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Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told them, That if Mr. Shakspeare bad not read the ancients, he had likewife not ftolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame fubject at least as well written by ShakSpeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is said to have spent fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a ftory almoft ftill remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury; it happened that, in a pleafant converfation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakspeare gave him thefe four verses:
Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd,
'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd:
If any man afk, Who lies in this tomb?
Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe *.
But the sharpness of the fatire 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-fide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-ftone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jefus' fake forbear
To dig the duft inclofed here.
Bleft be the man that spares these fiones,
And curfi be he that moves my bones.
He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom he had three fons, who all died without children; and Sufannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married firit to Thomas Nafh, efq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewife without iffue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is beft feen in his writings. But fince Ben Jonfon has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Difcoveries, I will give it in his words:
"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, "that in writing (whatfoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer "hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent
*The Rev. Francis Peck, in his Memoirs of the Life and Pactical Works of Mr. John Milton, 4to. 1740, p. 223, has introduced another epitaph imputed (on what authority is unknown) to Shakspeare. It is on Tom-a-Combe, alias Thin-beard, brother to this Jobr who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe.
"Thin in beard, and thick in purfe;
"Never man heloved worfe;
"He went to the grave with many a curfe
"The devil and he had both one nurfe."
Mr. Malone fays, that he died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completed his fifty-second year.
"speech. I had not told pofterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that "circumftance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted: and to juf"tify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this "fide idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honelt, and of an open and free "nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expreffions; wherein "he flowed with that facility, that fometimes it was neceflary he should be stop"ped: Suflaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid of Haterius. His wit was in his own "power: would the rule of it had been fo too! Many times he fell into those things "which could not efcape laughter; as when he faid in the perfon of Cæfar, one "fpeaking to him,
"Cæfar, thou doft me wrong.
"Cafar did never wrong, but with just cause—
" and fuch-like, which were ridiculous.
But he redeemed his vices with his vir
tues: there was ever more in him to be praised than pardoned."
As for the paffage which he mentions out of Shakspeare, there is fomewhat like it in Julius Cafar, but without the abfurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have feen, as quoted by Mr. Jonfon. Befides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcribed to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never feen, and know nothing of. He writ likewife Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in ftanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonfon, there is a good deal in it but I believe it may be as well expreffed by what Horace fays of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models (or indeed tranflated them), in his epistle to Auguftus.
Natura fublimis & acer,
Nam fpirat tragicum fatis & feliciter audet,
As I have not propofed to myself to enter into a large and complete collection upon Shakspeare's works, fo I will only take the liberty, with all due fubmiflion to the judgment of others, to obferve fome of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be diftinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Thofe which are called hiftories, and even fome of his conmedies, 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 tafte, that though the feverer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences feem to be better pleafed with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windfor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, are all pure comedy; the reft, however they are called, have fomething 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 fatire of the prefent age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleating and a well-diftinguished variety in thofe characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a mafter-piece; the character is always well fuftained, 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 fhort every way vicious, yet he has given him fo much wit as to make him almoft too agreeable; and I do not know whether fome people have not, in remembrance of the diverfion he had formerly A 3
afforded them, been forry to fee his friend Hal use him fo feurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The Merry Wives of Windfor he has made him a deer-stealer, that he might at the fame time remember his Warwickshire profecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the fame coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, defcribes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parfon defcant very pleasantly upon them That whole play is admirable; the humours are various and well oppofed; the main defign, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealoufy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth-Night there is fomething fingularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical fteward Malvolio. The parafite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's Well that Ends Well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The converfation of Benedict and Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing, and of Rofalind in As You Like It, have much wit and fprightliness all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and I believe Therfites in Troilus and Crefida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be master-pieces of ill-nature, and fatirical fnarling. To thefe I might add that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice; but though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian, yet I cannot but think it was defigned tragically by the author. There appears in it a deadly fpirit of revenge, fuch a favage fiercenefs and fellness, and fuch a bloody defignation of cruelty and mifchief, as cannot agree either with the file or characters of comedy. The play itfelf, take it altogether, feems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakspeare's. The tale indeed in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unufual kind of bond given by Antonio, is too much removed from the rules of probability; but, taking the fact for granted, we must allow it to be very beautifully written. There is fomething in the friendship of Antonio to Baffanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole fourth act (fuppofing, as I faid, the fact to be probable) is extremely fine. But there are two paffages that deferve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia fays in praise of mercy, and the other on the power of mufick. The melancholy of Jaques, in As You Like It, is as fingular and odd as it is diverting. And if, what Horace fays,
Difficile eft propriè communia dicere,
it will be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the defeription of the feveral degrees and ages of man's life, though the thought be old, and common enough.
All the world's a fitage,
And all the men and women merely players;
And then, the whining School-boy with his fatckel,
Ev'n in the cannon's mouth. And then the juftice
And fo he plays his part. The fixth age shifts
With Spectacles on nofe, and pouch on fide;
Is fecond childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, fans eyes, fans tafte, fans every thing.
