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So, I made lame by fortune's dearest spite
That, by the salutary though severe lessons of adversity, he had learnt to conquer his misfortunes, and to despise the shafts of vulgar scandal, will be evident from the two subsequent passages :
66 Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
deeds to cross,
6 Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
These complaints and consolations were, no doubt, written during the first ten years of his residence in London, while his reputation, as a poet, was yet assailable, and while the patronage of Lord Southampton was his only shield against the jealousy and traduction of illiberal competitors, whether off or on the stage. But the fame arising from his poems, and from the dramas of Romeo and Juliet, and King Richard the Third, had, in 1596, most assuredly secured him from any apprehensions of permanent injury; more especially as, soon after this period, the encouragement and support of William, Earl of Pembroke, and Philip, Earl of Montgomery, who, as the players tell us, in their dedication of the first folio, had prosecuted our poet's plays, and their author living, with so much favour *, were added to the protecting influence of Southampton.
* Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 164.; and Chalmers's Apology, p. 599.
It was in this year, namely 1596, that Shakspeare's feelings as a father were put to a severe trial, by the loss of his only son Hamnet, who died in the month of August, at the age of twelve-a deprivation which, however sustained with fortitude, must have been long deplored.
He was now residing, it would appear from evidence referred to by Mr. Malone *, near the Bear-Garden in Southwark, and in the following year (1597) purchased of William Underhill Esquire, one of the best houses in his native town of Stratford, which, having repaired and improved, he denominated New Place. † Whether this
* See his “ Inquiry,” p. 215.
+ Of this mansion, which Dugdale informs us was originally built by Sir Hugh Clopton in the time of Henry the Seventh, and was then “a fair-house, built of brick and timber,” and continued in the Clopton family until 1563, when it was purchased by William Bott, and resold in 1570 to William Underhill, Esq., Mr. Wheler has given us the following account, subsequent to the decease of our poet: - “ On Shakspeare's death, it came to his daughter Mrs. Hall, for her life; and then to her only child Elizabeth, afterwards Lady Barnard; after whose death New Place was sold, in 1675, to Sir Edward Walker, Knt. Garter, King at Arms, who died the 20th of February, 1676-7; and under his Will, dated the 29th of June, 1676, it came to his only child, Barbara, the wife of Sir John Clopton, Knt. of Clopton, in this parish. Their younger son, Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. a barrister at law, and one of the heralds at arms, afterwards became possessed of New Place, which he modernised by internal and external alterations; and in 1742, entertained Macklin, Garrick, and Dr. Delany, under Shakspeare's mulberry tree. By. Sir Hugh's son-in-law and executor, Henry Talbot, Esq. brother to the Lord Chancellor Talbot, it was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, vicar of Frodsham in Cheshire; who, if we may judge by his actions, felt no sort of pride or pleasure in this charming retirement, no consciousness of his being possessed of the sacred ground which the muses had consecrated to the memory of their favourite poet. The celebrated mulberry-tree planted by Shakspeare's hand became first an object of his dislike, because it subjected him to answer the frequent importunities of travellers, whose zeal might prompt them to visit it, and to hope that they might meet inspiration under its shade. In an evil hour, the sacrilegious priest ordered the tree, then remarkably large, and at its full growth, to be cut down; which was no sooner done, than it was cleft to pieces for fire-wood: this took place in 1756, to the great regret and vexation, not only of the inhabitants, but of every admirer of our bard. The greater part of it was, however, soon after purchased by Mr. Thomas Sharp, watch-maker, of Stratford; who, well acquainted with the value set upon it by the world, turned it much to his advantage, by converting every fragment into small boxes, goblets, tooth-pick cases, tobacco-stoppers, and numerous other articles. Nor did New Place long escape the destructive hand of Mr. Gastrell; who, being compelled to pay the
was the purchase in which he is said to have been so materially assisted by Lord Southampton, cannot positively be affirmed; but as he had not long emerged from his difficulties, it is highly probable that on this, as well as on subsequent occasions, he was indebted to the bounty of his patron.
To the year 1598 has been commonly assigned the commencement of the intimacy between our author and Ben Jonson. rests upon the authority of Mr. Rowe, who informs us, that “ Shakspeare's 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 the players to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, was just upon the point of returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage
monthly assessments towards the maintenance of the poor, (some of which he expected to avoid, because he resided part of the year at Lichfield, though his servants continued in the house at Stratford during his absence,) in the heat of his anger declared, that house should never be assessed again; and to give his imprecation due effect, and wishing, as it seems, to be “ damned to everlasting fame,” the demolition of New Place soon followed; for, in 1759, he rased the building to the ground, disposed of the materials, and left Stratford amidst the rage and curses of its inhabitants. Thus was the town deprived of one of its principal ornaments, and most valued relics, by a man, who, had he been possessed of a true sense, and a veneration for the memory of our bard, would have rather preserved whatever particularly concerned their great and immortal owner, than ignorantly have trodden the ground which had been cultivated by the greatest genius in the world, without feeling those emotions which naturally arise in the breast of the generous enthusiast.
