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here that some notice should be taken of an anecdote recorded by Aubrey, who, meaning to allude to the character of Dogberry in this play, though by mistake he refers to the Midsummer-Night's Dream, says, that "the humour of the constable he (Shakspeare) happened to take at Grendon, in Bucks, which is the roade from London to Stratford, and there was living that constable about 1542, when I first came to Oxon. Mr. Jos. Howe is of that parish, and knew him. Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of men dayly, wherever they came."*
That Shakspeare was accustomed to visit Stratford annually, has been already noticed; and we learn from Antony Wood, that in performing these journeys, he used to bait at the Crown-Inn, in Oxford, which was then kept by John Davenant, the father of the poet. Antony represents Mrs. Davenant as both beautiful and accomplished, and her husband as a lover of plays, and a great admirer of Shakspeare. The frequent visits of the bard, and the charms of his landlady, appear to have given birth to some scandalous surmises; for Oldys, repeating Wood's story, adds, on the authority of Betterton and Pope, that "their son, young Will. Davenant (afterwards Sir William), was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day, an old townsman observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father Shakspeare. There's a good boy, said the other, but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain." It has also been said, that Sir William had the weakness to feel gratified by the publicity of the supposition.
It is very probable that, in 1600, Shakspeare might so time his annual visit to Stratford, as to be present at the christening of his nephew, William Hart, his sister's eldest son; who, according to the Register, was baptized on the 28th of the August of this year, and who, together with his two brothers, Thomas and Michael, is remembered in the poet's will, by a legacy of five pounds.
The subsequent year exhibits our bard in great favour at court. The Queen had been delighted with the Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, and honoured their author with a command to bring forward Falstaff in another play. Tradition says this was executed in a fortnight, and afforded Her Majesty the most entire satisfaction. The approbation and encouragement, indeed, of the two sovereigns under whose reigns he flourished, was a subject of contemporary notoriety; for Jonson, in his celebrated eulogy, thus apostrophises his departed friend:
"Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were,
To see thee in our waters yet appear:
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That Elizabeth 66 gave him many gracious marks of her favour," has been mentioned by Rowe as a matter of no doubt; and he elsewhere observes, that "what grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made;" an observation which ushers in the acknowledgment of Southampton's well-known generosity.
The pleasure arising from this tide of success must have been, in no slight degree, damped by the sorrow which a son so truly great and good, must have felt on the loss of his father. This worthy man, of whom, in the opening of our work, some account will be found, expired on the 8th of September, 1601, leaving a name immortalised by the celebrity of his offspring.
In 1602, no other trace of our author is discoverable, independent of his literary exertions, than that, on the 1st day of May, he purchased, in the town and parish of Stratford, one hundred and seven acres of land, for the sum of 3201., which lands appear to have been indissolubly connected with his former purchase of New
⚫ Bodleian Letters, vol. iii. p. 307.
+ Vide Part II. Chapter 1.
Place, and to have descended with it, until the extinction of the latter by Mr. Gastrell. *
The year following, however, brought an accession of dignity and power; for no sooner had James gotten possession of the English throne, than he granted a License to the Company at the Globe, which bears date the 19th of May, 1603, and being entitled "Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare et aliis," gives us reason to conclude, that the persons thus distinguished were, if not joint managers, at least leaders in the concern. +
It was about this period also that Shakspeare may, upon good grounds, be supposed to have taken his farewell of the stage as an actor; relinquishing this profession, of which he appears not to have been very fond, for the purpose of more closely superintending the general concerns of the theatre, of which his writings continued to be the chief support. One strong motive for this deduction has arisen from the circumstance, that his name, as a performer, is no where visible beyond the era of Jonson's Sejanus, in which play, first acted in 1603, it is found in the list of the principal comedians; while in The Fox, published only two years afterwards, performed at the same theatre, and by the same company, he is not mentioned, though the list of players is, as usual, inserted. That the term fellow, which continued to be mutually used by Shakspeare and the comedians of the Globe, cannot indicate a contrary conclusion, is evident from the language of the poet himself, who, in his will, though written three years after all connection, on his part, with the theatre had been given up, still speaks of Heminge, Burbage, and Condell as his fellows.
