Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighborhood. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III., and Lord Mayor in the reign of Henry VII. By his will, he bequeathed to his elder brother's son, his manor of Clopton, &c., and his house by the name of the Great House in Stratford. A good part of the estate was in possession of Edward Clopton, Esq., and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knight, in 1733. The principal estate had been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shak. speare became the purchaser; who having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place, which the mansion house, afterwards erected in the room of the poet's house, retained for many years. The house and lands belonging to it continued in the possession of Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the Restoration, when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family. Here, in May, 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Macklin, and Mr. Delane visited Stratford, they were hospitably entertained under Shakspeare's mulberry tree by Sir Hugh Clopton. He was a barrister at law, was knighted by King George I., and died in the 80th year of his age, in December, 1751. His executor, about the year 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. As he resided part of the year at Litchfield, he thought he was assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the maintenance of the poor; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his servants in his absence, he peevishly declared that that house should never be assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. He had some time before cut down Shakspeare's mulberry tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the classic ground on which it stood. That Shakspeare planted this tree appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where New Place stood is now a garden. Before concluding this history, it may be necessary to mention, that the poet's house was once honored by the temporary resi. dence of Henrietta Maria, queen to Charles I. Theobald has given an inac. curate account of this, as if she had been obliged to take refuge in Stratford from the rebels; but that was not the case. She marched from Newark, June 16, 1613, and entered Stratford triumphantly about the 22d of the same month, at the head of three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, with one hundred and fifty wagons, and a train of artillery. Here she was met by Prince Rupert, accompanied by a large body of troops. She resided about three wecks at our poet's house, which was then possessed by his granddaughter, Mrs. Nashe, and her husband.

Shakspeare died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, when he had just completed his fifty-second year, and was buried on the north side of the

$ The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, " he was a handsome, well-shaped man;" and adds, " verie good company, and of a very ready, and pleafant and smooth wit."

chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall, on which 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 scroll of paper. The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion :

Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,

Terra tegit, populus mæret, Olympus habet. “To this Latin inscription on Shakspeare," says Mr. Steevens, “may be added the lines which are found underneath it on his monument:

Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakspeare, with whom
Quick nature died: whose name doth deck the tomb
Far more than cost: since all that he hath writ
Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.

Obiit, Ano. Dni. 1616.

@t. 53, die 23 Apri. " It appears from the verses of Leonard Digges, that our author's monument was erected before the year 1623. It has been engraved by Vertue, and done in mezzotinto by Miller."

On his grave-stone, underneath, are these lines, in an uncouth mixture of small and capital letters:

Good Friend for lesus SAKE forheare
To digg T-E Dust EncloAsed HERe
Blese be T.E Man Ispares T- Es Stones
And curst be He I moves my Bones.

It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shak. speare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnelhouses; and similar execrations are found in many ancient Latin epitaphs.

We have no account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius.

His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father's favourite, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1635, aged sixty. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1619, aged sixty-six. They left only one child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Bar. nard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire; but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died February, 1661-62, in her seventy-seventh year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. Sir Hugh Clopton, who was born two years after the death of Lady Barnard, which happened in 1669-70, related to Mr. Macklin, in 1742, an old tradition, that she had carried away with her from Stratford, many of her grandfather's papers. On the death of Sir John Barnard, Mr. Malone thinks these must have fallen into the hands of Mr. Edward Bagley,

Lady Barnard's executor; and if any descendant of that gentleman be now living, in his custody they probably remain.

In the year 1741, a monument was erected to our poet in Westminster Abbey, by the direction of the Earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It was the work of Scheemaker, (who received £300 for it) after a design of Kent, and was opened in January of that year. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performance at Drury Lane theatre amounted to above £200, but the receipts at Covent Garden did not exceed £100.

From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can be hereafter discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory and illustrate his writings. In the sketch we have given, if the dates of his birth and death be excepted, what is there on which the reader can depend, or for which, if he contend eagerly, he may not be involved in controversy, and perplexed with contradictory opinions and authorities ?

Much of our ignorance of every thing which it would be desirable to know respecting Shakspeare's works, must be imputed to the author himself. If we look merely at the state in which he left his productions, we should be apt to conclude, either that he was insensible of their value, or that, while he was the greatest, he was at the same time the humblest writer the world ever produced—“ that he thought his works unworthy of posterity—that he levied no ideal tribute upon future times, nor had any farther prospect, than that of present popularity and present profit.". And such an opinion, although it apparently partakes of the ease and looseness of conjecture, may not be far from probability. But before we allow it any higher merit, or attempt to decide upon the affection or neglect with which he reviewed his labours, it may be necessary to consider their precise nature, and certain circumstances in his situation which affected them; and, above all, we must take into our account the character and predominant occupations of the times in which he lived, and of those which followed his decease.