“ The site of New Place was afterwards added to the adjoining garden, by its illiberal proprietor ; under whose Will, made on the 2d of October, 1768, it came to his widow, Mrs. Jane Gastrell; who, in 1775, sold it to William Hunt, Esq. late of this town; from whose family it was purchased by Messrs. Battersbee and Morris, bankers, of Stratford.” – Wheler's History of Stratford, p. 135.; and Guide to Stratford, pp. 45. 47.
* It is more probable that he was assisted on various occasions by His Lordship, than that the large sum, mentioned by tradition, was bestowed at once, and at a period, too, when it was less required. VOL. II.
him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr.Jonson and his writings to the public. *
That this kind office was in perfect unison with the general character of Shakspeare, will readily be admitted, yet there is much reason to believe that the whole account is without foundation ; for, as we have related, in the last chapter, Every Man in his Humour, which is supposed by all the editors and commentators to be the play alluded to by Rowe, was first performed at the Rose theatre; and “ that Jonson was altogether unknown to the world,'” remarks Mr. Gifford, “is a palpable untruth. At this period,”
At this period,” (1598) he continues, “ Jonson was as well known as Shakspeare, and perhaps better. He was poor indeed, and very poor, and a mere retainer of the theatres ; but he was intimately acquainted with Henslowe and Alleyn, and with all the performers at their houses. He was familiar with Drayton and Chapman, and Rowley, and Middleton, and Fletcher ; he had been writing for three years, in conjunction with Marston, and Decker, and Chettle, and Porter, and Bird, and with most of the poets of the day : he was celebrated by Meres as one of the principal writers of tragedy; and he had long been rising in reputation as a scholar and a poet among the most distinguished characters of the age. At this moment he was employed on Every Man out of his Humour, which was acted in 1599, and, in the elegant dedication of that comedy to the · Gentlemen of the Inns of Court,” he says, • When I wrote this poem, I had friendship with divers in your Societies, who, as they were great names in learning, so were they no less examples of living. Of them and then, that I say no more, it was not despised.' - And yet, Jonson was, at this time, altogether unknown to the world !' and offered a virgin comedy (which had already been three years on the stage) to a player in the humble hope that it might be accepted.” +
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. pp. 67, 68.
Gifford's Jonson, vol. i. Memoirs, pp. xliii. xliv. xlv. — Shakspeare, whose name stands at the head of the principal performers in Every Man in his Humour, is supposed to have acted the part of Knowell.
The presumption is, that our poet and Jonson were acquainted anterior to 1598, probably as early as 1595, and that the dramatic reputation of Ben was the chief motive which induced the company at the Black Friars to procure the alterations in, and to secure the property of, Every Man in his Humour. Such even is the opinion of Mr. Malone himself, when he has once forgotten the preposterous charge of ingratitude, on the part of Jonson, for this imaginary introduction to the stage by Shakspeare; for in a note, on an entry of Mr. Henslowe's, which runs thus :-“11 of Maye 1597, at the comedy of umers (humours) 11,” that is, acted eleven times since November, 1596, he observes, — “ Perhaps Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour.” It will appear hereafter, that he had money dealings with Mr. Henslowe, the manager of this theatre, and that he wrote for him. The play might have been afterwards purchased from this company by the Lord Chamberlain's Servants (that is, by Shakspeare, Burbage, Heminge, &c.) by whom it was acted in 1598*; an inconsistency which has been keenly and justly animadverted upon by Mr. Gifford. to
Two domestic circumstances mark the next year of our author's life ; for in 1599, his father obtained from the Heralds' Office a confirmation of his Coat of Arms, and his sister Joan married Mr. William Hart, a hatter in Stratford, occurrences which, in the great dearth of events unfortunately incident to our subject, are of some importance.
If an inference, however, made by Sir John Sinclair, could be considered as legitimately drawn, this year might be esteemed one of the most important in the poet's life ; for, in the twentieth volume of his Statistical Account of Scotland, when speaking of the local traditions respecting Macbeth's castle at Dunsinnan, he infers, from their coincidence with the drama, that Shakspeare, “ in his capacity of actor, travelled to Scotland in 1599, and collected on the spot mate
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 365.