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end of the fourth Act of Henry V. by a compliment very handsomely turn’d to the Earl of Essex, shews the Play to have been written when that Lord was General for the Queen in Ireland: And his Elogy upon Queen Elizabeth, and her successor King James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII. is a proof of that Play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two Princes to the crown of England. Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleas’d to see a Genius arise amongst 'em of so pleafurable, fo rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Belides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-naturd man, of great sweetness in his 'manners, and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder if with so many good qualities he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his Plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of
her favour : It is that maiden Princess plainly, whom he intends by
A fair Veftal, Throned by the West.
Midsummer-Night's Dream. And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely apply'd to her. She was so well pleasd with that admirable character of Falfi aff, in the two parts of Henry the fourth, that he commanded him to continue it for one Play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor.
How well she was obey'd, the Play itself is an admirable proof, Upon this occalion it may not be simproper to observe, that this part of Falitaff is faid "to
have been written originally under the name of (a) Oldcastle ; some of that family being then remaining, the Quecň was pleas’d to command him to alter it ; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I don't know whether the Author may not have been somewhat to blame in his fecond choice, since it is certain that Sir Jobn Falstaff, who was a Knight of the garter, and a Lieutenantgeneral, was a name of distinguish'd merit in the wars in France in Henry the fifth's and Henry the sixth's times. What grace soever the Queen confer'd upon him, it was not to her only he ow'd the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. 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 friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Elex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his Poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance fo fingular in the magnificence of this Patron of Shakespear's, that if I had not been assur'd that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventur’d to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thoufand 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 generosity the present age has shewn to French Dancers and Italian Singers.
What particular habitude or friendships he cona tracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one who had a true taste of me. rit, and could distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candor and good-nature must certainly have inclinéd all the gentler
1.10? 9.11 @) See the Epilogue 10 Henry IV th.
part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit oblig'd the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Johnson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature ; Mr. Johnson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offer'd one of his Plays to the Players, in order to have it acted ; and the perfons into whose hands it was put, after having turn'd it carelesly and superciliousy over, were just upon returping it to him with an ill-natur'd answer, that it would be of no service to their Company ; when Shakespear 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. Johnson and his writings to the publick. Johnson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespear ; tho' at the same time I believe it must be allow'd, 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 conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eaton, and Ben Johnfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profess’d admirer of Shakespear, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jobnfon with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had fat still for some time, told 'em, That if Mr. Shakespear had not read the Ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from 'em ; and that if he would produce any one Topick finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame subject at least as well written by Shakespear:
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in eafe, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an eftäte equal to his occa
fion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit, and good-nature, engag'd him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remember'd in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: It happen'd that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespear in a laughing manner, that he fancy’d he intended to write his Epitaph, if he happen'd to out-live him ; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desir'd it might be done immediately : Upon which Shakespear gave him these four verses.
Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd,
Ob! bo! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe. But the sharpness of the Satire is faid to have ftung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He dy'd in the 53d year of his age, and was bury'd on the north side of the chancel, in the great Church at Stratford, where a monument, as engravid in the plate, is plac'd in the wall. On his Grave-stone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
And curft be be that moves my bones. He had three daughters, of which two liv'd to be marry'd ; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three Sons, who all died without children, and Susannah, who was his favourite,
to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child
only, a daughter, who was marry'd first to Thomas Nah, Esq; and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but dy'd likewise without issue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: The character of the man is best feen in his writings. But since Ben Johnson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, 'I will give it in his words, ?" I remember the Players have often mention'd it
as an honour to Shakespear, that in writing (what36 foever he penn'd) he never blotted out a line. My 9 answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand!
which they thought a malevolent speech. I had “ not told pofterity this, but for their ignorance, who “ chose that circumstance to commend their friend “ by, wherein he most faulted: and to justifie mine
own candour, for I lov?d the man, and do honour “his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. “ He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free « nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and
“ gentle expressions ; wherein he flow'd with that filbmit
cility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be
stopp'd : Sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said of 9 4 Haterius. His wit was in his own power, would for the rule of it had been fo too. Many times he fell « into those things which could not escape laughter; “ as when he said in the person of Cæfar, one speaking “ to him,
" Cæsar tbou dost me wrong.
• He reply'd :
di “ Cæfar did never wrong, but with just cause, "and such like, which were ridiculous. But he re« deem'd his vices with his virtues: There was ever " more in him to be prais'd than to be pardon'd.