His images are indeed every where fo lively, that the thing he would represent stands full before you, and you poffefs every part of it. I will venture to point out one more, which is, I think, as ftrong and as uncommon as any thing I ever faw; it is an image of Patience. Speaking of a maid in love, he says,
-She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' th' bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: fhe pin'd in thought,
What an image is here given! and what a task would it have been for the greateft masters of Greece and Rome to have expreffed the paffions defigned by this sketch of ftatuary! The ftile of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and eafy in itself; and the wit moft commonly fprightly and pleafing, except in thofe places where he runs into doggerel rhimes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and fome other plays. As for his jingling fometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in: and if we find it in the pulpit, made ufe of as an ornament to the fermons of fome of the graveft divines of thofe times, perhaps it may not be thought too light for the stage..
But certainly the greatnefs of this author's genius does no where fo much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loofe, and raises his fancy to a flight above mankind, and the limits of the vifible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempeft, Midfummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of these, The Tempest, however it comes to be placed the firft by the publishers of his works, can never have been the first written by him: it seems to me as perfect in its kind, as almost any thing we have of his. One may obferve, that the unities are kept here, with an exactness uncommon to the liberties of his writing; though that was what, I fuppofe, he valued himself leaft upon, fince his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very fenfible that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be obferved in thefe fort of writings; yet he does it fo very finely, that one is eafily drawn in to have more faith for his fake, than reafon does well allow of. His magick has fomething in it very folemn and very poetical and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well fuftained, fhews a wonderful invention in the author, who could ftrike out fuch a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the finest and most uncommon grotesques that ever was feen. The obfervation, which I have been informed three very great men concurred in making upon this part, was extremely just; That Shakspeare had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had alfo devifed and adapted a new manner of language for that character.
It is the fame magick that raifes the Fairies in Midsummer Night's Dream, the Witches in Macbeth, and the Ghoft in Hamlet, with thoughts and language fo proper to the parts they fuftain, and fo peculiar to the talent of this writer. But of the two laft of these plays I fhall have occafion to take notice, among the tragedies of
Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden.
Mr. Shakspeare. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of thefe by those rules which are established by Ariftotle, and taken from the model of a Grecian ftage, it would be no very hard talk to find a great many faults; but as Shakspeare lived under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, fo it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to confider him as a man that lived in a state of almoft univerfal licence and ignorance: there was no established judge, but every one took the 1 berty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one confiders, that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the prefent stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he fhould advance dramatick poetry fo far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the first among those that are reckoned the constituent parts of a tragick or heroick poem; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and courfe of the whole; and with the fable ought to be confidered the fit difpofition, order, and conduct of its feveral parts. As it is not in this province of the drama that the strength and mastery of Shakspeare lay, fo I fhall not undertake the tedious and ill-natured trouble to point out the feveral faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were feldom invented, but rather taken either from true hiftory, or novels and romances: and he commonly made ufe of them in that order, with thofe incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. Almoft all his hiftorical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and distinct places: and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the fcene travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his carelefinefs in this point, when he comes to another part of the drama, the manners of his characters, in acting or speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be shewn by the poet, he may be generally juftified, and in very many places greatly commended. For those plays which he has taken from the English or Roman hiftory, let any man compare them, and he will find the character as exact in the poet as the hiftorian. He feems indeed fo far from propofing to himself any one action for a fubject, that the title very often tells you, it is The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our hiftorians give of Henry the Sixth, than the picture Shakfpeare has drawn of him? His manners are every where exactly the fame with the story; one finds him ftill defcribed with fimplicity, paffive fanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and eafy fubmiflion to the governance of an imperious wife, or prevailing faction: though at the fame time the poet does juftice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by fhewing him pious, difinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly religned to the feverest difpenfations of God's providence. There is a fhort fcene in the Second Part of Henry the Sixth, which I cannot but think admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort, who had murdered the Duke of Gloucefter, is fhewn in the last agonies on his death-bed, with the good king praying over him. There is so much terror in one, fo much tenderness and moving piety in the other, as muft touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry the Eighth, that prince is drawn with that greatnefs of mind, and all thofe good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not fhewn in an equal degree, and the fhades in this picture do not bear a just proportion to the lights, it is not that the artist wanted either colours or fkill in the difpofition of them; but the truth, I believe, might be, that he forebore doing it out of regard to queen Elizabeth, fince it could have been no very great respect to the memory of his mistress, to have exposed some certain parts of her father's life upon the tage. He has dealt much more freely with the minifter of that great king, and certainly nothing was ever more justly written, than the character of Cardinal Wolfey. He has hewn him infolent in his profperity; and yet, by a wonderful addrefs, he makes his fall and ruin the fubject of general compattion. The whole man, with his vices and virtues, is finely and exactly defcribed in the fecond fcene of the fourth act. The diftreffes likewife of Queen Catharine, in this play, are very movingly touched