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Nor is the utility of the present publication confined to persons of the rank already described. It will be found serviceable even to those whose situation in life hath enabled them to purchase all the expensive editions of our great dramatist. The book now offered to the public may commodiously be taken into a coach or a poft-chaise, for amusement in a journey. Or if a company
gentlemen should happen, in conversation, to mention Shakipeare, or to dispute concerning any particular passage, a voluine containing the whole of his plays may, with great convenicnce, be fetched by a servant out of a library or a clolet. In short, any particular passage may at all times and with ease be recurred to. It is a compendium, not an abridgement, of the noblest of our poets, and a library in a single volume.
The editor bath 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 last will, in reality comprehend almost every thing that is known with regard to the perfonal history of Shakspeare. The anxious researches of his admirers have scarcely been able to collect any farther information concerning him.
The text, in the present edition, is given as it has been settled by the most approved commentators. It does not consist with the limits of the design, that the notes ihould be large, or very numerous. They have noi, however, been wholly neglected. The notes which are subjoined are such as were necessary for the
purpose of illustrating and explaining obtolete words, unusual phrases, old customs, and obscure or distant allusions. In short, it has been the editor's aim to omit nothing which may ferve to render Shakspeare intelligible to every capacity, and to every class of readers,
Having this view, he cannot avoid expresling his hope, that an undertaking the utility of which is so apparent, will be encouraged by the public; and his confidence of a favourable reception is increased by the consciousness that he is not doing an injury to any one.
The success of the present volume will not impede the sale of the larger editions of Shakípeare, which will still be equally sought for by those to whom the purchase of them may be convenient.
T seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially
of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver some aca count of themselves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reason, how fund do we fee iome people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of ant:quity! their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their fhape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever this curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural ; and we are hardly Laisfied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described trea to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the Kowledge of an author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his book; and though the works of Mr. Shakspeare may seem to many not to want a commeni, 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, is a wickihire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the register and publick wntings 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 harge a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give no better education than his own employment.
He had bred him, it is true, for come time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was zater of : but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at burne, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented Eis further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his is we icarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the acients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great genius cual, if not superior, to some of the best of theirs), would certainly have led him to iza and Itudy them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would murally have infinuated themselves into, and been mixed with his own writings ; to that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his 23525 baving read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvana me to hun or no, inay admit of a dispute : for though the knowledge of them misht have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regularity
and deference for them, which would have attended that corrceness, might have restrained some of that tire, impetuolity, and even beautiful extravagance, which we admire in Shakipeare: and I believe we are better pleated with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supplied him to abun. dantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful paffages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agrecable manner that it was possible 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 propored to him; and in order to settle in the world after a fainily 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 subitántial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement 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 mistortunc to hini, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniufé's that ever was known in drama
He had, by a misfortune coinmon enough to young fellows, fallen i nto ill company; and amongit them, fome that made a frequent practice of deerft ealing 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, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill utage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is faid to have been so 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 some time, and thelter himself in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said 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 adınirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, foon distinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer, His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, among it those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particular account of what sort 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 Ghoit in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain authority, which was the first play he wrote
curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first effay of a fancy like Shaktpeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings : art had fo little, and nature lo large a fhare in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to means that his fancy was fo loose and extravagant, as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but, that what he thought was commonly so great, fo juitly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the first sight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are paslages in some few of them which seein to fix their dates. So the Choras at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Essex, thews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland : and his clogy 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 acceflion 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 diverlions of this kind, could not but be highly pleated
• The highest date of any I can vet ind, is Romeo and Juliet in 1997, when the author was 38 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age.
to see a genius arise from amongst them of fo pleasurable, fo rich a vein, and so plen. titaily capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a molt agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the beit conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave Em many gracious marks of her favour : it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by
a fair vefial, throned by the west.
And that whole paffage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hand foncly applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff
, in The Tzvo Parts of Henry the Fourth, that the 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 the was obeyed, the play itself is 23 adinirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this
part of Falttaff is said to have been written orginally under the name of * Uld. fe: fone of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleased to command hin to alter it ; upon which he made use of Falitaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to bla.ne in his second choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace soever 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 histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Essex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one initance to fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakfpeare'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 should not have ventured to have interted, 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 ta. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profufe generosity the present age has shewn to French dancers and Italian fingers.
That particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have Dot been able to learn, more than that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could diitinguish men, had generally a juít value and esteem for him. His exceediz candour 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 knowKuge 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 whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fuperciibusily over, were just upon returning it to himn with an ill-natured answer, that it mould be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upca it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, ad afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonson #23 certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; etough at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the lattet, was mɔre than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgbest of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. in a con ersation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Por
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.
ter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, 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 produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to flew 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 wish theirs may be, in ease, 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 faid to have spent some 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 almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened that, in a pleasant conversation amongit 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 since he could not know what might be faid of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verfcs :
Ten in the hundred lies here engravid,
Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe*. But the sharpness of the satire is said to have ftung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age †, and was buried on the north-side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' fake forbear
And curft be he that moves my bones. He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married ; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quincy, by whom she had three fons, 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 married firit to Thomas Nash, esq. and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abbington, but died likewile without issue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is bit cen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a fort of an eslay towards it in his Discoveries, 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 be 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. 1749, p. 223. has introduced another cpitaph imputed (on what authority is unknown) to Shak(peare. It is on Toin-a-Combe, alias Thin-beard, brother to this John who is mentioned by Mr. Rowe.
"Thin in beard, and thick in purse ;
* The devil and he had both one nurse." * Mr Malone fays, that he died on his birth-day, April 23, 2616, and had exa&tly completed bis' fifty-second ycar.