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was not eminent as an actor. In tracing the chronology of his plays, it has been discovered, 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 a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first play, The First Part of Henry VI., in 1589.
His plays were 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; the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated some of his poems; and of King James, who wrote a very gracious letter to him with his own hand, probably in return for the compliment Shakspeare had paid to his majesty in the tragedy of Macbeth. 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 trace, that Shakspeare was a man of humour, 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. The latter part of his life was spent in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had accumulated considerable property, which Gildon (in his Letters and Essays) stated to amount to 3001. per ann. a sum equal to 1000l. in our days. But Mr. Malone doubts whether all his property amounted to much more than 2001. per ann. which yet was a considerable fortune in those times; and it is supposed, that he might have derived 2001. annually from the theatre, while he continued to act.
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 Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighbourhood. Sir Hugh was sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and lord mayor in that 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, Knt. 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, who was a barrister, was knighted by George I. and died in the 80th year of his age, 1751. His executor, about the year 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Gastrel, 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 Lichfield, he thought he was assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the maintenance of the poor, and being opposed, 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 visitors. That Shakspeare planted this tree appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where New Place stood is now a garden.
During Shakspeare's abode in this house, he enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood; and here he is thought to have written the play of Twelfth Night. He died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, when he had exactly completed his fifty-second year; 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 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
Terra tegit, populus meret, Olympus habet.
Obiit ano. Dni. 1616,
Æt. 53, die 23 Apri. We have not any account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius. The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, “He was a handsome wellshaped man;' and adds, ‘verie good company, and of a very ready and pleasant and smooth wit.'
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 her father's favourite, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died Nov. 1635, aged 60. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged 66. They left only one child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, esq. who died in 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington in Northamptonshire, but died without issue by either hus
band. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married to Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died Feb. 1661-2, in her 77th year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. The traditional story of Shakspeare having been the father of Sir William Davenant, has been generally discredited.
From these imperfect notices,* which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying, than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries, and his immediate successors, have been equally silent; and if aught can hereafter be discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory, and illustrate his writings.
It is equally unfortunate, that we know as little of the progress of his writings, as of his personal history. The industry of his illustrators for the
* The first regular attempt at a life of Shakspeare is prefixed to Mr. A. Chalmers's variorum edition, published in 1805, of which we have availed ourselves in the above Sketch.