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In fact, we do know that Shakspeare married for love, but we do not know of
the smallest intimation or hint, previous to the wild conjecture of Oldys, that coolness or estrangement had subsisted between the poet and his wife. We have every right, therefore, to conclude, that Mrs. Shakspeare had been previously and amply provided for, either by her husband, or by her father, whose circumstances are represented by Rowe, as having been “substantial.” We may, at least, rest satisfied, as well from the known integrity of Shakspeare, as from the humanity of his disposition, that nothing harsh or unjust had been committed by him on this occasion. Indeed, had the case been otherwise, the love of mankind for propagating what tends to deteriorate superior characters, would, doubtless, have protected such a family-anecdote from oblivion.
Why the executorship was intrusted to Dr. Hall and his lady, may be readily conceived to have originated, independent of their being the persons principally concerned, in the knowledge of the poet that the former, who was a man of business, was much better calculated, than Mrs. Shakspeare could possibly be, for carrying the will into execution.
That superior qualities of the head and heart, more especially when united, are entitled, even under the parental roof, to marked distinction, who will deny ? and that such were the blended qualities which rendered Susanna the favourite of her father
be certainly inferred from the circumstance that, while we hear nothing of Judith, but that she is supposed to have married contrary to her father's wishes, of Susanna we are told that she was “ witty above her sex;" that she had “ something of Shakspeare” in her, and, above all, that she was “ wise to salvation,” that she “wept with all that wept, yet set herself to chear them up with comforts.” To a child thus great and good, we need not wonder that Shakspeare paid a delighted deference. *
* I recollect an engraving, from a picture by Westall, of Milton composing Paradise Lost, in which he is attended by his two daughters. Shakspeare and his favourite Susanna might furnish a pleasing subject for the same elegant artist.
It may be objected that, however superior the elder daughter might be in point of intellect and moral sensibility, if the younger had done nothing worse than marry without her father's approbation, 110 great ditlirence should have been made between them in the distribution of his property. But we must recollect, that they moved in vittirert circles that whilst Susanna was united to a physician, who being in grut practices and intimate with the first families in the mighbour dreams was obliged to support an establishment of much
Jilih was open witè of a vintner, a station comparatively Pricinsi el nen Pixar muring such an expenditure. Under I have piszeminierats #hai perbiy be induced to acquit the poet Ha?! Nitie priviri ar to view the prorisions of his Will as mendas niyoporcioneri in the stations nor inadequate to the necessition of the parties concerned.
To che disposition and moral character of Shakspeare, tradition has per for the most uniform and favourable testimony. And, indivib hand she been silent on the subject, his own works would hele whispered to us the truth ; would have told us, in almost every 14401 vihe gentleness, the benevolence, and the goodness of his heart. Plus shough no one has exceeded him in painting the stronger pasalown of the human breast, it is evident that he delighted most in the o prossion ot' loveliness and simplicity, and was ever willing to descend trom the lottiest soarings of imagination, to sport with innocence and beauty. Though “ the world of spirits and of nature,” says the admirable Schlegel,
« had laid all their treasures at his feet : in strength a demi-god, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a protecting spirit of a higher order, he yet lowered himself i mortals as it' unconscious of his superiority, and was as open and Humming as a child.” *
That a temper of this description, and combined with such talents, bald hoe the object of sincere and ardent friendship, can excite no
+ Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. ji. p. 138.
much as any.
surprise. “ I loved the man,” says Jonson, with a noble burst of enthusiasm, “ and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as
He was, indeed, honest; and of an open and free nature ;” and Rowe, repeating the uncontradicted rumour of times past, has told us,"
“ that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him ;” adding, “ that his exceeding candour and good-nature must certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love
No greater proof, indeed, can be given of the felicity of his temper, and the sweetness of his manners, than that all who addressed him, seem to have uniformly connected his name with the epithets worthy, gentle, or beloved t; nor was he backward in returning this esteem, many of his sonnets indicating the warmth with which he cherished the remembrance of his friends. Thus the thirtieth
Thus the thirtieth opens with the following pensive retrospect :
66 When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night;"
and in the thirty-first he tenderly exclaims, –
“ How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye,
Another very fascinating feature in the character of Shakspeare, was the almost constant cheerfulness and serenity of his mind: he was “ verie good company,” says Aubrey," and of a very ready, and pleasant, and smooth witt.” † In this, as Mr. Godwin has justly ob
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 67.
+ “My gentle Shakspeare” is the language of Jonson, in his Poem to the memory of our bard: and see the Commendatory Poems prefixed to the old editions of our author's works, in Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii.
# Letters by Eminent Persons, from the Bodleian Library, vol. iii. p. 307.
served, he bore a striking resemblance to Chaucer, who was remarkable for the placidity and cheerfulness of his disposition *; nor can there, probably, be a surer indication of that peace and sunshine of the soul which surpasses all other gifts, than this habitual' tone of mind.
That Shakspeare was entitled to its possession from his moral virtues, we have already seen; and that, in a religious point of view, he had a claim to the enjoyment, the numerous passages in his works, which breathe a spirit of pious gratitude and devotional rapture, will sufficiently declare. In fact,
In fact, upon the topic of religious, as upon that of ethic wisdom, no profane poet can furnish us with a greater number of just and luminous aphorisms; passages which dwell upon the heart and reach the soul, for they have issued from lips of fire, from conceptions worthy of a superior nature, from feelings solemn and unearthly.
To these observations on the disposition and moral character of Shakspeare, we must add a few remarks on the taste which he seems to have possessed, in an exquisite degree, for all the forms of beauty, whether resulting from nature or from art. No
person can study his writings, indeed, without perceiving, that, throughout the vast range of being, whatever is lovely and harmonious, whatever is sweet in expression, or graceful in proportion, was constantly present to his mind ; that
“ on every part,
he saw pourtray'd
Nor was he a less delighted worshipper of the imitative efforts of art.
With what taste and enthusiasm, he has spoken of the
* Life of Chaucer, vol. iv. p. 175.
effects of music, has been already observed; but it remains to notice in what a sublime spirit of piety he refers this concord of sweet sounds, to its source in that transcript of Almighty, “ the world's harmonious volume:
“ There's not the smallest orb, which thou behold'st,
Of the beauties of painting and sculpture he appears to have had a keen and lively discernment. On Julio Romano, the most poetical, perhaps, of painters, he has pronounced, that “ had he himself eternity, and could put breath into his work, he' would beguile Nature of her custom t;" and of his masterly appreciation of the art of sculpture, the following lines from the The Winter's Tale, where Paulina unveils to Leontes the supposed statue of Hermione, afford evidence beyond all praise:
Here it is: prepare
(Paulina undrars a curtain, and discovers a statue.
Oh, thus she stood,
when first I woo'd her! -
Paul. Masterly done:
life seems warm upon her lip.