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HAKESPEARE,* by general suffrage, is the greatest
name in literature. There can be no extravagance in saying, that to all who speak the English language his genius has made the world better worth living in, and life a nobler and diviner thing. And even among those who do not “speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake," large numbers are studying the English language mainly for the purpose of being at home with him. How he came to be what he was, and to do what he did, are questions that can never cease to be interesting, wherever his works are known, and men's powers of thought in any fair measure developed. But Providence has left a veil, or rather a cloud, about his history, so that these questions are not likely to be satisfactorily answered.
The first formal attempt at an account of Shakespeare's life was made by Nicholas Rowe, and the result thereof
* Much discussion has been had in our time as to the right way of spelling the Poet's name. The few autographs of his that are extant do not enable us to decide positively how he wrote his name; or rather they show that he had no one constant way of writing it. But the Venus and Adonis and the Lucrece were unquestionably published by his authority, and in the dedications of both these poems the name is printed “Shakespeare.” The same holds in all the quarto issues of his plays where the author's name is given, with the one exception of Love's Labour's Lost, which has it “Shakespere”; as it also holds in the folio. And in very many of these cases the name is printed with a nypnen, “Shake-speare," as if on purpose that there might be no mistake about it. All which, surely, is or ought to be decisive as to how the Poet willed his name to be spelt in print. Inconstancy in the spelling of names was very common in his time.
published in 1709, ninety-three years after the Poet's death. Rowe's account was avowedly made up, for the most part, from traditionary materials collected by Betterton the actor, who made a visit to Stratford expressly for that purpose. Betterton was born in 1635, nineteen years after the death of Shakespeare; became an actor before 1660, retired from the stage about 1700, and died in 1710. At what time he visited Stratford is not known. It is to be regretted that Rowe did not give Betterton's authorities for the particulars gathered by him. It is certain, however, that very good sources of information were accessible in his time: Judith Quiney, the Poet's second daughter, lived till 1662; Lady Barnard, his granddaughter, till 1670; and Sir William Davenant, who in his youth had known Shakespeare, was manager of the theatre in which Betterton acted.
After Rowe's account, scarce any thing was added till the time of Malone, who by a learned and most industrious searching of public and private records brought to light a considerable number of facts, some of them very important, touching the Poet and his family. And in our own day Mr. Collier has followed up the inquiry with very great diligence, and with no inconsiderable success; though, unfortunately, much of the matter supplied by him has been discredited as unauthentic, by those from whom there is in such cases no appeal. Lastly, Mr. Halliwell has given his intelligent and indefatigable labours to the same task, and made some valuable additions to our stock.
The lineage of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, on the paternal side, has not been traced further back than his grandfather. The name, which in its composition smacks of brave old knighthood and chivalry, was frequent in Warwickshire from an early period.
The father of our Poet was John SHAKESPEARE, who is found living at Stratford-on-Avon in 1552. most likely a native of Snitterfield, a village three miles from Stratford; as we find a Richard Shakespeare living