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Rowe, Nicholas / Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)
Extra Series
No. 1

Nicholas Rowe, _Some Account of the Life of
Mr. William Shakespear_ (1709)

With an Introduction by
Samuel H. Monk

The Augustan Reprint Society
November, 1948
_Price. One Dollar_


RICHARD C. BOYS, _University of Michigan_
EDWARD NILES HOOKER, _University of California, Los Angeles_
H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., _University of California, Los Angeles_


W. EARL BRITTON, _University of Michigan_


EMMETT L. AVERY, _State College of Washington_
BENJAMIN BOYCE, _University of Nebraska_
LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, _University of Michigan_
CLEANTH BROOKS, _Yale University_
JAMES L. CLIFFORD, _Columbia University_
ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, _University of Chicago_
SAMUEL H. MONK, _University of Minnesota_
ERNEST MOSSNER, _University of Texas_
JAMES SUTHERLAND, _Queen Mary College, London_

Lithoprinted from copy supplied by author
Edwards Brothers, Inc.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.


The Rowe-Tonson edition of Shakespeare's plays (1709) is an important
event in the history of both Shakespeare studies and English literary
criticism. Though based substantially on the Fourth Folio (1685), it is
the first, "edited" edition: Rowe modernized spelling and punctuation
and quietly made a number of sensible emendations. It is the first
edition to include _dramatis personae_, the first to attempt a
systematic division of all the plays into acts and scenes, and the first
to give to scenes their distinct locations. It is the first of many
illustrated editions. It is the first to abandon the clumsy folio format
and to attempt to bring the plays within reach of the understanding and
the pocketbooks of the average reader. Finally, it is the first to
include an extended life and critique of the author.

Shakespeare scholars from Pope to the present have not been kind to Rowe
either as editor or as critic; but all eighteenth-century editors
accepted many of his emendations, and the biographical material that he
and Betterton assembled remained the basis of all accounts of the
dramatist until the scepticism and scholarship of Steevens and Malone
proved most of it to be merely dubious tradition. Johnson, indeed, spoke
generously of the edition. In the _Life of Rowe_ he said that as an
editor Howe "has done more than he promised; and that, without the pomp
of notes or the boast of criticism, many passages are happily restored."
The preface, in his opinion, "cannot be said to discover much profundity
or penetration." But he acknowledged Rowe's influence on Shakespeare's
reputation. In our own century, more justice has been done Rowe, at
least as an editor.[1]

The years 1709-14 were of great importance in the growth of
Shakespeare's reputation. As we shall see, the plays as well as the
poems, both authentic and spurious, were frequently printed and bought.
With the passing of the seventeenth-century folios and the occasional
quartos of acting versions of single plays, Shakespeare could find a
place in libraries and could be intimately known by hundreds who had
hitherto known him only in the theater. Tonson's business acumen made
Shakespeare available to the general reader in the reign of Anne; Rowe's
editorial, biographical, and critical work helped to make him
comprehensible within the framework of contemporary taste.

When Rowe's edition appeared twenty-four years had passed since the
publication of the Fourth Folio. As Allardyce Nicoll has shown, Tonson
owned certain rights in the publication of the plays, rights derived
ultimately from the printers of the First Folio. Precisely when he
decided to publish a revised octavo edition is not known, nor do we know
when Rowe accepted the commission and began his work. McKerrow has
plausibly suggested that Tonson may have been anxious to call attention
to his rights in Shakespeare on the eve of the passage of the copyright
law which went into effect in April, 1710.[2] Certainly Tonson must have
felt that he was adding to the prestige which his publishing house had
gained by the publication of Milton and Dryden's Virgil.

In March 1708/9 Tonson was advertising for materials "serviceable to
[the] Design" of publishing an edition of Shakespeare's works in six
volumes octavo, which would be ready "in a Month." There was a delay,
however, and it was on 2 June that Tonson finally announced: "There is
this day Publish'd ... the Works of Mr. William Shakespear, in six Vols.
8vo. adorn'd with Cuts, Revis'd and carefully Corrected: With an Account
of the Life and Writings of the Author, by N. Rowe, Esq; Price 30s."
Subscription copies on large paper, some few to be bound in nine
volumes, were to be had at his shop.[3]

The success of the venture must have been immediately apparent. By 1710
a second edition, identical in title page and typography with the first,
but differing in many details, had been printed,[4] followed in 1714 by
a third in duodecimo. This so-called second edition exists in three
issues, the first made up of eight volumes, the third of nine. In all
three editions the spurious plays were collected in the last volume,
except in the third issue of 1714, in which the ninth volume contains
the poems.

