Shakspeare

, was a considerable dealer in wool, and had been an officer and bailiff (probably high-bailiff or mayor) of the body corporate of Stratford. He held also the office of justice of the peace, and at one time, it is said, possessed lands and tenements to the amount of 500l. the reward of his grandfather’s faithful and approved services to king Henry VII. This, however, has been asserted upon very doubtful authority. Mr. Malone thinks ft it is highly probable that he distinguished himself in Bosworth field on the side of king Henry, and that he was rewarded for his military services by the bounty of that parsimonious prince, though not with a grant of lands. No such grant appears in the chapel of the Rolls, from the beginning to the end of Henry’s reign.“But whatever may have been his former wealth, it appears to have been” greatly reduced in the latter part of his life, as we find, from the books of the corporation, that in 1579 he was excused the trifling weekly tax of four-pence levied on all the aldermen; and that in 1586 another alderman was appointed in his room, in consequence of his declining to attend on the business of that office. It is even said by Aubrey, a man sufficiently accurate in facts, although credulous in superstitious narratives and traditions, that he followed for some time the occupation of a butcher, which Mr. Malone thinks not inconsistent with probability. It must have been, however, at this time, no inconsiderable addition to his difficulties that he had a family of ten children. His wife was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote, in the county of Warwick, who is styled “a gentleman of worship.” The family of Arden is very ancient, Robert Arden of Bromich, esq. being in the list of the gentry of this county returned by the commissioners in the twelfth year of king Henry VI. A. D. 1433. Edward Arden was sheriff of the county in 1568. The woodland part of this county was anciently called Ardern, afterwards softened to Arden; and hence the name. | Our illustrious poet was the eldest son, and received his early education, whether narrow or liberal, at a free school, probably that founded at Stratford; but from this he appears to have been soon removed, and placed, according to Mr. Malone’s opinion, in the office of some country attorney, or the seneschal of some manor court, where it is highly probable he picked up those technical law phrases that so frequently occur in his plays, and could not have been in common use unless among professional men. Mr. Capell conjectures that his early marriage prevented his being sent to some university. It appears, however, as Dr. Farmer observes, that his early life was incompatible with a course of education, and it is certain that “his contemporaries, friends and foes, nay, and himself likewise, agree in his want of what is usually termed literature.” It is, indeed, a strong argument in favour of Shakspeare’s illiterature, that it was maintained by all his contemporaries, many of whom have left upon record every merit they could bestow on him and by his successors, who lived nearest to his time, when “his memory was green” and that it has been denied only by Gildon, Sewell, and others down to Upton, who could have no means of ascertaining the truth.

In his eighteenth year, or perhaps a little sooner, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than himself, the daughter of one Hathaway, who is said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. Of his domestic ceconomy, or professional occupation at this time, we have no information; but it would appear that both were in a considerable degree neglected by his associating with a gang of deer-stealers. Being detected with them in robbing the park of sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, near Stratford, he was so rigorously prosecuted by that gentleman as to be obliged to leave his family and business, and take shelter in London. Sir Thomas, on this occasion, is said to have been exasperated by a ballad Shakspeare wrote, probably his first essay in poetry, of which the following stanza was communicated to Mr. Oldys.

"A parliemente member, a justice of peace,

At home a poor scare-crowe, at London an asse,

If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it,

Then Lucy is lowsie whatever befall k:

He thinks himself greate,

Yet an asse in his state

We allowe by his ears but with asset to mate.

|

If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,

Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it."

These lines, it must be confessed, do no great honour to our poet, and probably were unjust, for although some of his admirers have recorded sir Thomas as a “vain, weak, and vindictive magistrate,” he was certainly exerting no very violent act of oppression, in protecting his property against a man who was degrading the commonest rank of life, and had at this time bespoke no indulgence by superior talents. The ballad, however, must have made some noise at sir Thomas’s expence, as the author took care it should be affixed to his park-gates, and liberally circulated among his neighbours.

