Obrázky na stránke
[ocr errors]

It is well observed by the excellent Writer whole name appears in the title-page of this work, that Shakspeare was one of the greatest Moral Philosophers that ever lived ; remark which often suggeited itself to the Collector of the present Volume, long before he saw it confirmed by so respectable an authority. The idea thus presented to his mind, first gave rise to a wish, that the truth of it might be exemplified in a selection of those observations on the conduct of human life, scattered through various parts of the writings of our divine Author, digested 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 such a compilation would be very generally useful ; and was convinced that, in the whole circle of English literature, no author afforded so many, and such various observations on life and manners--so much, and such 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 present performance was begun with different views from its predecessor, and is conducted in a different manner. The end of the former appears to have been intended chiefly as a vehicle, tò display the Com- , piler's reading, and critical talents. The present has no higher aims than a selection, useful for reference to the learned, for instruction to the ignorant, and for information to all. The knowledge which may be derived from it, is too extensive to be pointed out in this flace; but it may be asserted, with modesty and truth, that whoever is concerned in the business of education, will find it very serviceable, in impressing on the me. mory of Youth some of the sublimest and most important lessons of Morality and Religion. As such it is offered to the attention of instructors of both sexes. As such the compiler does not hesitate to say, no person, into whose hands it may come, will meet with any



[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

HIS amazing Genius, no less 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 Register and public writings relating to that Town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, 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 master of: But the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and prevented his further proficiency in languages. It has been proved to a demonstration by the learned Dr. Farmer, that, whatever imitations of the ancients we find in our Author's works, he was indebted for them to such translations as were then extant, and easy of access : and it is more than probable, that his want of acquaintance with the originals might rather be of service 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 correctness, might have restrained some of that fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extrava

A 2


gance which we admire in Shakspeare : and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was poflible for a master of the English language to deliver them.

Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; and in order to settle 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, said to have been a fubftantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of sets tlement he continued for some 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 first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion 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, some that made a frequent practice of deerstealing, 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, somewhat too fe. verely; and in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. This, probably the first essay of his poetry, if it be the same preserved by Mr. Steevens, in the last edition of this Author, is truly contemptible: 'it, however, redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business, and family, in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London,

Tradition has informed us, that it was upon this accident he made his first acquaintance in the playhouse; and Mr. Malone, with great probability, conjectures that his introduction there, arose from his relationship


to Greene, a celebrated performer at that period. In
what capacity he was originally received, I have no
positive information; and I pay no atíention to the
idle story of his being employed as the holder of horses.
The writer last mentioned supposes he began to write
about the year 1591 ; and the arrangement of his plays
by that Gentleman, remaining undisputed, the pre-
fumption 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 soared
above, if he even reached mediocrity. The Ghost in:
Hamlet, Old Knowel in Every Man in his Humour, and
Adam in As You Like It, are the parts which, with the
greatest appearance of certainty, may be ascribed to
him; and, in general, the characters of old men seem
to have been his caft. To this choice a natural infir-
mity may have contributed ; as we find, in his Sonnets,
fome hints that he was lamé, and consequently not
properly qualified for the representative of youth' and
agility. But, though his success as a player was but
inconsiderable, it was suficiently 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 histories
of that time for his friendilip to the unfortunate Eark
of Esex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated
his Poem of Venus and Adonis There is one instance
so fingular in the magnificence of this Patron of
Shakspeare's, that if I had not bcen assured that the
story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who;
was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I
Thould not have ventured to have inserted, 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 almost equal to that
profuse generosity the present age has shewn to French
Dancers and Italian Singers.

What particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn,


[ocr errors]

A 3


more than that every one who had a true taste of merit, and could distinguish men, had generally a juft value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and good-nature must 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 Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr.

Jonson, 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 persons into whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelesly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no forvice to their Company; when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public. Jonson was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had some advantage over Shak/peare; though at the same 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 judgement of a great man upon this occafion was, I think, very jnft and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter', Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakjpeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson, with some warmth : Mr. Hales, who had fat still for some time, told them, “ That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the Ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them ; and that, if he would prodace any one topic. finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to thew something upon the same subject, at least as well written by Shakspeare."

• The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eitate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent fome



« PredošláPokračovať »