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I see by you, I am a sweet-faced youth.
Dro. S. Not I, sir; you are my elder.
Dro. S. We will draw cuts for the senior : till then lead thou first.
Dro. E. Nay, then thus : We came into the world, like brother and brother; And now let's go hand in hand, not one before another.
[Exeunt.  On a careful revision of the foregoing scenes, I do not hesitate to pronounce them the composition of two very unequal writers. Shakespeare had undoubtedly a share in them; but that the entire play was no work of his, is an opinion whick (as Benedick says) · fire cannot melt out of me; I will die in it at the stake." Thus, as we are informed by Aulus Gellius, Lib. III. cap. 3, some plays are absolutely ascribed to Plautus, which in truth had only been (retractata et erpolitats) retouched and polished by him.
The Merchant of Venice.]—It appears from a pas sage in Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse, &c. 1579, that a play, comprehending the distinct plots of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, had been exhibited long before he commenced a writer, viz. “ The Jew shown at the Bull, representing the greediness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers.”—“These plays,” says Gosson, (for he mentions others with it) are goode and sweete plays,” &c. It is therefore not improbable that Shakespeare new-wrote his piece, on the model already mentioned, and that the elder performance, being inferior, was permitted to drop silently into oblivion.
This play of Shakespeare had been exhibited before the year 1598, as appears from Meres's Wits Treasury, where it is mentioned with eleven more of our author's pieces. It was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, July 22, in the same year. It could not have been printed earlier, because it was not yet licensed. The old song of Gernutus the Jew of Venice, is published by Dr. Percy in the first volume of his Reliques of ancient English Poetry : and the ballad intitled, The murtherous Lyfe and terrible Death of the rich Jewe of Malta ; and the tragedy on the same subject, were both entered on the Stationers' books, May, 1594.
The story was taken from an old translation of The Gesla Romanorum, first printed by Wynkyn de Worde. The book was very popular, and Shakespeare has closely copied some of the language : an additional argument, if we wanted it, of his track of reading. Three vessels are exhibited to a lady for her choice–The first was made of pure gold, well beset with precious stones without, and within full of dead men's bones; and thereupon was engraven this posie : Whoso chuseth me, shall find that he deserveth. The second vessel was made of fine silver, filled
with earth and worms; the superscription was thus. Whoso chuseth me, shall find that his nature desireth. The third vessel was made of lead, full within of precious stones, and thereupon was insculpt this posie: Whoso chuseth me, shall find that God hath disposed for him.-—The lady, after a comment upon each, chuses the leaden vessel.
In a MS. of Lidgate, belonging to my very learned friend, Dr. Askew, I find a Tale of Two Merchants of Egipt and of Baldad, ex Gestis Romanorum. Leland, therefore, could not be the original author, as Bishop Tanner suspected. He lived a century after Lidgate.
The two principal incidents of this play are to be found separately in a collection of odd stories, which were very popular, at least five hundred years ago, under the title of Gesta Romanorum. The first, Of the Bond, is in ch. xlviii. of the copy which I chuse to refer to, as the completest of any which I have yet seen. MS. Harl. n. 2270. A knight there borrows money of a merchant, upon condition of forfeiting all his flesh for non-payment. When the penalty is exacted before the judge, the knight's mistress, disguised, in forma viri &• vestimentis pretiosis induta, comes into court, and, by permission of the judge, endeavours to mollify the merchant. She first offers him his money, and then the double of it, &c. to all which his answer is—“ Conventionem meam volo habere.—Puella, cum hoc audisset, ait coram omnibus, Domine mi judex, da rectum judicium super his quæ vobis dixero.--Vos scitis quod miles nunquam se obligabat ad aliud per literam nisi quod mercator habeat potestatem carnes ab ossibus scindere, sine sanguinis effusione, de quo nihil erat prolocutum. Statim mittat manum in eum ; si vero sanguinem effuderit, Rex contra eum actionem habet. Mercator, cum hoc audisset, ait; Date mihi pecuniam & omnem actionem ei remitto. Ait puella, Amen dico tibi, nullum denarium habebis—pone ergo manum in eum,
ita uť sanguinem non effundas. Mercator vero videns se confusum abscessit: & sic vita militis salvata est, & nullum denarium dedit.”
The other incident, of the caskets, is in ch. xcix. of the same collection.
A king of Apulia sends his daughter to be married to the son of an emperor of Rome. After