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he could otherwise have scarcely committed, and which he corrected in a later play.
The commentators having settled, to their own satisfaction, that he was quite ignorant of Italian, contended that his fables could not be derived from any of the Novellieri, unless they had proof of a translation of the same existing in his time. Thus they have sought every where for hints in English whereby he might have formed the fable of The Merchant of Venice, because that tale in the Pecorone was not then translated; though, for very many reasons, it is well nigh impossible he could have taken it from any thing but that tale. If, as they confess, no published translation existed of it in his time, then one must have been made expressly for him, or, what is more probable, he read it in the original.
To my mind there is farther reason for believing that he read Italian. The fable of the Tempest may be ascribed to his own invention, since no similar tale is known. This I believe; yet, in my fancy, there is a shadowing forth of it in the Milanese history; and I am not aware of any part of that history having been translated in his time. It is true no historical event is engrafted on the romance; but Lodovico Sforza, ambitious to reign, resolved on the destruction of his inert nephew, the lawful duke Giovanni Galeazzo. Compare this with the usurpation of Antonio over the reigning duke Prospero, absorbed from public affairs in his books. But Lodovico, not daring in the city to "set a mark so bloody on the business,"-Prospero's words,-gave his nephew a lingering poison, and then led him away to Pavia to
die. Again, there is much in these annals of the political alliances between the courts of Milan and Naples. Add to this, at the period of the usurpation of the Milanese duke Lodovico Sforza, there was a Ferdinand, King of Naples, son of Alfonzo, (Shakespeare calls him Alonso); and Ferdinand's son, though not himself, as in the Tempest, married a princess of Milan. This is what I mean by the shadowing forth of a romance from history.
Assured that he visited Italy, I give him, in my imagination, with some reasons on which to rest, a direct line of travel from Venice, through Padua, Bologna, and Florence, to Pisa. I do not say he forbore to go a little out of his way to visit Verona, the scene of his own Romeo and Juliet, nor that he did not even see Rome; but I have no grounds for such a supposition.
Should my arguments be unavailing with my readers, I have, at any rate, made known his wonderful graphic skill in representing to the life Italian characters, and Italian manners and customs,-solely from books and hearsay.
Before I take leave of this period of his life, I must notice, in addition to the fact of his having paid off the debt on his mother's property, and the probability of his having assisted his impoverished father, the coat of arms obtained by him or through his means, from the herald's office. I look upon it as an act of filial affection, a gratifying distinction to the old man among his townsmen after his misfortunes—a trophy of his son's fame and prosperity. We may be assured
he was not permitted to stand in need, in any way, of more solid advantages; and indeed we know he ceased to be poor as his son became rich. Yet have I read of this coat of arms as an evidence of Shakespeare's vanity and presumption,-nay, of worse! Dr. Lardner unfeelingly strains every nerve to make us believe it was obtained by "falsehood,—a falsehood too glaring to be supported ;" and concludes with these irreverent words,-" Altogether the affair is discreditable to the father, to the poet himself, and to the two kings at arms." Dr. Lardner should have stated a clearer case, and not one built on assumptions, and supported by a confusion of documents, before he ventured on such language-ungrateful in every sense. It is possible that Shakespeare himself, as a landproprietor in his native county, desired to hold this distinction of a gentleman, for such a heraldic instrument was of incomparably more importance to him than it is to any one in these days; but I always regard it as a testimony of love towards his father, in whose name it was made.
HIS LIFE, FROM 1600 TO 1616.
DURING this period, from the age of six-and-thirty till his death, all we read tends to prove that his days were passed in uninterrupted happiness. Not that I can imagine he was, at any time after his arrival in London, painfully struggling against misfortune of any kind. On the contrary, every thing we know of him is of a nature to contradict the vulgar notions that a poet must necessarily pass the prime of his life in poverty-that he is not duly acknowledged while he lives or he is a profligate, or strangely deficient in worldly wisdom, or ever suffering under a feverish excitement from envious criticism. Yet, by an unaccountable perversion, unless it be that writers presume on the absence of direct information, or that there is a secret satisfaction, in some minds, to decry the apparent happiness of our superiors, it is certain that Shakespeare has been represented as a most unenviable being.
From his various biographers we gather, by consulting them together, that he was prosperous only when about to leave the world, that his fame was
nothing while he lived, that a powerful host, headed by Ben Jonson, incessantly assailed, and with effect, his popularity, and that his moral character will not endure examination. The facts of his having purchased land at the early age of thirty-three, and that in ten years more, he had amassed what may be called a fortune, establish his co-existing popularity beyond a doubt. Nor was he merely popular with the multitude, but admired by the most brilliant wits, and favoured at both the royal courts of his time, so that he must also have been, what is termed, a fashionable poet; for Ben Jonson, once erroneously styled his detractor, speaks of his "flights,'
"That so did take Eliza and our James !"
The unruffled progress of his days, his exemption from misfortune, his tranquillity, in some measure may account for the little public notice that was taken of a man so high in fame. It appears to have been foreign to his nature to enter into literary turmoils, and thrust himself into notoriety. He was unwilling to disturb and endanger his happiness; such was his wisdom. A man, once in the temple of fame, should beware of descending among the crowd in its precincts.
While speaking on the several subjects belonging to the purpose of this volume, it is useless to promise impartiality; perhaps such a promise was never yet kept. All I can engage to avoid, is unfounded panegyric, and the willing concealment of any thing which might injure the groundwork of my arguments. Should I assume more than my authorities allow, or attempt to deduce inconsequences, my error will be apparent.