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We think, indeed, that his scenes are rich in sterling morality, and that they must have been the effusions of a moral mind. The only crimination of his morals must be drawn from a few of his sonnets; and from a story first suggested by Antony Wood, and afterwards told by Oldys on the authority of Betterton and Pope. From the Sonnets * we can collect nothing more than that their writer was blindly attached to an unprincipled woman, who preferred a young and beautiful friend of his to bimself. But the story told by Oldys presents something to us of a more tangible nature; and as it possesses some intrinsic merit as a story, and rests, as to its principal facts, on the authority of Wood, who was a native of Oxford and a veracious man, we shall not hesitate, after the example of most of the recent biographers of our Poet, to relate it, and in the very words of Oldys, “ If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, on bis journey to and from London. The landlady was a beautiful woman and of a sprightly wit; and her husband, Mr. John Davenant, (afterwards mayor of that city) a grave, melancholy man, who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Sbakspeare's pleasant company. Their son, young Will Davenant (afterwards Sir William Davenant) was then a little schoolboy, in the town, of about seven or eight years old; and so fond also of Shakspeare that, whenever he heard of bis arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day, an old townsman, observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father, Shakspeare. There is a good boy; said the other; but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain! This story Mr. Pope told me at the Earl of Oxford's table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Shakspeare's monument, then newly erected in Westminster Abbey."
On these two instances of bis frailty, under the influence of the tender passion, one of them supported by
* See Son. 141. 144. 147. 151, 152.
his own evidence, and one resting on authority which seems to be not justly questionable, depend all the charges which can be brought against the strict personal morality of Shakspeare. In these days of peculiarly sensitive virtue, he would not possibly be admitted into the party of the saints: but, in the age in which he lived, these errors of bis human weakness did not diminish the respect, commanded by the probity of his heart; or the love, conciliated by the benignity of his manners; or the admiration exacted by the triumph of his genius. I blush with indignation when I relate that an offense, of a much more foul and atrocious nature, has been suggested against him by a critic * of the present day, on the pretended testimony of a large number of his sonnets. But his own proud character, which raised him high in the estimation of his contemporaries, sufficiently vindicates him from this abominable imputation. It is admitted that one hundred and twenty of these little poems are addressed to a male, and that in the Janguage of many of them love is too strongly and warmly identified with friendship. But in the days of Shakspeare love and friendship were almost synonymous terms. In the Merchant of Venicet, Lorenzo speaking of Antonio to Portia, says,
“ But if you knew to whom you show this honour,
and Portia, in her reply, calls Antonio “ the bosom lover of ber lord.” Drayton, in a letter to his friend, Drummond of Hawthornden, tells him that Mr. Joseph Davies is in love with him; and Ben Jonson concludes à letter to Dr. Donne by professing himself as ever his true lover. Many more instances of the same perverted language might be educed from the writings of that gross and indelicate age; and I have not a doubt that Shakspeare,
* See Monthly Review for Dec. 1824; article, Skottowe's Life of Shakspeare. † Act iii, sc. 4.
without exposing himself to the hazard of suspicion, employed this authorized dialect of his time to give the greater glow to these addresses to his young friend. But who was this young friend? The question has frequently been asked ; and never once been even speciously answered. I would as readily believe, with the late Mr. G. Chalmers, that this object of our author's poetic ardour was Queen Elizabeth, changed for the particular purpose, like the Iphis of the Roman poet, into a man, as I would be induced to think, with the writer “ On Shakspeare and his Times,” that these familiar and fervent addresses were made to the proud and the lofty Southampton. Neither can I persuade myself, with Malone, that the friend and the mistress are the mere creatures of our Poet's imagination, raised for the sport of his muse, and without“ a local habitation or a name.” They were, unquestionably, realities : but who they were must for ever remain buried in inscrutable mystery. That those addressed to his male friend are not open to the infamous interpretation, affixed to them by the Monthly critic, may be proved, as I persuade myself, to demonstration. The odious vice, to wbich we allude, was always in England held in merited detestation; and would our Poet consent to be the publisher of his own shame? to become a sort of outcast from society? to be made
“ A fixed figure for the hand of time
If the sonnets in question were not actually published by him, be refrained to guard them from manuscript distribution; and they soon, as might be expected, found their way to the press; whence they were rapidly circulated, to the honour of his poetry and not to the discredit of his morals. So pure was he from the disgusting vice, imputed to bim, for the first time, in the nineteenth century, that he alludes to it only once (if my recollection be at all accurate) in all his voluminous works; and that is where the foul-mouthed Thersites, in Troilus and Cressida *; calls Patroclus “ Achilles's masculine whore.” Under all the circumstances of the case, therefore, that these sonnets should be the effusions of sexual love is incredible, inconceivable, impossible; and we must turn away from the injurious suggestion with honest abhorrence and disdain.
The Will of Shakspeare, giving to his youngest daughter, Judith, not more than three hundred pounds, and a piece of plate, which probably was valuable, as it is called by the testator; “ My broad silver and gilt bowl,” assigps almost the whole of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, and her husband; whom be appoints to be his executors. The cause of this evident partiality in the father appears to be discoverable in the bigher mental accomplishments of the elder daughter; who is reported to have resembled him in her intellectaal endowments, and to have been eminently distinguished by the piety and the Christian benevolence which actuated her conduct. Having survived her estimable husband fourteen years, she died on the 11th of July 1649; and the inscription on her tomb, preserved by Dugdale, commemorates her intellectual superiority and the influence of religion upon her heart. This in. scription, which we shall transcribe, bears witness also, as we must observe, to the piety of her illustrious father.
Witty above ber sex ; but that's not all :
To weep with her, that wept with all :
Them up with comforts cordial.
As Shakspeare's last will and testament will be printed at the end of this biography, we may refer our readers
* Act v. sc. 1.
to that document for all the minor legacies which it bequeaths; and may pass immediately to an account of our great Poet's family, as far as it can be given from records which are authentic. Judith, his younger daughter, bore to her husband, Thomas Quiney, three sons; Shakspeare, who died in his infancy, Richard and Thomas, who deceased, the first in bis 21st year, the last in bis 19th, unmarried and before their mother; who, having reached ber 77th year, expired in February 1661-2being buried on the 9th of that month. She appears either not to have received any education, or not to bave profited by the lessons of ber teachers, for to a deed, still in existence, she affixes her mark.
We have already mentioned the dates of the birth, marriage, and death of Susanna Hall. She left only one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized on the 21st of February 1607-8, eight years before her grandfather's decease, and was married on the 22d of April, 1626, to Mr. Thomas Nash, a country gentleman, as it appears, of independent fortune. Two years after the death of Mr. Nash, who was buried on the 5th of April 1647, she married on the 5th of June 1649, at Billesley in Warwickshire, Sir John Barnard, Knight, of Abington, a small village in the vicinity of Northampton. She died, and was buried at Abington, on the 17th of February 1669-70; and, as she left no issue by either of her husbands, her death terminated the lineal descendents of Shakspeare. His collateral kindred have been indulged with a much longer period of duration; the descendents of his sister, Joan, having continued in a regular succession of generations even to our days; whilst none of them, with a single exception, have broken from that rank in the community in which their ancestors, William Hart and Joan Shakspeare united their unostentatious fortunes in the year 1599. The single exception to which we allude is that of Charles Hart, believed, for good reasons, to be the son of William the eldest son of William and Joan Hart, and consequently the grandnephew of our Poet. At the early age of seventeen, Charles Hart, as lieutenant in Prince Rupert's regi