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ment. Among those who are stated to have treated him with hostility, was the celebrated Ben Jonson; but Dr. Farmer departs from the received opinions on this subject, and thinks that though Jonson was arrogant of his scholarship, and publicly professed a rivalship of Shakspeare, he was in private his friend and associate.
Pope, in his preface, says, that Jonson, “loved” Shakspeare, “as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness of his temper; and only distinguishes, as be reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the silly and derogatory applauses of the players." Mr. Gilchrist, whose dramatic criticisms are generally profound and acute, has published a pamphlet, to prove
that Jonson was never a harsh or an envious rival of Shakspeare; and that the popular opinion on this subject is founded in error. The following story respecting these two great dramatists is related by Rowe, and has been generally credited by subsequent biographers. “ Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose bands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an illnatured answer, that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage his first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public."
The opposition or rivalship of Shakspeare and Jonson produced, as might naturally, expected, much contention concerning their relative merits between their respective friends and admirers; and it is not a little remarkable, that Jonson seems to have maintained a higher place in the estimation of the public in general than our poet, for more than a century after the death of the latter. Within that period Jonson's works are said to have passed through several editions, and to have been read with avidity, while Shakspeare's were comparatively neglected till the time of Rowe. This circumstance is in a great measure to be accounted for on the principle that classical literature and collegiate learning were regarded in those days as the chief criterions of merit. Accordingly Jonson's grand charge against Shakspeare was the want of that species of knowledge; and upon his own proficiency in it, he arrogated to himself a superiority over him. That all classical scholars, however, did not sanction Jonson's pretensions is certain ; for among the greatest admirers of Shakspeare, was one of the most learned men of his age, the ever-memorable Hales. On one occasion the latter, after listening in silence to a warm debate between Sir John Suckling and Jonson, is reported to have interposed by observing, “ That if Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if he (Jonson) would produce any one topic finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to show something upon the same subject, at least as well written by Shakspeare.” A trial, it is added, being in consequence agreed to, judges were appointed to decide the dispute, who unanimously voted in favour of the English poet, after a candid examination and comparison of the passages produced by the contending
parties. “ Shakspeare,” observes Rowe, “ had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and in that to his wish;" but the biographer does not even hint at the amount of the poet's income. Malone, however, judging from the bequests in Shakspeare's Will, thinks it might be about 2001. per year; which at the age when he lived, was equal io 8001. a year at the present time. Subsequent to bis retirement from the stage, he resided in a house at Stratford which he had purchased, according to Wheler, in 1597, from the family of Underhill, and which, previous to that time had been called the Great House, probably from its having been the best in the town, when it was originally erected by Sir Hugh Clopton, in the reign of Henry.the Seventh. The poet appears to have made considerable alterations in this house, and changed its name to New-place. Here he appears to have resided a few years in retire
ment, but not without devoting some time to dramatic composition; for Malone asserts, that the play of Twelftli Night was written after his final residence at Stratford. In this house he died, on Tuesday, April 23, 1616, being the anniversary of his 52d year: in two days afterwards his remains were interred within the chancel of the parish church; where a flat stone and a mural monument were afterwards placed to point out the spot, and coinmemorate his likeness, name, and memory.
Such is the substance of the scanty notices of the Jife of Shakspeare, which we have been enabled to collect from Rowe, and from the various cominentators on his works, to Malone inclusive. To these we shall add, in his own words, the following anecdotes recorded by John Aubrey in his MS. collections in the Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford.' “Mr. William Shakespear was borne at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick : his father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade, but when he kill'd a calfe he would doe it in a high style and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this towne, that was helde not at all inferior to him for a naturall witt, his acquaintance and coetanean, but dyed young. This Wm. being inclined naturally to poetry and acting came to London, I guesse about 18, and was an actor at one of the playhouses, and did act exceedingly well. Now B. Jonson never was a good actor, but an excellent instructor. He began early to make essayes at dramatique poetry, which at that time was very lowe, and his playes tooke well. He was a handsome well shap't man, very good company, and of a very readie and pleasant smooth witt: the humour of the constable in a Midsummer Night's Dreaine, he happened to take at Grendon, in Bucks, which is the roade from London to Stratford; and there was living that constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxon. Mr. Jos. Howe is of that parish, and knew him. Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of men dayly, wherever they came. One time, as he was at the tavern, at Stratford-upone
Avon, one Combes, an old rich usurer, was to be buryed, he makes there this extemporary epitaph:
“ Ten in the hundred the devill allowes,
Hoh, quoth the devill, "'tis my John Ó Combe.' “He was wont to goe to his native country once a yeare. I think I have been told, that he left 2 or 300 lib. per annum, there and thereabout, to a sister. I have heard Sir Wm. Davenant and Mr. Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best comedian we have now), say that he had a most prodigious witt; and did admire bis naturall parts beyond all other dramaticall writers. He was wont to say, that he never blotted out a line in his life : sayd Ben Jonson, 'I wish he had blotted out a thousand. His comodies will remain witt as long as the English longue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum: now our present writers reflect so much upon particular persons and coxcombeities that twenty yeares hence they will not be understood.
“ Though, as Ben Jonson sayes of him, that he had but little Latine and lesse Greek, he understood Latine pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country.” See Letters from the Bodleian Library, &c. Vol. iii. p. 307.
The above account, though apparently sanctioned by good authority, and probably written about thirty years after Shakspeare's death, is treated by alınost all his biographers as wholly incredible. or this opinion is Malone, in his notes upon the Life of our poet by Rowe; but in his own “ Historical Account of the English Slage,” he seems at a loss whether to argue for or against the probability of Aubrey's statement. The same wavering aud inconsistency, on dubious points, are visible in olher parls of the writings of that commentator. Thus in one place he is positive that Shakspeare's father was thrice married; and in another, he is equally confident that he had not more than two wives. In his chronology, he states 1591 to be the year in which our author commenced writer for the stage, and argues throughout the whole essay on that presumption; but in his remarks relative to the passage above quoted, lie says, “We have no proof that he did not woo the dramatic muse even so early as 1587 or 1588; and therefore till such proof shall be produced, Mr. Aubrey's assertion, founded apparently on the information of those who lived very near the time, is entitled to some weight.”
Shakspeare was interred on the second day after his death, in the chancel of Stratford church, where a monument still remains to his memory. It is constructed partly of marble and partly of stone, and consists of a half-length bust of the deceased, with a cushion before him, placed under an ornamental canopy, belween two columns of the corinthian order, supporting an entablature. Attached to the latter is the Shakspeare arms and crest, sculptured in bold relief. Beneath the bust are the following lines:
Judicio Pylivm, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
Obiit Ano. Doi. 1616, ætatis 53, die 23 Ap. On a flat stone which covers our poet's grave is this curious inscription :
Good frend for Jesus' sake forbeare
And cvrst be he yt. moves my bones. The common tradition is, that the last four lines were written by Shakspeare hiinself; but this notion has perhaps originated solely from the use of the word
my,” in the last line. The imprecation, says Malone, was probably suggested by an apprehension that our author's remains might share the same fate with those of the rest of his countrymen, and be added to the immense pile of human bones deposited in the charnel-house at Stratford.”
Mrs. Shakspeare, who survived her busband eight years, was buried between his grave and the north wall