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LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.
On his arrival in London, which was probably in 1586, when he was twenty. two years old, he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house, to which idleness or taste may have directed him, and where his necessities, if tradition may be credited, obliged him to accept the office of call-boy, or prompter's attendant. This is a menial whose employment it is to give the performers notice to be ready to enter, as often as the business of the play requires their appearance on the stage. Pope, however, relates a story, com municated to him by Rowe, but which Rowe did not think deserving of a place in the life he wrote, that must a little retard the advancement of our poet to the office just mentioned. According to this story, Shakspeare's first employment was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready after the performance. But, "I cannot," says his acute commentator, Mr. Steevens, “dismiss this anecdote without observing, that it seems to want every mark of probability. Though Shakspeare quitted Stratford on account of a juvenile irregularity, we have no reason to suppose that he had forfeited the protection of his father, who was engaged in a lucrative business, or the love of his wife, who had already brought him two children, and was herself the daughter of a substantial yeoman. It is unlikely, therefore, when he was beyond the reach of his prosecutor, that he should conceal his plan of life, or place of residence, from those who, if he found himself distressed, could not fail to afford him such supplies as would have set him above the necessity of holding horses for subsistence." Mr. Malone has remarked, in his "attempt to ascertain the order in which the Plays of Shakspeare were written, that he might have found an easy introduction to the stage: for Thomas Green, a celebrated comedian of that period, was his townsman, and perhaps his relation. The genius of our author prompted him to write poetry; his connection with a player might have given his productions a dramatic turn; or his own sagacity might have taught him that fame was not incompatible with profit, and that the theatre was an avenue to both. That it was once the general custom to ride on horseback to the play, I am likewise yet to learn. The most popular of the theatres were on the Bankside; and we are told by the satirical pamphleteers of that time, that the usual mode of conveyance to these places of amusement was by water, but not a single writer so much as hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the practice of having horses held during the hours of exhibition. Mr. Malone concurs in opinion, that this story stands on a very slender foundation, while he differs from Mr. Steevens as to the fact of gentlemen going to the theatre on horseback. With respect, likewise, to Shakspeare's father being "engaged in a lucrative business," we may remark, that this could not have been the case at the time our author came to London, if the preceding dates be correct. He is said to have arrived in London in 1586, the year in which his father resigned the office of alder man, unless, indeed, we are permitted to conjecture that his resignation was not the consequence of his necessities.
But in whatever situation he was first employed at the theatre, he appears to have soon discovered those talents which afterwards made him
Th' applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
Some distinction he probably first acquired as an actor, although Mr. Rowe has not been able to discover any character in which he appeared to more advantage than that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player in that tragedy, and other passages of his works, show an intimate acquaintance with the skill of acting, and such as is scarcely surpassed in our own days. He appears to have studied nature in acting as much as in writing. But all this might have been mere theory. Mr. Malone is of opinion he was no great actor. The distinction, however, which he might obtain as an actor could only be in his own plays, in which he would be assisted by the novel appearance of author and actor combined. Before his time, it does not appear that any actor could avail himself of the wretched pieces represented on the stage.
Mr. Rowe regrets that he cannot inform us which was the first play he wrote. More skilful research has since found, that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III. were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years old; there is also some reason to think that he commenced as a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first play, "First Part of Henry VI.," in 1589. His plays, however, must have been not only popular, but approved by persons of the higher order, as we are certain, that he enjoyed the gracious favour of Queen Elizabeth, who was very fond of the stage: and the particular and affectionate patronage of the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his poems of "Venus and Adonis," and his "Tarquin and Lucrece." On Sir William Davenant's authority, it has been asserted that this nobleman at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to complete a purchase. At the conclusion of the advertisement prefixed to Lintot's edition of Shakspeare's poems, it is said, "That most learned prince, and great patron of learning, King James the First, was pleased, with his own hand, to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare; which letter, though now lost remained long in the hands of Sir William D'Avenant, as a credible person now living can testify." Dr. Farmer with great probability supposes, that this letter was written by King James, in return for the compliment paid to him in Macbeth. The relater of this anecdote was Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. These brief notices, meagre as they are, may show that our author enjoyed high favour in his day. Whatever we may think of King James as a "learned prince," his patronage, as well as that of his predecessor, was suf ficient to give celebrity to the founder of a new stage. It may be added, that his uncommon merit, his candour, and good-nature, are supposed to have procured him the admiration and acquaintance of every person distinguished for such qualities. It is not difficult, indeed, to suppose that Shakspeare was a man of humor, and a social companion, and probably excelled in that species of minor wit not ill adapted to conversation, of which it could have been wished he had been more sparing in his writings.