To nearly the same epoch we may attribute the friendly association of Shakspeare and Jonson in the celebrated club at the Mermaid, a form of society to which, from its ease and independency, Englishmen have always been peculiarly partial. The institution in question originated with Sir Walter Raleigh, and, as Mr. Gifford has well observed, speaking of Jonson's resort to it about the year 1603, “combined more talent and genius, perhaps, than ever met together before or since:here," he adds, "for many years, he (Jonson) regularly repaired with Shakspeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, and many others, whose names, even at this distant period, call up a mingled feeling of reverence and respect. Here, in the full flow and confidence of friendship, the lively and interesting wit-combats' took place between Shakspeare and our author; and hither, in probable allusion to them, Beaumont fondly lets his thoughts wander, in his letter to Jonson, from the country:
"What things have we seen,
Done at the MERMAID! heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whom they came,
For the expression "wit-combats," in this interesting passage, we must refer to Fuller, who, describing the character of the bard of Avon, says: "Many were the wit-combats between Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. I behold them like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances; Shakspeare, like the latter, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention." S
With what delight should we have hung over any well authenticated instances of these "wit-combats!" but, unfortunately, nothing, upon which we can depend, has descended to us. How much is it to be regretted that Fuller, who, no doubt, from the manner in which he has mentioned the subject, had many of these lively
*Wheler's Guide to Stratford upon Avon, ր. 18.
See this License given at length in our History of the Stage, Part II. Chapter 7.
sallies fresh in his recollection, has not been more communicative! What tradition, however, or rather, perhaps, what fabrication, has left us, of this kind, will be found in the notes. *
It would appear that Shakspeare was now rapidly accumulating property; he had purchased, we have seen, New Place in 1597, a hundred and seven acres of land in 1602, and in 1605 he became the purchaser of the lease of the moiety of the great and small tithes of Stratford, for the sum of 4401., a pretty strong proof of the success which had accompanied the exercise of his talents, both as an actor and a poet, and a complete one of his having overcome the difficulties which, for some years after his arrival in London, had so oppressively encumbered his efforts.
We may add, that he was gratified this year by the affectionate remembrance of his former associate Augustine Phillips, who, in his Will, proved on the 13th of May, 1605, gives and bequeaths to his "Fellowe Willm Shakespeare a thirty shillings piece in gould."
It was the fashion at this period among the poets, to compliment a monarch, who was peculiarly open to flattery, especially on the subject of his genealogy, and on the union of the three kingdoms in his own person; a species of panegyric in which our author had been preceded by Daniel, Drayton, and Ben Jonson, and
Were the repartees, however, of which time has deprived us, no better than those that we have now to communicate, it must be confessed, that the two bards have no great reason to complain of the loss "Shakspeare," relates Capell, was god-father to one of Ben Jonson's children, and after the christening, being in deep study. Jonson came to cheer him up; and asked him why he was so melancholy? No faith, Ben, says he, not I; but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my god-child, and I have resolved at last. I prithee what, says he? I'faith, Ben, I'll c'en give her a dozen good Latin (latten) spoons, and thou shalt translate them."--Notes on Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 94.
The second of these morceaux is, if possible, still worse than the preceding: "Mr. Ben Jonson and Mr. William Shakspeare being merrie at a tavern, Mr. Jonson begins this for his epitaph,
"Here lies Ben Jonson
he gives it to Mr. Shakspeare to make up, who presently write,
"That, while he liv'd was a slow thing,
"This stuff,” adds Mr. Gifford, "is copied from the Ashmole MS. 38. "-Gifford's Ben Jonson, vol. i. Memoirs, p. lxxx. note.
The next may be said to be rather of a "better leer."
Verses by Ben Jonson and Shakspeare, occasioned by the motto to the Globe Theatre-Totus mundus agit histrionem.
"If. but stage actors, all the world displays.
Where shall we find spectators of their plays?"
"Little, or much, of what we see, we do;
We are all both actors and spectators too."
"Poetical Characteristics, 8vo. MS. vol. i. some time in the Harleian Library; which volume was returned to its owner."
"That Shakspeare and Ben Jonson were intimate,” observes Dr. Berkenhout, “appears from the following letter, written by G. Peel, a dramatic poet, to his friend Marle :
⚫ Friend Marle,
I never longed for thy company more than last night; we were all very merrye at the Globe, when Ned Alleyn did not scruple to affyrme pleasantely to thy friend Will, that he had stolen his speeche about the qualityes of an actor's excellencye, in Hamlet bys tragedye, from conversations many fold which had passed between them, and opinyons given by Alleyn touchinge the subject. Shakspeare did not take this talke in good sorte; but Jonson put an end to the strife, wittylie remarking, This affaire needeth no contentione; you stole it from Ned, no doubt; do not marvel: have you not seen him act tymes out of number? 'G. PEEL.'