That other publishers sensed the profits in Shakespeare is evident from
the activities of Edmund Curll and Bernard Lintot. Curll acted with
imagination and promptness: within three weeks of the publication of
Tonson's edition, he advertised as Volume VII of the works of
Shakespeare his forthcoming volume of the poems. This volume, misdated
1710 on the title page, seems to have been published in September 1709.
A reprint with corrections and some emendations of the Cotes-Benson
Poems _Written By Wil. Shake-speare. Gent._, 1640, it contains Charles
Gildon's "Essay on the Art, Rise, and Progress of the Stage in _Greece_,
_Rome_, and _England_," his "Remarks" on the separate plays, his
"References to Classic Authors," and his glossary. With great shrewdness
Curll produced a volume uniform in size and format with Rowe's edition
and equipped with an essay which opens with an attack on Tonson for
printing doubtful plays and for attempting to disparage the poems
through envy of their publisher. This attack was certainly provoked by
the curious final paragraph of Rowe's introduction, in which he refused
to determine the genuineness of the 1640 poems. Obviously Tonson was
perturbed when he learned that Curll was publishing the poems as an
appendix to Rowe's edition.

Once again a Shakespearian publication was successful, and Tonson
incorporated the Curll volume into the third issue of the 1714 edition,
having apparently come to some agreement with Curll, since the title
page of Volume IX states that it was "Printed for J. Tonson, E. Curll,
J. Pemberton, and K. Sanger." In this edition Gildon omitted his
offensive remarks about Tonson, as well as the "References to Classic
Authors," in which he had suggested topics treated by both the ancients
and Shakespeare. This volume was revised by George Sewell and appeared
in appropriate format as an addition to Pope's Shakespeare, 1723-25.

Meanwhile, in July, 1709, Lintot had begun to advertise his edition of
the poems, which was expanded in 1710/11 to include the sonnets in a
second volume.[5] Thus within a year of the publication of Rowe's
edition, all of Shakespeare, as well as some spurious works, was on the
market. With the publication of these volumes, Shakespeare began to pass
rapidly into the literary consciousness of the race. And formal
criticism of his writings inevitably followed.

Rowe's "Some Account of the Life, &c. of Mr. William Shakespear,"
reprinted with a very few trifling typographical changes in 1714,
survived in all the important eighteenth-century editions, but it was
never reprinted in its original form. Pope re-arranged the material,
giving it a more orderly structure and omitting passages that were
obviously erroneous or that seemed outmoded.[6] It is odd that all later
eighteenth-century editors seem to have believed that Pope's revision
was actually Rowe's own re-writing of the _Account_ for the 1714
edition. Theobald did not reprint the essay, but he used and amplified
Rowe's material in his biography of Shakespeare; Warburton, of course,
reprinted Pope's version, as did Johnson, Steevens, and Malone. Both
Steevens and Malone identified the Pope revision as Rowe's.[7]

Thus it came about that Rowe's preface in its original form was lost
from sight during the entire eighteenth century. Even in the twentieth,
Pope's revision has been printed with the statement that it is taken
"from the second edition (1714), slightly altered from the first edition
of 1709."[8] Only D. Nichol Smith has republished the original essay in
his _Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare_, 1903.

The biographical part of Rowe's _Account_ assembled the few facts and
most of the traditions still current about Shakespeare a century after
his death. It would be easy for any undergraduate to distinguish fact
from legend in Rowe's preface; and scholarship since Steevens and Malone
has demonstrated the unreliability of most of the local traditions that
Betterton reported from Warwickshire. Antiquarian research has added a
vast amount of detail about the world in which Shakespeare lived and has
raised and answered questions that never occurred to Rowe; but it has
recovered little more of the man himself than Rowe knew.

The critical portions of Rowe's account look backward and forward:
backward to the Restoration, among whose critical controversies the
eighteenth-century Shakespeare took shape; and forward to the long
succession of critical writings that, by the end of the century, had
secured for Shakespeare his position as the greatest of the English
poets. Until Dryden and Rymer, criticism of Shakespeare in the
seventeenth century had been occasional rather than systematic. Dryden,
by his own acknowledgement, derived his enthusiasm for Shakespeare from
Davenant, and thus, in a way, spoke for a man who had known the poet.
Shakespeare was constantly in his mind, and the critical problems that
the plays raised in the literary milieu of the Restoration constantly
fascinated him. Rymer's attack served to solidify opinion and to force
Shakespeare's admirers to examine the grounds of their faith. By 1700 a
conventional manner of regarding Shakespeare and the plays had been

The growth of Shakespeare's reputation during the century after his
death is a familiar episode in English criticism. Bentley has
demonstrated the dominant position of Jonson up to the end of the
century.[9] But Jonson's reputation and authority worked for Shakespeare
and helped to shape, a critical attitude toward the plays. His official
praise in the first Folio had declared Shakespeare at least the equal of
the ancients and the very poet of nature. He had raised the issue of
Shakespeare's learning, thus helping to emphasize the idea of
Shakespeare as a natural genius; and in the _Discoveries_ he had blamed
his friend for too great facility and for bombast.

In his commendatory sonnet in the Second Folio (1632), Milton took the
Jonsonian view of Shakespeare, whose "easy numbers" he contrasted with
"slow-endeavouring Art," and readers of the poems of 1645 found in
_L'Allegro_ an early formulation of what was to become the stock
comparison of the two great Jacobean dramatists in the lines about
Jonson's "learned sock" and Shakespeare, "Fancy's child." This contrast
became a constant theme in Restoration allusions to the two poets.

Two other early critical ideas were to be elaborated in the last four
decades of the century. In the first Folio Leonard Digges had spoken of
Shakespeare's "fire and fancy," and I.M.S. had written in the Second
Folio of his ability to move the passions. Finally, throughout the last
half of the century, as Bentley has shown, Shakespeare was admired above
all English dramatists for his ability to create characters, of whom
Falstaff was the most frequently mentioned.

All of these opinions were developed in Dryden's frequent critical
remarks on his favorite dramatist. No one was more clearly aware than
he of the faults of the "divine Shakespeare" as they appeared in the new
era of letters that Dryden himself helped to shape. And no man ever
praised Shakespeare more generously. For Dryden Shakespeare was the
greatest of original geniuses, who, "taught by none," laid the
foundations of English drama; he was a poet of bold imagination,
especially gifted in "magick" or the supernatural, the poet of nature,
who could dispense with "art," the poet of the passions, of varied
characters and moods, the poet of large and comprehensive soul. To him,
as to most of his contemporaries, the contrast between Jonson and
Shakespeare was important: the one showed what poets ought to do; the
other what untutored genius can do. When Dryden praised Shakespeare, his
tone became warmer than when he judicially appraised Jonson.

Like most of his contemporaries Dryden did not heed Jonson's caveat
that, despite his lack of learning, Shakespeare did have art. He was too
obsessed with the idea that Shakespeare, ignorant of the health-giving
art of the ancients, was infected with the faults of his age, faults
that even Jonson did not always escape. Shakespeare was often incorrect
in grammar; he frequently sank to flatness or soared into bombast; his
wit could be coarse and low and too dependent on puns; his plot
structure was at times faulty, and he lacked the sense for order and
arrangement that the new taste valued. All this he could and did admit,
and he was impressed by the learning and critical standards of Rymer's
attack. But like Samuel Johnson he was not often prone to substitute
theory for experience, and like most of his contemporaries he felt
Shakespeare's power to move and to convince. Perhaps the most trenchant
expression of his final stand in regard to Shakespeare and to the whole
art of poetry is to be found in his letter to Dennis, dated 3 March,
1693/4. Shakespeare, he said, had genius, which is "alone a greater
Virtue ... than all the other Qualifications put together." He admitted
that all the faults pointed out by Rymer are real enough, but he added a
question that removed the discussion from theory to immediate
experience: "Yet who will read Mr. Rym[er] or not read Shakespear?" When
Dryden died in 1700, the age of Jonson had passed and the age of
Shakespeare was about to begin.

The Shakespeare of Rowe's _Account_ is in most essentials the
Shakespeare of Restoration criticism, minus the consideration of his
faults. As Nichol Smith has observed, Dryden and Rymer were continually
in Rowe's mind as he wrote. It is likely that Smith is correct in
suspecting in the _Account_ echoes of Dryden's conversation as well as
of his published writings;[10] and the respect in which Rymer was then
held is evident in Rowe's desire not to enter into controversy with that
redoubtable critic and in his inability to refrain from doing so.

If one reads the _Account_ in Pope's neat and tidy revision and then as
Rowe published it, one is impressed with its Restoration quality. It
seems almost deliberately modelled on Dryden's prefaces, for it is
loosely organized, discursive, intimate, and it even has something of
Dryden's contagious enthusiasm. Rowe presents to his reader the
Restoration Shakespeare: the original genius, the antithesis of Jonson,
the exception to the rule and the instance that diminishes the
importance of the rules. Shakespeare "lived under a kind of mere light
of nature," and knowing nothing of the rules should not be judged by
them. Admitting the poor plot structure and the neglect of the unities,
except in an occasional play, Rowe concentrates on Shakespeare's
virtues: his images, "so lively, that the thing he would represent
stands full before you, and you possess every part of it;" his command
over the passions, especially terror; his magic; his characters and
their "manners."

Bentley has demonstrated statistically that the Restoration had little
appreciation of the romantic comedies. And yet Rowe, so thoroughly
saturated with Restoration criticism, lists character after character
from these plays as instances of Shakespeare's ability to depict the
manners. Have we perhaps here a response to Shakespeare read as opposed
to Shakespeare seen? Certainly the romantic comedies could not stand the
test of the critical canons so well as did the _Merry Wives_ or even
_Othello_; and they were not much liked on the stage. But it seems
probable that a generation which read French romances would not have
felt especially hostile to the romantic comedies when read in the
closet. Rowe's criticism is so little original, so far from
idiosyncratic, that it is unnecessary to assume that his response to the
characters in the comedies is unique.

Be that as it may, it was well that at the moment when the reading
public began rapidly to expand in England, Tonson should have made
Shakespeare available in an attractive and convenient format; and it was
a happy choice that brought Rowe to the editorship of these six volumes.
As poet, playwright, and man of taste, Rowe was admirably fitted to
introduce Shakespeare to a multitude of new readers. Relatively innocent
of the technical duties of an editor though he was, he none the less was
capable of accomplishing what proved to be his historic mission: the
easy re-statement of a view of Shakespeare which Dryden had earlier
articulated and the demonstration that the plays could be read and
admired despite the objections of formal dramatic criticism. He is more
than a chronological predecessor of Pope, Johnson, and Morgann. The line
is direct from Shakespeare to Davenant, to Dryden, to Rowe; and he is an
organic link between this seventeenth-century tradition and the
increasingly rich Shakespeare scholarship and criticism that flowed
through the eighteenth century into the romantic era.


[Footnote 1: Alfred Jackson, "Rowe's edition of Shakespeare," _Library_
X (1930), 455-473; Allardyce Nicoll, "The editors of Shakespeare from
first folio to Malone," _Studies in the first Folio_, London (1924), pp.
158-161; Ronald B. McKerrow, "The treatment of Shakespeare's text by his
earlier editors, 1709-1768," _Proceedings of the British Academy_, XIX
(1933), 89-122; Augustus Ralli, _A history of Shakespearian criticism_,
London, 1932; Herbert S. Robinson, _English Shakespearian criticism in
the eighteenth century_, New York, 1932.]

[Footnote 2: Nicoll, _op. cit._, pp. 158-161; McKerrow, _op. cit._, p.

[Footnote 3: London _Gazette_, From Monday March 14 to Thursday March
17, 1708, and From Monday May 30 to Thursday June 2, 1709. For
descriptions and collations of this edition, see A. Jackson, _op. cit._;
H.L. Ford, _Shakespeare 1700-1740_, Oxford (1935), pp. 9, 10; _TLS_ 16
May, 1929, p. 408; Edward Wagenknecht, "The first editor of
Shakespeare," _Colophon_ VIII, 1931. According to a writer in _The
Gentleman's Magazine_ (LVII, 1787, p. 76), Rowe was paid thirty-six
pounds, ten shillings by Tonson.]

