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He was the fon of Mr. John Shakfpere; and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April, 1564. His family, as appears by the regifter and public writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a confiderable dealer in wool, had fo large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest fon, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for fome time at a free school; where it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but the narrowness of his circumftances, and the want of his afsistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controverfy, that in his works, we fcarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his tafte, and the natural bent of his own great genius, (equal, if not fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs) would certainly have led him to read and study them with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with his own writings; fo that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or not, may admit of a dispute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable, but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that correctnefs, might have reftrained fome of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakspere: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abundantly with, than if

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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 master of the English language to deliver them.

Upon his leaving fchool, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propofed 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 continued for fome time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of, forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up and though it seemed at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him; yet it afterwards happily proved the occation of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and, amongst them, fome, that made a frequent practice of deer-ftealing, engag ed him with them more than once in robbing a park that belonged 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 usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though 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 shelter himself in London..

It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid to have made his firft acquaintance in the play-house. He was received 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 stage,

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foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other players, before fome old plays, but with out any particular account of what fort of parts he ufed to play: and though I have enquired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. I fhould have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the firft play he wrote.* It would be, without doubt, a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to fee and know what was the first effay of a fancy like Shakspere'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 fhare in what he did, that, for ought I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the moft fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the beft. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loose and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judg ment; but that what he thought was commonly fo great, fo juftly and rightly conceived in itfelf, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the firft fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral pieces were written, be generally uncer tain, yet there are paffages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the chorus at the end of the 4th act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handfomely turned to the Earl of Effex, fhews the play to have been written when that lord was

*The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet, in 1597, when the author was thirty-three years old; and Richard II. and III. in the next year, viz. the thirty-fourth of his age.

general for the queen, in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Elifabeth, and her fucceffor, king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Eighth, 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 be highly pleafed to fee a genius arise amongst them 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-natured man, of great fweetness in his manners, and a moft agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of those times. Queen Elifabeth had feveral of his plays acted before her, and with out doubt, gave him many gracious marks of her favour. It is that maiden princess plainly whom he intends by

-A fair veftal, throned by the weft.
Midfummer Night's Dream

And that whole paffage is a compliment very prop erly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was fo well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to fhew him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor. How well fhe was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to obferve, that this part of Falstaff is faid to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle; fome of that family being then remaining,

* See the epilogue to Henry the Fourth.

the queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace foever the queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendfhip from the earl of Southampton, famous in the hiftories of that time for his friendfhip to the unfortunate earl of Effex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one inftance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakfpere's, that if I had not been affured that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inferted, that my lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchafe which he heard he had a mind to; a bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profufe generofity the prefent age has fhewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.

What particular habitude or friendships he con tracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every ones who had a true tafte of merit, and could diftinguish men, had generally a juft value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature muft certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the

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