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It is well obferved by the excellent Writer whofe name appears in the title-page of this work, that ShákSpeare was one of the greateft Moral Philofophers that ever lived; a remark which often fuggefted itself to the Collector of the prefent volume, long before he saw it confirmed by fo refpectable an authority. The idea thus prefented to his mind, firft gave rise to a wish, that the truth of it might be exemplified in a felection of thofe obfervations on the conduct of human life, fcattered through various parts of the writings of our divine Author, digefted and arranged in that order that might be useful, as well to the learned, as the uninformed; to the scholar, as to the novice. He thought fuch a compilation would be very generally useful; and was convinced that, in the whole circle of English literature, no author afforded fo many, and fuch various obfervations on life and manners-fo much, and fuch useful knowledge of the human heart.
As the title of this volume agrees with the work of a late unfortunate Author, it may be necessary to observe, that the prefent performance was begun with different views from its predeceffor, and is conducted in a different manner. The end of the former appears to have been intended chiefly as a vehicle, to display the Compiler's reading, and critical talents. The prefent has no higher aims than a felection, useful for reference to the learned, for inftruction to the ignorant, and for information to all. The knowledge which may be derived from it, is too extenfive to be pointed out in this place; but it may be afferted, with modefty and truth, that whoever is concerned in the business of education, will find it very ferviceable, in impreffing on the memory of Youth fome of the fublimeft and most important lessons of Morality and Religion. As fuch it is offered to As fuch the attention of inftructors of both fexes. the compiler does not hesitate to fay, no perfon, into whofe hands it may come, will meet with any disappointment.
OF THE LIFE
THIS HIS amazing Genius, no lefs the glory of his own Country than of Human Nature, was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d of April, 1564. His family, as appears by the Regifter and public writings relating to that Town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen, His father, who was a confiderable dealer in wool, had fo large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldeft fon, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for fome time at a free-school, where it is probable he acquired what little learning he was mafter of: But the narrowness of his circumftances, and the want of his affiftance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and prevented his further proficiency in languages. It has been proved to a demonftration by the learned Dr. Farmer, that, whatever imitations of the ancients we find in our Author's works, he was indebted for them to fuch translations as were then extant, and easy of accefs; and it is more than probable, that his want of acquaintance with the originals might rather be of fervice to him, than the contrary: For, though the knowledge of 'em might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity and deference for them, which would have attended that correctnefs, might have reftrained fome of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance
gance which we admire in Shakspeare: and I believe we are better pleafed with thofe thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the moft agreeable manner that it was poffible for a master of the English language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving fchool, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propofed to him; and in order to fettle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, faid to have been a fubftantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of fettlement he continued for fome time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of, forced him both out of his country and that way of living which he had taken up: and though it seemed at firft to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occafion of exerting one, of the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatic poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, fome that made a frequent practice of deertealing, engaged him with them more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was profecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, fomewhat too fe verely; and in order to revenge that ill'ufage, he made a ballad upon him. This, probably the firft effay of his poetry, if it be the fame preferved by Mr. Steevens, in the laft edition of this Author, is truly contemptible: it however redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his bufinefs, and family, in Warwickshire, for fome time, and shelter himfelf in London.
Tradition has informed us, that it was upon this accident he made his firft acquaintance in the playhouse; and Mr. Malone, with great probability, conjectures that his introduction there arofe from his relationship
to Greene, a celebrated performer at that period. what capacity he was originally received I have no pofitive information; and I pay no attention to the idle ftory of his being employed as the holder of horses. The writer laft mentioned fuppofes he began to write about the year 1591; and the arrangement of his plays by that Gentleman, remaining undifputed, the prefumiption of its accuracy is fufficiently established. The rank which he held in the Theatre, as a Performer, appears not to have been elevated; and from the best accounts we learn, that as an Actor, he never foared above, if he even reached mediocrity. The Ghost in Hamlet, Old Knowel in Every Man in bis Humour, and Adam in As You Like It, are the parts which, with the greatest appearance of certainty, may be afcribed to him; and, in general, the characters of old men seem to have been his caft. To this choice a natural infirinity may have contributed; as we find, in his Sonnets, fome hints that he was lame, and confequently not properly qualified for the reprefentative of youth and agility. But, though his fuccefs as a player was but inconfiderable, it was fufficiently made up to him as an author. 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 Shakspeare's that if I had not been affured that the ftory was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I fhould not have ventured 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 profuse generofity the prefent age has fhewn to French Dancers and Italian Singers.
What particular habitude 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 juft value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and goodnature muft certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonfon began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr. Jonfon, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted, and the perfons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelefly and fupercilioufly over, were juft upon returning it to him with an ill-natured anfwer, that it would be of no fervice to their Company; when Shakspeare 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. Jonfon and his writings to the public. Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had fome advantage over Shakspeare; though at the fame time I believe it must be allowed, 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 Jonfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence againft Ben Jonfon, with fome warmth Mr. Hales, who had fat ftill for fome time, told them, "That if Mr. Shakspeare, had not read the Ancients, he had likewife not ftolen any thing from them; and that, if he would produce any one topic finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame fubject, at least as well written by Shakspeare."
The latter part of his life was fpent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the converfation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eftate equal to his occafion, and, in that, to his wifh; and is faid to have spent some