[Footnote 4: Identified and described by McKerrow, _TLS_ 8 March, 1934,
p. 168. See also Ford, _op. cit._, pp. 11, 12.]

[Footnote 5: The best discussion of the Curll and Lintot Poems is that
of Hyder Rollins in _A new variorum edition of Shakespeare: the poems_,
Philadelphia and London (1938) pp. 380-382, to which I am obviously
indebted. See also Raymond M. Alden, "The 1710 and 1714 texts of
Shakespeare's poems," _MLN_ XXXI (1916), 268-274; and Ford, _op. cit._,
pp. 37-40.]

[Footnote 6: For example, he dropped out Rowe's opinion that Shakespeare
had little learning; the reference to Dryden's view as to the date of
Pericles; the statement that _Venus and Adonis_ is the only work that
Shakespeare himself published; the identification of Spenser's "pleasant
Willy" with Shakespeare; the account of Jonson's grudging attitude
toward Shakespeare; the attack on Rymer and the defence of _Othello_;
and the discussion of the Davenant-Dryden _Tempest_, together with the
quotation from Dryden's prologue to that play.]

[Footnote 7: Edmond Malone, _The plays and poems of William
Shakespeare_, London (1790), I, 154. Difficult as it is to believe that
so careful a scholar as Malone could have made this error, it is none
the less true that he observed the omission of the passage on "pleasant
Willy" and stated that Rowe had obviously altered his opinion by 1714.]

[Footnote 8: Beverley Warner, _Famous introductions to Shakespeare's
plays_, New York (1906), p. 6.]

[Footnote 9: Gerald E. Bentley, _Shakespeare and Jonson_, Chicago
(1945). Vol. I.]

[Footnote 10: D. Nichol Smith, _Eighteenth century essays on
Shakespeare_, Glasgow (1903), pp. xiv-xv.]

The writer wishes to express his appreciation of a Research Grant from
the University of Minnesota for the summer of 1948, during which this
introduction was written.

--Samuel Holt Monk
University of Minnesota

[Illustration: Picture of Shakespeare surrounded by angels]




Mr. _William Shakespear_;




Revis'd and Corrected, with an Account of the Life and Writings of the

By _N. ROWE_, Esq;

_L O N D O N_:

Printed for _Jacob Tonson_, within _Grays-Inn_ Gate, next _Grays-Inn_

[Illustration: Decorative motif]




LIFE, _&c._


Mr. _William Shakespear_.

It seems to be a kind of Respect due to the Memory of Excellent Men,
especially of those whom their Wit and Learning have made Famous, to
deliver some Account of themselves, as well as their Works, to
Posterity. For this Reason, how fond do we see some People of
discovering any little Personal Story of the great Men of Antiquity,
their Families, the common Accidents of their Lives, and even their
Shape, Make and Features have been the Subject of critical Enquiries.
How trifling soever this Curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very
Natural; and we are hardly satisfy'd with an Account of any remarkable
Person, 'till we have heard him describ'd even to the very Cloaths he
wears. As for what relates to Men of Letters, the knowledge of an Author
may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his Book: And tho' the
Works of Mr. _Shakespear_ may seem to many not to want a Comment, yet I
fancy some little Account of the Man himself may not be thought improper
to go along with them.

He was the Son of Mr. _John Shakespear_, and was Born at _Stratford_
upon _Avon_, in _Warwickshire_, in _April_ 1564. His Family, as appears
by the Register and Publick Writings relating to that Town, were of good
Figure and Fashion there, and are mention'd as Gentlemen. His Father,
who was a considerable Dealer in Wool, had so large a Family, ten
Children in all, that tho' he was his eldest Son, he could give him no
better Education than his own Employment. He had bred him, 'tis true,
for some time at a Free-School, where 'tis probable he acquir'd that
little _Latin_ he was Master of: But the narrowness of his
Circumstances, and the want of his assistance at Home, forc'd his
Father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further
Proficiency in that Language. It is without Controversie, that he had no
knowledge of the Writings of the Antient Poets, not only from this
Reason, but from his Works themselves, where we find no traces of any
thing that looks like an Imitation of 'em; the Delicacy of his Taste,
and the natural Bent of his own Great _Genius_, equal, if not superior
to some of the best of theirs, would certainly have led him to Read and
Study 'em with so much Pleasure, that some of their fine Images would
naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own
Writings; so that his not copying at least something from them, may be
an Argument of his never having read 'em. Whether his Ignorance of the
Antients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a Dispute: For
tho' the knowledge of 'em might have made him more Correct, yet it is
not improbable but that the Regularity and Deference for them, which
would have attended that Correctness, might have restrain'd some of that
Fire, Impetuosity, and even beautiful Extravagance which we admire in
_Shakespear_: And I believe we are better pleas'd with those Thoughts,
altogether New and Uncommon, which his own Imagination supply'd him so
abundantly with, than if he had given us the most beautiful Passages out
of the _Greek_ and _Latin_ Poets, and that in the most agreeable manner
that it was possible for a Master of the _English_ Language to deliver
'em. Some _Latin_ without question he did know, and one may see up and
down in his Plays how far his Reading that way went: In _Love's Labour
lost_, the Pedant comes out with a Verse of _Mantuan_; and in _Titus
Andronicus_, one of the _Gothick_ Princes, upon reading

