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perfect writings: art had so little, and nature so large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but that what he thought was commonly so great, so justly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the first sight. But, though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus, at the end of the fourth Act of Henry V., by a compliment very handsomely turned to the Ear of Essex, shows the play to have been written when that lord was general for the Queen in Ireland. And his eulogy upon Queen Elizabeth and her successor King James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII., is proof of that play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two princes to the crown of England.
Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to see a genius arise among them of so pleasurable, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder if with so many good qualities he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour. it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by, fair vestal throned by the west." And that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hand
somely applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two Parts of Henry IV., that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle: some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France, in the times of Henry V. and Henry VI.4
3 It is hardly needful to inform the reader that the passage re ferred to is in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act ii. sc. 1:
"That very time I saw (but thou could'st not)
4 The blame, in this case, if there be any, rather seems to rest with Rowe himself, who confounds Falstaff with Fastolfe, the lat ter being the name of the distinguished soldier to whom he refer Sir John Fastolfe figures a little as one of the characters in the First Part of King Henry the Sixth. The change of name from Oldcastle to Falstaff is discussed in our Introduction to the First Part of King Henry IV. In further illustration of the point, Mr. Halliwell, in his Life of the Poet, prints from manuscript a dedication by Dr. Richard James to Sir Henry Bourchier, written about the year 1625. We subjoin a part of this curious document, from which it will be seen that Rowe was not the first to confound
What grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Essex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William Davenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he had heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Italian singers.
Falstaff and Fastolfe: "A young gentle ladie of your acquaint ance, having read the works of Shakespeare, made me this question: How Sir Jhon Falstaffe, or Fastolf, as it is written in the statute book of Maudlin Colledge in Oxford, where everye daye that societie were bound to make memorie of his soule, could be dead in Harrie the Fifts time, and againe live in the time of Harrie the Sixt to be banisht for cowardize ? Whereto I made answeare, that this was one of those humours and mistakes for which Plato banisht all poets out of his commonwealth; that Sir Jhon Falstaffe was in those times a noble valiant souldier, as apeeres by a book in the Heralds Office dedicated unto him by a herald whoe had binne with him, if I well remember, for the space of 25 yeeres in the French wars; that he seemes allso to have binne a man of learning, because, in a librarie of Oxford, I finde a book of dedicating churches sent from him for a present unto Bisshop Wainflete, and inscribed with his owne hand. That in Shakespeare's first shewe of Harrie the Fift, the person with which he undertook to playe a buffone was not Falstaff, but Sir Jhon Oldcastle; and that, offence beinge worthily taken by personages descended from his title, as peradventure by manie others allso whoe ought to have him in honourable memorie, the poet was putt to make an ignorant shifte of abusing Sir Jhon Fastolphe, a man not inferior of vertue, though not so famous in pietie as the other."
What particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one who had any true taste of merit, and could distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature must certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were jus upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakespear luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwar.s to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publ Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespeare; though at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter was more than a balance for what books had given the for mer; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation be tween Sir John Suckling, Sir William Davenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth: Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, tola them that, if Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that, if he would produce any one topic finely treated by any of the m he would undertake to show something upon the sam sut▸ ject at least as well written by Shakespeare."
The same story is told with more minuteness by Gildon
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasions, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good-nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the
Essay addressed to Dryden in 1694. The writer, it may be seen, appeals to Dryden as his authority for the anecdote: "But, to give the world some satisfaction that Shakespeare has had as great ven eration paid his excellence by men of unquestioned parts as this I now express for him, I shall give some account of what I have heard from your own mouth, Sir, about the noble triumph he gained over all the ancients, by the judgment of the ablest critics of that time. The matter of fact, if my memory fail me not, was this: Mr. Hales of Eton affirmed that he would show all the poets of antiquity outdone by Shakespeare, in all the topics and commonplaces made use of in poetry. The enemies of Shakespeare would by no means yield him so much excellence; so that it came to a resolution of a trial of skill upon that subject. The place agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hales' chamber at Eton. great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet; and on the appointed day my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling, and all the persons of quality that had wit and learning, and interested themselves in the quarrel, met there; and, upon a thorough Jisquisition of the point, the judges chosen by agreement out of his learned and ingenious assembly unanimously gave the preference to Shakespeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were adjudged to vail at least their glory in that to the English hero.". It may be well to a 'd that John Hales, canon of Windsor ard Fellow of Eton, was for his great learning called "the ever-memorable," and "the walking library." Under the tyranny of the Long Parliament, he was thrust from his preferment and stripped of his revenues; and when an offer was made of restoring him the fellowship he refused it, saying, that "as the Parliament had put him out, he was resolved never to be put in again by them." He died in 1656. Lord Clarendon says of him, "he had made a greater and better collection of books, than were to be found in any other private library that I have seen; as he had sure read more, and carried more about him in his excellent memory, than any man I ever knew, my lord Falkland only excepted, who, I think, sided him." And he adds, referring to his smallness of per. "he was one of the least men in the kingdom; and one of the greatest scholars in Europe."