On his arrival in London, which was probably in 1586, when he was twenty -two years old, he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house, to which idleness or taste may have directed him, and where his necessities, if tradition may be credited, obliged him to accept the office of call-boy, or prompter’s attendant. This is a menial, whose employment it is to give the performers notice to be ready to enter, as often as the business of the play requires their appearance on the stage. Pope, however, relates a story, communicated to him by Rowe, but which Rowe did not think deserving of a place in the life he wrote, that must a little retard the advancement of our poet to the office just mentioned. According to this story, Shakspeare’s first employment was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready after the performance. But “I cannot,” says his acute commentator, Mr. Steevens, “dismiss this anecdote without observing, that it seems to want every mark of probability. Though Shakspeare quitted Stratford on account of a juvenile irregularity, we have no reason to suppose that he had forfeited the protection of his father, who was engaged in a lucrative business 3 or the love of his wife, who had already brought him two children, and was herself the daughter of a substantial yeoman. It is unlikely, therefore, when he was beyond the reach of his prosecutor, that he should conceal his plan of life, or place of residence, from those who, if he found himself distressed, could not fail to afford him such supplies as would have set him above the necessity of holding horses for subsistence. Mr. Malone has remarked in his ‘Attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays of Shakspeare were written,’ that | he might have found an easy introduction to the stage; for Thomas Green, a celebrated comedian of that period, was his townsman, and perhaps his relation. The genius of our author prompted him to write poetry; his connexion with a player might have given his productions a dramatic turn; or his own sagacity might have taught him that fame was not incompatible with profit, and that the theatre was an avenue to both. That it was once the general custom to ride on horse-back to the play, I am likewise yet to learn. The most popular of the theatres were on the Bank-side; and we are told by the satirical pamphleteers of that time, that the usual mode of conveyance to these places of amusement was by water, but not a single writer so much as hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the practice of having horses held during the hours of exhibition. Some allusion to this usage (if it had existed) must, I think, have been discovered in the course of our researches after contemporary fashions. Let it be remembered too, that we receive this tale on no higher authority than that of Gibber’s Lives of the Poets, vol. I. p. 130. Sir Win. Davenant told it to Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Howe, who, according to Dr. Johnson, related it to Mr. Pope.” Mr. Malone concurs in opinion that this story stands on a very slender foundation, while he differs from Mr. Steevens as to the fact of gentlemen going to the theatre on horseback. With respect likewise to Shakspeare’s father being “engaged in a lucrative business,” we may remark, that this could not have been the case at the time our author came to London, if the preceding dates be correct. He is said to have arrived in London in 1586, the year in which his father resigned the office of alderman, unless, indeed, we are permitted to conjecture that his resignation was not the consequence of his necessities.

But in whatever situation he was first employed at the theatre, he appears to have soon discovered those talents which afterwards made him

Th‘ applause delight the wonder of our stage!

Some distinction he probably first acquired as an actor, although Mr. Kowe has not been able to discover any character in which he appeared to more advantage thaii that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player in that tragedy, and other passages of his works, show an intimate acquaintance with the skill of acting, and such as is scarcely surpassed in our, own days. He appears | to have studied nature in acting as much as in writing; But all this might have been mere theory. Mr. M alone is of opinion he was no great actor. The distinction, however, which he obtained as an actor, could only be in his own plays, in which he would be assisted by the novel appearance of author and actor combined. Before his time, it does not appear that any actor of genius could appear to advantage in the wretched pieces represented on the stage.

Mr. Rowe regrets that he cannot inform us which was the first play he wrote. More skilful research has since found that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III. were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years old; there is also some reason to think that he commenced a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first, play, “First part of Henry VI.” in 1589. His plays, however, must have been not only popular, but approved by persons of the higher order, as we are certain that he enjoyed the gracious favour of Queen Elizabeth, who was very fond of the stage, and the particular and affectionate patronage of the earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his poems of “Venus and Adonis,” and his “Rape of Lucrece.” On sir William Davenant’s authority, it has been asserted that this nobleman at one time gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to complete a purchase. At the conclusion of the advertisement prefixed to Lintot*s edition of Shakspeare’s Poems, it is said, “That most learned prince and great patron of learning, king James the first, was pleased with his own hand to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare: which letter, though now lost, remained long in the hands of sir William D’Avenant, as a credible person now living can testify.” Dr. Farmer with great probability supposes, that this letter was written by king James, in return for the compliment paid to him in Macbeth. The relator of the anecdote was Sheffield, duke of Buckingham. These brief notices, meagre as they are, may show that our author enjoyed high favour in his day. Whatever we may think of king James as a “learned prince,” his patronage, as well as that of his predecessor, was sufficient to give celebrhy to the founder of a new stage. It may be added, that Shakspeare’s uncommon merit, his candour, and good-nature, are supposed to have procured him the admiration and acquaintance of every person distinguished for such qualities. It is not difficult, | indeed, to suppose that Shakspeare was a man of humour, and a social companion, and probably excelled in that species of minor wit, not ill adapted to conversation, of which it could have been wished he had been more sparing in his writings.

How long he acted has not been discovered, but he continued to write till the year 1614. During his dramatic career he acquired a property in the theatre ,*

*

In 1603, Shakspeare and several others obtained a license from king James to exhibit comedies, tragedies, histories, &c. at the Globe Theatre, and elsewhere.

which he must have disposed of when he retired, as no mention of it occurs in his will. His connexion with Ben Jonson has been variously related. It is said, that when Jonson was unknown to the world, he offered a play to the theatre, which was rejected after a very careless perusal; but that Shakspeare having accidentally cast his eye on it, conceived a favourable opinion of it, and afterwards recommended Jonson and his writings to the public. For this candour he was repaid by Jonson, when the latter became a poet of note, with an envious disrespect. Jonson acquired reputation by the variety of his pieces, and endeavoured to arrogate the supremacy in dramatic genius. Like a French critic, he insinuated Shakspeare’s incorrectness, his careless manner of writing, and his want of judgment; and as he was a remarkably slow writer himself, he could not endure the praise frequently bestowed on Shakspeare, of seldom altering or blotting out what he had written. Mr. Malone says, that “not long after the year 1600, a coolness arose between Shakspeare and him, which, however he may talk of his almost idolatrous affection, produced on his part, from that time to the death of our author, and for many years afterwards, much clumsy sarcasm, and many malevolent reflections.” But from these, which are the commonly received opinions on this subject, Dr. Farmer is inclined to depart, and to think Jonson’s hostility to Shakspeare absolutely groundless; so uncertain is every circumstance we attempt to recover of our great poet’s life .

But since writing the above, Mr. O, Gilchrist has published the vindication of Jonson in a very able pamphlet. See our account of Jonson, vol. XIX. p. 144.

Jonson had only one advantage over Shakspeare, that of superior learning, which might in certain situations be of some importance, but could never promote his rivalship with a man who attained the highest excellence without it. Nor will
| Shakspeare suffer by its being known that all the dramatic poets before he appeared were scholars. Greene, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, Nashe, Lily, and Kyd, had all, says Mr. Malone, a regular university education, and, as scholars in our universities, frequently composed and acted plays on historical subjects .*
*

This was the practice in Milton’s days. “One of his objections to academical education, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for or ders in the church were permitted to act plays, &c.” Johnson’s Life of Miltoo.

The latter part of Shakspeare’s life was spent in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had accumulated considerable property, which Gildon (in his “Letters and Essays,1694,) stated to amount to 300l. per annum, a sum at least equal to Iooo/. in our days; but Mr. Malone doubts whether all his property amounted to much more than 2001. per annum, which yet was a considerable fortune in those times; and it is supposed that he might have derived 200l. per annum from the theatre while he continued to act.

He retired, some years before his death, to a house in Stratford, of which it has been thought important to give the history. It was built by sir Hugh Clopton, a younger bro her of an ancient family in that neighbourhood. Sir Hugh was sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and lord mayor in the reign of Henry VII. By his will he bequeathed to his elder brother’s son his manor of Clopton, &c, and his house, by the name of the Great House) in Stratford. A good part of the estate was in possession of Edward Clopton, esq. and sir Hugh Clopton, knight, in 1733. The principal estate had been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the purchaser, who having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place y which the mansion-house afterwards erected, in the room of the poet’s house, retained for many years. The house and lands belonging to it continued in the possession of Shakspeare’s descendants to the time of the Restoration, when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family. Here, in May 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Macklin, and Mr. Delane, visited Stratford, they were hospitably entertained under Shakspeare’s mulberry-tree, by sir Hugh Clopton. He was a barrister at law, was knighted by king George I. and died in the eightieth year of his age, in December | 1751. His executor, about 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. As he resided part of the year at Lichfield, he thought he was assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the maintenance of the poor; but, being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his servants in his absence, he peevishly declared, that that house should never be assessed again: and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. He had some time before cut down Shakspeare’s mulberry-tree ,*