_Integer vitŠ scelerisque purus
Non eget Mauri jaculis nec arcu--_

says, _'Tis a Verse in_ Horace, _but he remembers it out of his_
Grammar: Which, I suppose, was the Author's Case. Whatever _Latin_ he
had, 'tis certain he understood _French_, as may be observ'd from many
Words and Sentences scatter'd up and down his Plays in that Language;
and especially from one Scene in _Henry_ the Fifth written wholly in it.
Upon his leaving School, he seems to have given intirely into that way
of Living which his Father propos'd to him; and in order to settle in
the World after a Family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was
yet very Young. His Wife was the Daughter of one _Hathaway_, said to
have been a substantial Yeoman in the Neighbourhood of _Stratford_. In
this kind of Settlement he continu'd for some time, 'till an
Extravagance that he was guilty of, forc'd him both out of his Country
and that way of Living which he had taken up; and tho' it seem'd at
first to be a Blemish upon his good Manners, and a Misfortune to him,
yet it afterwards happily prov'd the occasion of exerting one of the
greatest _Genius's_ that ever was known in Dramatick Poetry. He had, by
a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company;
and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing,
engag'd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to
Sir _Thomas Lucy_ of _Cherlecot_, near _Stratford_. For this he was
prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought somewhat too severely; and
in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho'
this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to
have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him
to that degree, that he was oblig'd to leave his Business and Family in
_Warwickshire_, for some time, and shelter himself in _London_.

It is at this Time, and upon this Accident, that he is said to have
made his first Acquaintance in the Play-house. He was receiv'd into the
Company then in being, at first in a very mean Rank; But his admirable
Wit, and the natural Turn of it to the Stage, soon distinguish'd him, if
not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His Name is
Printed, as the Custom was in those Times, amongst those of the other
Players, before some old Plays, but without any particular Account of
what sort of Parts he us'd to play; and tho' I have inquir'd, I could
never meet with any further Account of him this way, than that the top
of his Performance was the Ghost in his own _Hamlet_. I should have been
much more pleas'd, to have learn'd from some certain Authority, which
was the first Play he wrote; it would be without doubt a pleasure to any
Man, curious in Things of this Kind, to see and know what was the first
Essay of a Fancy like _Shakespear's_. Perhaps we are not to look for his
Beginnings, like those of other Authors, among their least perfect
Writings; Art had so little, and Nature so large a Share in what he did,
that, for ought I know, the Performances of his Youth, as they were the
most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of Imagination in 'em,
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 Conceiv'd in it self, that it wanted little or no
Correction, and was immediately approv'd by an impartial Judgment at the
first sight. Mr. _Dryden_ seems to think that _Pericles_ is one of his
first Plays; but there is no judgment to be form'd on that, since there
is good Reason to believe that the greatest part of that Play was not
written by him; tho' it is own'd, some part of it certainly was,
particularly the last Act. But tho' 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_ in the beginning of the fifth Act of _Henry_ V. by a Compliment
very handsomly turn'd to the Earl of _Essex_, shews the Play to have
been written when that Lord was General for the Queen in _Ireland_: And
his Elogy upon Q. _Elizabeth_, and her Successor K. _James_, in the
latter end of his _Henry_ VII, is a 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 pleas'd to see a _Genius_ arise amongst
'em 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-natur'd 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

_--A fair Vestal, Throned by the West._

_Midsummer Night's Dream_,
Vol. 2. p. 480.

