« ZurückWeiter »
moft delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to zhe players, in order to have it acted ; and the perfons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fuperciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured anfwer, that it would be of no service to their company ; when Shakspere luckily cast his eye upon it, and found fomething so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakfpere ; though at the same time, I believe, it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter was more than a balance for what books had given the former ; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson ; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shak
pere, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. ShakSpere had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them ; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any of them, he would under take to sew something upon the fame fubje&, at least as well written, by Shakspere.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and in that, to his wish ; and is said to
have fpent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendfhip of the gentlemen of the neighbour. hood. Amongst them, it is a story almost ftill remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury : it happened, that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakfpere, in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him ; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately : upon which Shakspere gave him these four verfes :
Ten in the hundred lies here engrav’d,
But the sharpness of the satire is faid to have ftung the man fo feverely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age,* and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument, as engraved in the plate, is placed in the wall. On his gravestone, underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' fake forbear
He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married ; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas
* He died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completed his fifty-second year.
Quiney, by whom she had three fons, who : without children; and Susannah, who was ourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of goo tation in that country. She left one child daughter, who was married, first, to Thoma: Efq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of the bington, but died likewife without iffue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either e lating to himfelf or family: the character of t." 13. is bełt feen in his writings. But since Ben has made a fort of an essay towards it in his Is some cries, I will give it in his words :
“I remember the players have often men i. !!!". " it as an honour to Shak[pere, that in its * (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted courte « line. My anfwer hath been, Would he had by ::""; " " thoufand! which they thought a malevolent “ I had not told pofterity this, but for their igoo "rance, who chose that circumstance to com
their friend by, wherein he most faulted : "justify mine own candour, for I loved the me “ do honour his memory, on this fide idolatry, is “ much as any. He was, indeed, honest, anc og or
open and free nature, had an excellent fancy 1;: * notions, and gentle exprefsions ; wherein he :'. “ed with that facility, that sometimes it was licccán “ fary he should be stopped : Suftaminandas ere: * Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in nis “ own power : would the rule of it had been fr to " Many times he fell into thofe things which csi; " not escape laughter ; as when he faid in th "fon of Cæsar, one speaking to him,
• Cæfar thou doft me wrong." " He replied,
« Cæfar did never wrong, but with just caufe
* If ever there was such a line written by Shaksp.
en tid such like, which were ridiculous. But he rea. vre med his vices with his virtues : there was ever s more in him to be praised than to be pardoned."
As for the passage which he mentions out of Sbakfpere, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæsar, til vithout the absurdity: ; nor did I ever meet with it any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are tro or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbain, whi Lhave never seen, and know nothing of. He 11.. i likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and L4. *7.5.2, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late ruslection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal in it:
it! believe it may be as well expressed by what tonice says of the first. Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated ton) in his epistle to. Augustus,
Natura sublimis & acer,
vid fancy it might-have its place, vol.6. Julius Cæfar, 295, scene 2, thus :
-Cæfar has had great wrong. - Pleb. Cæfar had never wrong, but with just cause ; ery
humorously in the character of a Plebeian... Ce might believe Ben Jonson's remark was made upon Etter credit than some blunder of an actor in speakif that verse near the beginning of the third act :
Enow, Cæfar doth not.wxong ; nor without cause
Will he be fatisfied.
o wted in Ben Jonson's time, and so he had nothing to . ji by but as the actor pleased to speak it. Pape.,
As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete collection upon Shak pere's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe fome of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are cal. led histories, and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age ; and is indeed become fo agreeable to the English taste, that though the se. verer critics among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased
with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, are all pure comedy; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours ; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do ; yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a master-piece. The character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays : and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady, Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in short eveTy way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable ; and I do not know
b vol. i.