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THE reader may observe that, contrary to former ufage, no head of Shakspeare is prefixed to the prefent édition of his plays. The undisguised fact is this. The only portrait of him that even pretends to authenticity, by means of injudicious cleaning, or fome other accident, has become little better than the "fhadow of a fhade."* The late Sir Joshua Reynolds indeed once fuggefted, that whatever perfon it was defigned for, it might have been left, as it now appears, unfinished. Various copies and plates, however, are faid at different times to have been made from it; but a regard for truth obliges us to confefs that they are all unlike each other, † and convey no diftinct refemblance of the poor remains of their avowed original, Of the drapery and curling hair exhibited in the
Such, we think, were the remarks, that occurred to us feveral years ago, when this portrait was acceffible. We wished indeed to have confirmed them by a second view of it; but a late accident in the noble family to which it belongs, has precluded us from that fatisfaction.
+ Vertue's portraits have been over-praised on account of their fidelity; for we have now before us fix different heads of Shakspeare engraved by him, and do notfcruple to affert that they have individually a different caft of countenance. Cucullus non facit monachum. shape of our author's ear-ring and falling-band may correspond in them all, but where shall we find an equal conformity in his features? Few objects indeed are occafionally more difficult to feize, than the flender traits that mark the character of a face; and the eye will often VOL. I. a
excellent engravings of Mr. Vertue, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Knight, the painting does not afford a veftige; nor is there a feature or circumftance on the whole canvas, that can with minute precifion be delineated. -We must add, that on very vague and dubious authority this head has hitherto been received as a genuine portrait of our author, who probably left behind him no fuch memorial of his face. As he was careless of the future ftate of his works, his folicitude might not have extended to the perpetuation of his looks. Had any portrait of him exifted, we may naturally fuppofe it must have belonged to his family, who (as Mark Antony fays of a hair of Cæfar) would
have mention'd it within their wills, "Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their iffue;"
and were there ground for the report that Shakspeare was the real father of Sir William D'Avenant, and that the picture already spoken of was painted for him, we might be tempted to obferve with our author, that the
"Was kinder to his father, than his daughters
But in fupport of either fuppofition fufficient evidence has not been produced. The former of
dete& the want of them, when the most exact mechanical procefs cannot decide on the places in which they are omitted.-Vertue, in fhort, though a laborious, was a very indifferent draughtsman, and his beft. copies too often exhibit a general inftead of a particular refemblance.
thefe tales has no better foundation than the vanity of our degener Neoptolemus, (fee Vol. III. p. 344.)* and the latter originates from modern conjecture. The prefent age will probably allow the vintner's ivy to Sir William, but with equal juftice will withhold from him the poet's bays. To his pretenfions of defcent from Shakspeare, one might almoft be induced to apply a ludicrous paffage uttered by Fielding's Phaeton in the Suds:
by all the parifh boys I'm flamm'd: "You the SUN's Son, you rafcal! you be d--d.”
About the time when this picture found its way into Mr. Keck's hands,† the verification of portraits
*Nor does the fame piece of ancient scandal derive much weight from Aubrey's adoption of it. The reader who is acquainted with the writings of this abfurd goffip, will fcarcely pay more attention to him on the prefent occafion, than when he gravely affures us that "Anno 1670, not far from Cirencester was an apparition; being demanded whether a good spirit or a bad? returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious perfume and most melodious twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a fairy." See Aubrey's Mifcellanies, edit. 1784, p. 114.—Aubrey. in fhort, was a dupe to every wag who chose to practise on his credu lity; and would most certainly have believed the perfon who should have told him that Shakspeare himself was a natural fon of Queen Elizabeth.
Mr. T. Warton has pleasantly observed (see p. 73. n. 3.) that he cans not fuppofe Shakspeare to have been the father of a Doctor of Divinity who never laughed;" and-to wafte no more words on Sir William D'Avenant,-let but our readers furvey his heavy, vulgar, unmeaning face, and, if we miftake not, they will as readily conclude that Shak fpeare never holp to make it." So defpicable, indeed, is his couns tenance as represented by Faithorne, that it appears to have funk that celebrated engraver beneath many a common artift in the fame line, See Vol. I. P. 30.
was fo little attended to, that both the Earl of Oxford, and Mr. Pope, admitted a juvenile one of King James I. as that of Shakspeare.* Among the heads of illuftrious perfons engraved by Houbraken, are feveral imaginary ones, befide Ben Jonson's and Otway's; and old Mr. Langford pofitively afferted that, in the fame collection, the grandfather of Cock the auctioneer had the honour to perfonate the great and amiable Thurloe, fecretary of state to Oliver Cromwell.
From the price of forty guineas paid for the fuppofed portrait of our author to Mrs. Barry, the real value of it fhould not be inferred. The poffeffion of fomewhat more animated than canvas, might. have been included, though not fpecified, in a bargain with an actress of acknowledged gallantry.
Yet allowing this to be a mere fanciful infinuation, a rich man does not eafily miss what he is ambitious to find. At least he may be perfuaded he has found it, a circumftance which, as far as it
Much respect is due to the authority of portraits that defcend in families from heir to heir; but little reliance can be placed on them when they are produced for fale (as in the present inftance) by alien hands, almost a century after the death of the person supposed to be represented; and then, (as Edmund says in King Lear)" come pat, like the catastrophe of the old comedy." Shakspeare was buried in 1616; and in 1708 the firft notice of this picture occurs. Where there is fuch a chasm in evidence, the validity of it may be not unfairly queftioned, and especially by thofe who remember a species of fraudulence recorded in Mr. Foote's Tafte: Clap Lord Dupe's arms on that half-length of Erafmus; I have fold it him as his great grandfather's third brother, for fifty guineas.'