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nected with the stage, there are several pieces among his scattered poems, and some of his sonnets', that indisputably belong to an early part of his life. A young man, so gifted, would not, and could not, wait until he was five or six and twenty before he made considerable and most successful attempts at poetical
composition; and we feel morally certain that “ Venus · and Adonis" was in being anterior to Shakespeare's
quitting Stratford?. It bears all the marks of youthful vigour, of strong passion, of luxuriant imagination, together with a force and originality of expression which betoken the first efforts of a great mind, not always well regulated in its taste: it seems to have been written in the open air of a fine country like Warwickshire, with all the freshness of the recent impression of natural objects; and we will go so far as to say, that we do not think even Shakespeare himself could have produced it, in the form it bears, after he had reached the age of forty. It was quite new in its class, being founded upon no model, either ancient or modern: nothing like it had been attempted before, and nothing comparable to it was produced afterwards:.
duction, and not by the mechanical botching of the inferior productions of others,” p. 31.
Upon this passage we have only to remark that, according to our view, it would have required much more “skill and experience” to write a new play, than merely to make additions to the speeches or scenes of an old one.
1 " His sugar'd sonnets” were handed about “among his private friends” many years before they were printed : Francis Meres mentions them in the words we have quoted in 1598.
2 Malone was of opinion that “ Venus and Adonis" was not written until after Shakespeare came to London, because in one stanza (Vol. viii. p. 384) it contains an allusion to the stage,
“ And all this dumb play had his acts made plain
With tears, which, chorus-like, her eyes did drain." Surely, such a passage might have been written by a person who had never seen a play in London, or even seen a play at all. The stage-knowledge it displays is merely that of a schoolboy.
3 The work that comes nearest to it, in some respects, is Marlowe's “Hero and Leander ;" but it was not printed until 1598, and although its author was killed in 1593, he may have seen Shakespeare's “ Venus and Adonis” in manuscript : it is quite as probable, as that Shakespeare had seen “Hero and Leander" before it was printed. Marston's “ Pygmalion's Image,” published five
Thus in 1593 he might call it, in the dedication to Lord Southampton, “ the first heir of his invention” in a double sense, not merely because it was the first printed, but because it was the first written of his productions.
The information we now possess enables us at once to reject the story, against the truth of which Malone elaborately argued, that Shakespeare's earliest employment at a theatre was holding the horses of noblemen and gentlemen who visited it, and that he had under him a number of lads who were known as “Shakespeare's boys.” Shiels in his “Lives of the Poets,” (published in 1753 in the name of Cibber) was the first to give currency to this idle invention : it was repeated by Dr. Johnson, and has often been reiterated since; and we should hardly have thought it worth notice now, if it had not found a place in many modern accounts of our great dramatist*. The company to
years after “ Venus and Adonis,” is a gross exaggeration of its style ; and Barkstead's “Myrrha the Mother of Adonis” is a poor and coarse imitation: the same poet's “Hiren, or the Fair Greek,” is of a similar character. Shirley's “ Narcissus,” which must have been written many years afterwards, is a production of the same class as Marston's “ Pygmalion," but in better taste. The poem called “Salmasis and Hermaphroditus,” first printed in 1602, and assigned to Francis Beaumont in 1640, when it was republished by Blaicklock the bookseller, we do not believe to have been the authorship of Beaumont, and it is rather an imitation of “Hero and Leander” than of “ Venus and Adonis." At the date when it originally came out (1602) Beaumont was only sixteen, and the first edition has no name nor initials to the address “ To Calliope," to which Blaicklock in 1640, for his own book-selling purposes, thought fit to add the letters F. B. In the same way, and with the same object, he changed the initials to a commendatory poem from A. F. to I. F., in order to make it appear as if John Fletcher had applauded his friend's early verses. These are facts that hitherto have escaped observation, perhaps, on account of the extreme rarity of copies of the original impression of “Salmasis and Hermaphroditus," preventing a comparison of it with Blaicklock's fraudulent reprint, which also contains various pieces to which, it is known, Beaumont had no pretensions. To afford the better means of comparison, and as we know of only one copy of the edition of 1602, we subjoin the title-page prefixed to it: “Salmasis and Hermaphroditus. Salmacida spolia sine sanguine et sudore. Imprinted at London for John Hodgets, &c. 1602.” 4to.
• It is almost to be wondered that the getters up of this piece of information did not support it by reference to Shakespeare's obvious knowledge of horses and horsemanship, displayed in so many parts of his works. The description of the horse in “Venus and Adonis" will at once occur to every body; and how much
which he attached himself had not unfrequently performed in Stratford, and at that date the Queen's Players and the Lord Chamberlain's servants seem sometimes to have been confounded in the provinces, although the difference was well understood in London; some of the chief members of it had come from his own part of the country, and even from the very town in which he was born; and he was not in a station of life, nor so destitute of means and friends, as to have been reduced to such an extremity.
