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Woodford, John, Efq.
Whyting, William Rufs, Efq.
Wright, Mr. Mafter of the Academy at Apfley, near Wooburn, Bedfordshire Williams, Joshua, jun. Efq.
Watts, Thomas, Efq.
White, C. Efq.
Whitbread, Samuel, Efq.
White, James, Efq. Exeter
Ward, Mr. William Edward
Waldron, Mr. F. G.
Waring, Mr. Thomas
Wrangham, Mr. Trinity-Hall, Cam-
Williamfon, Captain. R. N.
Wallis, Mr. Thomas, Lieutenant of the
Young, Sir William, Bart. Yoe, James, Efq.
Keymour, Mr. William, Colchester, three Vernor, Mr. 12 Copies
Longmate, Mr. Engraver Lowndes, Mr. three Copies Lewis, Mr.
Longman, Mr. fix Copies Law, Mr. fix ditto
Macrae, Mr. Printer McQueen, Mr.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEAR E.
WRITTEN BY MR. ROWE.
T feems to be a kind of refpect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themselves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reafon, how fond do we fee fome people of difcovering any little perfonal ftory of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features have been the fubject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this curiofity may feem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly fatisfied with an account of any remarkable perfon, till we have heard him defcribed even to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may fometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may feem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the fon of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fafhion 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-fchool, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: but the narrowness of his circumftances, and the want of his affistance 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 scarce 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 ftudy 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 fomething from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a difadvantage to him or no, may admit of a difpute: 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 Shakspeare: and I believe we are better pleafed with thofe thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was poffible for a mafter 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 firit to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occafion 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 deerftealing engaged him 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 ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first 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 fhelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid to have made his first acquaintance in the playhoufe. 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 ftage, foon diftinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in thofe times, amongst thofe of the other players, before fome old plays, but without 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 Ghoft in his own Hamlet. I fhould have been much more pleated, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first 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 firft effay of a fancy like Shakspeare'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 aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loofe and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but, that what he thought was commonly fo great, fo juftly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately a proved by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paflages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth at 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 general for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, 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
*The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and I bird, in the next year, viz. in the 34th year of his age.
to fee a genius arife from amongft them of fo 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 fweetnefs in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princefs plainly, whom he intends by
a fair reftal, throned by the weft.
And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handfomely applied to her. She was fo well pleafed with that admirable character of Falftaff, 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 * Oldcaftle: fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falstaff. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat 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 diftinguifhed 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 friendship from the earl of Southampton, famous in the hiftories of that time for his friendship 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 Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the story 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 thoufand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase 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 contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one, who had a true taste 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 most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature: Mr. Jonfon, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the perfons into whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him with an ill-natured anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him firit to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at the fame 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 occafion was, I think, very juft and proper. In a converfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter,
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.