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It is said, our author spent some years before his death in case, retirement, and the conversation of his friends, at his native Stratford. I could never pick up any certain intelligence, when he relinquished the stage. I know, it has been mistakenly thought by some, that Spenser's Thalia, in his Tears of his Muses, where she laments the loss of her Willy in the comick scene, has been applied to our author's quitting the flage. But Spenser himself, it is well known, quitted the stage of life in the year 1598; and five years after this, we find Shakspeare's name among the actors in Ben Jonson's Sejanus, which first made its appearance in the year 1603. Nor, furely, could he then have any thoughts of retiring, fince that very year a licence under the privy-seal was granted by King James I. to him and Fletcher, Burbage, Phillippes, Hemings, Condell, &cc. authorizing them to exercise the art of playing comedies, tragedies, &c. as well at their usual house called The Globe on the other side of the water, as in any other parts of the kingdom, during his majesty's pleasure (a copy of which licence is preserved in Rymer's Fædera). Again, it is certain, that Shakspeare did not exhibit his Macbeth till after the Union was brought about, and till after King James I. had begun to touch for the evil: for it is plain, he has inserted compliments on both those accounts, upon his royal master in that tragedy. Nor, indeed, could the number of the dramatcik pieces, he produced, admit of his retiring near lo carly as that period. So that what Spenser there fays, if it relate at all to Shakspeare, must hint at some occasional recess he made for a time upon a disgus taken: or the Willy, there mentioned, must relate to fome other favourite poet. I believe, we may safely determine, that he had not quitted in the year 1610. For, in his Tempejl, our author makes mention of the Bermuda islands, which were unknown to the English, till, in ibog, Sir John Summers made a voyage to North-America, and discovered them, and afterwards invited some of his countrymen to settle a plantation there. That he became the private gentlenian at least three years before his decease, is pretty obvious from another circumstances I mean, from that remarkable and well-known story, which Mr. Rowe has given us of our author's intimacy with Mr. John Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury, and upon whom Shakspeare made the following facetious epitaph:
16 Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd,
6. Oh! oh! quoth tlie devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe." This sarcastical piece of wit was, at the gentle: mari's own request, thrown out extemporally in his company. And this Mr. John Combe I take to be the same, who, by Dugdale in his Antiquities of War: wickshire, is said to have died in the year 1614,9 and for whom, at the upper end of the quire of the Guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford, a fair monument is erected, having a flatue thereon cut in alabaster, and in a gown, with this epitaph: 66 Here lieth interred the body of John Combe, Esq; who died the 10th
By Mr. Combe's Will, which is now in the Prerogativeoffice in London, Shakfpeere had a legacy of five pounds bea queathed to him: The Will is without any date. REED. Vol. I.
of July, 1614, who bequeathed several annual charities to the parish of Stratford, and 100l. to be lent to fifteen poor tradefmen from three years to three years, changing the parties every third year, at the rate of fifty shillings per annum, tlie increase to be distributed to the almes-poor there.”—The
_ donation has all the air of a rich and sagacious ufurer.
Shakspeare himself did not survive Mr. Combe long, for he died in the year 1616, the 53d of his age.
He lies buried on the north fide of the chancel in the great church at Stratford; where a monument, decent enough for the time, is erected to him and placed against the wall.
He is represented under an arch in a fitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left rested on a scrowl of paper. The Latin disich which is placed under the cushion, has been given us by Mr. Pope, or his graver, in this manner.
“ INGENIO Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
" Terra tegit, populus moret, Olympus habet.” I confess, I do not conceive the difference betwixt ingenio and genio in the first verse. They seem to me intirely fynonymous terms; nor was the Pylian sage Nestor celebrated for his ingenuity, but for an experience and judgment owing to his long age. Dugdale in his Antiquities of WarwickJhire, has copied this disich with a distinction which Mr. Rowe has followed, and which cera' trinly restores us the true meaning of this epitaph:
“JUDICIO Pylium, genio Socratem," &C.“
In 1614, the greater part of the town of Stratford was consumed by fire; but our Shakspeare's house, among some others, escaped the flames. This house was first built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighbourhood, who took their name from the manor of Clopton. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III. and Lord-Mayor in the reign of King Henry VII. To this gentleman the town of Stratford is indebted for the fine stone bridge, consisting of fourteen arches, which, at an extraordinary expence, he built over the Avon, together with a causeway running at the west-end thereof; as also for rebuilding the chapel adjoining to his house, and the cross-aisle in the church there. It is remarkable of him, that, though he lived and died a bachelor, among the other extensive charities which he left both to the city of London and town of Stratford, he bequeathed confiderable legacies for the marriage of poor maidens of good name and fame both in London and at Stratford. Notwithstanding which large donations in his life, and bequests at his death, as he had purchased the manor of Clopton and all the estate of the family; fo he left the same again to his elder brother's son with a very great addition: (a proof how well beneficence and oeconomy may walk hand in hand in wise families): good part of which estate is yet in the poffeffion of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally defcended from the elder brother of the first Sir Hugh, who particularly bequeathed to his nephew, by his will, his house, by the name of his Great Houfe in Stratford,
The estate had now been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the purchaser; who, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New-place, which the mansion-house, since erected upon the same spot, at this day retains. The house and lands, which attended it, continued in Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the Refloration; when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family, and the mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. To the favour of this worthy gentleman I owe the knowledge of one particular, in honour of our poet's once dwellinghouse, of which, I presume, Mr. Rowe never was apprized. When the civil war raged in England, and King Charles the First's queen was driven by the necessity of affairs to make a recess in Warwickshire, she kept her court for three weeks in New-place. We may reasonably suppose it then the best private house in the town; and her majesty preferred it to the college, which was in the posfellion of the Combe family, who did not so strongly favour the king's party.
How much our author employed himself in poetry, after his retirement from the stage, does not so evidently appear: very few posthumous sketches of his pen have been recovered, to ascertain that point We have been told, indeed, in print, but not till very lately, that two large chests full of this great man's loose papers and manufcripts, in the hands of an ignorant baker of Warwick, (who married one of the descendants from
2 See an answer to Mr. Pope's Preface to Shakspeare, by Strolling Player, 8vo. p. 45. REED.