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adjust with any precision the order in which his wonderful productions issued from his brain. But the attempt has more than once been made, and never yet with entire success. We know only that his connexion with the stage continued for about twenty years (though the duration even of this term cannot be settled with precision) and that, within this period he composed either partially, as working on the ground of others, or educing them altogether from his own fertility, thirtyfive or (if that wretched thing, Pericles, in consequence of Dryden's testimony in favour of its authenticity, and of a few touches of the Golden pen being discoverable in its last scenes, must be added to the number) thirtysix dramas; and that of these it is probable that such as were founded on the works of preceding authors were the first essays of his dramatic talent; and such as were more perfectly his own, and are of the first sparkle of excellence, were among the last. While I should not hesitate, therefore, to station “Pericles,” the three parts of“ Henry VI.” (for I cannot see any reason for throwing the first of these parts from the protection of our author's name), “ Love's Labour Lost,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “ The Taming of the Shrew," “King John," and “ Richard II.,” among his earliest productions, I should, with equal confidence, arrange “ Macbeth,” “ Lear," “ Othello," "Twelfth Night,” and “ The Tempest,” with his latest, assigning them to that season of his life; when his mind exulted in the conscious plenitude of power. Whatever might be the order of succession in which this illustrious family of genius sprang into existence, they soon attracted notice, and speedily compelled the homage of respect from those who were the most eminent for their learning, their talents, or their rank. Jonson, Selden, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Donne were the associates and the intimates of our Poet: the Earl of Southampton was his especial friend: the Earls of Pembroke and of Montgomery were avowedly bis admirers and patrons : Queen Elizabeth distinguished bim with her favour; and her successor, James, with his own band, honoured the great dramatist with a letter of
thanks for the compliment paid in Macbeth to the royal family of the Stuarts *.
The circumstance which first brought the two lords of the stage, Shakspeare and Jonson, into that embrace of friendship which continued indissoluble, as there is reason to believe, during the permission of mortality, is reported to have been the kind assistance given by the former to the latter, when he was offering one of his plays (Every Man in his Humour) for the benefit of representation. The manuscript, as it is said, was on the point of being rejected and returned with a rude answer, when Shakspeare, fortunately glancing his eye over its pages, immediately discovered its merit; and, with his influence, obtained its introduction on the stage. To this story some specious objections have been raised; and there cannot be any necessity for contending for it, as no lucky accident can be required to account for the inducement of amity between two men of high genius, each treading the same broad path to fame and fortune, yet each with a character so peculiarly his own that ho might attain his object without wounding the pride or invading the interests of the other. It has been generally believed that the intellectual superiority of Shakspeare excited the envy and the consequent enmity of Jonson. It is well that of these asserted facts no evidences can be adduced. The friendship of these great men seems to have been unbroken during the life of Shakspeare; and, on his death, Jonson made an offering to bis memory of high, just, and appropriate panegyric. He places him above not only the modern but the Greek dramatists; and he professes for him admiration short only of idolatry. They who can discover any penuriousness of praise in the surviving poet must be gifted with a very peculiar vision of mind. With the flowers, which he strewed upon the grave of his friend, there certainly was not blended one poisonous or bitter leaf. If,
* The existence of this royal letter of thanks is asserted on the authority of Sbeffield Duke of Buckingham, who saw it in the possession of Davenant. The cause of the thanks is assigned on the most probable conjecture.
