Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

famous in the biftories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Effex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one inftance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inferted, 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 almoft equal to that profuse generofity the prefent age has fhewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.

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 diftinguifh men, had generally a juft value and efteem 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 Jonfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Jonfon, 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 carelessly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him

[blocks in formation]

with an ill natured answer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at the fame 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 juft and proper. In a converfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonfon with fome warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewife not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame subject at least as well written by Shakspeare.

The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his with; and is faid to have fpent 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,

friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almoft ftill remembered in that country that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation among their common friends, Mr Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defired it might be done immediately; upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses :

Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd;

'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd:

If any man afk, Who lies in this tomb?

Oh! ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe.

But the fharpness of the fatire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.

He died in the 53d year of his age, and was buried on the north fide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-ftone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jesus' fake forbear
To dig the duft inclosed here.

Bleft be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney,

by

by whom he had three fons, who all died without children; and Sufanna, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a phyfician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married first to Thomas Nathe, efq. and after. wards to Sir John Barnard of Abington, but died likewife without iffue.

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 fince Ben Jonson has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words:

"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in writing (whatfoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent fpeech. I had not told pofterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that circumftance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted: and to justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this fide idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honeft, and of an open and free nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expreffions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that fometimes it was neceffary he should be stopped: Sufflaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been fo too. Many times he fell into those things which could not escape laughter; as when he faid in the perfon of Cæfar, one fpeaking to him,

[ocr errors][merged small]

Cæfar, thou doft me wrong.

He replied:

Cæfar did never wrong, but with just cause.

and fuch like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues: there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned."

As for the paffage which he mentions out of Shakfpeare, there is fomewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the abfurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have feen, as quoted by Mr. Jonfon.

Befides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in ftanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expreffed by what Horace fays of the firft Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models (or indeed translated them) in his epiftle to Auguftus:

naturâ fublimis et acer:

Nam fpirat tragicum fatis, et feliciter audet,
Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram.

As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakspeare's works, fo I will only take the liberty, with all due fubmiffion to the judgment of others, to obferve fome of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »