« ÎnapoiContinuă »
Mr. THE OBAL D's
HE Attempt to write upon SHAKESPEAR İS like going into a large, a fpacious, and a fplendid Dome thro' the Conveyance of a narrow and obfcure Entry. A Glare of Light fuddenly breaks upon you beyond what the Avenue at first promis'd and a thousand Beauties of Genius and Character, like fo many gaudy Apartments pouring at once upon the Eye, diffufe and throw themselves out to the Mind. The Profpect is too wide to come within the Compafs of a fingle View: 'tis a gay Confufion of pleafing Objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general Admiration; and they must be separated, and ey'd diftinctly, in order to give the proper Entertainment.
And as in great Piles of Building, fome Parts are often finifh'd up to hit the Tafte of the Connoiffeur; others more negligently put together, to ftrike the Fancy of a common and unlearned Beholder: Some Parts are made ftupendously magnificent and grand, to furprize with the vast Design and Execution of the Architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his Neatness and Elegance in little. So, in Shakespear, we may find Traits that will ftand the Teft of the feverest Judgment; and Strokes as carelefly hit off, to the Level of the more ordinary Capacities: Some Defcriptions rais'd to that Pitch of Grandeur, as to altonish you with the Compafs and Elevation of his
Thought: and others copying Nature within fo narrow, fo confined a Circle, as if the Author's Talent lay only at drawing in Miniature.
In how many points of Light must we be obliged to gaze at this great Poet! In how many Branches of Excellence to confider, and admire him! Whether we view him on the Side of Art or Nature, he ought equally to engage our Attention: Whether we refpect the Force and Greatness of his Genius, the Extent of his Knowledge and Reading, the Power and Addrefs with which he throws out and applies either Nature, or Learning, there is ample Scope both for our Wonder and Pleafure. If his Diction, and the cloathing of his Thoughts attract us, how much more muft we be charm'd with the Richness, and Variety, of his Images and Ideas! If his Images and Ideas fteal into our Souls, and strike upon our Fancy, how much are they improv'd in Price, when we come to reflect with what Propriety and Juftnefs they are apply'd to Character! If we look into his Characters, and how they are furnish'd and proportion'd to the Employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the Mastery of his Portraits! What Draughts of Nature! What Variety of Originals, and how differing each from the other! How are they drets'd from the Stores of his own luxurious Imagination; without being the Apes of Mode, or borrowing from any foreign Wardrobe! Each of them are the standards of Fashion for themselves: like Gentlemen that are above the Direction of their Tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of Imitation. If other Poets draw more than one Fool or Coxcomb, there is the fame Refemblance in them, as in that Painter's Draughts, who was happy only at forming a Rofe: you find them all younger Brothers of the fame Family, and all of them have a Pretence to give the fame Crest: But Shakespear's Clowns and Fops come all of a different Houfe: they are no farther allied to one another, than
than as Man to Man, Members of the fame Species: but as different in Features and Lineaments of Character, as we are from one another in Face, or Complexion. But I am unawares lanching into his Character as a Writer, before I have faid what I intended of him as a private Member of the Republick.
Mr. Rowe has very justly observ'd, that People are fond of dilcovering any little perfonal Story of the Great Men of Antiquity; and that the common Accidents of their Lives naturally become the Subject of our critical Enquiries: That however trifling fuch a Curiofity at the first View may appear, yet, as for what relates to Men of Letters, the Knowledge of an Author may, perhaps, fometimes conduce to the better understanding his Works: And, indeed, this Author's Works, from the bad Treatment he has met with from Copyifts and Editors, have so long wanted a Comment, that one would zealously embrace every Method of Information, that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have fo long lain o'erwhelm'd.
'Tis certain, that if we have first admir'd the Man in his Writings, his Cafe is fo circumftanc'd, that we must naturally admire the Writings in the Man: That if we go back to take a View of his Education, and the Employment in Life which Fortune had cut out for him, we shall retain the stronger Ideas of his ex-' tenfive Genius.
His Father, we are told, was a confiderable Dealer in Wool; but having no fewer than ten Children, of whom our Shakespear was the eldeft, the beft Education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own Bufinefs and Employment. I cannot affirm with any Certainty how long his Father liv'd; but I take him to be the fame Mr. John ShakeSpear who was living in the Year 1599, and who then, in Honour of his Son, took out an Extract of his Family Arms from the Herald's Office; by which it
appears, that he had been Officer and Bailiff of Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire; and that he enjoy'd fome hereditary Lands and Tenements, the Reward of his Great Grandfather's faithful and approved Service to King Henry VII.
Be this as it will, our Shakespear, it feems, was bred for fome Time at a Free-School; the very FreeSchool, I prefume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was Master of: but, that his Father being oblig'd, thro' Narrownels of Circumftance, to withdraw him too foon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any Proficiency in the Dead Languages: A Point that will deferve fome little Difcuffion in the Sequel of this Differtation...'
How long he continued in his Father's Way of Business, either as an Affiftant to him, or on his own proper Account, no Notices are left to inform us : nor have I been able to learn precifely at what Period of Life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his Acquaintance with London and the Stage.
In order to fettle in the World after a Family-manner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain, he did so: for by the Monument, in Stratford Church, erected to the Memory of his Daughter Sufanna, the Wife of John Hall, Gentleman, it appears, that he died on the 2d Day of July, in the Year 1649, aged 60. So that fhe was born in 1583, when her Father could not e be tuli 19 Years old; who was himself born in the Year 564. Nor was the his eldest Child, for he had another Daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakespear must have entred into Wedlock by that Time he was turn'd of feventeen Years.
Whether the Force of Inclination merely, or fome concurring Circumftance of Convenience in the Match prompted him to marry fo early, is not eafy to be deVOL. I. termin'd
termin'd at this Distance: but 'tis probable, a View of Intereft might partly fway his Conduct in this Point: for he married the Daughter of one Hathaway, a fubftantial Yeomen in his Neighbourhood, and she had the Start of him in Age no less than eight Years. She furviv'd him notwithstanding, seven Seasons, and dy'd that very year in which the Players publish'd the first Edition of his Works in Folio, Anno Dom. 1623, at the Age of 67 Years, as we likewife learn from her Monument in Stratford Church.
How long he continued in this kind of Settlement, upon his own Native Spot, is not more eafily to be determin'd. But if the Tradition be true, of that Extravagance which forc'd him both to quit his Country and Way of Living; to wit, his being engag'd, with a Knot of young Deer-ftealers, to rob the Park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot near Stratford: the Enterprize, favours fo much of Youth and Levity, we may reasonably fuppofe it was before he could write full Man. Besides, confidering he has left us fix and thirty Plays, at least, avow'd to be genuine; and confidering too, that he had retir'd from the Stage, to fpend the latter Part of his Days at his own Native Stratford; the Interval of Time, neceffarily required for the finishing fo many Dramatic Pieces, obliges us to fuppofe he threw himself very early upon the Playhouse. And as he could, probably, contract no Acquaintance with the Drama, while he was driving on the Affair of Wool at home; fome Time must be loft, even after he had commenc'd Player, before he could attain Knowledge enough in the Science to qualify himself for turning Author.
It has been obferv'd by Mr. Rowe, that amongst other Extravagancies which our Author has given to his Sir John Falftafe, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a Deer-ftealer; and that he might at the fame Time remember his Warwickshire Profecutor, under the Name of Justice Shallow, he has given