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have been written originally under the name of (a) Oldcastle ; fome of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleas’d to command him to alter it ; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided ; but I don't 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 Lieutenantgeneral, was a name of distinguish'd merit in the wars in France in Henry the fifth's and Henry the sixth's times. What grace soever the Queen confer'd upon him, it was not to her only he ow'd 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 Elex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his Poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance fo fingular in the magnificence of this Patron of Shakespear's, that if I had not been assur'd that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventur'd 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 me rit, and could distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and good-nature must certainly have inclin'd all the gentler
(a) See the Epilogue to Henry IVth.
part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit oblig'd the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jobnfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature ; Mr. Johnson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offer'd one of his Plays to the Players, in order to have it acted ; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turn'd it carelesly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natur'd answer, that it would be of no service to their Company ; when Shakespear 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. Johnson and his writings to the publick. Johnson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespear ; tho' at the same time I believe it must be allow'd, 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 occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben Johnfon ; Sir John Suckling, who was a profess'd admirer of Shakespear, had undertaken his defence against Ben Johnson with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had fac still for some time, told 'em, That if Mr. Shakespear bad not read the Ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from 'em ; and that if he would produce any one Topick finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to sew fomething upon the same subje&t at least as well written by Shakespear.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense 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 occa
fion, and, in that, to his wish ; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit, and good-nature, engag'd him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remember'd in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: It happen'd that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespear in a laughing manner, that he fancy'd he intended to write his Epitaph, if he happen'd to out-live him ; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desir'd it might be done immediately : Upon which Shakespear gave him these four verses.
Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,
Ob! bo! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe. But the sharpness of the Satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He dy'd in the 53d year of his age, and was bury'd on the north side of the chancel, in the great Church at Stratford, where a monument, as engravid in the plate, is plac'd in the wall. On his Grave-stone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
And curft be be that moves my bones. He had three daughters, of which two liv'd to be marry'd ; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three Sons, who all died without children ; and Susannah, who was his favourite,
to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was marry'd first to Thomas Nah, Esq; and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but dy'd 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 feen in his writings. But since Ben Jobnson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words.
“ I remember the Players have often mention'd it “ as an honour to Shakespear, that in writing (what“ foever he penn'd) he never blotted out a line. My 6 answer hath been, Would be bad blotted a thousand! “ which they thought a malevolent speech. I had “ not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who “ chose that circumstance to commend their friend “ by, wherein he most faulted: and to justifie mine “ own candour, for I lov’d the man, and do honour « his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. " He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free
nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flow'd with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be
stopp'd : Sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said of 65 Haterius. His wit was in his own power, would “the rule of it had been so too. Many times he fell « into those things which could not escape laughter; “ as when he said in the person of Cæfar, one speaking 6 to him,
« Cæsar tbou doft me wrong. “ He reply'd:
“ Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause. 66 and such like, which were ridiculous. But he re" deem'd his vices with his virtues : There was ever " more in him to be prais’d than to be pardon'd. C 3
As for the passage which he mentions out of ShakeSpear, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the absurdity ; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Johnson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascrib'd to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanza's, which have been printed in a late collection of Poems. As to the charačter given of him by Ben Johnson, there is a good deal true in it : But I believe it may be as well express’d by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote Tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated 'em) in his epistle to Augustus.
- Natura fublimis & acer,
Sed turpem putat in Chartis metuitque Lituram. As I have not propos’d to myself to enter into a large and compleat collection upon Shakespear's Works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submisfion to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleas'd with in looking him over.
His Plays are properly to be distinguish'd only into Comedies and Tragedies. Those which are called Histories, and even some of his Comedies are really Tragedies, with a run or mixture of Comedy amongit 'em. That
That way of Tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that tho' the feverer Critics among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleas’d with it than with an exact Tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Comedy of Errors, and the Taming of the Shrew, are all pure Comedy, the rest, however they are callid, have something of both kinds. 'Tis not very easy