And that whole Passage is a Compliment very properly brought in, and
very handsomly apply'd to her. She was so well pleas'd with that
admirable Character of _Falstaff_, in the two Parts of _Henry_ the
Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one Play more, and to
shew him in Love. This is said to be the Occasion of his Writing _The
Merry Wives of_ Windsor. How well she was obey'd, the Play it self 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 pleas'd to command him to alter it; upon which he made use
of _Falstaff_. The present Offence was indeed avoided; but I don't 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 distinguish'd
Merit in the Wars in _France_ in _Henry_ the Fifth's and _Henry_ the
Sixth's Times. What Grace soever the Queen confer'd upon him, it was not
to her only he ow'd the Fortune which the Reputation of his Wit made. He
had the Honour to meet with many great 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 _Venus_ and _Adonis_, the only
Piece of his Poetry which he ever publish'd himself, tho' many of his
Plays were surrepticiously and lamely Printed in his Lifetime. There is
one Instance so singular in the Magnificence of this Patron of
_Shakespear_'s, that if I had not been assur'd that the Story was handed
down by Sir _William D'Avenant_, who was probably very well acquainted
with his Affairs, I should not have ventur'd 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 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 shewn to _French_ Dancers and
_Italian_ Eunuchs.

What particular Habitude or Friendships he contracted with private Men,
I have not been able to learn, more than that every one who had a true
Taste of Merit, and could distinguish Men, had generally a just Value
and Esteem for him. His exceeding Candor and good Nature must certainly
have inclin'd all the gentler Part of the World to love him, as the
power of his Wit oblig'd the Men of the most delicate Knowledge and
polite Learning to admire him. Amongst these was the incomparable Mr.
_Edmond Spencer_, who speaks of him in his _Tears of the Muses_, not
only with the Praises due to a good Poet, but even lamenting his Absence
with the tenderness of a Friend. The Passage is in _Thalia's_ Complaint
for the Decay of Dramatick Poetry, and the Contempt the Stage then lay
under, amongst his Miscellaneous Works, _p._ 147.

_And he the Man, whom Nature's self had made
To mock her self, and Truth to imitate
With kindly Counter under mimick Shade,
Our pleasant _Willy_, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all Joy and jolly Merriment
Is also deaded, and in Dolour drent._

_Instead thereof, scoffing Scurrility
And scorning Folly with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in Rhimes of shameless Ribaudry,
Without Regard or due _Decorum_ kept;
Each idle Wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learned's Task upon him take._

_But that same gentle Spirit, from whose Pen
Large Streams of Honey and sweet _Nectar_ flow,
Scorning the Boldness such base-born Men,
Which dare their Follies forth so rashly throw;
Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Than so himself to Mockery to sell._

