« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
her Willy in the comick scene, has been applied to our author's quitting the stage. But Spenser himself, it is well known, quitted the stage of life in the year 1598; and, five years after this, we find Shakspeare's name among the actors in Ben Jonson's Sejanus, which first made its appearance in the year 1603. Nor surely, could he then have any thoughts of retiring, since that very year a licence under the privy-seal was granted by King James I. to him and Fletcher, Burbage, Phillippes, Hemings, Condell, &c. authorizing them to exercise the art of playing comedies, tragedies, &c. as well at their usual house called The Globe on the other side of the water, as in any other parts of the kingdom, during his majesty's pleasure (a copy of which licence is preserved in Rymer's Federa). Again, it is certain, that Shakspeare did not exhibit his Macbeth till after the Union was brought about, and till after King James I. had begun to touch for the evil: for it is plain, he has inserted compliments on both those accounts, upon his royal master in that tragedy. Nor, indeed, could the number of the dramatick pieces, he produced, admit of his retiring near so early as that period. So that what Spenser there says, if it relate at all to Shakspeare, must hint at some occasional recess he made for a time upon a disgust taken or the Willy, there mentioned, must relate to some other favourite poet. I believe, we may safely determine, that he had not quitted in the year 1610. For, in his Tempest, our author makes mention of the Bermuda islands, which were unknown to the English, till, in 1609, Sir John Summers made a voyage to North-America, and discovered them, and afterwards invited some of his countrymen to settle a plantation there. That he
became the private gentleman at least three years before his decease, is pretty obvious from another circumstance: I mean, from that remarkable and well-known story, which Mr. Rowe has given us of our author's intimacy with Mr. John Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury; and upon whom Shakspeare made the following facetious epitaph:
"Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,
""Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd;
This sarcastical piece of wit was, at the gentle, man's own request, thrown out extemporally in his company. And this Mr. John Combe I take to be the same, who, by Dugdale in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, is said to have died in the year 1614,3 and for whom, at the upper end of the quire of the Guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford, a fair monument is erected, having a statue thereon cut in alabaster, and in a gown, with this epitaph: "Here lieth interred the body of John Combe, esq; who died the 10th of July, 1614, who bequeathed several annual charities to the parish of Stratford, and 100l. to be lent to fifteen poor tradesmen from three years to three years, changing the parties every third year, at the rate of fifty shillings per annum, the increase to be distributed to the almes-poor there."-The donation has all the air of a rich and sagacious usurer.
Shakspeare himself did not survive Mr. Combe
3 By Mr. Combe's Will, which is now in the Prerogative-office in London, Shakspeare had a legacy of five pounds bequeathed to him. The Will is without any date. REED.
long, for he died in the year 1616, the 53d of his age. He lies buried on the north side of the chancel in the great church at Stratford; where a monument, decent enough for the time, is erected to him, and placed against the wall. 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 scrowl of paper. The Latin distich, which is placed under the cushion, has been given us by Mr. Pope, or his graver, in this manner:
"INGENIO Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem, "Terra tegit, populus mæret, Olympus habet."
I confess, I do not conceive the difference between ingenio and genio in the first verse. They seem to me intirely synonymous terms; nor was the Pylian sage Nestor celebrated for his ingenuity, but for an experience and judgment owing to his long age. Dugdale, in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, has copied this distich with a distinction which Mr. Rowe has followed, and which certainly restores us the true meaning of the epitaph:
"JUDICIO Pylium, genio Socratem," &c.
In 1614, the greater part of the town of Stratford was consumed by fire; but our Shakspeare's house, among some others, escaped the flames. This house was first built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighbourhood, who took their name from the manor of Clopton. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and Lord-Mayor in the reign of King Henry VII. To this gentle
man the town of Stratford is indebted for the fine stone bridge, consisting of fourteen arches, which, at an extraordinary expence, he built over the Avon, together with a causeway running at the west-end thereof; as also for rebuilding the chapel adjoining to his house, and the cross-aisle in the church there. It is remarkable of him, that though he lived and died a bachelor, among the other extensive charities which he left both to the city of London and town of Stratford, he bequeathed considerable legacies for the marriage of poor maidens of good name and fame both in London and at Stratford. Notwithstanding which large donations in his life, and bequests at his death, as he had purchased the manor of Clopton, and all the estate of the family; so he left the same again to his elder brother's son with a very great addition: (a proof how well beneficence and economy may walk hand in hand in wise families): good part of which estate is yet in the possession of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally descended from the elder brother of the first Sir Hugh, who particularly bequeathed to his nephew, by his will, his house, by the name of his Great House in Stratford.
The estate had now been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the purchaser; who, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New-Place, which the mansion-house, since erected upon the same spot, at this day retains. The house and lands, which attended it, continued in Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the Restoration; when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family, and the mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. To the favour of this
worthy gentleman I owe the knowledge of one particular, in honour of our poet's once dwellinghouse, of which, I presume, Mr. Rowe never was apprized. When the civil war raged in England, and King Charles the First's queen was driven by the necessity of affairs to make a recess in Warwickshire, she kept her court for three weeks in New-Place. We may reasonably suppose it then the best private house in the town; and her majesty preferred it to the college, which was in the possession of the Combe family, who did not so strongly favour the king's party.
How much our author employed himself in poetry, after his retirement from the stage, does not so evidently appear: very few posthumous sketches of his pen have been recovered to ascertain that point. We have been told, indeed, in print, but not till very lately, that two large chests full of this great man's loose papers and manuscripts, in the hands of an ignorant baker of Warwick, (who married one of the descendants from our Shakspeare,) were carelessly scattered and thrown about as garret lumber and litter, to the particular knowledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consumed in the general fire and destruction of that town. I cannot help being a little apt to distrust the authority of this tradition, because his wife survived him seven years; and, as his favourite daughter Susanna survived her twenty-six years, it is very improbable they should suffer such a treasure to be removed, and translated into a remoter branch of the family, without a scrutiny first made into the value of it.
* See an answer to Mr. Pope's Preface to Shakspeare, by a Strolling Player, 8vo. 1729, p. 45. REED.