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more must we be charmed with the richness and variety of his images and ideas! If his images and ideas fteal into our fouls, and ftrike upon our fancy, how much are they improved in price when we come to reflect with what propriety and juftness they are applied to character! If we look into his characters, and how they are furnished and proportioned to the employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the mastery of his portraits! What draughts of nature! What variety of originals, and how differing each from the other! How are they dreffed from the ftores of his own luxurious imagination; without being the apes of mode, or borrowing from any foreign wardrobe! Each of them are the standards of fashion for themfelves like gentlemen that are above the direction of their tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of imitation. If other poets draw more than one fool or coxcomb, there is the fame refemblance in them, as in that painter's draughts who was happy only at forming a rofe; you find them all younger brothers of the fame family, and all of them have a pretence to give the fame crest: but Shakspeare's clowns and fops come all of a different houfe; they are no farther allied to one another than as man to man, members of the fame fpecies; but as different in features and lineaments of character, as we are from one another in face or complexion. But I am unawares launching into his character as a writer, before I have faid what I intended of him as a private member of the republick.
Mr. Rowe has very juftly obferved, that people are fond of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity; and that the common accidents of their lives naturally become the fub
ject of our critical enquiries: that however trifling fuch a curiofity at the first view may appear, yet, as for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may, perhaps, fometimes conduce to the better understanding his works; and, indeed, this author's works, from the bad treatment he has met with from copyifts and editors, have fo long wanted a comment, that one would zealously embrace every method of information that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have fo long lain overwhelmed.
'Tis certain, that if we have firft admired the man in his writings, his cafe is fo circumftanced, that we must naturally admire the writings in the man that if we go back to take a view of his education, and the employment in life which fortune had cut out for him, we fhall retain the ftronger ideas of his extenfive genius.
His father, we are told, was a confiderable dealer in wool; but having no fewer than ten children, of whom our Shakspeare was the eldest, the best education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own business and employment. I cannot affirm with any certainty how long his father lived; but I take him to be the fame Mr. John Shakspeare who was living in the year 1599, and who then, in honour of his fon, took out an extract of his family arms. from the herald's office; by which it appears, that he had been officer and bailiff of Stratford-uponAvon, in Warwickshire; and that he enjoyed fome hereditary lands and tenements, the reward of his great grandfather's faithful and approved fervice to King Henry VII.
Be this as it will, our Shakspeare, it fees, was
bred for fome time at a free-school; the very freeschool, I prefume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: but that his father being obliged, through narrownefs of circumstances, to withdraw him too foon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any proficiency in the dead languages; a point that will deserve some little difcuffion in the fequel of this differtation.
How long he continued in his father's way of business, either as an affiftant to him, or on his own proper account, no notices are left to inform us: nor have I been able to learn precisely at what period of life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his acquaintance with London and the stage.
In order to fettle in the world after a familymanner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did fo for by the monument in Stratford church, erected to the memory of his daughter Sufanna, the wife of John Hall, gentleman, it appears, that she died on the 2d of July, in the year 1649, aged 66. So that he was born in 1583, when her father could not be full 19 years old; who was himself born in the year 1564. Nor was the his eldest child, for he had another daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakfpeare must have entered into wedlock by that time he was turned of seventeen years.
Whether the force of inclination merely, or fome concurring circumftances of convenience in the match, prompted him to marry fo early, is not
2 See the extracts from the register-book of the parish of Stratford, in a preceding page. STEEVENS.
eafy to be determined at this distance; but, it is probable, a view of interest might partly fway his conduct in this point: for he married the daughter of one Hathaway, a fubftantial yeoman in his neighbourhood, and the had the ftart of him in age no less than eight years. She furvived him notwithstanding feven feasons, and died that very year the players publifhed the firft edition of his works in folio, anno Dom. 1623, at the age of 67 years, as we likewife learn from her monument in Stratford church.
How long he continued in this kind of fettlement, upon his own native spot, is not more easily to be determined. But if the tradition be true, of that extravagance which forced him both to quit his country and way of living, to wit, his being engaged with a knot of young deer-stealers, to rob the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford, the enterprize favours fo much of youth and levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full man. Befides, confidering he has left us fix-and-thirty plays at least, avowed to be genuine ; and confidering too that he had retired from the ftage, to spend the latter part of his days at his own native Stratford; the interval of time neceffarily required for the finishing fo many dramatick pieces, obliges us to fuppofe he threw himfelf very early upon the play-house. And as he could, probably, contract no acquaintance with the drama, while he was driving on the affair of wool at home; fome time must be loft, even after he had commenced player, before he could attain knowledge enough in the fcience to qualify himself for turning author.
It has been obferved by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other extravagancies, which our author has given
to his Sir John Falftaff in The Merry Wives of Windfor, he has made him a deer-ftealer; and, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice 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. There are two coats, I obferve, in Dugdale, where three filver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat, to the monument of Thomas Lucy, fon of Sir William Lucy, in which are quartered, in four feveral divifions, twelve little fishes, three in each divifion, probably Luces. This very coat, indeed, feems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white Luces, and in Slender faying he may quarter. When I confider the exceeding candour and good-nature of our author (which 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) and that he fhould throw this humorous piece of fatire at his profecutor, at least twenty years after the provocation given; I am confidently perfuaded it must be owing to an unforgiving rancour on the profecutor's fide: and, if this was the cafe, it were pity but the difgrace of fuch an inveteracy fhould remain as a lafting reproach, and Shallow ftand as a mark of ridicule to ftigmatize his malice.
It is faid, our author spent fome years before his death in ease, retirement, and the converfation of his friends, at his native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain intelligence, when he relinquifhed the ftage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by fome, that Spenfer's Thalia, in his Tears of the Mufes, where the laments the lofs of