"Whence I copied this letter. I do not recollect; but I remember that at the time of transcribing it, I had no doubt of its authenticity."-Biographia Literaria, p. 399, 400. 4to. 1777.
I believe the first appearance of this letter was in the Annual Register for 1770, whence it was copied into the Biographia Britannica, and in both these works it commences in the following manner: "I must desyre that my syster hyr watche, and the cookerie book you promysed, may be sente bye the man --I never Jonged, &c." Of the four, this is the only anecdote worth preserving: but I apprehend it to be a mere forgery.
even by such grave characters as Dugdale and Wake. It was natural, therefore, for Shakspeare, who had been under some obligation to James, to express his sense of it in a similar way, and he has accordingly, through the medium of his Macbeth, which we conceive to have been performed in 1606, represented James as descended from Banquo, a character which, for this purpose, he has drawn, contrary to his historical authorities, noble and blameless. James, as Dr. Farmer thinks, was so delighted with the line which painted him as carrying "twofold balls and treble sceptres," that it was on this occasion he was induced to acknowledge the compliment by a letter to the bard from his own hand; an anecdote which seems entitled to full credit, as it originated, Oldys tells us, with Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, who had it immediately from Sir William D'Avenant, in whose hands the letter long remained.
This year has been also rendered memorable in the biography of our poet by the publication of a drama called "The Return from Parnassus," which had been acted by the students of St. John's College, Cambridge, as early as 1602. To a passage in this very curious production is to be ascribed all the idle tales which have been circulated with so much industry and avidity relative to a supposed quarrel between our author and Ben Jonson, in doing which, though the principal object has been to substantiate a charge of envy and malignancy against the latter, the mode in which the attempt is executed has been such as would, were the premises true, reflect no credit on the former. But the whole is a tissue of the most groundless and indefensible scandal, and we stand aghast at the motives which could induce such persevering hostility against the very man who, more than all others, had been the steady and professed eulogist of the poet whom these commentators sally forth to protect.
The passage, however, as equally applicable and important to both these great men, it will be necessary to transcribe. Burbage and Kempe, Shakspeare's fellow-comedians, are introduced conversing about the histrionic powers of the students of Cambridge, the latter ridiculing and the former defending their attempts, by observing, "that a little teaching will mend their faults; and it may be, besides, they will be able to pen a part;" to which Kempe, who seems here an object of irony, replies,
"Few of the university pen plays well; they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Jupiter. Why here's our fellow Shakspeare put them (the University poets) all down, ay, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakspeare has given him a purge that made him bewray his credit."+
"When an object is placed too near to the eye," observes Mr. Gilchrist, commenting on this quotation, "the vision is strained and impaired, and the object obscured or distorted: if the commentators had viewed this passage as others use,' they would have found in the numerous dramas published anterior to the above passage, the instruments by which he put Ben down; and, in their various excellence, the means by which he threw the claims of his competitor into the shade. The passage has no reference to personal animosity; it was a just testimony to the superior merit of the poet of nature,' over the writings of more learned candidates for fame;' and the well-merited compliment is very appropriately put into the mouth of Will Kempe, one of Shakspeare's fellows." +
It is remarkable, that with the exception of Rowe, who, however, soon retracted the accusation, none of the editors of, and commentators on, Shakspeare had, previous to Steevens, attempted to prove Jonson the libeller of his friend. It remained therefore for his commentators of the last half century to undertake the noble task of heaping a thousand groundless calumnies on the defenceless head of Shakspeare's dearest friend, on him whom he most admired, and by whom he was best beloved! The iteration of these charges, under every form and shape,
* Wake, in his "Rex Platonicus, sive de potentiis, principis Jacobi regis ad Acad. Oxon. adventa, anno 1605," speaking of the prophecy of the Weird Sisters, says, "Vaticinii veritatem rerum eventus comprobavit; Banquonis enim e stirpe potentissimus Jacobus oriundus." † Ancient British Drama, vol. i. p. 64. Act iv. sc. 3. Gilchrist's Examination, p. 15, 16.
and connected with a commentary rendered popular by the text to which it was appended, had totally poisoned the public mind, when Mr. Gilchrist, and, still more amply, Mr. Gifford, by hunting these gentlemen through all their windings and doublings, through all the channels to which they had recourse for defamation, have produced a refutation of their charges, and a detection of their practices, more complete, perhaps, than any other instance of the kind on literary record.* Truly delightful must it be to every lover of Shakspeare and of human nature, to find that the affectionate confidence of our bard was not thrown away, was not placed on a man worthless and insensible of the gift, but was returned by honest Ben, however occasionally rough in his manner and temper, with an attachment amounting to enthusiasm, with a steadiness which neither years nor infirmities could shake. †
On the last day of the year 1607, our poet buried at the church of St. Saviour's Southwark, his brother Edmond, who, with singular precision, is entered in the register of that parish as "Edmond Shakspeare, a player," so that, as Mr. Chalmers has observed, "there were two Shakspeares on the stage during the same period."
