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Life does not often receive good unmixed with evil. The benefits of the art of printing are depraved by the facility with which scandal may be diffused, and secrets revealed; and by the temptation by which traffick folicits avarice to betray the weaknefles of paflion, or the confidence of friendfhip.
i cannot forbear to think these posthumous publications injurious to society. A man conscious of literary reputation will grow in time afraid to write with tenderness to his fifter, or with fondness to his child; or to remit on the flightest occasion, or most pressing exigence, the rigour of critical choice, and grammatical feverity. That esteem which preferves his letters, will at last produce his disgrace; when that which he wrote only to his friend or his daughter fhall be laid open to the publick.
There is perhaps sufficient evidence, that most of the plays in question, unequal as they may be to the rest, were written by Shakespeare; but the reason generally given for publishing the less correct pieces of an author, that it affords a more impartial view of a man's talents or way of thinking, than when we only see him in form, and prepared for our reception, is not enough to condemn an editor who thinks and practises otherwise. For what is all this to fhew, but that
every is more dull at one time than another; a fact which the world would easily have admitted, without asking any proofs in its support that might be destructive to an author's reputation.
To conclude ; if the work, which this publication was meant to facilitate, has been already performed, the fatisfaction of knowing it to be so may be obtained from hence; if otherwise, let those who raised expectations of correctness, and through negligence defeated them, be justly exposed by future editors, who will now be in poffefsion of by far the greatest part of what they might have enquired af.. ter for years to no purpose; for in respect of such a number of the old quartos as are here exhibited, the first folio is a common book. This advantage will at least arise, that future editors, having equally recourse to the same copies, can challenge distinction and preference only by genius, capacity, industry, and learning.
As I have only collected materials for future artists, I consider what I have been doing as no more than an apparatus for their use. If the publick is inclined to receive
it as such, I am amply rewarded for my trouble; if otherwise, I shall submit with chearfulness to the censure which should equitably fall on an injudicious attempt; having this consolation, however, that my design amounted to no more than a wish to encourage others to think of preserving the oldest editions of the English writers, which are growing scarcer every day, and to afford the world all the assistance or pleasure it can receive from the most authentick copies extant of its NOBLEST POET.
ACCOUNT of the Life, &c.
Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
Written by Mr. RO W E.
T feems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themselves, as well as their works, to pofterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any
perfonal story of the great men of antiquity! their families
, the common accidents of their lives, and even their thape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling foever 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 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 though the works of Mr. Shakespeare may seem to many not to want a comment, yet I fancy fome little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the son of Mr. John Shakespeare, 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 mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten chil. dren 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 fome 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 aliistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is without controversy, that in his works we scarce find anytraces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the ancients. 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 Itudy them with so much pleasure, that some of their fine images would naturally have insinuated themselves into, and been mixed with his own writings; so that his not copying at least something from them, may be an argument of his never having read them. Whether his ignorance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: for though the knowledge of them 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 restrained some of that fire, impetuofity, and even beautiful extravagance which we admire in Shakespeare: and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which his own imagination supplied him fo 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 them.
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 was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a subftantial 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 the greatest geniuses that ever was known in dramatick poetry. He had by a mis, fortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent
practice practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once in robbing a park that belonged 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 though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be loit, 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 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 playhouse. He was received 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, foon diftinguished 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 used to play; and though I have enquired, 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 pleased, to have learned from 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 Shakespeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their leaft 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 firft fight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are passages
* The highest date of any I can yet find, is Romeo and Juliet in 1597, when the author was 33 years old; and Richard the Second, and Third, in the next year, viz. the 34th of his age. VOL. I. [M]