« ZurückWeiter »
Mr. Rowe has very justly observed, that people are fond of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity; and that the common accidents of their lives naturally become the fubject of our critical enquiries: that however trifling such a curiosity at the first view may appear, yet, as for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may, perhaps, sometimes conduce to the better understanding his works; and, indeed, this author's works, from the bad treatment he has met with from copyists and editors, have so long wanted a comment, that one would zealously embrace every method of information that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have so long lain overwhelmed.
'Tis certain, that if we have first admired the man in his writings, his case is so circumstanced, that we must naturally admire the writings in the man: that if we go back to take a view of his education, and the employment in life which fortune had cut out for him, we shall retain the stronger ideas of his extensive genius.
His father, we are told, was a considerable dealer in wool; but having no fewer than ten children, of whom our Shakspeare was the eldest, the best education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own business and employment. I cannot affirm with any certainty how long his father lived; but I take him to be the same Mr. John Shakspeare who was living in the year 1599, and who then, in honour of his son, took out an extract of his family arms from the herald's office; by which it appears, that he had been officer and bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire; and that he enjoyed some hereditary lands and tenements, the reward of his great grandfather's faithful and approved service to King Hen
Be this as it will, our Shakspeare, it seems, was bred for some time at a free-school; the very freeschool, I presume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but that his father being obliged, through narrowness of circumstances, to withdraw him too soon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any proficiency in the dead languages; a point that will deserve some little discussion in the sequel of this dissertation.
How long he continued in his father's way of bufiness, either as an affiftant to him, or on his own proper account, no notices are left to inform us: nor have I been able to learn precisely at what pe. riod of life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his acquaintance with London and the stage.
In order to settle in the world after a family-manner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did so; for by the monument in Stratford church, erected to the memory of his daughter Susanna, the wife of John Hal}, gentleman, it appears, that she died on the 2d of July, in the year 1649, aged 66. So that she was born in 1583, when her father could not be full 19 years old; who was himself born in the year 1.564. Nor was she his eldest child, for he had another daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Tho.
8 See the extracts from the register-book of the parish of Stratford, in a preceding page. STEVENS,
mas Quiney So that Shakspeare must have enterred into wedlock by that time he was turned of feventeen years.
Whether the force of inclination merely, or fonie concurring circumstances of convenience in the match, prompted him to marry so early, is not eafy to be determined at this distance; but, it is probable, a view of interest might partly fway his conduct in this point: for he married the daughter of one Hathaway, a substantial yeoman in his neighbourhood, and she had the start of him in age no less than eight years. She survived him notwithstanding feven seasons, and died that very year the players published the first edition of his works in folio; anno Dom. 1623, at the age of 67 years, as we likewise learn from her monument in Stratford church.
How long he continued in this kind of fettlement, upon his own native spot, is not more easily to be determined. But if the tradition be true, of that extravagance which forced him both to quit his country and way of living, to wit, his being engaged with a knot of young deer-stealers, to rob the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford, the enterprize favours so much of youth and levity, we may reasonably suppose it was before he could write full man. Besides, considering he has left us fix-and-thirty plays at least, avowed to be genuine; and considering too that he had retired from the stage, to spend the latter part of his days at his own native Stratford; the interval of time necessarily required for the finishing so many dramatick pieces, obliges us to suppose he threw himself very early upon the play-house. And as he could, probably, contract no acquaintance with the drama, while he
was driving on the affair of wool at home; some time must be loft, even after he had commenced player, before he could attain knowledge enough in the science to qualify himself for turning author.
It has been observed by Mr. Rowe, that ainongst other extravagancies, which our author has given to Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a deer-stealer; and, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire profecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow, he has gió ven him very near the same coat of arms, which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there. There are two coats, I observe, in Dugdale, where three silver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat, to the monument of Thomas Lucy, son of Sir William Lucy, in which are quartered, in four several divisions, twelve little fishes, three in each division, probably Luces. This very coat, indeed, seems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white Luces, and in Slender saying he may, quarter.
When I consider the exceeding candour and good-nature of our author (which 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): and that he fhould throw this humorous piece of satire at his prosecutor, at least twenty years after
after the provocation given; I am confidently persuaded it must be owing to an unforgiving rancour on the prosecutor's fide: and, if this was the case, it were pity but the disgrace of such an inveteracy should remain as a lasting reproach, and Shallow stand as a mark of ridicule to stigmatize his malice.
It is faid, our author spent some years before his death in eafe, retirement, and the conversation of his friends, at his native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain intelligence, when he relinquished the stage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by fome, that Spenser's Thalia, in his Tears of his Mufes, where she laments the loss of 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 Jonfon'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 Fædera). 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 dramatcik pieces, he produced, adınit 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 disgull taken: or the Willy, there mentioned, must relate to some