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opinion who shall consult it. He only requests the candour of the public so far as shall lead them to consider what he has done, rather than censure him for what might have been added to a building, of which so substantial a foundation is now laid for the first time.
A Table of the Order of Time, in which the plays of Shakspeare are supposed to have been published, is now added, according to Mr. Malone's accurate investigations.
In this state, Mr. STOCKDALE submits the present Edition of Shakspeare's Plays to the judgement of a discerning Public, wishing their patronage and encouragement no further than his well-meant endeavours merit it. Deeply impressed with gratitude, it remains for him to return his most sincere thanks for the ROYAL, Noble, and liberal patronage with which he has been supported in it, and which he trusts every effort to illustrate our great Poet of Nature will receive, whilst the partiality of the nation shall wish to secure the language in purity, and whilst the inhabitants shall continue to admire the manners of their ancestors, and the characters of nature.
Sept, 29, 1790.
MR. WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
WRITTEN BY MR. ROWE.
It seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver some account of themselves, as well as their works, to posterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any little
personal story of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, make, and features, have been the subject of critical enquiries! How trifling soever this curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described even to the very clothes he wears.-As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding bis book : and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may seem, to many, not to want a comment; yet I fancy some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and public writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family,—ten children in all,—that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarcely find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great genius, (equal, if not superior, to some of the best of theirs,) would certainly have led him to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed with his own writings: so that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that correctness, might have restrained some of that fire,
impetuosity, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakspeare: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which bis own imagination so abundantly supplied him with, than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agrecable manner that it was possible for a master of the English language to deliver them.
On his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; and, in order to settle in the world after a family manner, lie thought fit to marry while he was yet very young.–His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement lie continued for some time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of, forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up; and though it seemed at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatic poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and, amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of dcer-stealing engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and, in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said 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 stage, soon distinguished liim, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as 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 be 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 Ghost in bis own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first play he wrote*; it would, without doubt, be a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Sl speare'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 so 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 mcan, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgement; 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 judgement at the first 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 datcs. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Essex, shews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland: and his eulogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her successor king James, in the latter end of his IIenry the Eighth, is a proof of that play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two princes to the
* The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. in the 34th year of his age.
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 from amongst them of so pleasurable, 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 most agreeable 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 lier favour: it is plainly that maiden princess, whom he intends by
a fair restal, throned by the westin his Midsummer-Night's Dream: 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 show him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Wind
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 * Oldcastle : 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 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 lieutenantgéneral, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. Wbat grace soever 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 bistories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Essex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis.—There is one instance so singular in the maga nificence of this patron of Shakspeare, 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 which the present age has shewn to French dancers and Italian singers.
What particular habitudes or friendships he contracted with private mten, I have not been able to leam, more than that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could distingaish 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 persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and supercia Bously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Sbakspeare luckily cast his cye 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 public. Jonson was certainly
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.