Слике страница
PDF
ePub

long, for he died in the year 1616, the 53d of his age. He lies buried on the north fide of the chancel in the great church at Stratford; where a monument, decent enough for the time, is erected to him, and placed against the wall. He is reprefented under an arch in a fitting pofture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left refted on a fcrowl of paper. The Latin diftich, which is placed under the cushion, has been given us by Mr. Pope, or his graver, in this manner :

" INGENIO Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem, "Terra tegit, populus moret, Olympus habet."

I confefs, I do not conceive the difference between ingenio and genio in the first verse. They seem to me intirely fynonymous terms; nor was the Pylian fage Neftor celebrated for his ingenuity, but for an experience and judgment owing to his long age. Dugdale, in his Antiquities of WarwickShire, has copied this diftich with a diftinction which Mr. Rowe has followed, and which certainly reftores us the true meaning of the epitaph:

"JUDICIO Pylium, genio Socratem," &c.

In 1614, the greater part of the town of Stratford was confumed by fire; but our Shakspeare's house, among fome others, efcaped the flames. This houfe was firft built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighbourhood, who took their name from the manor of Clopton. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and Lord-Mayor in the reign of King Henry VII. To this gentle

man the town of Stratford is indebted for the fine ftone bridge, confifting of fourteen arches, which, at an extraordinary expence, he built over the Avon, together with a caufeway running at the weft-end thereof; as alfo for rebuilding the chapel adjoining to his houfe, and the cross-aifle in the church there. It is remarkable of him, that though he lived and died a bachelor, among the other extenfive charities which he left both to the city of London and town of Stratford, he bequeathed confiderable legacies for the marriage of poor maidens of good name and fame both in London and at Stratford. Notwithstanding which large donations in his life, and bequests at his death, as he had purchased the manor of Clopton, and all the eftate of the family; fo he left the fame again to his elder brother's fon with a very great addition : (a proof how well beneficence and economy may walk hand in hand in wife families): good part of which estate is yet in the poffeffion of Edward Clopton, Efq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally defcended from the elder brother of the first Sir Hugh, who particularly bequeathed to his nephew, by his will, his houfe, by the name of his Great Houfe in Stratford.

The eftate had now been fold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakfpeare became the purchaser; who, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New-Place, which the manfion-house, fince erected upon the fame fpot, at this day retains. The house and lands, which attended it, continued in Shakspeare's defcendants to the time of the Reftoration; when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family, and the manfion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. To the favour of this

worthy gentleman I owe the knowledge of one particular, in honour of our poet's once dwellinghoufe, of which, I prefume, Mr. Rowe never was apprized. When the civil war raged in England, and King Charles the Firft's queen was driven by the neceffity of affairs to make a recefs in Warwickshire, the kept her court for three weeks in New-Place. We may reasonably fuppofe it then the best private house in the town; and her majesty preferred it to the college, which was in the poffeffion of the Combe family, who did not fo ftrongly favour the king's party.

How much our author employed himself in poetry, after his retirement from the ftage, does not fo evidently appear: very few pofthumous sketches of his pen have been recovered to afcertain that point. We have been told, indeed, in print, but not till very lately, that two large chefts full of this great man's loose papers and manufcripts, in the hands of an ignorant baker of Warwick, (who married one of the defcendants from our Shakspeare,) were care!efsly fcattered and thrown about as garret lumber and litter, to the particular knowledge of the late Sir William Bifhop, till they were all confumed in the general fire and deftruction of that town. I cannot help being a little apt to diftruft the authority of this tradition, because his wife furvived him feven years; and, as his favourite daughter Sufanna furvived her twenty-fix years, it is very improbable they should fuffer fuch a treasure to be removed, and tranflated into a remoter branch of the family, without a scrutiny first made into the value of it.

4 See an answer to Mr. Pope's Preface to Shakspeare, by a Strolling Player, 8vo. 1729, p. 45. REED.

This, I fay, inclines me to diftruft the authority of the relation: but notwithstanding fuch an apparent improbability, if we really loft fuch a treafure, by whatever fatality or caprice of fortune they came into fuch ignorant and neglected hands, I agree with the relater, the misfortune is wholly irreparable.

To these particulars, which regard his perfon and private life, fome few more are to be gleaned from Mr. Rowe's Account of his Life and Writings: let us now take a fhort view of him in his publick capacity as a writer: and, from thence, the tranfition will be easy to the state in which his writings have been handed down to us.

No age, perhaps, can produce an author more various from himself, than Shakspeare has been univerfally acknowledged to be. The diversity in ftyle, and other parts of compofition, fo obvious in him, is as varioufly to be accounted for.

His

education, we find, was at beft but begun and he started early into a science from the force of genius, unequally affifted by acquired improvements. His fire, fpirit, and exuberance of imagination, gave an impetuofity to his pen: his ideas flowed from him in a ftream rapid, but not turbulent; copious, but not ever overbearing its fhores. The eale and sweetness of his temper might not a little contribute to his facility in writing; as his employment as a player, gave him an advantage and habit of fancying himself the very character he meant to delineate. He ufed the helps of his function in forming himself to create and exprefs that fublime, which other actors can only copy, and throw out, in action and graceful attitude. But, Nullum fine venid placuit ingenium, fays Seneca. The genius, that gives us the greateft pleafure, fometimes ftands in

need of our indulgence. Whenever this happens with regard to Shakspeare, I would willingly impute it to a vice of his times. We fee complaifance enough, in our days, paid to a bad tafte. So that his clinches, falfe wit, and defcending beneath himfelf, may have proceeded from a deference paid to the then reigning barbarifm.

I have not thought it out of my province, whenever occafion offered, to take notice of fome of our poet's grand touches of nature, fome, that do not appear fufficiently fuch, but in which he feems the most deeply inftructed; and to which, no doubt, he has fo much owed that happy prefervation of his characters, for which he is juftly celebrated. Great geniuses, like his, naturally unambitious, are fatisfied to conceal their arts in these points. It is the foible of your worfer poets to make a parade and oftentation of that little fcience they have; and to throw it out in the moft ambitious colours, And whenever a writer of this clafs fhall attempt to copy these artful concealments of our author, and fhall either think them eafy, or practifed by a writer for his eafe, he will foon be convinced of his mistake by the difficulty of reaching the imita¬ tion of them.

"Speret idem, fudet multùm, fruftráque laboret,
"Aufus idem :-

Indeed to point out and exclaim upon all the beauties of Shakspeare, as they come fingly in review, would be as infipid, as endless; as tedious, as unneceffary but the explanation of those beauties that are lefs obvious to common readers, and whose illustration depends on the rules of just criticifm, and an exact knowledge of human life,

« ПретходнаНастави »