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ACCOUNT of the LIFE, &'c.
Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEAR.
Written by Mr. Rowe,
T seems to be a kind of refpe&t dueta
the memory of excellent men, efpeI cially of those whom their wit and
learning have made famous, to deliver fome account of themselves, as
well as their works, to Polterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any little perfonal Rory of the great men of Antiquity, their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their Tape, make and features, have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling, foever this Curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfied with an account of any remarkable person, 'till we have heard him defcrib'd even to the very clothes he wears. As for what relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an Author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding 2
his book: And tho' the Works of Mr Shakespear may seem to inany not to want a cominent, yet I fansy coine little account of the inan himself may not be thought improper to go along with them.
He was the fooi of Mr. John Shakespear, and was born at Stratford upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1564. His family, as appears by the Regitter and publick Writings relating to that Town, were of good figure and fahion there, and are mention'd as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that tho’ he was his eldest fun, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, 'tis true, for foine time at a Free-[chool, where 'tis probable he acquir'd what Latin he was master of: But the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his affiltance at home, forc'd his father to withdiaw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. It is with(!t controversy, that in his works we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an imitation of the Ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the natural bent of his own great Genius (equal, it not fuperior to some of the best of theirs) would certainly have led him to read and study 'em with so much pleasure, that fome of their fine inagcs would naturally have infinuated themselves into, and been mix'd with his own writings; so that his Not Cpying at least something from them, may be an argment of his never having read 'em. Whce ther his ignorance of the Ancients were a disidvantage to him or no, may admit of a dispute: For tho' the knowledge of 'em might have inade him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that the regolarity and deference for them, which would Have atiended th:t correctness, might have restrain’d toine or thittir.impetuolity, and even beautiful
extravagance which we adınire in Shakespear: And I believe we are better pleas'd with those thoughts, altogether new and uncaınmon, which his own imagination supply'd him so abundantly with, than if he had given us the moft beautiful pallages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable manner that it was posible for a master of the English language to deliver 'em.
Upon his leaving school, he seeins to have given intirely into that way of living which his father propos'd to him; and in order to settle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to inarsy while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathawy, l'aid to have been a subllantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Sıratford. In this kind of fettlement he continued for some time, 'till an extravagance that he was guilty of forc'd him both out of his country and that u ay of living which he had taken up; and tho'it feen'd at firit to be a blemish opon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily prov'd the occasion of exerting one of the greatest Genius's that ever was known in dramatick Poetry. He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them, foine that made a frequent practice of Deerstealiog, engag’d him with thein more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas Lucy af Cherlecut, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, fomcwhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And tho' this, probably the first ellay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution againit him to that degree, that he was obligd to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and Melter himself in London,
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the Play-house. He was receiv'd into the Company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his adonirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the itage, foon diftinguith'd hiin, if not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other players, before fomeold Plays, but without any particular account of what fort of parts he usd to play; and tho’I have inquir'd, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the ghost in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleas'd, to have learn'd from some certain authority, which was the first Play he wrote; * it would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Shakespear's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their lealt perfe& writings ; art had so little, and nature fo Jarge a fare in what he did, that, for ought I know, the performances of his youth, as They were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and ftrength of inagination in 'em, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant, as to be inde. pendent on the rule and governinent of judgment; but that what he thought, was commonly fo great, fo juftly and rightly conceiv'd in it felf, that it wanted little or no correction, and was immedi
* The higheft date of any I can yer find, is Romeo and Juliec in 1597, when the Author was 33 gears old; and Richard the 2d, and 3d, in the next year, viz. the 34112 of bis age.