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had sat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen anything from them ; and that, if he 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 Shakespeare."
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story, still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and his usury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation amongst theif common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare, in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakespeare gave him these four verses :
“ Ten in the hundred lies here ingraved,
For some years before his death, he resided at Stratford, in a house which he bought from the Clopton family, and which continued in the possession of his descendants until the Restoration, when it was repurchased by a member of the same family, the representative of which, Sir Hugh Clopton, entertained Garrick, Macklin, and others, in 1742, under the mulberry tree, planted by Shakespeare. His executor sold the house to a clergyman of the name of Gastrel, who being rated for the poor higher than he conceived he had a right to pay, peevishly declared that the house should never pay again; and in spite to the inhabitants of Stratford, who were benefitted by the company it brought to the town, he pulled it down, and sold the materials. He had previously cut down the mulberry tree for fuel, but an honest silversmith purchased the whole of it, which he profitably manufactured into memorials of the poet. Such was the fate of a residence in which Shakespeare exhibited so little solicitude for fame, or consciousness of his own merits, that a similar example of modesty is scarcely to be found.
He died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, having exactly completed his fifty-second year. He was interred on the north side of the chancel of the great church of Stratford, where a monument is placed on the wall, in which he is represented under an arch in a sitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left resting on a scroll of paper. The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion:
“Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
To this Latin inscription may be added the lines to be found underneath it:
“Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
This monument was erected within seven years of his death; but on his grave-stone beneath are written the following lines, which seem to have been engraven in an uncouth mixture of large and small letters, at the time of his interment:
“ Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forbeare
It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shakespeare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnel houses; and similar execrations are found in many Latin epitaphs. Shakespeare's remains, however, have been ever carefully protected from injury.
His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in his twelfth year. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father's favourite, was married June 5, 1607, to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1635, aged 60. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged 66. They left only one child, Elizabeth, born
1607–8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647, and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire; but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakespeare's youngest daughter, was married, February 10, 1615–16, to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died, February, 1661-62, in her 77th year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakespeare,' Richard "and Thomas, who all died unmarried, and here the descendants of our poet became extinct.
In the year 1741, a monument was erected to the memory of the “immortal bard” in Westminster Abbey, by the direction of the Earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It was the work of Schoemaker, (who received £300 for it,) after a design of Kent, and was opened in January of that year, one hundred and twenty-five years after the death of him whom it commemorates, and whose genius appears to have been forgotten during almost the whole of that long period. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performance at Drury-lane theatre amounted to above £200, but the receipts at Covent-garden did not exceed £100.
From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers and commentators, the reader will perceive that less is known of Shakespeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can be hereafter discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory, and illustrate his writings.
Dr. Johnson, in his elaborate and just review of Shakespeare, observes, “ He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed, (says he,) far from thinking that his works were wrought to his own ideas of perfection; when they were such as
would satisfy the audience, they satisfied the writer. It is seldom that authors, though more studious of fame than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of their own age; to add a little to what is best will always be sufficient for present praise, and those who find themselves exalted into fame, are willing to credit their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of contending with themselves.”
The dramatic reputation of Shakespeare, although great in his own days, became partially obsolete during the period when French taste prevailed, and French models were studied, under the second Charles; and rising again as it did on its own intrinsic pretension, until his productions established a national taste, the fact is still more honorable to his genius. That much of the admiration entertained for him is national and conventional, may be freely allowed; but giving all due weight to the cold hints of this nature, which pervade criticism of a certain tone, a fair appeal may be made on the ground of positive qualification, and a knowledge of the human heart, which, in its diversity at least, has never been surpassed. To this faculty must be added, that of an imagination powerful, poetical, and so felicitously creative, that presuming the existence of the vivid offspring of his fancy, the adopted feelings and manners seem to belong to them alone.
Voltaire observes that Shakespeare has been the favourite of the English nation for more than a century; and that that which has engrossed national admiration for a hundred years, will by prescription insure it for ever. But though there may be some truth in this remark, the obvious and undeniable fact is, that great native strength of genius can alone establish the prepossession.
There's in him stuff that puts him to these ends:
H. VIII. i. 1. ABSENCE.
I have this while with leaden thoughts been press’d;
0. iii. 4. LOVERS'. What! keep a week away? seven days and nights ? Eight score eight hours,—and lovers absent hours More tedious than the dial eight score times ? 0 weary reckoning!
0. iii. 4. O thou that dost inhabit in my breast, Leave not the mansion so long tenantless; Lest growing ruinous the building fall, And leave no memory of what it was.
T. G. v. 4.