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LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.
"Th' applause, delight, the wonder, of our stage."
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born at Strat- the performance. But in whatever situation he ford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d day was first employed at the theatre, he appears to of April, 1564. His family was above the vulgar have soon discovered those talents which afterwards rank. His father, John Shakspeare, was a con- made him siderable dealer in wool, and had been an officer of the corporation of Stratford. He was likewise Some distinction he probably first acquired as a justice of the peace, and at one time a man of considerable property. This last, however, ap- an actor, but no character has been discovered pears to have been lost by some means, in the latter in which he appeared to more advantage than in part of his life. His wife was the daughter and that of the Ghost in Hamlet: and the best critics heiress of Robert Arden, of Wellington, in the and inquirers into his life are of opinion, that he county of Warwick, by whom he had a family of was not eminent as an actor. In tracing the chronology of his plays, it has been discovered, that ten children. Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III., were Our illustrious poet was the eldest son, and was printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years educated, probably, at the free-school of Stratford; old. There is also some reason to think that he but from this he was soon removed, and placed in commenced a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. the office of some country attorney. The exact Malone even places his first play, the First Part of amount of his education has been long a subject Henry VI., in 1589.
of controversy. It is generally agreed, that he did His plays were not only popular, but approved not enjoy what is usually termed a literary education; but he certainly knew enough of Latin and by persons of the higher order, as we are certain French to introduce scraps of both in his plays, that he enjoyed the gracious favour of Queen Eliwithout blunder or impropriety. zabeth, who was very fond of the stage; the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, to whom he When about eighteen years old, he married dedicated some of his poems; and of King James, Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than who wrote a very gracious letter to him with his himself. His conduct soon after this marriage was own hand, probably in return for the compliment not very correct. Being detected with a gang of Shakspeare had paid to his majesty in the tragedy deer-stealers, in robbing the park of Sir Thomas of Macbeth. It may be added, that his uncomLucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford, he was obliged mon merit, his candour, and good nature, are supto leave his family and business, and take shelter posed to have procured him the admiration and in London. acquaintance of every person distinguished for such qualities. It is not difficult, indeed, to trace, that
He was twenty-two years of age when he arrived Shakspeare was a man of humour, and a social in London, and is said to have made his first ac-companion; and probably excelled in that species quaintance in the play-house. Here his necessities of minor wit, not ill adapted to conversation, of obliged him to accept the office of call-boy, or which it could have been wished he had been more prompter's attendant; who is appointed to give the sparing in his writings.
performers notice to be ready, as often as the busi
ness of the play requires their appearance on the How long he acted, has not been discovered; but stage. According to another account, far less he continued to write till the year 1614. During probable, his first employment was to wait at the his dramatic career, he acquired a property in the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those theatre, which he must have disposed of when he who had no servants, that they might be ready after retired, as no mention of it occurs in his will. The
latter part of his life was spent in ease, retirement, gentlemen of the neighbourhood; and here he is and the conversation of his friends. He had accu-thought to have written the play of Twelfth Night. mulated considerable property, which Gildon (in He died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, his Letters and Essays) stated to amount to 300l. when he had exactly completed his fifty-second per ann. a sum equal to 1000l. in our days. But year; and was buried on the north side of the chanMr. Malone doubts whether all his property cel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monuamounted to much more than 2001. per ann. which ment is placed in the wall, on which he is repreyet was a considerable fortune in those times; and sented under an arch, in a sitting posture, a cushion it is supposed, that he might have derived 2001. an- spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, nually from the theatre, while he continued to act. 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 meret, Olympus habet.
He retired some years before his death to a house in Stratford, of which it has been thought important to give the history. It was built by Sir Perhaps we should read Sophoclem, instead of SoHugh Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient cratem. Underneath are the following lines: family in that neighbourhood. Sir Hugh was sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and lord mayor in that 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, Knt. in 1733. The principal estate had been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the purchaser, who, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place, which the mansion-house afterwards Aubrey, who says, "He was a handsome wellshaped man;" and adds, "verie good company, and of a verie ready and pleasant and smooth wit." His family consisted of two daughters, and a son
We have not any account of the malady which, bours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius. at no very advanced age, closed the life and laThe only notice we have of his person is from
erceted, 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 named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth they were re-purchased by the Clopton family. year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, Here, in May, 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Mack-and her father's favourite, was married to Dr. John lin, and Mr. Delane, visited Stratford, they were Hall, a physician, who died Nov. 1635, aged 60. hospitably entertained under Shakspeare's mul- Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged 66. They left berry-tree, by Sir Hugh Clopton, who was a bar-only one child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married rister, was knighted by George I. and died in the April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, esq. who died in $0th year of his age, 1751. His executor, about 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of the year 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Abington in Northamptonshire, but died without Gastrel, a man of large fortune, who resided in it issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement youngest daughter, was married to Mr. Thomas with the inhabitants of Stratford. As he resided Quiney, and died Feb. 1661-2, in her 77th year. part of the year at Litchfield, he thought he was By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. maintenance of the poor, and being opposed, he The traditional story of Shakspeare having been peevishly declared, that that house should never the father of Sir William Davenant, has been gebe assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it nerally discredited.
Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Obiit ano. Dni. 1616,
down, sold the materials, and left the town. He From these imperfect notices, which are all had some time before cut down Shakspeare's mul- we have been able to collect from the labours of berry-tree, to save himself the trouble of showing his biographers and commentators, our readers it to visitors. That Shakspeare planted this tree will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where than of almost any writer who has been considerNew Place stool is now a garden.
*The first regular attempt at a life of Shakspeare is pre During Shakspeare's abode in this house, he fixed to Mr. A. Chalmer's variorum edition, published in 1805 enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of the of which we have availed ourselves in the above Sketch.
ed as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing history. The industry of his illustrators for the could be more highly gratifying, than an account last forty years, has been such as probably never of the early studies of this wonderful man, the was surpassed in the annals of literary investigaprogress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, tion; yet so far are we from information of the his friendships, his failings, and whatever else con- conclusive or satisfactory kind, that even the order stitutes personal history. But on all these topics in which his plays are written rests principally on his contemporaries, and his immediate successors, conjecture, and of some of the plays usually printed have been equally silent; and if aught can hereaf- among his works, it is not yet determined whether ter be discovered, it must be by exploring sources he wrote the whole, or any part. We are, howwhich have hitherto escaped the anxious researches ever, indebted to the labours of his commentators, of those who have devoted their whole lives, and not only for much light thrown upon his obscuritheir most vigorous talents, to revive his memory, ties, but for a text purified from the gross blunders and illustrate his writings. of preceding transcribers and editors; and it is almost unnecessary to add, that the text of the fol
It is equally unfortunate, that we know as little lowing volumes is that of the last corrected edition of the progress of his writings, as of his personal of Johnson and Steevens.