« VorigeDoorgaan »
his studies, and the means and gradations whereby he acquired that consummate knowledge of mankind, which, for two centuries, has rendered him the delight and boast of his countrymen : but many of the mate
in the spelling of the name of Gascoygne, Thoresby and Oldys have exhibited twenty-one variations. Sir Walter Ralegh has written his name in a book in the Bodleian Library, as I now have done; yet his contemporaries much more frequently wrote Rawleigh, or Raleigh, or Rawley; nor was he himself, I believe, uni. form in his practice. Mr. Abraham Sturley, an alderman of Stratford, with whom the reader will be better acquainted here. after, as often wrote his name Strelley as Sturley : and the name of our poet's son-in-law was written Hawle, Halle, Haule, and Hall ; in the first and the last of these ways he himself wrote it at different periods of his life. A similar variance is to be found in the names of Burghley, which is exhibited in four or five different ways; of Habington the historian (frequently written and printed Abington), Massinger and Dekker the poets, and many others. Edward Alleyn, the player, wrote his name sometimes Allin, sometimes Allen, and at others Aleyn or Alleyn. The names of Heminges and Condell, our poet's fellow comedians, are written differently in the very volume which they themselves published. And lastly, to come nearer to our own time, instead of John Dryden, the name to which we are now familiarized, we have before the second edition of his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, and also in an advertisement in the London Gazette, N 1, John Dreyden ; and in the last page this name was also writte Driden and Dreydon.
Fuller, writing on this subject, concludes like a tru, antiquary : " However such diversity appeareth in the eye of others, I dare profess that I am delighted with the prospect thereof." Though my
readers may not have so much enthusiasm (as I “ dare profess" I have not), yet I trust they will pardon the length of this disquisition, which perhaps nothing but the name of Shakspeare could justify. Under the protection of that seven-fold shield an editor may set criticks and cavillers at defiance.
Στη δ' αρ υπ’ Αιαντος σακεϊ Τελαμωνιαδαο.
rials for such a biographical detail being now unattainable, we must content ourselves with such particulars as accident has preserved, or the most sedulous industry has been able to collect.
From Sir William Dugdale, who was born in 1605, and bred at the school of Coventry, but twenty miles from Stratford upon Avon, and whose Antiquities of Warwickshire appeared in 1656, only thirty years after the death of our poct, we might reasonably have expected some curious memorials of his illustrious countryman : but he has not given us a single particular of his private life ; contenting himself with a very slight mention of him in his account of the church and tombs of Stratford upon Avon.
The next biographical printed notice that I have found, is in Fuller's Worthies, folio, 1662, in Warwickshire, p. 116; where there is a short quibbling account of our poet, furnishing very little information concerning him. In Theatrum Poetarum, which was not published till 1675 (though in the Bodleian, and other catalogues, that book is mentioned as having appeared in MDCLX, in consequence of the last two figures (xv) having, in some copies, dropped out of their place, at the press), Edward Phillips gives this character of our author:
“ William Shakspeare, the glory of the English stage, whose nativity at Stratford upon Avon is the highest honour that town can boast of, from an actor of tragedies and comedies, he became a maker; and such a maker, that though some others may perhaps pretend to a more exact decorum and economy, especially in tragedy, never any expressed a more lofty and tragick height; never any represented nature more purely to the life: and where the polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleaseth with a certain wild and native elegance; and in all his writings hath an unvulgar style, as well in his Venus and Adonis, his Rape of Lucrece, and other various poems, as in his dramaticks."
I had long since observed, in the margin of my copy of this book, that the hand of Milton, who was the author's uncle, might be traced in the preface, and in the passage above quoted. The book was licensed for publication two months before the death of that poet. My late friend, Mr. Warton, has made the same observation.
Winstanley, in his Lives of the Poets, 8vo. 1687, merely transcribed Dugdale and Fuller; nor did Langbaine, in 1691, Blount, in 1694, or Gildon, in 1699, add any thing to the former meagre accounts
of our poet.
That Antony Wood, who was himself a native of Oxford (but thirty-six miles from Stratford), and was born but fourteen years after the death of our author, should not have collected any anecdotes of Shakspeare, has always appeared to me extraordinary. Though Shakspeare had no direct title to a place in the Athena Oxonienses, that diligent antiquary could have easily found a niche for his Life, as he has done for many others, not bred at Oxford. The Life of Davenant afforded him a very fair opportunity for such an insertion. About the
year 1680, that very curious and indefatigable searcher after anecdotes relative to the
eminent writers of England, Mr. John Aubrey, collected some concerning Shakspeare, which I shall have occasion to mention more particularly hereafter.
But the person from whom we should probably have derived the most satisfactory intelligence concerning our poet's theatrical history, was his contemporary, and fellow comedian, Thomas Heywood, had he executed a work which he appears to have long had in contemplation. In the margin of Braithwaite's Survey of Histories, 4to. 1614, I find the following note: "Homer, an excellent and heroicke poet, shadowed only, because my judicious friend, Maister Thomas Heywood, hath taken in hand, by his great industry, to make a general, though summary, description of all the poets.” Heywood himself, twenty years afterwards, mentions the same scheme, in a note to his Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels, folio, 1635, p. 245, in which he says, that he intends “ to commit to the publick view, The Lives of the Poets, foreign and modern, from the first before Homer, to the novissimi and last, of what nation or language soever ; " but, unfortunately, the work was never
Browne, the pastoral poet, who was also Shakspeare's contemporary, had a similar intention of writing the Lives of the English Poets ; which, however, he never executed.
Though, between 1640 and 1670, the Lives of Hooker, Donne, Wotton, and Herbert, were given to the publick by Isaac Walton, and in 1679 some account of Spencer was prefixed to a folio edition of his works, neither the booksellers, who republished our author's plays in 1664 and 1665, employed any
person to write the Life of Shakspeare ; nor did Dryden, though a warm admirer of his productions, or any other poet, collect any materials for such a work, till Mr. Rowe, about the year 1707, undertook an edition of his plays. Unfortunately, that was not an age of curiosity or inquiry: for Dryden might have obtained some intelligence from the old actors, who died about the time of the Restoration, when hê was himself near thirty years old ; and still more authentick accounts from our poet's grand-daughter, Lady Barnard, who did not die till 1670. His sister, Joan Hart, was living in 1646; his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, in 1649; and his second daughter, Judith Queeny, in 1662.
Of those who were not thus nearly connected with our poet, a large list of persons presents itself, from whom, without doubt, much intelligence concerning him might have been obtained, between the time of the publication of the second folio edition of his works, in 1632, and of Mr. Rowe's Life, in 1709.
Francis Meres, who will be more particularly mentioned hereafter, and who appears to have been well acquainted with the stage, when our author first appeared as a dramatick writer, lived till 1646.
Richard Braithwaite, a very voluminous poet, was born in 1588, and commenced a writer some years before the death of Shakspeare. Having once, as it should
seem, had thoughts of compiling a history of the English poets, he probably was particularly anxious to learn all such circumstances as might be most conducive to such an undertaking. He