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PRINTED roR J. walk ER ; J. Richardson AND
Ir 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 jives, and even their shape, make, and features, have been the subject of critical inquiries. How trifling soever this curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural ; and we are hardly satisfied with an account of any remarkable person, till we have heard him described even to the very clothes 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 though the works of Shakspeare may seem to many not to want a comment, yet perhaps some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them. He was the son of Mr. John Shakspeare, and was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, in April, 1564. His family, as appears by the register and public writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father
proposed 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 war
the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he continued for some time, till an extravagance that he was guilty of forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up ; and though it seemed at first to be a blemish upon his 'good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exerting one of †:
greatest geniuses that ever was known in drama poetry. He had by a misfortune common enou to young, fellows, fallen into ill company, a amongst them some that made a frequent practi of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lu of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, son what too severely; and in order to revenge that ill usage, he made, a ballad upon him. And though 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 obliged to leave his business and ly in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter him. self in London. o It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in playhouse. He was received into the com then in being, at first in a very mean rank, but admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to . stage, soon distinguished him, if not as an extraor. dinary 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 used to play; and though considerable enquiries have been made, it does not appear that he obtained much celebrity as a performer. Though the order of time in which his performances were written is generally uncertain, yet there are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. The Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned 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 Queen Elizabeth, and her successor King James, in the Matter end of his Henry the Eighth, is a proof of that *y's being written after the accession of the lat