With respect to himself, it does not appear that he printed any one of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his lifetime. The reason assigned for this is, that he wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to

Dr. Johnson's Preface.

the managers when only an actor, reserved them in manuscript when himself a manager, and when he disposed of his property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript to prevent their being acted by the rival houses. Copies of some of them appear to have been surreptitiously obtained, and published in a very incorrect state ; but we may suppose, that it was wiser in the author or managers to overlook this fraud, than publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear, therefore, that any publication of his plays by himself would have interfered, at first with his own interest, and afterwards with the interest of those to whom he had made over his share in them. But even had this obstacle been removed, we are not sure that he would have gained much by publication. If he had no other copies but those belonging to the theatre, the business of correction for the press must have been a toil which we are afraid the taste of the public at that time would have poorly rewarded. We know not the exact portion of fame he enjoyed: it was probably the highest which dramatic genius could confer; but dramatic genius was a new excellence, and not well understood. His claims were probably not heard out of the jurisdiction of the master of the revels, certainly not beyond the metropolis. Yet such was Shakspeare's reputation, that we are told his name was put to pieces which he never wrote, and that he felt himself too confident in popular favour to undeceive the public. This was singular resolution in a man who wrote so unequally, that at. this day, the test of internal evidence must be applied to his doubtful produc. tions with the greatest caution. But still how far his character would have been elevated by an examination of his plays in the closet, in an age when the refinements of criticism were not understood, and the sympathies of taste were seldom felt, may admit of a question. “His language," says Dr. John. son, " not being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he desired it to be if it conveyed his meaning to the audience."

Shakspeare died in 1616; and seven years afterward appeared the first edition of his plays, published at the charges of four booksellers, — a circumstance from which Mr. Malone infers, “ that no single publisher was at that time willing to risk his money on a complete collection of our author's plays." This edition was printed from the copies in the hands of his fellow-managers, Heminge and Condell, which had been in a series of years frequently altered through convenience, caprice, or ignorance. Heminge and Condell had now retired from the stage; and, we may suppose, were guilty of no injury to their successors, in printing what their own interest only had formerly withheld. Of this, although we have no documents amounting to demonstration, we may be convinced, by adverting to a circumstance, which will, in our days, appear very extraordinary, namely, the declension of Shakspeare's popularity. We have seen that the publication of his works was accounted a doubtful speculation ; and it is yet more certain, that so much had the public taste turned from him in quest of variety, that for several years after his death the plays of Fletcher were more frequently acted than his, and during the whole of the seventeenth century, they were made to give place to per.

formances, the greater part of which cannot now be endured. During the same period, only four editions of his works were published, all in folio; and perhaps this unwieldy size of volume may be an additional proof that they were not popular; nor is it thought that the impressions were numerous,

These circumstances which attach to our author and to his works, must be allowed a plausible weight in accounting for our deficiencies in his biography and literary career; but there were circumstances enough in the history of the times to suspend the progress of that more regular drama of which he had set the example, and may be considered as the founder. If we wonder why we know so much less of Shakspeare than of his contemporaries, let us recollect that his genius, however highly and justly we now rate it, took a direction which was not calculated for permanent admiration, either in the age in which he lived, or in that which followed. Shakspeare was a writer of plays, a promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism; and an amuse. ment which, although it has been classed among the schools of morality, has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral purposes, that the force of law has, in all ages, been called in to preserve it within the bounds of common decency. The Church has ever been unfriendly to the stage. A part of the injunctions of Queen Elizabeth is particularly directed against the printing of plays; and, according to an entry in the books of the Stationers' Company, in the forty-first year of her reign, it is ordered, that no plays be printed, except allowed by persons in authority. Dr. Farmer also remarks, that in that age, poetry and novels were destroyed publicly by the bishops, and privately by the puritans. The main transactions, indeed, of that period, could not adınit of much attention to matters of amusement. The Reforma. tion required all the circumspection and policy of a long reign to render it so firmly established in popular favour as to brave the caprice of any succeed. ing sovereign. This was effected, in a great measure, by the diffusion of religious controversy, which was encouraged by the Church, and especially by the puritans, who were the immediate teachers of the lower classes, were lis. tened to with veneration, and usually inveighed against all public amuse. ments, as inconsistent with the Christian profession. These controversies continued during the reign of James I., and were, in a considerable degree, promoted by him, although he, like Elizabeth, was a favourer of the stage, as an appendage to the grandeur and pleasures of the court. But the commotions which followed in the unhappy reign of Charles I., when the stage was totally abolished, are sufficient to account for the oblivion thrown on the history and works of our great bard. From this time, no inquiry was made, until it was too late to obtain any information more satisfactory, than the few hearsay scraps and contested traditions above detailed. “How little," says Mr. Steevens, “Shakspeare was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of King Lear, speaks of the original as an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was content to receive them from D'Avenant's alteration of that celebrated drama, in

« ZurückWeiter »