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proved that 'monks were universally a voluptuous and depraved set; and the denying them to be charitable, was contrary to all history. Charity to the poor was always a primary object of the founder; part of every benefaction to a monastery was given to the poor; and, indeed, this duty was that, of all others, which, in every religious house, was most fattended to. Even the monks of Melrose, in Scotland, the most profligate of any set of religionists whom we ever read of, could not be charged with want of hospitality, and although, if we may believe Woodcock's ballad, the monks of Melrose did make good kale on Fridays, when they fasted, they might; perhaps, deserve forgiveness on account of the aversion they had to the fasting of their neighbours. Fordun tells us, on the authority of Jocelin of Fornes, that, in the reign of David the First, a grievous famine distressed the land, that four thousand peasants gathered round Melrose Abbey, and were, by order of Waldeve, the abbot, fed daily for three months. Jocelin goes a little farther, and says, that, what was very wonderful, the stores of the abbey suffered nó diminution. Dalrymple* laughs at the miraculous part of the story, saying, that any one who had ever seen a room with two doors could easily understand the trick ; but of the charity even he speaks highly. Master Simon Fish should not have said so much of the fåt hanging to the priests' beards. No doubt, in many cases, they were sad voluptuaries; but it is unfair to deny, on this account, the good they really did. The following are two extracts from the survey of chantrie lands in the reign of Edward the Sixth, and afford a fair idea of the provision then made for the poor. Amongst the benefactions to monasteries are named “ certain lands called Paches, for one yearly obit for ever,--by the yere worth 8s., whereof to the poore is given 6s.,-remains' clere, 2s. 2nd., One parcell of land, called the Town Clapper, for a chantrie for ever,-by the yere, 6s. 8d., whereof to the poore, 20d.,--remains clere, 5s.
After all, the comparative usefulness or disservice of monasteries, rested on the simple question of how far they may be entitled to our praise as the preservers of Christianity?
Should it appear that they were, (and that they were could hardly be doubted,) the question must be decided in their favor, even if they had rendered no service to literature, had done no acts of charity, and had not helped to polish the manners of a rude and barbarous age.
The Life of Shakspeare ; Enquiries into the Originality of his
Dramatic Plots and Characters, and Essays on the Ancient Theatres and Theatrical Usages. By Augustine Skottowe. 2 vols. 8vo. 1824. London,
It is the avowed ambition of the author of these volumes, to make his work “a Companion to Shakspeare.” The principal design is to illustrate the great dramatist by comparing his plays with the materials used in their construction. More than half of the first volume, and the whole of the second, are devoted to this purpose. The Biography of the Bard is prefixed, and to that is appended a History of the Stage. Thus the author conceives that "the general reader will be furnished with all the elucidatory information he can require, and be spared the pain of wading through the commentators' tomes of controversy”-a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Dr. Johnson observed, upon the Paradise Lost, that "it must be interesting to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected; whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own.”
It is equally desirable to trace the sources from whence Shakspeare extracted the raw material which he wrought into so many beautiful fabrics.
It appears long to have been the common opinion, that, with the exception of the historical plays, the productions of the bard were of his entire creation. We are not sure, that either the author before us, or ourselves, will receive the thanks of a large class of the admirers of Shakspeare, for dissipating the error under which they la, boured. The fame, however, of the immortal bard, rests not upon the particular és quarry” from which he dug his materials; but on his judgment in their selection, on the strength and beauty with which he constructed and combined them on the delight they afford, and the lustre they have shed upon his age and nation. The feeble and barren story, which he borrowed, formed but a small part of that dramatic effect which his tact and skill produced; and the slender hints he received contributed but little to the noble sentiments, the bright imagery, the pathos, and the sublimity, with which his scenes every where abound. And although he adhered to the incidents of tradition, the characters he exhibited were always improved or elevated, and often absolutely created.
“Our great dramatist (says Mr. Skottowe,) almost invariably selected for the plot of his drama an event of history, a romantic tale, or some previous dramatic composition, and imposed upon himself an almost implicit adherence to his authorities, even in cases where great improvement might have been effected with little pains. For the alterations which he chose to make, he is not often to be praised : bis additions to his originals are, however, almost always excellent; and so beautifully has he blended the separate actions, that they appear always to have formed one consistent whole.
"'i'be characters of Shakspeare's absolute creation are as many as those which he prepared on previous hints; and, though his serious dramas far outnumber his comedies, his comic portraits are somewhat more uunierous than his tragic. In point of importance, however, the preponderance is greatly on the side of the tragic characters, and the fact is easily accounted for: the materials borrowed were mostly serious fables, or grave historical events; the personages engaged in their transaction were of a corresponding tone of mind, and the poet was compelled to concede them a prominence on the scene in some degree commensurate with their prominence in the narrative.
“Scarcely one of Shakspeare's tragic characters was conceived by himself; a singular fact, considering that his comic characters, with the exception of about half-a-dozen, were entirely his own. The conclusion is inevitable that the bent of his mind was decidedly comic. Why, with such a disposition, so large a majority of the subjects selected by him were serious, it is in vain to enquire; but it appears, that he eagerly sought every opportunity which such a selection left him, to indulge his fancy's course. His predilection for the ludicrous required a wider field for its display than was afforded him in his few comedies; and, with the mask and sock, he gaily rushed upon the consecrated ground of the tragic muse, engrafting incidents purely comic on subjects the most serious."
The particulars of the life of Shakspeare are few and brief. All the undisputed facts which have been collected regarding him, may be comprised in a single page. Yet how vast is the conception which the mind entertains of him. He fills a larger space in our thoughts than other human beings, about whom volumes have been written. We identify him with all the splendid array of characters with which he has, as it were, thickly populated both the stage and the closet. We have a natural impression that he must have lived long with the prototypes of these striking likenesses of nature, to enable him so faithfully to pourtray their every feature.
The authentic incidents of his life are well known. He was for some time at the free grammar school of his native town. He assisted his father as a butcher. He was also a schoolmaster. He married at eighteen. Stratford was distinguished for theatrical amusements; the attention of Shakspeare was thus directed to the stage. After the event of deer-stealing he repaired to London, became a player, and, subsequently, a writer for the stage. About the year 1590, his first drama was produced. He was patronized by Lord Southampton, who, according to report, gave him a thousand pounds. In 1597, he bought one of the best houses in Stratford-was able to lend money, and, in 1602, added to his property 107 acres of land. In 1605, he purchased a lease of a moiety of the tithes of Stratford ; and in 1613, a house in Blackfriars. He was distinguished by two successive sovereigns, but " vestige remains in the shape of reward more substantial than praise. He was a shareholder in the theatre, but to what amount is unknown.
A few anecdotes have been transmitted as specimens of Shakspeare's talent at repartee, but, says Mr. Skottowe, they are really unworthy of transcription. The best is his jocular epitaph on Mr. John Combe, who had amassed great wealth by the practice of usury. Combe told the poet that he fancied he intended to furnish his epitaph; and, since whatever might be said of him after he was dead, must be unknown to him, he requested that it might be written forthwith : Shak. speare immediately gave him the following verses :
“ Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd ;
Oh! Oh! (quoth the devil,) 'tis my John-a-Combe.” The ancestry of Shakspeare, it appears to be impossible to trace. He was the founder of his name. Of his immediate parent only, has any information been gained. We have sketched from materials, which it appears may be depended upon, a pedigree of the illustrious bard: