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been under an engagement, with his partners in the theatre, not to print them for a certain term of years, in order to increase their value as acting plays ; and, lastly, the strongest reason of all, and one which can be tolerably substantiated, an unexpected death might have put an end to his intention.
How comes it that no one has referred to the suddenness of his death ? His will is signed by an enfeebled hand, though it states he was “ in perfect health and memory;" which may mean an apparent recovery from disease, believed in as a return to health, or, legally speaking, perfect health of mind. In less than a month after making his will, he was no
It is useless to guess at the length of time he might have been ill; but assuredly he was dead, to all literary intents, from the day he was struck by a mortal sickness, of whatever nature it might have been. Should it be argued that the declaration of
perfect health” must be taken according to the letter, in spite of the appearance of his hand-writing, the suddenness of his death is certain. Perhaps the most likely solution is that, though no more than fifty-two years of age, he had been gradually sinking in strength before he made his will, and that he never recovered. Still the sinking in strength is equivalent to death, from the day he was sensible of it, as far as the labour of preparing his works for the press was concerned. But to put this question beyond reasonable dispute, his death was spoken of in London as sudden; at least, which comes to the same thing, the sad news from Stratford was unexpected.
In proof of this, we have some verses to his memory
by his contemporaries. We find, in a sonnet signed “ Hugh Holland,” that the last line but one is,
“ For though his line of life went soon about.” J. M., supposed to have been John Marston, wrote a few lines on his works. They begin with “ We wonder'd, Shakespeare, that thou went'st so soon From the world's stage to the grave's tyring-room.”
But there are a few words, in the Dedication to the first folio, by Heminge and Condell, his personal friends and copartners, of strong implication that not only was his death unexpected, but that it was his intention to publish his dramas himself. His works, they say, "outliving him, and he not having the fate, common with some, to be exequtor to his owne writings," &c. How can these expressions be interpreted otherwise than thus ?-" It was his intention to be the executor of his own writings, but he was prevented by an untimely fate.” And in still stronger words, they say in their Preface,—“ It had beene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have been wished, that the author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath been ordained otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you, &c."
As for the patience with which, we are told, he endured the piracies of booksellers, and the use they made of his name to works not written by him, this by no means proves that he was reckless of his productions. It may with equal force be said, that, resolved to publish his works himself, their piracies and abuse of his name would, in the end, do him no
injury. But it is not clear that he was patient; all we know, is, that he and his partners were called the “grand possessors ;” and that to steal from them any one of his plays, was so far difficult, as to be a matter of public boasting, as may be seen in the preface to the first edition, 1609, of Troilus and Cressida.
We have, therefore, good circumstantial evidence, that, had life been spared him a few years longer, he would have given us a complete edition of his works, possibly much corrected; and there is not a shadow of evidence to the contrary.
Let us turn to his works for farther information. It would be an easy task to bring forward a long list of quotations from his plays, proving the high value he set on a spotless reputation during life, and his love of an enduring fame; but every one of them might meet with the objection of its dramatic propriety, and consequent inapplicability to his own feelings. Were it necessary, such an objection might be withstood on general, if not on particular, grounds ; but we need not go farther than his five Poems to his friend. Here his love of fame is amply shown, by the delight he expresses in his absolute security of it; witness the Envoy to the second poem : “ Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme,” &c. This reminds us of Horace's boast, “ Exegi monumentum ære perennius :" but it is not a solitary expression of the kind; a vast many of the stanzas are in the same prophetic spirit. His assurance of a never-dying fame is as much his theme, as the perishable bloom of youth and personal beauty of his friend. In fact, these Poems almost prove too much; that he was in such certain possession of fame, as not to take any farther pains about it: but, as I observed, while speaking of these Poems, the boast is subservient to the compliment he is paying.
Here two curious questions offer themselves. Did he rely on the merits of these Poems alone, for immortal fame? or, on the excellence of his dramasthose written before 1598—for making any poem he was pleased to write immortal ? Strange as it may appear, I would agree with the latter question, if one only were proposed; otherwise I would agree with the two together; and wish also to include his earnest, well-founded hope, at the time, of writing such tragedies as Lear, Othello, and Macbeth. However slight may be the general estimation of these five Poems, they bear strong indications of having been written carefully; and I have no doubt they were estimated by the author next in value to his dramatic works ;and so indeed they are.
“ And 'tis a kind of good deed, to say well.”
Henry the Eighth.
Never having seen more than the outside of Mr. Bowdler's purified edition of Shakespeare, it is impossible for me to applaud him for having omitted the above line; but doubtless he has not permitted it to pollute the text. Nothing can be compared to it, in immorality, throughout his works. It has corrupted, and continues to corrupt, the whole country; for to what else can we impute the general observance of scrupulous words as substitutes for morality ? to what else the perpetual “saying well,” as a proof of “a kind of good deed ?” We go on the principle that no critical fault can be found in man, or woman either, which is undeniable in its wording. That line has done infinite mischief. We see it is put in the mouth of that father of the glorious Reformation, our eighth Harry, and we bow to his authority; never daring to mingle with the character of that pious king his peculiar private failings, because they cannot be spoken of without an injury to our
sense of decorum. To be sure, we dearly love drinking; but