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TAE monument which testifies the genius of Shakspeare in Westminster Abbey, was erected in 1741, out of the receipts from two benefits, played for the purpose, at each of the Theatres Royal, and the additional contributions of eminent men, among whom the Earl of Burlington, Pope, Garrick, &c. took the lead. It consists of a full-sized statue, leaning on a pillar in a pensive humour, with a scroll in front, on which are inscribed his own immortal lines, descriptive of our fugitive mortality.
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
The pedestal is decorated with the crowned heads of Henry the V., Richard the II., and Queen Elizabeth. The design, which was happily drawn by Kent, affects to preserve the bard, his person, dress, and air, as faithfully as it is possible to collect such peculiarities from the memorials transmitted to posterity.
The execution of the work, which displays no mean talents, was confided to the chisel of Scheemakers.
William Shakspeare, beyond all question the finest dramatic genius that ever lived, was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d of April, 1564. His father was originally a dealer in wool, of reputable circumstances, until the expenses of a large family, ten in number, of which our bard was the firstborn, so thoroughly consumed his substance, that he failed in business, and was compelled to earn a poor subsistence by trading
as a butcher. Before the period of these reverses had arrived, William received a short and very imperfect course of instruction at the free-school of his native town, was initiated in the wool trade, and, the more securely to steady the wildness of youth to the regularity of mercantile age, was married, at the early age of eighteen, to Anne the daughter of a substantial yeoman, named Hathaway.
Whatever were the precautions adopted, or the prospects afforded, that Shakspeare would prove a sober, punctual, and creditable tradesman, he soon fell among companions the most likely to destroy, as they speedily did, the fair fruits of every flattering promise. These were a set of unrestrained young men, .whose greatest sport it was, during the day, to hunt down a deer, in the neighbouring park of Sir Thomas Lucy, and at night, to relish their mugs of ale with a rasher of predatory venison. Their excursions were carried on to such an extent, that at last the knight gave out threats of a prosecution, which Shakspeare retorted, on behalf of his fellows, with a long lampoon, in the measure of a ballad : this effusion, perhaps not much to the loss of the world of letters, has ever been preserved. It séems, however, to have incensed the one party, and emboldened the other, and proceedings were commenced with so much rigor that Shakspeare was compelled to fly from home in order to escape the degradation of legal punishment. But the lapse of futurity gave him the satisfaction of a signal revenge; the matchless character of Sir John Falstaff was drawn as a satire upon Sir Thomas Lucy; and, as such, applauded by all the country. That the knight exhibited something more than common severity at the first instance, was generally thought in the neighbourhood of Stratford ; and that the poet has more than retaliated the spirit, both principal and interest, no one has ever denied.
And here, with these meagre particulars of his early years, and about as many more upon the incidents of his declining age, closes the sum of all the information which Great Britain possesses of the most extraordinary genius it ever bred. It is pleasing to think, that the little we do know of him, has for the most part been preserved for us by the kind memory of his town's folk : London, though it enjoyed his presence, and admired his art, during the
longer portion of his lifetime, has been less grateful to his name. Neither the order in which his plays were written, nor the periods at which they were originally performed, has been ascertained; it is even impossible to say which was the first, or which was the last, either acted or composed; and, what is still worse, several of the most diligent commentators have expressed repeated doubts upon the fact, that all the plays commonly circulated under his name, were ever written by him. It is reasonable to believe, that he began his career, as an author, before 1592; and it is almost certain, that the first edition of his plays appeared in folio, during the year 1616.
. Shakspeare's first place of resort, upon arriving in London, under the circumstances already. mentioned, was the theatre at the Bankside, in the Borough, on the boards of which he was received, probably, as an inferior actor. The line of characters he personated is unknown; and the highest part he has been traced ito, is that of the Ghost in his own admirable · Hamlet.' His celebrity must have risen considerably, for he was frequently visited at the theatre by Queen Elizabeth, at whose command the Merry Wives of Windsor' was written, in order to exhibit Falstaff in love. The unfortunate Earl of Essex, and his attached friend, the Earl of Southampton, are mentioned as his particular patrons; the latter of whom, according to Sir William D'Avenant, made him the magnificent present of a thousand pounds, for the purpose of enabling him to make the purchase of the theatre, in which he obtained an exclusive license during the reign of King James the First.
Gentle manners, a kind disposition, and witty conversation, have been unexceptionably described as the leading traits of Shakspeare's character. One anecdote strongly in support of the truth of this relation has been currently credited: when Ben Jonson, at that time utterly unknown, offered his first play to the theatre, the managers were about to reject it with an ill-natured answer; but Shakspeare fortunately cast his eye upon it, and was so well pleased with what he saw at a first glance, that he took the manuscript home, read it, approved of it, and at once recommended both Jonson and his writings to the public.
The close of Shakspeare's life drew near in the manner which every man of sense will desire his to follow-retired at his ease,
and in competence, amidst a circle of his friends. Whatever may have been the frailties of his early days, he had the prudence to save a respectable fortune from the exertions of his maturer years, with which he returned to his native town, and bought a house and land, upon which he lived till his death : the residence was called New Place. He had the satisfaction of seeing two out of his three daughters decently married; a third died single; and, though the others left children, yet the family soon became extinct.
The pleasurable wit and amiable good humour for which Shakspeare was eminent, naturally obtained for him an acquaintance with the gentry of the neighbourhood, which, once established, was soon confirmed by friendship. Of such intimacies a story is still preserved about Stratford, at the cost of one Mr. Combe, an old man, noted for his wealth and usury, with whom Shakspeare was very intimate. It happened one evening, amidst their common friends, that Combe observed in a laughing way, that he fancied Shakspeare meant to write his epitaph in the event of survivorship, and as it would be impossible for the subject of it to know what might be said of him after death, he desired the thing might be settled forthwith. Upon which Shakspeare called for a pen, and wrote these four verses, the satire of which is said to have stung the miser so bitterly, that he never could forget the night's pastime, nor forgive the chief actor in it:
Ten in the hundred lies here ingraved ;
Shakspeare died on his birth-day, in the 53d year of his age, and was buried in the north chancel of the great church at Stratford, where a good bust was placed to his memory. On the grave-stone beneath appear these doggerel lines :
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear