Shirley, James

, an English dramatic writer and poet, was of an antient family, and born about 1594, in the parish of St. Mar) Wool-church, London. He was educated at Merchant-Taylors school, and thence removed to St. John’s college in Oxford; where Laud, then president of that college, had a good opinion of his talents, yet would often tell him, as Wood relates, that “he was an unfit person to take the sacred function upon him, and should never have his consent;” 'because Shirley had then a large mole upon his left cheek, which appeared a great deformity. Afterwards, leaving Oxford without a degree, he went to Katherine-hall, Cambridge, where he formed a close attachment with Bancroft, the epigrammatist, who has recorded their friendship in one of his epigrams. At Cambridge, Wood supposes he took the degree in arts, as he soon after entered into orders, and took a cure at or near St. Alban’s, in Hertfordshire; but, becoming unsettled in his principles, changed his religion for that of Rome, left his living, and taught a grammar school in the town of St. Alban’s. This employment being after some time uneasy to him, he retired to London, lived in Gray’s-inn, and commenced dramatic writer, which recommended him to the patronage of various persons of rank, especially Henrietta Maria, Charles the First’s queen, who made him her servant. His first comedy is dated 1629, after which he wrote nine or ten, between that year and 1637, when he went to Ireland, under the patronage of George earl of Kildare, to whom he dedicated his tragi-comedy of the “Royal Master,” and by whose influence that comedy was acted in the castle at Dublin, before the lord deputy. From Ireland he returned to England in 1638; but Wood says, that when the rebellion broke out, he was obliged to leave London and his family (for he had a wife and children), and, being invited by his patron, William earl of Newcastle, to accompany him in the wars, he attended his lordship. Upon the decline of the king’s cause, he retired to London; where, among other of his friends, he found Thomas Stanley, esq. author of the “Lives of Philosophers,” who supported him for the present. The acting of plays being now prohibited, | he returned to his old occupation of teaching school, which he carried on in White Friars; and educated many youths, who afterwards proved eminent men. At the Restoration, several of his plays were brought upon the theatre again; and it is probable he subsisted very well, though it does not appear how. In 1666 he was forced, with his second wife Frances, by the great fire in September, from his house near Fleet-street, in the parish of St. Giles’s in the fields, where, being extremely affected with the loss and terror that fire occasioned, they both died within the space of twentv-four hours, and were both interred in the same grave, Oct. the 29th.

Besides thirty-seven plays, tragedies and comedies, printed at different times, he published a volume of poems in 1646, some beautiful specimens of which Mr. Ellis has recommended in his judicious selection. He was also the author of three tracts relating to grammar. He assisted his patron the earl, afterwards duke of Newcastle, in composing several plays, which the duke published; and wrote notes for Ogilby’s translations of Homer and Virgil. Wood tells us, that “he was the most noted dramatic poet of his time;” and Langbaine calls him “one of such incomparable parts, that he was the chief of the second-rate poets, and by some even equal to Fletcher himself,” and modern critics tell us that his comedies possess many features of the genuine drama, and deserve republication.

There was one Mr. Henry Shirley, a contemporary of our author, who wrote a tragedy called “The Martyred Soldier;” which was often acted with applause. It was printed in 1631, and dedicated by the publisher J. K. to sir Kenelm Digby; the author being then dead. More recently there was a William Shirley, who was for some years resident in Portugal, in a public character, as it is supposed. On some disgust, however, or dispute in which he had involved himself there, he returned to England about 1749. He was esteemed well versed in affairs of trade, and the commercial interests and connections of different kingdoms, especially those of Great Britain and Portugal. He was also considered as the author of several letters on those subjects, published in the Daily Gazetteer, and signed Lusitanicus; and wrote a pamphlet, entitled “Observations upon the sentence of the conspirators against the king of Portugal,1755, 8vo. In his poetical | capacity, however, Mr. Shirley does not stand in so considerable a light, though several of his plays have been represented on the stage; but others were rejected by Garrick, whom tie abused in the newspapers. He is said to have written for the stage as late as 1777, when he must have been advanced in years; but the time of his death is not specified in our authority. 1


Biog. Dram. —Ath. Ox. vol. II. Ellis’s Specitnens.-~Cens. Lit. vol. IV. Wilson’s Hist, of Merchant Taylors’ School.