He had likewise married, on the fifth of June of this year, his favourite daughter Susanna, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of considerable skill and reputation in his profession, which he exercised at Stratford, residing during his father-in-law's life-time in the old town, but, on his death, removing to New Place, which, with the chief part of his property, had been left by the poet to Mrs. Hall. Susanna was, on her nuptials with Dr. Hall, twenty-five years of age, and there can be little doubt but that her father was present at the celebration of an event so materially affecting the happiness of his child.
It is highly probable, that, independent of his regular annual visit, family
One of these refutations, as including a complete detection of the fallacious grounds on which a wellknown anecdote relative to Shakspeare and Jonson has been founded, it will be useful as well as entertaining to transcribe.
"Hales of Eaton," observes Mr. Gifford, "was reported to have said (though the matter was not much in Hales of Eaton's way), that there was no subject of which any person ever writ, but he would produce it much better done by Shakspeare,' p. 16-Shakspeare, vol. i. edit. 1593. This is told by Dryden, 1667. The next version is by Tate, 1680. 'Our learned Hales was wont to assert, that since the time of Orpheus no common place has been touched upon, where Shakspeare has not performed as well.' Next comes the illustrious Gildon (of Dunciad memory), and he models the story thus, from Dryden, as he says, with a salvo for the accuracy of his recollection! Mr. Hales of Eaton affirmed, that he would shew all the poets of antiquity outdone by Shakspeare.-The enemies of Shakspeare would by no means yield to this; so that it came to a trial of skill. The place agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hales's chamber at Eton. A great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet, and on the appointed day my lord Falkland, sir John Suckling, and all the persons of quality that had wit and learning, met there, and upon a thorough disquisition of the point, the judges chosen out of this assembly unanimously gave the preference to Shakspeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were adjudged to vail at least their glory in that to the English poet.' P. 17.
"The story now reached Rowe; and as it was discovered about this time, that the praise of Shakspeare was worth nothing unless coupled with the abuse of Jonson, it puts on this form. Mr. Hales, who had sate still some time, hearing Ben reproach Shakspeare with the want of learning, and ignorance of the ancients, told him, at last.' &c. Thus it stood in the first edition: but Mr. Rowe was an honest man, and having found occasion to change his mind before the appearance of the second edition, he struck the passage out, and inserted in its stead,- sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken, with some warmth, his defence against Ben Jonson, when Mr. Hales,' &c. &c.—
Thus we have the Fable of the Three Black Crows! and thus a simple observation of Mr. Hales (which in all probability he never made), is dramatised, at length, into a scene of obloquy against our author! A tissue of mere dotage scarcely deserves unravelling; but it may be just observed, that when Jonson was seized with his last illness (after which he certainly never went to Mr. Hales's chamber, at Eton,' or elsewhere), the two grave judges, Suckling and Falkland, who sat on the merits of all the Greek and Roman poets, and decided with such convincing effect, were, the first in the twelfth, and the second in the fifteenth year of their ages!-But the chief mistake lies with Dryden, whose memory was always subservient to the passions of the day; the words which he has put into the mouth of Mr. Hales being, in fact, the property of Jonson. Long before Suckling and Falkland were out of leading-strings, he had told the world, that Shakspeare surpassed not only all his contemporary poets, but even those of Greece and Rome:and if Mr. Hales used these words, without giving the credit of them to Jonson, he was, to say the least of it, a bold plagiarist."-Vol. i. p. celxii.
"It is my fixed persuasion," says Mr. Gifford (not lightly adopted, but deduced from a wide examination of the subject), that they (Jonson and Shakspeare) were friends and associates till the latter finally retired-that no feud, no jealousy ever disturbed their connection-that Shakspeare was pleased with Jonson, and that Jonson loved and admired Shakspeare.”—Vol, i. p. ccli.
* Vide Wheler's Guide, p. 27.