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FROM THE TEXT OF THE
CORRECTED COPIES OF STEEVENS AND MALONE,
A LIFE OF THE POET,
BY CHARLES SYMMONS, D. D.
THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN;
EMBELLISHED WITH ELEGANT ENGRAVINGS.
COMPLETE IN ONE VOLUME.
Wherever any extraordinary display of human inferences of lawless and vagabond conjecture. intellect has been made, there will human cu- of this remarkable ignorance of one of the most riosity, at one period or the other, be busy to richly endowed with intellect of the human obtain sotne personal acquaintance with the dis- species, who ran his mortal race in our own tinguished mortal whom Heaven had been pleas-country, and who stands separated from us by ed to endow with a larger portion of its own no very great intervention of time, the causes ethereal energy. If the favoured man walked may not be difficult to be ascertained. William on the high places of the world; if he were con- Shakspeare was an actor and a writer of plays; verwant with courts; if he directed the move in neither of which characters, however he might ments of armies or of states, and thus held in his excel in them, could he be lifted high in the hand the fortunes and the lives of multitudes of estimation of his contemporaries. He was hohis fellow-creatures, the interest, which he noured, indeed, with the friendship of nobles, excites, will be immediate and strong; he stands and the patronage of inonarchs; his theatre was on an eminence where he is the mark of many frequented by the wits of the metropolis; and he eyes; and dark and unlettered indeed must be associated with the most intellectual of his times. the age in which the incidents of his eventful life But the spirit of the age was against him; and, will not be noted, and the record of them be pre- in opposition to it, he could not become the sub served for the instruction or the entertainment ject of any general or comprehensive interest. of unborn generations. But if his course were the nation, in short, knew little and cared less through the vale of life: if he were untningled about him. During his life, and for some years with the factions and the contests of the great : after his death, inferior dramatists outran him if the powers of his mind were devoted to the in the race of popularity; and then the flood of kilent pursuits of literature to the converse of puritan fanaticism swept him and the stage philosophy and the Muse, the possessor of the together into temporary oblivion. On the reethereal treasure may excite little of the attention storation of the monarchy and the iheatre, the of his contemporaries ; may walk quietly, with school of France perverted our taste, and it was a veil over his glories, to the grave; and, in not till the last century was somewhat advanced other times, when the expansion of his intel- that William Shakspeare arose again, as it were, lectual greatness has filled the eyes of the world, from the tomb, in all his proper majesty of light. it may be too late to inquire for his history as a He then became the subject of solicitous and man. The bright track of his genius indelibly learned inquiry : bnt inquiry was then too late ; remains; but the trace of his mortal footstep is and all that it could recover, from the ravage of soon obliterated for ever. Homer is now only a time, were only a few human fragments, which Dame-a solitary name, which assnres us, that, could scarcely be united into a man. To these at some unascertained period in the annals of causes of our personal ignorance of the great mankind, a mighty mind was indulged to a bard of England, must be added his own strange hatan being, and gave its wonderful produc- indifference to the celebrity of genius. When tions to the perpetual admiration of men, as they he had produced his admirable works, ignorant pring in succession in the path of time. Of or heedless of their value, he abandoned them Homer himself we actually know nothing ; and with perfect indifference to oblivion or to fame. We see only an arm of immense power thrust It surpassed his thonght that he could grow into forth from a mass of impenetrable dark ness, and the admiration of the world; and, without any holding up the hero of his song to the applausea reference to the curiosity of future ages, in which of never-dying fame. But it may be supposed he conld not conceive himself to possess an inthat the revolution of, perhaps, thirty centuries, terest, he was contented to die in the arms of Ins collected the cloud which thus withdraws obscurity, as an mlaurelled burgher of a prothe father of poesy from our sight. Little more vincial town. To this combination of causes than two centuries has elapsed since William are we to attribute the scantiness of our mateShakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod rials for the Life of William Shakspeare. His the self-same soil with ourselves; and if it were works are in myriads of hands: he constitute hot for the records kept by our Church in its the delight of myriads of readers: his renown is rezisters of births, marriages, and burials, we coextensive with the civilization of man; and, should at this moment be as personally ignorant striding across the ocean from Enrope, it occu. of the sweet swan of Avon," as we are of the pies the wide region of transatlantic empire : bul old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That he is himself only a shadow which disappoints William Shakspeare was born in Stratford upon our grasp: an undefined form which is rather Avon ; that he married and bad three children intimated than discovered to the keenest searchthat he wrote a certain pamber of dramas; that ings of our eye. Of the little however. question. he died before he had attained to old age, and able or certain, which can be told of him, we was buried in his native town, are positively the must now proceed to make the best use in our only facts, in the personal history of this extra- power, to write what by courtesy may be called ordinary man, of which we are certainly pos- his life, and we have only to lament that the beard; and, if we should be solicitous to fill up result of our labonr must greatly disappoint the this bart and most unsatisfactory outline, we cyriosity which has been excited by the
grandeur innst have reconree to the vague reports of un- of his reputation. The slight narrative of Rowe, Walantia) tradition, or to the still more shadowy founded on the information obtained, in the be.
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ened circamstances of his father, he was recalled nion, both parties are wrong, both they who to the paternal roof. As we are not told at what contend for our poet's learning, and they who age he was sent to school, we cannot form any place his illiteracy on a level with that of John estinate of the time during wbich he remained Taylor, the celebrated water-poet, I most re. there. Bat if he was placed under his master sume my humble and most deficient narrative. when he was six years old, he might have conti-The classical studies of William Shakspeare, need in a state of instruction for seven or even for whatever progress he may or may not have made eight years; a term sufficiently long for any boy, in them, were now suspended ; and he was renot an absolute bloekbead, to acquire something placed in his father's house, when he had almore than the mere elements of the classical Lained his thirteenth or fourteenth year, to assist Janguages. We are too ignorant, however of with his hand in the maintenance of the family. dates, in these instances, to speak with any con- Whether he continued in this situation whilst fidence on the subject; and we can only asserthe remained in his single state, has not been that seven or eight of the fourteen years, which told to us, and cannot therefore at this period intervened between the birth of our poet in 1564 be known. But in the absence of information, and the known period of his father's diminished conjecture will be busy; and will soon cover fortune in 1578, might very properly have been the bare desert with unprofitable vegetation. given to the advantages of the free-school. But Whilst Malone surmises that the young poet Dow the important question is to be asked assed the interval, uill his marriage, or a large What were the attainments of oar young Shak- portion of it, in the office of an attorney, Aubrey speare at this seat of youthful instruction ? Did stations him during the same term at the head he return to his father's house in a state of utter of a country school. But the surmises of Malone ignorance of classic literature ? or was he as are not universally happy; and to the assertions far advanced in his school-studies as boys of his of Aubrey I am not disposed to attach more age (which I take to be thirteen or fourteen) credit than was attached to them by Anthony usually are in the common progress of our pub- Wood, who knew the old gossip, and was comJic and more reputable schools? That his scho- petent to appreciate his character. It is inore Jastic attainments did not rise to the point of probable that the necessity, which brought young learning, seems to have been the general opinion Shakspeare from his school, retained him with of his contenporaries, and to this opinion 1 his father's occupation at home, till the acquiam willing to assent.' But I cannot persuade sition of a wife made it convenient for him to myself that he was entirely unacquainted with remove to a separate habitation. It is reason the classic tongues; or thai, as Farmer and his able to conclude that a mind like his, ardent, followers labour to convince us, he could re- excursive, and “ all compact of imagination, ceive the instructions, even for three or four would not be satisfied with entire inactivity; years, of a school of any character, and could but would obtain knowledge where it could, then depart without any knowledge beyond not from the stores of the ancients, from those al that of the Latin accidence. The most accom- least which were supplied to him by the writers plished scholar nay read with pleasure the of his own country. poetic versions of the classic poets, and the less In 1582, before he had completed Pris eighadvanced proficient may consult his indolence teenth year, he married Anne Hathaway, the by applying to the page of a translation of a danghter, as Rowe informs us, of a substantial prose classic, when accuracy of quotation may yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. We not be required : and on evidences of this nature are unacquainted with the precise period of is supported the charge which has been brought, their marriage, and with the chnreh in which and which is now generally admitted, against it was solemnized, for in the register of Stratoar immortal bard, of more than school-boy ford there is no record of the event; and we are gaorance. He might, indeed, from necessity, made certain of the year, in which it occurred, apply to North for the interpretation of Plu- only by the baptism of Susanna, the first pro Larch; but he read Golding's Ovid only, as 1 duce of the union, on the 26th of May, 1583. As am satisfied, for the entertainment of its Eng. young Sbakspeare neither increased his fortune list poetry. 'Ben Jonson, who must have been by this match, though he probably received fatimately conversant with his friend's classic some money with his wife, nor raised himsel acquisitions, tells us expressly that, “He had by it in the community, we may conclude that small Latin and less Greek." Bui, according he was induced to it by inclination, and the to the usual plan of instruction in our schools, impulse of love. But the youthful poet's dream he must have traversed a considerable extent of happiness does not seem to have been realized of the language of Rome, before he conld touch by the result. The bride was eight years older even the confines of that of Greece. He must, than the bridegroom : and whatever charms she in short, have read Ovid's Metamorphoses, and might possess to fascinate the eyes of her boy. A part at least of Virgil, before he could open lover, she probably was deficient in those the gramınar of the more ancient, and copious, powers which are requisite to impose a durable and complex dialect. This I conceive to be a fetter on the heart, and to hold in sweet cap fair statement of the case in the question re- tivity" a mind of the very highest order. No specting Shakspeare's learning. Beyond contro-charge is intimated gainst the lady: but she is persy he was not a scholar; bat he had not pro: left in Stratford by her husband during his long fited so little by the hours, which he had passed residence in the metropolis; and on his death, in school, as not to be able :o understand the she is found to be only slightly, and, as it were more easy Roman authors without the assistance casually remembered in his will. Her second of a translation. If he himself had been asked pregnancy, which was productive of twins, on the subject, he might have parodied his own (Hamnet and Judith, baptized on the 21 of FebFalstaff, and have answered, " Indeed I am not ruary 1584-5,) terminated her pride as a mother; & Scaliger or a Budæus, but yel no blockhead, and we know nothing more respecting her than friend." I believe also that he was not wholly that, surviving her illustrious consort by rather anacquainted with the popular languages of more than seven years, she was buried on the France and Italy. He had abundant leisure to 8th of August, 1623, being, as we are told by the acquire ther,
and the activity and the curiosity inscription on her tomb, of the age of sixty-seven. of his mind were safficiently strong to nrge him Respecting the habits of life, or the occupation to their acquisition. But to discuss this much of our young poet by which he obtained his agitated question would lead me beyond the subsistence, or even the place of his residence, limits which are prescribed to me; and, con- subsequently to his marriage, not a floating syltending myself with declaring that, in my opi-llable has been wasted to us by tradition for the