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who had sat still for some time, told them, that, if Mr. Shak speare had not read the ancients, neither had he stolen anything from them; and that if he would produce any one fine topic treated by any one of them, he would undertake to show something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakspeare.” This anecdote was written nearly a hundred years after the death of our author, and more than seventy after the death of Jonson. Even supposing all the circumstances to be correct, it only represents Jonson as maintaining an opinion in conversation which he has printed in his Discoveries, that “many times Shakspeare fell into those things which could not escape laughter,” and arguing, that a deeper knowledge of the classic writers would have improved his genius, and taught him to lop away all such unseemly exuberances of style. It shows the most learned poet of his time, or, perhaps, of any time, honestly asserting the advantages that a poet may derive from a variety of learning; but this is all; and it supposes no undue or unfriendly attempt in Jonson to depreciate the fame of Shakspeare. Indeed, no hint of the existence of any difference or unkindness between those celebrated individuals is to be found in any contemporary author. Dryden thought Jonson's Verses to Shakspeare sparing and invidious ; but to this opinion Pope very justly recorded his dissent; and wondered that Dryden should have held it. Rowe, in the first edition of his Life of Shakspeare, insinuates a doubt of the sincerity of Jonson's friendship; before the publication his second edition, he found cause to reject a' suspicion so injurious to the reputation of Jonson, and had the honesty to erase the passage from his work. The words, however, did not escape the vigilance of Malone: they were re-printed, and the sentiment re-adopted; and, as if it were more valuable to the commentators, from having been condemned by its author, their united labors and ingenuity have been indefatigably employed in inventing and straining evidence to support an insinuation, which was too carelessly disseminated, and too silently withdrawn. Rowe should have made such an explicit recantation of his error, as might have repaired the ill he had occasioned, and guarded the good name of one of our greatest poets against the revival
of the calumny: this he unfortunately omitted; and he thus left the character of Jonson bare to the senseless and gratuitous malignity of every puny spirit, that chose to amuse its spleen by insulting the memory of the mighty dead. For years, the friend and eulogist of Shakspeare was aspersed as envious and ungrateful, in almost every second note of every edition of our author's works; and it is only lately that the judicious exertions of Gilchrist and of Gifford have exposed the fallacy of such unwarranted imputations, and demonstrated, beyond the possibility of future doubt, that “Jonson and Shakspeare were friends and associates, till the latter finally retired - that no feud, no jealousy, ever disturbed their connexion that Shakspeare was pleased with Jonson, and that Jonson loved and admired Shakspeare."
But courted, praised, and rewarded as he was, the stage, as a profession, was little fitted to the disposition of our poet. In his Sonnets, which afford us the only means of attaining a knowledge of his sentiments upon the subject, we find him lamenting the nature of his life with that dissatisfaction, which every noble spirit would necessarily suffer, in a state of unimportant labor and undignified publicity. In the hundreth and tenth, he exclaims,
“ Alas, 'tis true I have gone here and there,
And made myself a motley * to the view.". And again, in the hundred and eleventh; with evident allusion to his being obliged to appear on the stage, and write for the theatre, he repeats,
"O, for my sake, do you with fortune chide
Than public means, which public manners breeds." With this distaste for a course of life, to which adversity had originally driven him, it is not extraordinary to find that he availed himself of the first moment of independence, to abandon the histrionic part of his double profession. This
* Motley, i. e., a fool, a buffoon.
occurred so early as 1604. After that time, his name never appears on the list of performers which were attached to the original editions of the old plays. Ben Jonson's Sejanus, which came out in 1603, is the last play in which he is mentioned as a performer. As a writer for the stage, and part proprietor of two principal theatres, he was obliged to be much in London; but he never took root and settled there. His family always resided at Stratford, and thither he once a year repaired to them. In the privacy of his native town, all the affections of his heart appear to have been "garner'd up; " and there, from his beginning to reap the wages of success, he deposited the emoluments of his labors, and hoped to find a home in his retirement. In 1597, he purchased New Place, a house which he repaired and adorned to his own taste, and which remained in the family till the death of his granddaughter, Lady Barnard ; and in the garden of which he planted the celebrated mulberry-tree, which was so long an object of veneration as the flourishing memorial of the poet. To the possession of New Place, Shakspeare successively added, in the course of the following eight years, an estate of about one hundred and seven acres of land, and a moiety of the great and small tithes of Stratford.
It was in one of his periodical journeys from London to Stratford, that "one midsummer night” he met at Crendon, in Bucks, with the original of Dogberry. Aubrey says, that the constable was still alive about 1642. “ He and Ben Jonson did gather humors of men wherever they came;” and as the constable of Crendon sat for the picture of Dogberry, so we are told, on the authority of Bowman the player, that part of Sir John Falstaff's character was drawn from a townsman of Stratford, “who either faithlessly broke a contract, or spitefully refused to part with some land for a valuable consideration, adjoining to Shakspeare's house." Oldys has recorded in his MS. another anecdote connected with these journeys of our poet to Stratford, which 1 shall give in his own words.-"If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, Mr. John
Davenant (afterwards mayor of that city), a grave, melancholy man; who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shakspeare's pleasant company. Their son, young Will Davenant (afterwards Sir William), was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day, an old townsman observing the boy running homeward, almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father Shhakspeare. There's a good boy, said the other, but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain. This story Mr. Pope told me at the Earl of Oxford's table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Shakspeare's monument, then newly erected in Westminster Abbey; and he quoted Mr. Betterton, the player, for his authority.” This tale is also mentioned by Anthony Wood; and certain it is, that the traditionary scandal of Oxford, has always spoken of Shakspeare as the father of D'Avenant: but it imputes a crime to our author, of which we may, without much stretch of charity, acquit him. It originated in the wicked vanity of D'Avenant himself, who disdaining his honest but mean descent from the vinter, had the shameless impiety to deny his father, and reproach the memory of his mother, by claiming consanguinity with Shakspeare.
We are informed by a constant tradition, that a few years previous to his death, our author retired from the theatre, and spent his time at Stratford, “in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends.” This event appears to have taken place about the close of 1613. He had his wife and family about him; he was surrounded by familiar scenes and faces; and he was in possession of a property of about £300 2-year, equal to much more than £1000 at present; and which must have been fully adequate to his modest views of happiness.
The anecdotes that are in circulation respecting this portion of his life, are few, trivial, and very probably unfounded in fact; but, such as they are, I have collected them, rather that nothing connected with the name of Shakspeare should
be omitted in this edition, than from any regard for their intrinsic value.
A story, preserved by the tradition of Stratford, and which, according to Malone, "was related fifty years ago to a gentleman of that place, by a person upwards of eighty years of age, whose father was contemporary with Shakspeare," may not improperly be attributed to this portion of his life. It is said, that as Shakspeare was leaning over the hatch of a mercer's door at Stratford, a drunken blacksmith, with a carbuncled face, reeled up to him, and demanded,
“Now, Mr. Shakspeare, tell me if you can,
The difference between a youth and a young man?” to which our poet instantly rejoined :
« Thou son of fire, with thy face like a maple,
The same difference as between a scalded and coddled apple.” “A part of the wit,” says Dr. Drake, “turns upon the com parison between the blacksmith's face, and a species of maple, the bark of which is uncomm nly rough, and the grain undulated and crisped into a variety of curls.”
Rowe relates that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare, in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately ; upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses :
. Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd ;
“But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it." Aubrey narrates the story differently, and says, “that one time as Shakspeare was at the tavern at Stratford, Mr. Coombes, an old usurer,