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the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particular account of what sort of parts he used to play; and though I have enquired, 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 should have been much more pleased, to have learned from some 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 see and know what was the first eslay of a fancy like Shakespeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings; art had so little, and nature fo large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant, as to be independent on the. rule and government of judgment; but that what he thought, was commonly so 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 firit sight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Effex, fhews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland : and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her successor king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Eight),
? The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1590, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age.
is a proof of that play's being written after the accession of 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 diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to see a genius arise amongst them of so plealurable, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a molt agrecable companion ; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conversations 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 princeis plainly, whom he intends
A fair vestal, throned by the west.
- Midsummer-Night's Dreas.
And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of 2 Oldcelle; some of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present
2 See the Epilogue to Hexry the Fourth.
offence offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished 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 histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Eflex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, 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 almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shewn to French dancers and Italian singers.
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 distinguish men, had generally a just 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 Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Jonson, 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 whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelesly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespeare ; though at the same 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 just and proper. In a conversation be. tween Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben
Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakespeare had not read the ancients, be bad likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if be would produce any one topick finely treated by any of them, be would undertake to fhew something upon the same fubjet at least as well written by Shakespeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good senfe will with theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe,
s. wish; and.qual to hie's had the co
an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened, that in a pleafant conver fation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare in a laughing manner, that he fanciect he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be fail of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakespeare gave him these four verses.
Ten in the hundred. lies here engrav'd,
ÓL! 'ob! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe. But the sharpness of the satire is faid to have ftung the man fo severely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 534 year of his age, and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument, as engraved in the plate, is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone una
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
And curst be be that moves my bones. He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married ; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she lnd three sons, who all died: without children, and Sufannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She lefe one child only, a daughter, who was married first to Thomas Nalli, esq; and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewise without issue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family : the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has