How long he acted has not been discovered, but he continued to write till the year 1614. During his dramatic career he acquired a property in the theatre, which he must have disposed of when he retired, as no mention of it occurs in his will. His connection with Ben Jonson has been variously related. It is said, that when Jonson was unknown to the world, he offered a play to the theatre, which was rejected after a very careless perusal, but that Shakspeare having accidentally cast his eye on it, conceived a favorable opinion of it, and afterwards recommended Jonson and his writings to the public. For this candour he was repaid by Jonson, when the latter became a poet of note, with an envious disrespect. Jonson acquired reputation by the variety of his pieces, and endeavoured to arrogate the supremacy in dramatic genius. Like a French critic, he insinuated Shakspeare's incorrectness, his careless manner of writing, and his want of judgment; and, as he was a remarkably slow writer himself, he could not endure the praise frequently bestowed on Shakspeare, of seldom altering or blotting out what he had written. Mr. Malone says, "that not long after the year 1600, a coolness arose between Shakspeare and him, which, however he may talk of his almost idolatrous affection, produced on his part, from that time to the death of our author, and for many years afterwards, much clumsy sarcasm, and many malevolent reflections." But from these, which are the commonly received opinions on this subject, Dr. Farmer is inclined to depart, and to think Jonson's hostility to Shakspeare absolutely groundless; so uncertain is every circumstance we attempt to recover of our great poet's life. Jonson had only one advantage over Shakspeare, that of superior learning, which might in certain situations give him a superior rank, but could never promote his rivalship with a man who attained the highest excellence without it. Nor will Shakspeare suffer by its being known, that all the dramatic poets before he appeared were scholars. Greene, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, Nashe, Lily, and Kyd, had all, says Mr. Malone, a regular university education; and, as scholars in our universities, frequently composed and acted plays on historical subjects.
conversation of his friends.
The latter part of Shakspeare's life was spent in ease, retirement, and the He had accumulated considerable property, which Gildon (in his "Letters and Essays," 1694) stated to amount to £300 per annum, a sum at least equal to £1000 in our days; but Mr. Malone doubts whether all his property amounted to much more than £200 per annum, which yet was a considerable fortune in those times, and it is supposed that he might have derived £200 per annum from the theatre while he continued on the stage.
He retired some years before his death to a house in Stratford, of which it has been thought important to give the history. It was built by Sir Hugh
1 In 1603, he and several others obtained a licence from King James to exhibit comedies, tragedies, histories, &c., at the Globe Theatre and elsewhere.
"One of his objections to academical educa
This was the practice in Milton's days. tion, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for orders in the Church were permitted to act plays," &c. Johnson's Life of Milton.
Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighborhood. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III., and Lord Mayor in the reign of Henry VII. By his will, he bequeathed to his elder brother's son, his manor of Clopton, &c., and his house by the name of the Great House in Stratford. A good part of the estate was in possession of Edward Clopton, Esq., and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knight, in 1733. The principal estate had been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the purchaser; who having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place, which the mansion house, afterwards erected in the room of the poet's house, retained for many years. The house and lands belonging to it continued in the possession of Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the Restoration, when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family. Here, in May, 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Macklin, and Mr. Delane visited Stratford, they were hospitably entertained under Shakspeare's mulberry tree by Sir Hugh Clopton. He was a barrister at law, was knighted by King George I., and died in the 80th year of his age, in December, 1751. His executor, about the year 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. As he resided part of the year at Litchfield, he thought he was assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the maintenance of the poor; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his servants in his absence, he peevishly declared that that house should never be assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. He had some time before cut down Shakspeare's mulberry tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the classic ground on which it stood. That Shakspeare planted this tree appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where New Place stood is now a garden. Before concluding this history, it may be necessary to mention, that the poet's house was once honored by the temporary residence of Henrietta Maria, queen to Charles I. Theobald has given an inaccurate account of this, as if she had been obliged to take refuge in Stratford from the rebels; but that was not the case. She marched from Newark, June 16, 1643, and entered Stratford triumphantly about the 22d of the same month, at the head of three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, with one hundred and fifty wagons, and a train of artillery. Here she was met by Prince Rupert, accompanied by a large body of troops. She resided about three weeks at our poet's house, which was then possessed by his granddaughter, Mrs. Nashe, and her husband.
Shakspeare died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, when he had just completed his fifty-second year, and was buried on the north side of the
The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, he was a handsome, well-shaped man ;" and adds, "verie good company, and of a very ready, and plea sant and smooth wit."
chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall, on which he is represented under an arch, in a sitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left rested on a scroll of paper. The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion:
LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Muronem,
"To this Latin inscription on Shakspeare," says Mr. Steevens, " may be added the lines which are found underneath it on his monument:
Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious death hath placed
Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.
Obiit, Ano. Dni. 1616.
æt. 53, die 23 Apri.
"It appears from the verses of Leonard Digges, that our author's monument was erected before the year 1623. It has been engraved by Vertue, and done in mezzotinto by Miller."
On his grave-stone, underneath, are these lines, in an uncouth mixture of small and capital letters:
Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forheare
And curst be Ile moves my Bones.
It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shakspeare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnelhouses; and similar execrations are found in many ancient Latin epitaphs.
We have no account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius.
her father's favourite,
child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626,
His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1635, aged sixty. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged sixty-six. They left only one to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire; but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died February, 1661-62, in her seventy-seventh year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. Sir Hugh Clopton, who was born two years after the death of Lady Barnard, which happened in 1669-70, related to Mr. Macklin, an old tradition, that she had carried away with her from Stratford, many of her grandfather's papers. On the death of Sir John Barnard, Mr. Malone thinks these must have fallen into the hands of Mr. Edward Bagley,