*

As the curiosity of this house and tree brought much fame, and more company and profit to the town, a certain man, on some disgust, has pulled the house down, so as not to leave one stone upon another, and cut down the tree, and piled it as a stack of firewood, to the great vexation, loss, and disappointment of the inhabitants; however, an honest silver-smiih bought the whole stack of wood, and makes many odd things of this wood for the curious.” Letter in Annual Hegister, 1760. Of Mr. Gastrell and his lady, see Boswell’s Life of Dr, Johnson., vol. 11, 490, 111. 443.

to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the classic ground on which it stood. That Shakspeare planted this tree appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where New Place stood is now a garden. Before concluding this history, it may be necessary to mention, that the poet’s house was once honoured by the temporary residence of Henrietta Maria, queen to Charles I. Theobald has given an inaccurate account of this, as if she had been obliged to take refuge in Stratford from the rebels, which was not the case. She marched from Newark, June 16, 1643, and entered Stratford triumphantly, about the 22nd of the same month, at the head of 3000 foot and 1500 horse, with 15o waggons, and a train of artillery. Here she was met by prince Rupert, accompanied by a large body of troops. She rested about three weeks at our poet’s house, which was then possessed by his grand-daughter Mrs. Nash, and her husband.

During Shakspeare’s abode in this house, his pleasureable wit and good-nature, says Mr. Rowe, engaged him the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friend hip of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Among these Mr. Rowe tells a traditional story of a miser, or usurer, named Combe, who, in conversation with Shakspeare, said he fancied the | poet intended to write his epitaph if he should survive him, and desired to know what he meant to say. On this Shakspeare gave him the following, probably extempore

"Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav’d,

Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav’d.

If any man ask, who lies in this tombe

‘ Oh ho’ quoth the devil, *

*

The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, “he was a handsome will-shaped man,” and adds “verie good company, and of a very ready, and pleasant, and smooth wilt.”

‘tis my John-a-CombeY’ The sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely that he never forgave it. These lines, however, or some which nearly resemble them, appeared in various collections both before and after the time they were said to have been composed; and the inquiries of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone satisfactorily prove that the whole story is a fabrication. Betterton is said to have heard it when he visited Warwickshire, on purpose to collect anecdotes of our poet, and probably thought it of too much importance to be nicely examined. We know not whether it be worth adding of a story which we have rejected, that a usurer in Shakspeare’s time did not mean one who took exorbitant, but any interest or usance for money, and that ten in the hundred, or ten per cent, was then the ordinary interest of money. It is of more consequence, however, to record the opinion of Mr. Malone, that Shakspeare, during his retirement, wrote the play of “Twelfth Night.

He died on his birth-day, Tuesday April 23, 1616, when he had exactly completed his fifty-second year*, and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall, on which he is represented under an arch, in a sitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left rested on a scroll of paper; The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion:

" Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,

Terra tegit, populus mosret, Olympus habet."

The first syllable in Socratem,” says Mr. Steevens, ``is here made short, which cannot be allowed. Perhaps we should read Sophoclem. Shakspeare is then appositely compared with a dramatick author among the ancients; but still it should be remembered that the elogium is lessened while the metre is reformed; and it is well known that some of our early writers of Latin poetry were uncommonly negligent in their prosody, especially in proper | names. The thought of this distich, as Mr. Toilet observes, might have been taken from ‘The Faery Queene’ of Spenser, B. II. c. ix. st. 48, and c. x. st. 3.

``To this Latin inscription on Shakspeare may be added the lines which are found underneath it on his monument:

‘Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?

Read, if thou canst, whom envious death hath plac’d

Within this monument; Shakspeare, with whom

Quick nature dy’d; whose name doth deck the tomb

Far more than cost; since all that he hath writ

Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.

Obiit Anº. Dni. 1616.

æt. 53, die 23 Apri.’

*
*

On his grave-stone underneath, are these lines, in an uncouth mixture of small and capital letters: “Good Frend for Jesus Sake forbeare To dice T-EDust EncloAsed HERe Blese be T-E Man spares T-Ese Stones And curst be He J moves my Bones.” It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shakspeare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnel houses; and similar execrations are found in many ancient Latin epitaphs

It appears from the verses of Leonard Digges’, that our author’s monument was erected before the year 1623. It has been engraved by Vertue, and done in mezzotinto by Miller.

We have no account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius.

