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I will conclude by saying of Shakespear, that with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his Drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finish'd and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick Architecture, compar'd with a neat Modern build ing: The latter is more elegant and glaring, but the for 、mer is more strong and more folemn. It must be allow'd, that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; tho' we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth paffages. Nor does the Whole fail to ftrike us with greater reverence, tho many of the Parts are childish, ill-plac'd, and unequal to its grandeur.
Note that one paragraph of this preface is omitted as containing matters particular to Mr. Pope's Edis sien, and which no ways relate to This,
Mr William Shakespear.
Written by Mr. Row E.
T seems to be a kind of refpect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and
themselves, as well as their works, to Pofterity. For this reafon, how fond do we fee fome people of discovering any little perfonal ftory of the great men of Antiquity! their fa milies, the common accidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this Curiofity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly fatisfy'd with an account of any remarkable perfon, 'till we have heard him defcrib'd even to the very cloaths he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an Author may fometimes conduce to the better understanding his book: And tho' the Works of Mr. Shakespear may seem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account
of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the fon of Mr. John Shakespear, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the Register and publick Writings relating to that Town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mention'd as gentlemen. His father, who was a confiderable dealer in wool, had fo large a family, ten children in all, that tho' he was his eldest fon, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, 'tis true, for fome time at a Free-school, where 'tis probable he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: But the narrowness of his circumftances, and the want of his affiftance at home, forc'd his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarce 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 fuperior to some of the best of theirs) would certainly have led him to read and study 'em with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own writings; fo that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read 'em. Whether his ignorance of the Ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a difpute: For tho' the knowledge of 'em 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 reftrain'd fome of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance which we admire in Shakespear: And I believe we are better pleas'd with those thoughts, altogether new and uncom mon, which his own imagination fupply'd him so abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the moft agreeable manner that it was poffible for a mafter of the English language to deliver 'em.
Upon his leaving fchool, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propos'd to him;
and in order to fettle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, faid to have been a fubftantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of fettlement he continu'd for fome time, 'till an extravagance that he was guilty of forc'd him both out of his country and that way of living which he had taken up; and tho' it feem'd at firft to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily prov'd the occafion of exerting one of the greatest Genius's that ever was known in dramatick Poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; an amongst them, fome that made a frequent practice of Deer-fteeling, engag'd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was profecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, fomewhat too feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And tho' this, probably the firft effay of his Poetry, be loft, yet it is faid to have been fo very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and fhelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the Play-houfe. He was receiv'd 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 ftage, foon diftinguifh'd him, if not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in thofe times, amongst those of the other Players, before fome old Plays, but without any particular account of what fort of parts he us'd to play; and tho' I have enquir'd, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his Performance was the ghoft in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleas'd, to have learn'd from fome certain authority, which was the first Play he wrote; it would
* 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 2d, and 3d, in the next year, vix, the 34th of his age,
be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of` this kind, to fee and know what was the firft effay of a fancy like Shakespear's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leaft perfect writings; art had fo little, and nature fo large a share in what he did, that, for ought I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the moft vigorous, and had the moft fire and ftrength of imagination in 'em, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loofe and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but that what he thought, was commonly fo great, fo justly and rightly conceiv'd in itfelf, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approv'd by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But tho' the order of time in which the feveral pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paffages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth Act of Henry V. by a compliment very handsomely turn'd to the Earl of Effex, fhews the play to have been written when that Lord was General for the Queen in Ireland: And his Elogy upon Queen Elizabeth, and her fucceffor King James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII. is a proof of that Play's being written after the acceffion of the latter of thofe two Princes to the crown of England. Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of diverfions of this kind, could not but he highly pleas'd to fee a Genius rife amongst 'em of so pleasurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Befides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natur'd man, of great fweetnefs in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder if with fo many good qualities he made himfelf acquainted with the beft converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had feveral of his Plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: It is that maiden Princefs plainly, whom he intends by
-A fair Veftal, Throned by the Weft.
Miafummer Night's Dream, And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought