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OF all the accounts of literary men which have been given to the world, the history of the life of Shakspeare would be the most curious and in
1 Before we proceed further, it may be proper to ascertain the orthography of our poet's name. That the pronunciation of his own time was Shakspeare, is proved decisively, by illiterate persons, who spelt by the ear, writing the name either Shaxspere, or Shackspere; of which, instances from authentick documents will be given hereafter: and that he himself wrote his name without the middle e, appears from his autograph, of which a fac-simile will be found in a subsequent page. With respect to the last syllable of his name, the people of Stratford appear to have generally written the name Shakspere, or Shackspere: and I have now great doubts whether he did not frequently write the final syllable so himself; for I suspect that what was formerly supposed to be the letter a over his autograph above-mentioned, was only a coarse and broad mark of a contraction; and in the signatures of his name subscribed to his will (as a very ingenious anonymous correspondent observes to me), certainly the letter a is not to be found in the second syllable. It should be remembered, that in all words where per occurred, in old English vor. II.
structive, if we were acquainted with the minute circumstances of his fortunes, the course and extent of
writing, this contraction (P) was generally substituted. The true origin, I believe, of his countrymen thus spelling the latter part of his name, was this: instead of speare (hasta) following the sound, they constantly wrote spere; and hence the name of Sperepoynt, another family in Stratford, was thus exhibited. Mr. Richard Quiney, and many of the Stratfordians, in consequence of this being the common mode of spelling the word spear or speare, and of being used to the contraction above-mentioned, frequently wrote our poet's name thus: Mr. Shaksp.; and in some of the writings of the borough, I have found the name written at length Shaksper, which was probably the vulgar pronunciation. But as spere was a mispelling of the word speare, from the cause already assigned; and as it is not so properly old spelling, as false spelling; in my opinion it ought not to be adopted in exhibiting our author's name at this day; and therefore I write Shakspeare, and not Shakspere. Mr. Thomas Greene, a solicitor in Chancery, a contemporary and relation of our author, followed the orthography which we now adopt, as will be seen hereafter.
The various modes in which our poet's name has been exhibited, have been the subject of much disquisition; but those who are conversant with the laxity of ancient orthography, must have met with so many instances of the same kind, that this variance can be no novelty to them. "The same surname (says Fuller, in his English Worthies, p. 51), hath been variously altered in writing: first, because time teacheth new orthography, altering spelling, as well as speaking: secondly, the best gentlemen anciently were not the best scholars; and, minding matters of more moment, were somewhat too incurious in their names. Besides, writers engrossing deeds were not over-critical in spelling of names, knowing well where the person appeared the same, the simplicity of that age would not fall out about misnomer. Lastly, ancient families have been often removed into several counties, where several writings follow the several pronunciations." So variously was the name of Percy written, that the learned and ingenious Bishop of Dromore has, I think, enumerated above twenty different ancient modes of spelling that name. The name of Villiers, Fuller observes, was spelt fourteen different ways: and