His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the 12th year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father’s favourite, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died Nov. 1635, aged 60. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged 66 They left only one child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, esq. who died in 1647, and afterwards to sir John Barnard of Abmgton, in Northamptonshire, but died without issue by either husband. Jn.iith, Shakspeare’ s youngest daughter, was married to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died Feb. 1661-62, in her 77th year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. Sir Hugh Ciopton, who was born two years after the death of lady Barnard, which happened in 1669-70, related to Mr. Macklin, in 1742, an old tradition, that she had carried away with her from Stratford many of her grandfather’s papers. On the death of sir John Barnard, Mr. Malone thinks these must have fallen into the hands of Mr. Edward Bagley, lady Barnard’s | executor, and if any descendant of that gentleman be now living, in his custody they probably remain. To this account of Shakspeare’s family, we have now to add that among Oldys’s papers, is another traditional story of his having been the father of sir William Davenant. Oldys’s relation is thus given:

If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown inn or tavern in Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, Mr. John Davenant, (afterwards mayor of that city) a grave melancholy man; xvho, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shaks^ peare’s pleasant company. Their son, young Will. Davenant, (afterwards sir William) was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day an old townsman observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered to see his god-father Shakspeare. `There’s a good boy,‘ said the other, ’but have a care that you don‘t take God’s name in vain.’ This story Mr. Pope told me at the earl of Oxford’s table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Shakspeare’s monument then newly erected in Westminster abbey.

This story appears to have originated with Anthony Wood, and it has been thought a presumption of its being true that, after careful examination, Mr. Thomas Warton was inclined to believe it. Mr. Steevens, however, treats it with the utmost contempt, but does not perhaps argue with his usual attention to experience when he brings sir William Davenant’s “heavy, vulgar, unmeaning face,” as a proof that he could not be Shakspeare’s son.

In the year 1741, a monument was erected to our poet in Westminster Abbey, by the direction of the earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It was the work of Scheemaker (who received 300l. for it), after a design of Kent, and was opened in January of that year. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expences, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performers at Drury-Iane theatre amounted to above 200l. but the receipts at Covent-garden did not exceed 100l. | From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers* and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can hereafter be discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory and illustrate his writings. In the sketch. we have given, if the dates of his birth and death be excepted, what is there on which the reader can depend, or for which, if he contend eagerly, he may not be involved in controversy, and perplexed with contradictory opinions and authorities

It is usually said that the life of an author can be little else than a history of his works; but this opinion is liable to many exceptions. If an author, indeed, has passed his days in retirement, his life can afford little more variety than that of any other man who has lived in retirement; but if, as is generally the case with writers of great celebrity, he has acquired a pre-eminence over his contemporaries, if he has excited rival contentions, and defeated the attacks of criticism or of malignity, or if he has plunged into the controversies of his age, and performed the part cither of a tyrant or a hero in literature, his history may be rendered as interesting as that of any other public character. But whatever weight may be allowed to this remark, the decision will not be of much consequence in the case of Shakspeare. Unfortunately we know as little of the progress of his writings, as of his personal history. The industry of his illustrators for the last thirty years has been such as probably never was surpassed in the annals of literary investigation, yet so far are we from information of the conclusive or satisfactory kind, that even the order in which his plays were written, rests principally on conjecture, and of some plays usually printed among his works, it is not yet determined whether he wrote the whole, or any part. | Much of our ignorance of every thing which it would be desirable to know respecting Shakspeare’s works, must be imputed to the author himself. If we look merely at the state in which he left his productions, we should be apt to conclude, either that he was insensible of their value, or that while he was the greatest, he was at the same time the humblest writer the world ever produced; “that he thought his works unworthy of posterity, that he levied no ideal tribute upon future times, nor had any further prospect, than that of present popularity and present profit.” And such an opinion, although it apparently partakes of the ease and looseness of conjecture, may not be far from probability. But before we allow it any higher merit, or attempt to decide upon the affection or neglect with which he reviewed his labours, it may be necessary to consider their precise nature, and certain circumstances in his situation which affected them; and, above all, we must take into our account the character and predominant occupations of the times in which he lived, and of those which followed his decease.

With respect to himself, it does not appear that he printed any one of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his life-time. The reason assigned for this is, that he wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to the managers when only an actor, reserved them in manuscript when himself a manager, and when he disposed of his property in the theatre, they were still preserved in manuscript to prevent their being acted by the rival houses. Copies of some of them appear to have been surreptitiously obtained, and published in a very incorrect state, but we may suppose that it was wiser in the author or managers to overlook this fraud, than to publish a correct edition, and so destroy the exclusive property they enjoyed. It is clear, therefore, that any publication of his plays by himself would have interfered, at first with his own interest, and afterwards with the interest of those to whom he had made over his share in them. But even had this obstacle been removed, we are not sure that he would have gained much by publication. If he had no other copies but those belonging to the theatre, the business of correction for the press must have been a toil which we are afraid the taste of the public at that time would have poorly rewarded. We know not the exact portion of fame he enjoyed; it was probably the highest which dramatic genius could confer, but dramatic | genius was a new excellence, and not well understood. Its claims were probably not heard out of the jurisdiction of the master of the revels, certainly not beyond the metropolis. Yet such was Shakspeare’s reputation, that we are tolcl his name was put to pieces which he never wrote, and that he felt himself too confident in popular favour to undeceive the public. This was singular resolution in a man who wrote so unequally, that. at this day the test of internal evidence must be applied to his doubtful productions with the greatest caution. But still, how far his character would have been elevated by an examination of his plays in the closet, in an age when the refinements of criticism were not understood, and the sympathies of taste were seldom felt, may admit of a question. “His language,” says Dr. Johnson, “not being designed for the readers desk, was all that he desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the audience.

Shakspeare died in 1616, and seven years afterwards appeared the first edition of his plays, published at the charges of four booksellers, a circumstance from which Mr. Malone infers, “that no single publisher was at that time willing to risk his money on a complete collection of our author’s plays.” This edition was printed from the copies in the hands of his fellow-managers, Heminge and Condell, which had been in a series of years frequently altered through convenience, caprice, or ignorance. Heminge and Condell had now retired from the stage, and, we may suppose, were guilty of no injury to their successors, in printing what their own interest only had formerly withheld. Of this, although we have no documents amounting t^ demonstration, we may be convinced, by adverting to a circumstance which will, in our days, appear very extraordinary, namely, the declension of Shakspeare’s popularity. We have seen that the publication of his works was accounted a doubtful speculation, and it is yet more certain that so much had the public taste turned from him in quest of variety, that for several years after his death the plays of Fletcher were more frequently acted than his, and during the whole of the seventeenth century, they were made to give place to performances, the greater part of which cannot now be endured. During the same period only four editions of his works were published, all in folio; and perhaps this unwieldy size of volume may be an additional proof that they were not popular; nor is it thought that the impressions were numerous. | These circumstances which attach to our author and to his works, must be allowed a plausible weight in accounting for onr deficiencies in his biography and literary career; but there were circumstances enough in the history of the times to suspend the progress of that more regular drama, of which he had set the example, and may be considered as the founder. If we wonder why we know so much less of Shakspeare than of his contemporaries, let us recollect that his genius, however highly and justly we now rate it, took a direction which was not calculated for permanent admiration, either in the age in which he lived, or in that which followed. Shakspeare was a writer of plays, a promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism; and an amusement which, although it has been classed among the schools of morality, has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral purposes, that the force of law has in all ages been called in to preserve it within the bounds of common decency. The church has ever been unfriendly to the stage. A part of the injunctions of queen Elizabeth is particularly directed against the printing of plays; and, according to an entry in the books of the Stationers’ Company, in the 4 1 st year of her reign, it is ordered that no plays be printed, except allowed by persons in authority. Dr. Farmer also remarks, that in that age, poetry and novels were destroyed publicly by the bishops, and privately by the puritans. The main transactions, indeed, of that period could not admit of much attention to matters of amusement. The reformation required all the circumspection and policy of a long reign to render it so firmly established in popular favour as to brave the caprice of any succeeding sovereign. This was effected in a great measure by the diffusion of religious controversy, which was encouraged by the church, and especially by the puritans, who were the immediate teachers of the lower classes, were listened to with veneration, and usually inveighed against all public amusements, as inconsistent with the Christian profession. These controversies continued during the reign of James I. and were in a considerable degree promoted by him, although he, like Elizabeth, was a favourer of the stage as an appemiage to the grandeur and pleasures of the court. But the commotions which followed in the unhappy reign of Charles I. when the stage was totally abolished, are sufficient to account for the oblivion thrown on the history and works of our great bard. From this time no inquiry | was made, until it was too late to obtain any information more satisfactory than the few hearsay scraps and contested traditions above detailed. “How little,” says Mr. Steevens, “Shakspeare was once read, may be understood from Tate, who, in his dedication to the altered play of king Lear, speaks of the original as an obscure piece, recommended to his notice by a friend; and the author of the Tatler having occasion to quote a few lines out of Macbeth, was con^ tent to receive them from D’Avenant’s alteration of that celebrated drama, in which almost every original beauty is either aukwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted.

