. Malone says, that * from the year 1716 to the date of his edition in 1790,--that is, in seventy-four years, above 30,000 & pics of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England." Among the honors paid to his genius, we paght not to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydell. Still less ought it to be forgotten how much the reputation of Shakspeare was revived by the unrivalled excellence of Garjet's performance. His share in directing the public taste towards the study of Shakspeare was, perLaps, greater than that of any individual in his time, and such was his zeal, and such bis sticcess, in thus laadable attempt, that he may reudily be forgiven the foolish mummery of the Stratford Jubilee.
When public opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined to hold, Le became the promising object of fraud and imposture. This, we have already observed, he did not s bolly escape in his own time, and he had the spirit or policy to despise it. It was reserved for modern sapastors
, however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in which his history is involved. In 1751, a book was pablished, entitled, •A Compendious or briete examination of certayne ordinary Complaints of digers of our Countrymen in those our days : which, although they are in some Parte unjust and frivolous, yet are they all by way of dialogue throughly debated and discussed by William Shakspeare, Gentleman." This had been originally published in 1581 ; but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved that .8, gent., the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare is the reprinted edition, meant William Stand, gent. Theobald, the same accurate critic informs us, wus desirious of palming upon the world & play culled “* Double Falsehood,” for a posthumons one of Shakspeare. In 1770, was reprinted ut Petersham, an old play called “The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham and Black Will," with a preface stributing it to Sbakspeare, without the smallest foundation. But these were trifles compared to the stratous attempt made in 1795-6, when, besides a vast mass of prose and verse, letters, &c., pretendbly in the handwriting of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled Votigern, was D only brought forward for the astonishment of the admirers of Shakspeare, but actually performed a Drury Lane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Seesens has very hapily characterized as " the performance of a madman without a lucid interval," or to enter more at large into the nature of a fraud so recent, and so soon acknowledged by the authors elit. Il produced, however, an interesting controversy between Mr. Malone and Mr. George Chalmers, shich, although mixed with some unpleasant asperities, was extended to inquiries into the history und u.tiquities of the stage, from which future critics and historians may derive considerable information. Mr. Malone has given a list of fourteen plays ascribed to Shakspeare, either by the editors of the two later bal, or by the compilers of ancient catalogues of these Pericles has found advocates for its admission into