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Nor is the utility of the prefent publication confined to perfons of the rank already defcribed. It will be found ferviceable even to those whofe fituation in life hath enabled them to purchase all the expenfive editions of our great dramatist. The book now offered to the public may commodioufly be taken into a coach or a poft-chaife, for amufement in a journey. Or if a company of gentlemen fhould happen, in converfation, to mention Shakipeare, or to difpute concerning any particular paffage, a volume containing the whole of his plays may, with great convenience, be fetched by a fervant out of a library or a clofet. In fhort, any particular paffage may at all times and with eafe be recurred to. It is a compendium, not an abridgement, of the nobleft of our poets, and a library in a fingle volume.
The editor hath endeavoured to give all the perfection to this work which the nature of it can admit. The account of his life, which is taken from Rowe, and his laft will, in reality comprehend almost every thing that is known with regard to the perfonal hiftory of Shakspeare. The anxious refearches of his admirers have scarcely been able to collect any farther information concerning him.
The text, in the prefent edition, is given as it has been fettled by the most approved commentators. It does not confift with the limits of the defign, that the notes fhould be large, or very numerous. They have not, however, been wholly neglected. The notes which are fubjoined are fuch as were neceffary for the purpofe of illuftrating and explaining obfolete words, unufual phrafes, old customs, and obfcure or diftant allufions. In fhort, it has been the editor's aim to omit nothing which may ferve to render Shakfpeare intelligible to every capacity, and to every clafs of readers.
Having this view, he cannot avoid expreffing his hope, that an undertaking the utility of which is fo apparent, will be encouraged by the public; and his confidence of a favourable reception is increafed by the confcioufnefs that he is not doing an injury to any one. The fuccefs of the prefent volume will not impede the fale of the larger editions of Shakspeare, which will ftill be equally fought for by thofe to whom the purchase of them may be convenient.
Written by Mr. ROWE.
T feems to be a kind of refpect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver fome ac count of themselves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reason, how fund do we fee fome people of difcovering any little perfonal ftory of the great men of antiquity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features have been the fubject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this curiofity may feem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly Latisfied with an account of any remarkable perfon, till we have heard him defcribed even to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may fometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may feem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the fon of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickitaire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fafhion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a confiderable dealer in wool, had ɓ a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest fon, he could give him to better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for Come time at a free-fchool, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was matter of: but the narrownefs of his circumstances, and the want of his affiftance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controverfy, that in his works we fcarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his tafte, and the natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not fuperior, to fome of the best of theirs), would certainly have led him to read and study them with fo much pleasure, that fome of their fine images would naturally have infinuated themfelves into, and been mixed with his own writings; fo that his not copying at least fomething from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a difadvantage to him or no, may admit of a difpute: for though the knowledge of them might have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity A 3
and deference for them, which would have attended that correctnefs, might have restrained some of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakipeare: and I believe we are better pleafed with thofe thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination fupplied him fo abun dantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the moft agrecable manner that it was poffible for a mafter of the English language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving school, he feems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed 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 fubitantial yeoman in the neigh bourhood 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 feemed at first 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 dramatick 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 deerftealing engaged him 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 feverely; and in order to revenge that ill ufage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first effay of his poetry, be loft, yet it is faid to have been fo very bitter, that it redoubled the profecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for fome time, and fhelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is faid to have made his first acquaintance in the playhouse. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the ftage, foon diftinguifhed him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the cuftom was in those times, amongst thofe of the other players, before fome old plays, but without any particular account of what fort of parts he used to play; and though I have enquired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. I fhould have been much more pleafed, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first play he wrote ; it would be without doubt a pleafure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to fee and know what was the first effay of a fancy like Shakipeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like thofe of other authors, among their leaft perfect writings: art had fo little, and nature fo large a fhare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the moft vigorous, and had the mott fire and ftrength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was fo loofe and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but, that what he thought was commonly fo great, fo juftly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately ap proved by an impartial judgment at the first fight. But though the order of time in which the feveral pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paffages in fome few of them which feem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handfomely turned to the earl of Effex, fhews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland: and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her fucceffor king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Eighth, is a proof of that play's being written after the acceffion of the latter of thofe 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 diverfions of this kind, could not but be highly pleafed
The higheft date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author was 32 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age.
to fee a genius arife from amongst them of fo pleasurable, fo rich a vein, and fo plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Befides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great fweetnefs in his manners, and a moit agreeable companion; fo that it is no wonder, if, with fo many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best converfations of thofe times. Queen Elizabeth had feveral of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden princefs plainly, whom he intends by
a fair veftal, throned by the weft.
And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hand fomely applied to her. She was fo well pleafed with that admirable character of Falltaff, in The Tavo Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to fhew him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor. How well the was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to obferve, that this part of Falitaff is faid to have been written orginally under the name of * Oldcafe: fome of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falstaff. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat to blame in his fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of diftinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace foever the queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed 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 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 intance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the story 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 almost equal to that profale generofity the prefent age has fhewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.
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 truc taste of merit, and could diftinguith men, had generally a juít value and efteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature 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 know kage 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 whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fuperciBouly over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, 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 first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick. Jonson Was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of 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. con erfation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Por
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.
ter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonfon; Sir John Suckling, who was a profeffed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against 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 topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to fhew fomething upon the fame jubject at leaft as well written by ShakSpeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good fenfe will with theirs may be, in eafe, 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 fome years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasureable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almoft ftill remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and ufury: it happened that, in a pleasant converfation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to out-live him; and fince he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he defired it might be done immediately upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses :
Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd,
'Tis a hundred to ten his foul is not fav'd:
If any man afk, Who lies in this tomb?
But the fharpness of the fatire is faid to have ftung the man fo feverely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age, and was buried on the north-fide of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-ftone underneath is,
He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom he had three fons, who all died without children; and Sufannah, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a phyfician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married first to Thomas Nafh, efq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewife without iffue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is beft feen in his writings. But fince Ben Jonfon has made a fort of an effay towards it in his Difcoveries, I will give it in his words :
"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, "that in writing (whaticever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My antwer "hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent
*The Rev. Francis Peck, in his Memoirs of the Life and Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton, 410. 1740, p. 223. has introduced another epitaph imputed (on what authority is unknown) to Shakfpeare It is on Tom-a-Combe, alias Thin-beard, brother to this John who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe. Thin in beard, and thick in purfe; "Never man beloved worfe;
"He went to the grave with many a curfe :
"The devil and he had both one nurfe."
Mr Malone fays, that he died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completed his fifty-lecond year.