therefore, he was, as he is represented to have been by an impartial and able judge, (Drummond of Hawthornden)“ a great lover and praiser of himself; a contemner and scorner of others; jealous of every word and action of those about him, &c. &c.,” how can we otherwise account for the uninterrupted harmony of bis intercourse with our bard than by supposing that the frailties of his nature were overruled by that preeminence of mental power in his friend which precluded competition; and by his friend's sweetness of temper and gentleness of manners, which repressed every feeling of hostility. Between Shakspeare and Thomas Wriothesly, the munificent and the noble Earl of Southampton, distinguished in history by bis inviolable attachment to the rash and the unfortunate Essex, the friendship was permanent and ardent. At its commencement, in 1593, when Shakspeare was twenty-nine years of age, Southampton was not more than nineteen; and, with the love of general literature, he was particularly attached to the exhibitions of the theatre. His attention was first drawn to Shakspeare by the poet's dedication to bim of the “ Venus and Adopis," that “first heir," as the dedicator calls it,“ of his invention;" and the acquaintance, once begun between characters and hearts like theirs, would soon mature into intimacy and friendship. In the following year (1594) Shakspeare's second poem, " The Rape of Lucrece," was addressed by him to his noble patron in a strain of less distant timidity; and we may infer from it that the poet had then obtained a portion of the favour which he sought. That his fortunes were essentially promoted by the munificent patronage of Southampton cannot reasonably be doubted. We are told by Sir William Davenant, who surely possessed the means of knowing the fact, that the peer gave at one time to his favoured dramatist the magnificent present of a thousand pounds. This is rejected by Malone as an extravagant exaggeration; and because the donation is said to have been made for the purpose of enabling the poet to complete a purchase which he had then in contemplation; and because no purchase of an adequate
magnitude seems to have been accomplished by him, the critic treats the whole story with contempt; and is desirous of substituting a dedication fee of one hundred pounds for the more princely liberality which is attested by Davenant. But surely a purchase might be within the view of Shakspeare, and eventually not be effected ; and then of course the thousand pounds in question would be added to his personal property; where it would just complete the income on which he is reported to have retired from the stage. As to the incredibility of the gift in consequence of its value, have we not witnessed a gift, made in the present day, by a noble of the land to a mere actor, of ten times the nominal and twice the effective value of this proud bounty of the great Earl of Southampton's * to one of the master-spirits of the human racet?
Of the degree of patronage and kindness extended to Shakspeare by the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, we are altogether ignorant: but we know, from the dedi
* As the patron and the friend of Sbakspeare, Thomas Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, is entitled to our especial attention and respect. But I cannot admit his eventful bistory into the text, without breaking the unity of my biographical narrative; and to speak of him within the compass of a note will be only to inform my readers that he was born on the 6th of October 1573: that he was engaged in the mad attempts of his friend, the Earl of Essex, against the government of Elizabeth : that, in consequence, he was confined during her life by tbat Queen, who was so lepient as to be satisfied with the blood of one of the friends : that, immediately on her death, be was liberated by her successor, not disposed to adopt the enmities of the murderess of his mother : that he was promoted to honours by the new sovereign; and that, finally, being sent with a military command to the Low Countries, he caught a fever from bis son, Lord Wriothesly; and, surviving him only five days, concluded his active and honorable career of life at Bergen-op-zoom, on the 10th of November, 1624. It may be added, that, impoverished by his liberalities, he left his widow in sacb circumstances as to call for the assistance of the crown.
† The late Duke of Northumberland made a present to John Kemble of 10,0001.
cation of his works to them by Heminge and Condell, that they had distinguished themselves as his admirers and friends. That he numbered many more of the nobility of his day among the homagers of his transcendent genius, we may consider as a specious probability. But we must not indulge in conjectures, when we can gratify ourselves with the reports of tradition, approaching very nearly to certainties. Elizabeth, as it is confidently said, honoured our illustrious dramatist with her especial notice and regard. She was unquestionably fond of theatric exhibitions; and, with her literary mind and her discriminating eye, it is impossible that she should overlook; and that, not overlooking, she should not appreciate the man, whose genius formed the prime glory of her reign. It is affirmed that, delighted with the character of Falstaff as drawn in the two parts of Henry IV., she expressed a wish to see the gross and dissolute knight under the influence of love; and that the result of our Poet's compliance, with the desire of his royal mistress, was “ The Merry Wives of Windsor*.” Favoured, however, as our Poet seems to have been by Elizabeth, and notwithstanding the fine incense which he offered to her vanity, it does not appear that he profited in any degree by her bounty. She could distinguish and could smile upon genius: but unless it were immediately serviceable to her personal or her political interests, she had not the soul to reward it. However in
* Animated as this comedy is with much distinct delineation of character, it cannot be pronounced to be unworthy of its great author. But it evinces the difficulty of writing upon a prescribed subject, and of working with effect under the controll of another mind. As he sported in the scenes of Henry IV., Falstaff was insusceptible of love: and the egregious dope of Windsor, ducked and cudgelled as he was, cannot be the wit of Eastcheap, or the guest of Shallow, or the military commander on the field of Shrewsbury. But even the genius of Shakspeare could not effect impossibilities. He did what he could to revive his own Falstaff: but the life which he reinfused into his creature was not the vigorous vitality of Nature ; and he placed him in a scene where he could not subsist.