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puerile, or neglected as unimportant. To judge of an individual through the glare of his public actions only, is to estimate character by a confined and deceptive Jight. It is like determining the natural colour of the skin through the medium of a prism, and under the influence of a single ray.
Every species of literary composition ought to be devoted to some useful end. The legitimate province of the biographer, is to impart that kind of information which is calculated to inform the understanding and ameliorate the heart. It is his duty to state every illustrative fact connected with the person whose life he portrays; to rouse the ardent mind to emulation, by the display of such qualities as do honour to human nature, and to point out and reprove those failings which detract from the perfection of human character. It is also his province to trace the progress of genius from the cradle to the grave, to observe the gradations of its developement into bloom, and to mark those peculiarities by which it is distinguished; those accidents by which it is attracted or repelled, incited or repressed. Could such a sketch be drawn of Shakspeare with the unerring pencil of truth, directed by some corresponding mind, what an interesting scene would be unfolded for the contemplation of philosophy.
When we reflect on these circumstances, and consider the defective state of biographical knowledge in general, we cannot refrain from expressing the deepest regret that so few illustrious men have thought proper to bequeath to the world memoirs of their own lives. Such legacies, if more frequently bestowed, would be of incalculable benefit to society; and woold tend to prevent a vast deal of useless, because for the most part, uncertain and indefinite controversy.
But if the want of faithful biography be a subject of ordinary lament, how greatly is it io be deplored when it regards men endowed with minds of the very highest order. Men who, like the comets of heaven, appear only at distant periods to attract the gaze of admiring uations, and to shed an unusual glory over the intelrival system. Of such beings eve characteristic
trait should be recorded with the most scrupulous care; and then, instead of a deficiency of materials from which to draw a full length portrait of their lives, we should be presented with superabundant stores of anecdote and information.
That SHAKSPEARE was one of that class of men who, in relation to their species, deserve to be termed prodigies of intelligence, inust be acknowledged by all to whom nature and education have given the capacity of understanding and appreciating his works. Not only does he stand unrivalled as a dramatic author, but in every qualily of poetical composition he may challenge the most renowned competitor. In invention be is scarcely equalled by Homer; and though he seldom altains the suavity and graceful majesty of Maro, he far excels that poet in striking imagery and in originality of conception. Even the genius of Milton, with all the aid which the sublimity of his subject afforded, is not more successful in its boldest flights than the wild and creative fancy of our immortal bard." And what renders him peculiarly an object of admiration, and an apparent anomaly in the poetical world, is the amazing versatility of his powers. He seems tó have been the chief favourite of all the Muses; the adopted son of Apollo himself. Whether his aim be to move the passious or to assuage their tumult, to excite pity or roose indignation; whelber he delineates scenes of terror or incidents of pleasure; in fine, whether he wishes to excite grief or joy, to awaken in the breast powerful emotions of angaish or of mirth, he
appears to be a perfect master of his inimitable art. Nor does he excel only in commanding and intluencing the passions, for in his reflections on men and manners, and on subjects of religion and philosophy, his sentiments are uniformly appropriate, and are delivered with a force of argument not unworthy of the inost profound divine, or the most acule and discriminating moralist.
« Different minds
And gentlest beauty. Hence when lightning fires
Akenside. The dramatic writings of Shakspeare, are numerous, and are distinguished for the great diversity of characters they include and portray. Some of his plays certainly acquired much popularity during his own life, and were also published by his contemporaries: yet he must have been regardless of posthumous fame, for he neither prepared any of them for the press, nor gave directions concerning their appropriation in his last will. Equally careless as to the praise or censure of critics and biographers, he either neglected to preserve, or destroyed all records, documents, and memoranda, relating to his own life and writings. Hence the laudable curiosity of the present age is unrewarded by facts, and is held in continued and aggravated suspense, as to the peculiarities of his personal actions and pursuits. His writings have occasioned several voluines of comment; and many authors have used them as stilts to publicity. Several also have written conjectures and dissertations on his life: but all have hitherto failed in their design to develope many biographical facts. An extraordinary and astonishing degree of mystery envelopes his name; and it is not without considerable difficulty and doubt that we have drawn op the following narrative, which has been derived from a careful examination of all preceding memoirs, aided by the intelligent communications of the historian of Stratford.