Besides having written “Venus and Adonis” before he came to London, Shakespeare may also have composed its counterpart, “ Lucrece,” which, as our readers are aware, first appeared in print in 1594. It is in a different stanza, and in some respects in a different style; and after he joined the Blackfriars company, the author may possibly bave added parts, (such, for instance, as the long and minute description of the siege of Troy in the tapestry) which indicate a closer acquaintance with the modes and habits of society; but even here no knowledge is displayed that might not have been acquired in Warwickshire. As he had exhibited the wantonness of lawless passion in “ Venus and Adonis,” he followed it by the exaltation of matronlike chastity in “Lucrece;” and there is, we think, nothing in the latter poem which a young man of one or two and twenty, so endowed, might not have written. Neither is it at all impossible that he had done something in connexion with the stage while he
it was admired at the time is evident from the fact, that it was plagiarised So soon after it was published. (Introduction, Vol. viii. p. 370.) For his judgment of skill in riding, among other passages, see his account of Lamord's horsemanship in “Hamlet," Vol. vii. p. 317: the propagators and supporters of the horse-holding anecdote ought to have added, that Shakespeare probably derived his minute and accurate acquaintance with the subject from his early observation of the skill of the English nobility and gentry, after they had remounted at the play-house door :
“But chiefly skill to ride seems a science
Proper to gentle blood.”—Spenser's F. Q. b. ii. c. 4.
was yet resident in his native town, and before he had made up his mind to quit it. If his “ inclination for poetry and acting,” to repeat Aubrey's words, were so strong, it may have led him to have both written and acted. He may have contributed temporary prologues or epilogues, and without supposing him yet to have possessed any extraordinary art as a dramatist, only to be acquired by practice,—he may have inserted
speeches and occasional passages in older plays: he , may even have assisted some of the companies in getting up, and performing the dramas they represented in or near Stratford'. We own that this conjecture appears to us at least plausible, and the Lord Chamberlain's servants (known as the Earl of Leicester's players until 1587) may have experienced his utility in both departments, and may have held out strong inducements to so promising a novice to continue his assistance by accompanying them to London.
What we have here said seems a natural and an easy way of accounting for Shakespeare's station as a sharer at the Blackfriars theatre in 1589, about three years after we suppose him to have finally adopted the profession of an actor, and to have come to London for the purpose of pursuing it.
5 We have already stated (p. c.) that although in 1586 only one unnamed company performed in Stratford, in the very next year (that in which we have supposed Shakespeare to have become a regular actor) five companies were entertained in the borough : one of these consisted of the players of the Earl of Leicester, to whom the Blackfriars theatre belonged ; and it is very possible that Shakespeare at that date exhibited before his fellow-townsmen in his new professional capacity. Before this time his performances at Stratford may have been merely of an amateur description. It is, at all events, a striking circumstance, that in 1586 only one company performed, and that in 1587 such extraordinary encouragement was given to theatricals in Stratford.
The earliest allusion to Shakespeare in Spenser's “ Tears of the Muses,"
1591. Proofs of its applicability- What Shakespeare had probably by this date written-Edmund Spenser of Kingsbury, Warwickshire. No other dramatist of the time merited the character given by SpenserGreene, Kyd, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, and Lyly, and their several claims : that of Lyly supported by Malone. Temporary cessation of dramatic performances in London. Prevalence of the Plague in 1592. Probability or improbability that Shakespeare went to Italy.
We come now to the earliest known allusion to Shakespeare as a dramatist; and although his surname is not given, we apprehend that there can be no hesitation in applying what is said to him : it is contained in Spenser's “ Tears of the Muses,” a poem printed in 1591'. The application of the passage to Shakespeare has been much contested, but the difficulty in our mind is, how the lines are to be explained by reference to any other dramatist of the time, even supposing, as we have supposed and believe, that our great poet was at this period only rising into notice as a writer for the stage. We will first quote the lines, literatim as they stand in the edition of 1591, and afterwards say something of the claims of others to the distinction they confer.
“ And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late :
1 Malone (Shakspeare by Boswell, vol. ii.p.168) says that Spenser's “ Tears of the Muses” was published in 1590, but the volume in which it first appeared bears date in 1591. It was printed with some other pieces under the title of “ Complaints. Containing sundrie small Poems of the Worlds Vanitie. Whereof the next Page maketh mention. By Ed. Sp. London. Imprinted for William Ponsonbie, &c. 1591." It will be evident from what follows in our text, that a year is of considerable importance to the question.