In fifty years after his death, Dry den mentions that he was then become “a little obsolete.” In the beginning of the last century, Lord Shaftesbury complains of his “rude unpolished style, and his antiquated phrase and wit.” It is certain that for nearly an hundred years after his death, partly owing to the immediate revolution and rebellion, and partly to the licentious taste encouraged in Charles I I.‘s time, and perhaps partly to the Incorrect state of his works, he was almost entirely neglected. -Mr. Malone has justly remarked, that “if he had been read, admired, studied, and imitated, in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life.

His admirers, however, if he had admirers in that age, possessed no portion of such enthusiasm. That curiosity which in our days has raised biography to the rank of an independent study, was scarcely known, and where known, confined principally to the public transactions of eminent characters. And if, in addition to the circumstances already stated, we consider how little is known of the personal history of Shakspeare’s contemporaries, we may easily resolve the question why, of all men who have ever claimed admiration by genius, wisdom, or valour, who have eminently contributed to enlarge the taste, or increase the reputation of their country, we know the least of Shakspeare; and why, of the few particulars which seem entitled to credit, when simply related, and in which there is no manifest violation of probability, or promise of importance, there is scarcely one which has not swelled into a controversy. After a careful examination of all that modern research has discovered, we know not how to trust our curiosity beyond | the limits of those barren dates which afford no personal history. The nature of Shakspeare’s writings prevents that appeal to internal evidence which in other cases has been found to throw light on character. The purity of his morals, for example, if sought in his plays, must be measured against the licentiousness of his language, and the question will then be, how much did he write from conviction, and how much to gratify the taste of his hearers How much did he add to the age, and how much did he borrow from it Pope says, “he was obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company;” and Pope might have said more, for although we hope’ it was not true, we have no means of proving that it was false.

The only life which has been prefixed to all the editions of Shakspeare of the eighteenth century is that drawn tip by Mr. Rowe, and which he modestly calls “Some Account, &c.” In this we have what Rowe could collect when every legitimate^source of information was closed, a few traditions that- were*‘ floating nearly a century after the author’s death. Some inaccuracies in his account have been detected in the valuable notes of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone, who, in other parts of their respective editions, have scattered a few brief notices which are incorporated in the present sketch. The whole, however, is unsatisfactory. Shakspeare in his private character, in his friendships, in his amusements, in his closet, in his family, is no where before us; and such was the nature of the writings on which his fame depends, and of that employment in which he was engaged, that being in no important respect connected with the history of his age, it is in vain to look into the latter for any information concerning him.

Mr. Capell is of opinion that he wrote some prose works, because “it can hardly be supposed that he, who had so considerable a share in the confidence of the earls of Essex and Southampton, could be a mute spectator only of controversies in which they were so much interested.” This editor, however, appears to have taken for granted a degree of confidence with these two statesmen, which he ought first to have proved. Shakspeare might have enjoyed the confidence of their social hours, but it is mere conjecture that they admitted him into the confidence of their state affairs. Mr. Malone, whose opinions are entitled to a higher degree of credit, thinks that his prose compositions, if they should be discovered, would exhibit | the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigour, which we find in his plays. It is unfortunate, however, for all wishes and all conjectures, that not a line of Shakspeare’ s manuscript is known to exist, and his prose writings are nowhere hinted at. We have only printed copies of his plays and poems, and those so depraved by carelessness or ignorance, that all the labour of all his commentators has not yet been able to restore them to a probable purity. Many of the greatest difficulties attending the perusal of them yet remain, and will require, what it is scarcely possible to expect, greater sagacity and more happy conjecture than have hitherto been employed.