Of Shakspeare's remote and immediate ancestors, scarcely any facts are recorded. Only one solitary document has been found to notify bis reputed parents, and to display the condition of his father. This is a “grant, or confirmation of arms,” dated 1599, by Williai Dethick and William Camden, officers of the Heralds' College, empowering John Shakspeare to
impale the arms of Arden with his own. After the usual preamble, it proceeds :- Wherefore being solicited, and by credible report informed, that John Shakspeare, now of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the counte of Warwicke, gent. whose parent, great grandfather, and late antecessor, for his faithefall and approved service to the late most prudent prince, King Henry VII. of famous memorie, was advaunced and rewarded with lands and tenements, geven bim in those parls of Warwickshere, where they have continewed by some descents in good reputacion and credit; and for that the said John Shakspeare, having maryed the daughter and one of the heyrs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote, in the said countie, and also produced this his auncient cote of arms heretofore assigned to bim, whilest he was her Majesties officer and buylefe of that town; In consideration of the premisses, and for the encouragement of his posteritie, unto whom suche blazon of arms and achevements of inheritance from theyre said mother, by the auncyent custome and" lawes of arms, maye lawfully descend: We the said Garter and Clarencieulx have assigned,” &c. (here follows a description of the arms) “signifying thereby, that it maye and shalbe lawfull for the said Jobs Shakspeare, gent. to bear and use the same shield of arms, single or impaled, as aforesaid; and that it shalbe lawfull for his children, yssue, and posteryle (lawfully begotten) to beare, use, and quarter, and shew forth the same, with their dewe differences, in all lawfull warlyke facts, and civile use or exercises," &c. By a MS. note to the above grant of arms, John Shakspeare is further stated to possess “Jands and tenements in the county of Warwick,” valued at 5001. These documents serve to show that he was a man of property and respectability; yet Rowe, Alexander Chalmers, and sone other biographers, state that he was poor, or “ reduced in the latter part of life," and incapable of supporting bis son William at school. They found this opinion on an entry in the books of the corporation of Stratford ; whereby it appears, that John Shakspeare and Robert Bruce, in 1579, were excused paying a weekly tax of
4d. which was levied on the other aldermen. In 1586 his naine was erased from the list of corporate members, and another substituted in his place, “ because he doth not come to the Halls.” These facts, however, are not demonstrative either of poverty or disgrace; for they might arise from personal disputes, or political opinions, which too frequently occur in boroughs. By another memorandum in the Herald's College, and written apparently after the death of the alderman, we are justified in thinking favourably of his circumn. stances. “ As for the Speare in bend, it is a patible difference; and the person to whom it was granted hath borné magistracy, and was justice of peace at Stratford-upon-Avon. He married the daughter and heire of Arderne, and was able to maintain that estate."
In the above documents we do not find any allusion to a second wife, or reference to the decease of the heiress of Arden : yet Malone, and Wheler (in his usefyl “History of Stratford”) assert that John Shakspeare, the presumed father of the poet, was thrice married : 1st. to Arden, daughter and co-heir of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote in Warwickshire, before 1558; 2nd. to Margery Roberts, Nov. 1584; and 3dly, to Mary
whose maiden name is not specified, in 1588. Of these marriages we have no other evidence than entries of children, by different mothers, the Stratford register. These entries, however, merely state names and dates, without particulars. Hence some doubts arise; for if the father of William Shakspeare married a third wife, that ceremony must have occurred within seven months after the decease of the second; and when he applied for the grant of the Arden arms, he is stated in the register to have had three children by this third wife. Yet these children are not alluded to by the college record, nor does it contain any reference to a second or third wife. It is also strange that the armorial coat on the poet's tomb has no quartering, nor is the impalement of the Arden and Shakspeare arms to be found on any public monuments. Rowe, who wrote the earliest account of our
t's life, does not mention the name of his mother.