« AnteriorContinuar »
THE attempt to write upon SHAKSPEARE is like going into a large, a fpacious, and a splendid dome, through the conveyance of a narrow and obfcure entry. A glare of light fuddenly breaks upon you beyond what the avenue at first promised; and a thoufand beauties of genius and character,
fome attempts upon Shakspeare published by Lewis Theobald, (which he would not communicate during the time wherein that edition was preparing for the prefs, when we, by publick advertifements, did requeft the affiftance of all lovers of this author,) we have inferted, in this impreffion, as many of 'em as are judg'd of any the least advantage to the poet; the whole amounting to about twenty-five words.
"But to the end every reader may judge for himself, we have annexed a compleat list of the reft; which if he fhall think trivial, or erroneous, either in part, or in whole; at worst it can fpoil but a half sheet of paper, that chances to be left vacant here. And we purpose for the future, to do the fame with refpect to any other perfons, who either thro' candor or vanity, fhall communicate or publish, the least things tending to the illuftration of our author. We have here omitted nothing but pointings and meer errors of the prefs, which I hope the corrector of it has rectify'd; if not, I cou'd wifh as accurate an one as Mr. Th. [if he] had been at that trouble, which I defired Mr. Tonfon to folicit him to undertake. A. P."
This is Mr. Theobald's preface to his fecond edition in 1740, and was much curtailed by himself after it had been prefixed to the impreffion in 1733. STEEVENS.
like fo many gaudy apartments pouring at once upon the eye, diffuse and throw themselves out to the mind. The profpect is too wide to come within the compass of a fingle view: it is a gay confufion of pleafing objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general admiration; and they must be feparated and eyed diftinctly, in order to give the proper en
And as, in great piles of building, fome parts are often finished up to hit the taste of the connoiffeur; others more negligently put together, to ftrike the fancy of a common and unlearned beholder; fome parts are made ftupendously magnificent and grand, to surprise with the vast design and execution of the architect; others are contracted, to amuse you with his neatness and elegance in little; fo, in Shakspeare, we may find traits that will ftand the teft of the fevereft judgment; and ftrokes as carelessly hit off, to the level of the more ordinary capacities; fome defcriptions raised to that pitch of grandeur, as to aftonifh you with the compass and elevation of his thought; and others copying nature within fo narrow, fo confined a circle, as if the author's talent lay only at drawing in minia
In how many points of light muft we be obliged to gaze at this great poet! In how many branches of excellence to confider and admire him! Whether we view him on the fide of art or nature, he ought equally to engage our attention: whether we refpect the force and greatnefs of his genius, the extent of his knowledge and reading, the power and addrefs with which he throws out and applies either nature or learning, there is ample scope both for our wonder and pleasure. If his diction, and the clothing of his thoughts attract us, how much
more muft we be charmed with the richness and variety of his images and ideas! If his images and ideas fteal into our fouls, and ftrike upon our fancy, how much are they improved in price when we come to reflect with what propriety and juftnefs they are applied to character! If we look into his characters, and how they are furnished and proportioned to the employment he cuts out for them, how are we taken up with the maftery of his portraits! What draughts of nature! What variety of originals, and how differing each from the other! How are they dreffed from the ftores of his own luxurious imagination; without being the apes of mode, or borrowing from any foreign wardrobe! Each of them are the standards of fashion for themfelves like gentlemen that are above the direction of their tailors, and can adorn themselves without the aid of imitation. If other poets draw more than one fool or coxcomb, there is the fame refemblance in them, as in that painter's draughts who was happy only at forming a rofe; you find them all younger brothers of the fame family, and all of them have a pretence to give the fame crest : but Shakspeare's clowns and fops come all of a different house; they are no farther allied to one another than as man to man, members of the fame fpecies; but as différent in features and lineaments of character, as we are from one another in face or complexion. But I am unawares launching into his character as a writer, before I have faid what I intended of him as a private member of the republick.
Mr. Rowe has very juftly obferved, that people are fond of discovering any little personal story of the great men of antiquity; and that the common accidents of their lives naturally become the fub
ject of our critical enquiries: that however trifling fuch a curiofity at the firft view may appear, yet, as for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may, perhaps, fometimes conduce to the better understanding his works; and, indeed, this author's works, from the bad treatment he has met with from copyifts and editors, have fo long wanted a comment, that one would zealously embrace every method of information that could contribute to recover them from the injuries with which they have fo long lain overwhelmed.
"Tis certain, that if we have firft admired the man in his writings, his cafe is fo circumftanced, that we muft naturally admire the writings in the man that if we go back to take a view of his education, and the employment in life which fortune had cut out for him, we fhall retain the ftronger ideas of his extenfive genius.
His father, we are told, was a confiderable dealer in wool; but having no fewer than ten children, of whom our Shakspeare was the eldeft, the beft education he could afford him was no better than to qualify him for his own business and employment. I cannot affirm with any certainty how long his father lived; but I take him to be the fame Mr. John Shakspeare who was living in the year 1599, and who then, in honour of his fon, took out an extract of his family arms from the herald's office; by which it appears, that he had been officer and bailiff of Stratford-uponAvon, in Warwickshire; and that he enjoyed fome hereditary lands and tenements, the reward of his great grandfather's faithful and approved fervice to King Henry VII.
Be this as it will, our Shakspeare, it feems, was
bred for fome time at a free-fchool; the very freefchool, I prefume, founded at Stratford: where, we are told, he acquired what Latin he was mafter of: but that his father being obliged, through narrownefs of circumftances, to withdraw him too foon from thence, he was thereby unhappily prevented from making any proficiency in the dead languages; a point that will deferve fome little difcuffion in the fequel of this differtation.
How long he continued in his father's way of business, either as an affiftant to him, or on his own proper account, no notices are left to inform us: nor have I been able to learn precisely at what period of life he quitted his native Stratford, and began his acquaintance with London and the stage. 74 In order to fettle in the world after a familymanner, he thought fit, Mr. Rowe acquaints us, to marry while he was yet very young. It is certain he did fo for by the monument in Stratford church, erected to the memory of his daughter Sufanna, the wife of John Hall, gentleman, it appears, that the died on the 2d of July, in the year 1649, aged 66. So that he was born in 1583, when her father could not be full 19 years old; who was himself born in the year 1564. Nor was the his eldest child, for he had another daughter, Judith, who was born before her, and who was married to one Mr. Thomas Quiney. So that Shakspeare must have entered into wedlock by that time. he was turned of feventeen years.
Whether the force of inclination merely, or fome concurring circumftances of convenience in the match, prompted him to marry so early, is not
2 See the extracts from the register-book of the parish of Stratford, in a preceding page. STEEVENS.