Of his poems, it is perhaps necessary that some notice should be taken, although they have never been favourites with the public, and have seldom been reprinted with his plays. Shortly after his death, Mr. Malone informs us, a very incorrect impression of them was issued out, which in every subsequent edition was implicitly followed, until he published a correct edition in 1780, with illustrations, &c. But the peremptory decision of Mr. Steevens on the merits of these poems must not be omitted. “We have not reprinted the Sonnets, &c. of Shakspeare, because the strongest act of parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service. Had Shakspeare produced no other works than these, his name would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred on that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonneteer.” Severe as this may appear, it only amounts to the general conclusion which modern critics have formed. Still it cannot be denied that there are many scattered beauties among his Sonnets, and although they are now lost in the blaze of his dramatic genius, Mr. Malone remarks that they seem to have gained him more reputation than his plays; at least, they are oftener mentioned or alluded to.

The elegant preface of Dr. Johnson gives an account of the attempts made in the early part of the last century, to revive the memory and reputation of our poet, by Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, whose respective merits he has characterized with candour, and with singular felicity of expression. Shakspeare’s works may be overloaded with criticism, for what writer has excited so much curiosity, and so many opinions but Johnson’s | preface is an accompaniment worthy of the genius it celebrates. His own edition followed in 1765, and a second, in conjunction with Mr. Steevens, in 1773. The third edition of the joint editors appeared in 1785, the fourth in 1793, the fifth in 1803, in 21 volumes octavo, which has since been reprinted. Mr. Malone’s edition was published in 1790 in 10 volumes, crown octavo, and is now become exceedingly scarce. His original notes and improvements, however, are incorporated in the editions of 1793 and 1803 by Mr. Steevens. Mr. Malone says, that from 1716 to the date of his edition in 1790, that is, in seventy-four years, “above 3-0,000 copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England.” To this we may add with confidence, that since 1790 that number has been more than doubled. During 1803 no fewer than nine editions were in the press, belonging to the booksellers of London; and if we add the editions printed by others, and those published in Scotland, Ireland, and America, we may surely fix the present as the highest aera of Shakspeare’s popularity. Nor among the honours paid to his genius, ought we to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydell. Still less ought it to be forgotten how much the reputation of Shakspeare was revived by the unrivalled excellence of Garrick’s performance. His share in directing the public taste towards the study of Shakspeare was perhaps greater than that of any individual in his time; and such was his zeal, and such hrs success in this laudable attempt, that he may readily be forgiven the foolish mummery of the Stratford Jubilee.

When public opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined to hold, he became the promising object of fraud and imposture. This, we have already observed, he did not wholly escape in his own time, and he had the spirit or policy to despise it.*

*

Mr. Malone has given a list of 14 plays ascribed to Shakspeare, either by the editors of the two later folios, or by the compilers of ancient cata logues. Of these “Pericles” has found advocates for its admission into his works.

It was reserved for modern impostors, however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in which his history is involved. In 1751 a book was published, entitled “A Compendious or briefe examination of certayne ordinary Complaints of diuers of our Countrymen in those our days; which, although they are in some parte unjust and frivolous, yet | are they all by way of dialogue, throughly debated and discussed by William Shakspeare, gentleman.” This had been originally published in 1581, but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved that W. S. gent, the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare in the reprinted edition, meant William Stafford, gent. Theobald, the same accurate critic informs us, was desirous of palming upon the world a play called “Double Falsehood,” for a posthumous one of Shakspeare. In 1770 was reprinted at Feversham, an old play, called “The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham and Black Will,” with a preface attributing it to Shakspeare, without the smallest foundation. But these were trifles compared to the -atrocious attempt made in 1795-6, when, besides a vast mass of prose and verse, letters, &c. pretendedly in the hand-writing of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled “Vortigern,” was not only brought forward for the astonishment of the admirers of Shakspeare, but actually performed on Drurylane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Steevens has very happily characterized as “the performance of a madman without a lucid interval,” or to enter more at large into the nature of a fraud so recent, and so soon acknowledged by the authors of it. It produced, however, an interesting controversy between Mr. Malone and Mr. George Chalmers, which, although mixed with some unpleasant asperities, was extended to inquiries into the history and antiquities of the stage, from which future critics and historians may derive considerable information. *
*

This sketch of Shakspeare’s Life was drawn up by the present writer for a variorum edition of his works, published in 1804, and no additional light having since been thrown on Shakpeare’s history, it is here reprinted with very few alterations.