I know some People have been of Opinion, that _Shakespear_ is not meant
by _Willy_ in the first _Stanza_ of these Verses, because _Spencer's_
Death happen'd twenty Years before _Shakespear's_. But, besides that the
Character is not applicable to any Man of that time but himself, it is
plain by the last _Stanza_ that Mr. _Spencer_ does not mean that he was
then really Dead, but only that he had with-drawn himself from the
Publick, or at least with-held his Hand from Writing, out of a disgust
he had taken at the then ill taste of the Town, and the mean Condition
of the Stage. Mr. _Dryden_ was always of Opinion these Verses were meant
of _Shakespear_; and 'tis highly probable they were so, since he was
three and thirty Years old at _Spencer's_ Death; and his Reputation in
Poetry must have been great enough before that Time to have deserv'd
what is here said of him. His Acquaintance with _Ben Johnson_ began with
a remarkable piece of Humanity and good Nature; Mr. _Johnson_, who was
at that Time altogether unknown to the World, had offer'd one of his
Plays to the Players, in order to have it Acted; and the Persons into
whose Hands it was put, after having turn'd it carelessly and
superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an
ill-natur'd 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 afterwards to
recommend Mr. _Johnson_ and his Writings to the Publick. After this they
were profess'd Friends; tho' I don't know whether the other ever made
him an equal return of Gentleness and Sincerity. _Ben_ was naturally
Proud and Insolent, and in the Days of his Reputation did so far take
upon him the Supremacy in Wit, that he could not but look with an evil
Eye upon any one that seem'd to stand in Competition with him. And if at
times he has affected to commend him, it has always been with some
Reserve, insinuating his Uncorrectness, a careless manner of Writing,
and want of Judgment; the Praise of seldom altering or blotting out what
he writ, which was given him by the Players who were the first
Publishers of his Works after his Death, was what _Johnson_ could not
bear; he thought it impossible, perhaps, for another Man to strike out
the greatest Thoughts in the finest Expression, and to reach those
Excellencies of Poetry with the Ease of a first Imagination, which
himself with infinite Labour and Study could but hardly attain to.
_Johnson_ was certainly a very good Scholar, and in that had the
advantage of _Shakespear_; tho' at the same time I believe it must be
allow'd, that what Nature gave the latter, was more than a Ballance for
what Books had given the former; and the Judgment of a great Man upon
this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a Conversation
between Sir _John Suckling_, Sir _William D'Avenant_, _Endymion Porter_,
Mr. _Hales_ of _Eaton_, and _Ben Johnson_; Sir _John Suckling_, who was
a profess'd Admirer of _Shakespear_, had undertaken his Defence against
_Ben Johnson_ with some warmth; Mr. _Hales_, who had sat still for some
time, hearing _Ben_ frequently reproaching him with the want of
Learning, and Ignorance of the Antients, told him at last, _That if Mr.
_Shakespear_ had not read the Antients, he had likewise not stollen any
thing from 'em;_ (a Fault the other made no Confidence of) _and that if
he would produce any one Topick finely treated by any of them, he would
undertake to shew something upon the same Subject at least as well
written by_ Shakespear. _Johnson_ did indeed take a large liberty, even
to the transcribing and translating of whole Scenes together; and
sometimes, with all Deference to so great a Name as his, not altogether
for the advantage of the Authors of whom he borrow'd. And if _Augustus_
and _Virgil_ were really what he has made _'em_ in a Scene of his
_Poetaster_, they are as odd an Emperor and a Poet as ever met.
_Shakespear_, on the other Hand, was beholding to no body farther than
the Foundation of the Tale, the Incidents were often his own, and the
Writing intirely so. There is one Play of his, indeed, _The Comedy of
Errors_, in a great measure taken from the _Menoechmi_ of _Plautus_.
How that happen'd, I cannot easily Divine, since, as I hinted before, I
do not take him to have been Master of _Latin_ enough to read it in the
Original, and I know of no Translation of _Plautus_ so Old as his Time.

As I have not propos'd to my self to enter into a Large and Compleat
Criticism upon Mr. _Shakespear_'s Works, so I suppose it will neither be
expected that I should take notice of the severe Remarks that have been
formerly made upon him by Mr. _Rhymer_. I must confess, I can't very
well see what could be the Reason of his animadverting with so much
Sharpness, upon the Faults of a Man Excellent on most Occasions, and
whom all the World ever was and will be inclin'd to have an Esteem and
Veneration for. If it was to shew his own Knowledge in the Art of
Poetry, besides that there is a Vanity in making that only his Design, I
question if there be not many Imperfections as well in those Schemes and
Precepts he has given for the Direction of others, as well as in that
Sample of Tragedy which he has written to shew the Excellency of his own
_Genius_. If he had a Pique against the Man, and wrote on purpose to
ruin a Reputation so well establish'd, he has had the Mortification to
fail altogether in his Attempt, and to see the World at least as fond of
_Shakespear_ as of his Critique. But I won't believe a Gentleman, and a
good-natur'd Man, capable of the last Intention. Whatever may have been
his Meaning, finding fault is certainly the easiest Task of Knowledge,
and commonly those Men of good Judgment, who are likewise of good and
gentle Dispositions, abandon this ungrateful Province to the Tyranny of
Pedants. If one would enter into the Beauties of _Shakespear_, there is
a much larger, as well as a more delightful Field; but as I won't
prescribe to the Tastes of other People, so I will only take the
liberty, with all due Submission to the Judgment of others, to observe
some of those Things I have been pleas'd with in looking him over.

His Plays are properly to be distinguish'd only into Comedies and

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Main -> Rowe, Nicholas -> Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear (1709)