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where he enjoyed four years of literary leisure, dying of fever in 1616, at the age of fifty-two.
It was observed by Dryden that, “in Shakespeare, we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that he ever studied them.” It is evident, however, that he had studied them; and it is very manifest, too, that in the formation of his historical dramas, he imbibed largely from the Chronicles of Holinshed,—which work must have been very scarce in his day,—from whence it may be fairly presumed that he had free access to the library of the Earl of Southampton, as it does not appear by Shakespeare's will, or by tradition, that he possessed any books himself. That noble earl claims, indeed, our deepest gratitude, as the foster-friend—the princely patron, of that brightest genius of our land. It is mortifying that history has left us so little information relative to the life and literary pursuits of that illustrious nobleman, particularly as connected with Shakespeare. Records inform us, that “ he was engaged in the conspiracy with the Earl of Essex, and with him imprisoned in the Tower,” where, no doubt, the society of the Bard of Avon formed his chiefest solace.
As tradition does not furnish us with any instance of the development of precocious intellect in Shakespeare's youth, the dawn of his genius must have first manifested itself during his sojournment in the capital ; so it is evident that when there, he must have devoted himself assiduously to various reading, as well as to universal observation of mankind; for all his historical plays, and many of the others, prove extensive reading, and particularly of the passing events of preceding generations in his own country. The religious extracts, which form a material part of this work, shew with what advantage he had perused the Holy Scriptures.
Every thing relative to his mental acquirements tends to illustrate a mind signally gifted, pursuing a system of self-formation, based on the highest fecundity of genius. It may be presumed that he derived some stimulus towards self-education from the taunts of his companion, Ben Jonson; who evidently prided himself upon his scholarship (he being proficient in Greek and Latin), and probably throwing out, at times, hints
that he (Shakespeare) had not received so classical an
education as himself—Jonson having observ that he possessed “small Latin and less Gree
-Jonson having observed of him,
Feelings of mortification, perhaps, generated by reflections like the above (and sensitively alive to the necessity which he felt, that he must pursue his dramatic labours for his maintenance, while his genius elevated his mind above the cares of livelihood), seem to be pourtrayed in the following lines of one of his poems :
O, for my sake, do thou with Fortune chide,
These lines were probably written under a depression of spirits, naturally arising from vexation, at the necessity which he laboured under, of being compelled (in accordance with the times) to adopt many sentiments, and expressions, solely to "please the ears of the groundlings,” and also from the difficulties and
odium which the members of the drama at that period had to undergo, from the opposition which was then made by the Papists, and Puritans, to dramatic representations; and the establishment of playhouses. Even the Corporation of the City of London was strongly opposed to the erection of a theatre at Blackfriars, in which Shakespeare had a great interest.
Such vexatious oppositions must have mortified his soaring spirit, propelled by
The force of heaven-bred poesy.
Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, iii. 2.
That he felt the advantages of study as well as its pleasures, is exemplified in the advice given to Lucentio upon the subject of study.
- Continue your resolve,
Fall to them, as you find your stomach serves you :
TAMING OF THE SHREW, i. l.
In the foregoing lines his attachment to the higher branches of philosophy are most manifest, but although his mental powers were capable of embracing every thing within the span of human intellect, it is clear he felt that his early education, and his station in life, had not led him into the school of Aristotle, but that the decree of Providence had placed him upon Mount Parnassus, and had wedded him to the Muses.
However, we cannot omit to notice the incidents wherein we find him philosophizing, viz. — when, during a violent storm, he says :
First let me talk with this philosopher :-
KING LEAR, iii. 4. Then again, his observation of the distinct locality of the polar star-of which he says,
I am constant as the Northern Star,