Abbildungen der Seite

collection of Earl Fitzwilliam at Wentworth Castle *. The original painting, from which Droeshout drew the copy for bis engraving, prefixed to the first folio edition of our Poet's dramas, has not yet been discovered; and I feel persuaded that no original painting ever existed for his imitation; but that the artist worked in this instance from his own recollection, assisted probably by the suggestions of the Poet's theatric friends. We are, indeed, strongly of opinion that Shakspeare, remarkable, as he seems to have been, for a lowly estimate of bimself, and for a carelessness of all personal distinction, would not readily submit his face to be a painter's study, to the loss of hours, which he might more usefully or more pleasurably assign to reading, to composition, or to conviviality. If any sketch of his features was made during his life, it was most probably taken by some rapid and unprofessional pencil, when the Poet was unaware of it; or, taken by surprise, and exposed by it to no inconvenience, was not disposed to resist it. We are convinced that no authentic portrait of this great man has yet been produced, or is likely to be discovered; and that we must not therefore hope to be gratified with any thing which we can contemplate with confidence as a faithful representation of his countenance. The head of the statue, executed by Scheemaker, and erected, in 1741, to the honour of our poet in Westminster Abbey, was sculptured after a mezzotinto, scraped by Simon nearly twenty years before, and said to be copied from an original portrait by Zoust. But as this artist was not known by any of his productions in England till the year 1657, no original portrait of Shakspeare could be drawn by his pencil; and, consequently, the marble chiseled by Scheemaker, under the direction of Lord Burlington, Pope, and Mead, cannot lay

* I derive my knowledge on this topic from Malone: for till I saw the fact asserted in his page, I was not aware that the picture in question had been preserved amid the wreck of poor Dryden's property. On the authority also of Malone and of Mr. Boaden, I speak of Sir Godfrey's present to Dryden as of a copy from the Chapdos portrait.


any claim to an authorised resemblance to the man, for whom it was wrought. We must be satisfied, therefore, with knowing, on the authority of Aubrey, that our Poet “ was a bandsome, well-shaped man;" and our imagination must supply the expansion of his forehead, the sparkle and flash of his eyes, the sense and good-temper playing round his mouth; the intellectuality and the benevolence mantling over his whole countenance.

It is well that we are better acquainted with the rectitude of his morals, than with the symmetry of his features. To the integrity of his heart; the gentleness and benignity of his manners, we have the positive testimony of Chettle and Ben Jonson; the former of whom seems to have been drawn, by our Poet's good and amiable qualities, from the faction of his dramatic enemies; and the latter, in his love and admiration of the man, to have lost all his natural jealousy of the successful competitor for the poetic palm. I have already cited Cbettle: let me now cite Jonson, from whose pages much more of a similar nature might be adduced. “I loved,” he says in his · Discoveries,' “ I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions and gentle expressions,” &c. &c. When Jonson apostrophizes bis deceased friend, he calls him, “My gentle Shakspeare," and the title of “ the sweet swan of Avon,” so generally given to him, after the example of Jonson, by his contemporaries, seems to have been given with reference as much to the suavity of his temper as to the harmony of his verse. In their dedication of his works to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, his fellows, Heminge and Condell, profess that their great object in their publication was

only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakspeare:" and their preface to the public appears evidently to have been dictated by their personal and affectionate attachment to their departed friend. If we wish for any further evidence in the support of the moral character of Shakspeare, we may find it in the friendship of Southampton; we may extract it from the pages of his immortal works. Dr. Johnson, in his much over-praised Preface, seems to have taken a view, very different from ours, of the morality of our author's scenes. He says, “ His (Shakspeare's) first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience; and is so much more careful to please than to instruct that he seems to write without any. moral purpose. From his writings, indeed, a system of moral duty may be selected,” (indeed !) “ but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him:" (Would the preface-writer have wished the dramatist to give a connected treatise on ethics like the offices of Cicero?) “ he makes no just distribution of good or evil, por is always careful to shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked: he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong; and at the close dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of the age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independent on time or place.” Why this commonplace on justice should be compelled into the station in wbich we here most strangely find it, I cannot for my life conjecture. But absurd as it is made by its association in this place, it may not form an improper conclusion to a paragraph which means little, and which, intending censure, confers dramatic praise on a dramatic writer. It is evident, however, that Dr. Johnson, though be says that a system of moral duty may be selected from Shakspeare's writings, wished to inculcate that bis scenes were not of a moral tendency. On this topic, the first and the greater Jonson seems to have entertained very different sentiments,

"Look, how the father's face (says this great man)

Lives in his issue; even so the race
Of Sbakspeare's mind, and manners, brightly shines
In his well-torned and truefiled lines."

We think, indeed, that his scenes are rich in sterling morality, and that they must bave 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 bis 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. Joha 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 his 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."

Ou 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.

bis owy evidence, and one resting on authority which seems to be not justly questionable, depend all the ebarges 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 his human weakness did not diminish the respect, commanded by the probity of bis heart; or the love, conciliated by the benignity of bis 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 soppets. But his own proud character, which raised him high in the estimation of his contemporaries, susiciently vipdicates 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 language of many of them love is too strongly and warmiy 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 bonour,
How true a gentleman you send relief to;
How dear a lover of my lord, your husband,” &c.

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 a 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. 1821; article, Skoftowe's Life of Shakspeare. + Act iji, sc. 4.

« ZurückWeiter »