Imagini ale paginilor

those 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 pleas'd to fee a Genius arife amongst 'em of fo pleafurable, 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-natur'd man, of great íweetnefs in his manners, and a moft agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder if with fo many good qualities he made himfelf acquainted with the beft converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had feveral of his Plays acted before her, And without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour it is that maiden Prince's plainly, whom he intends by

-A fair Veftal, Throned by the West.

Midfummer-Night's Dream.

And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely apply'd to her. She was fo well pleas'd with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the fourth, that The commanded him to continue it for one Play more, and to fhow him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor How well she was obey'd, 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 2 Oldcaftle; fome of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleas'd to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falstaff. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I don't know whether the Author may not have been fomewhat to blame in his

See the Epilogue to Henry IVth.
i 3


fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a Knight of the garter, and a Lieutenantgeneral, was a name of diftinguifh'd merit in the wars in France in Henry the fifth's and Henry the fixth's times. What grace foever the Queen, confer'd upon him, it was not to her only he ow'd 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 Shakespear's, that if I had not been affur'd that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I fhould not have ventur'd to have inferted, that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand 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 almoft equal to that profufe generofity the prefent age has fhewn to French Dancers and Italian Singers.

What particular babitude 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 just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and good-nature must certainly have inclin'd all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit oblig'd the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.

His acquaintance with Ben Johnfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Johnson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offer'd one of his Plays to the Players, in order to have it acted; and the perfons into whose hands it was put, after having turn'd it carelefly and


fuperciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natur'd anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their Company, when Shakespear luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it as to engage him firft to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Johnson and his writings to the publick. Johnson was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespear, tho' at the fame time I believe it must be allow'd, 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, Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben Johnson; Sir John Suckling, who was a profefs'd admirer of Shakespear, had undertaken his defence against Ben Johnson with fome warmth; Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told 'em, That if Mr. Shakespear had not read the Ancients, he had likewife not ftolen any thing from 'em ; and that if he would produce any one Topick finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame fubject at least as well written by Shakefpear,

The latter part of his life was fpent, as all men of good fenfe will wish theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is faid to have spent fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit, and good-nature, engag'd him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it' is a story almost still remember'd in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury: It happen'd that in a pleasant converfation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespear in a laughing

i 4

laughing manner, that he fancy'd he intended to write his Epitaph, if he happen'd to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defir'd it might be done immediately: Upon which Shakespear gave him these four verses.

Fen in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,

'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd: If any man afk, Who lyes in this tomb?

Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe. But the sharpness of the Satire is faid to have ftung the man fo feverely, that he never forgave it.

He dy'd in the 53d year of his age, and was bury'd on the north fide of the chancel, in the great Church at Stratford, where a monument, as engrav'd in the plate, is plac'd in the wall. On his Grave-ftone underneath is,

Good friend, for Jefus' fake forbear
To dig the dust inclofed here.

Bleft be the man that spares thefe ftones,
And curft be he that moves my bones.

He had three daughters, of which two liv'd to be
marry'd; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Qui-
ney, by whom he had three Sons, who all died with-
out children; and Sufannah, who was his favourite,
to Dr. John Hall, a phyfician of good reputation in
that country.
She left one child only, a daughter,
who was marry'd first to Thomas Nash, Efq; and after-
wards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but dy'd
likewife withour iffue.

This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himfelf or family: The character of the man is beit feen in his writings. But fince Ben Johnson has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Difcoveries, I will give it in his words,

"I re

"I remember the Players have often mention'd it ❝as an honour to Shakespear, that in writing (what"foever he penn❜d) he never blotted out a line. My " answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thoufand! "which they thought a malevolent fpeech. I had "not told pofterity this, but for their ignorance, who "chofe that circumftance to commend their friend by, "wherein he most faulted: and to justifie mine own "candour, for I lov'd the man, and do honour his

memory, on this fide idolatry, as much as any. He "was, indeed, honeft, and of an open and free na"ture, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and "gentle expreffions; wherein he flow'd with that fa

cility, that fometimes it was neceffary he should be ftopp'd: Sufflaminandus erat, as Auguftus faid of "Haterius. His wit was in his own power, would "the rule of it had been fo too. Many times he fell into thofe things which could not efcape laughter; as when he faid in the perfon of Cafar, one fpeaking to him,

"Cæfar thou doft me wrong.

"He reply'd:

"Cæfar did never wrong, but with just caufe. " and fuch like, which were ridiculous. But he re"deem'd his vices with his virtues: There was ever "more in him to be prais'd than to be pardon'd."

As for the paffage which he mentions out of ShakeSpear, there is fomewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the abfurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have feen, as quoted by Mr. Johnfon. Befides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcribed to him by Mr. Langbain, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewife Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in ftanza's, which have been printed in a late collection of Poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Johnson,


« ÎnapoiContinuă »