Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

and in competence, amidst a circle of his friends. Whatever may have been the frailties of his early days, he had the prudence to save a respectable fortune from the exertions of his maturer years, with which he returned to his native town, and bought a house and land, upon which he lived till his death : the residence was called New Place. He had the satisfaction of seeing two out of his three daughters decently married; a third died single; and, though the others left children, yet the family soon became extinct.

The pleasurable wit and amiable good-humour for which Shakspeare was eminent, naturally obtained for him an acquaintance with the gentry of the neighbourhood, which, once established, was soon confirmed by friendship. Of such intimacies a story is still preserved about Stratford, at the cost of one Mr. Combe, an old man, noted for his wealth and usury, with whom Shakspeare was very intimate. It happened one evening, amidst their common friends, that Combe observed in a laughing way, that he fancied Shakspeare meant to write his epitaph in the event of survivorship, and as it would be impossible for the subject of it to know what might be said of him after death, he desired the thing might be settled forthwith. Upon which Shakspeare called for a pen, and wrote these four verses, the satire of which is said to have stung the miser so bitterly, that he never could forget the night's pastime, nor forgive the chief actor in it:

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Ten in the hundred lies here ingraved ;
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not saved :
If any man ask, who lies in this tomb ?
Oh! oh! quoth the Devil, 'tis my John a Combe.

Shakspeare died on his birth-day, in the 534 year of bis age, and was buried in the north chancel of the great church at Stratford, where a good bust was placed to his memory. On the grave-stone beneath appear these doggerel lines :

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Besides his plays, a small volume of Shakspeare's miscellaneous , poems has been collected; the chief among which are'. Venus and Adonis,' and · Tarquin and Lucrece.' This book, though altogether inferior in character and beauties to his other works, yet, can seldom be read without pleasure, or spoken of without praise.

The character of Shakspeare and his writings has always deservedly been, and always must remain, pre-eminently exalted. He is not only the finest tragic poet England has ever produced, but the most original genius the world has ever beheld. He could not borrow from any other language, antient or modern, for he was only conversant with his mother tongue; and, far from imitating the few crude examples he had in his own country, he raised a model of truth and nature, to which no time or place has hitherto apportioned an equal. Nothing in the history of the human mind can be compared to the rude darkness of the stage, when Shakspeare first trod it, and the unquenchable brightness he shed around its scenes before he left its boards.

It is also curious to mention, that he never blotted a line, nor inserted an amendment; it was with his mind, as with his manners; he overlooked his vices in the ungovernable conviction of his virtues. His mind was sublime and overreaching ; his fancy brilliant and inexhaustible; his expression infinite. If but little versed in human learning, he was the deeper skilled in the source of every knowledge-nature! All he did know, he had taught himself, and thus was the master of his own powers. Well may the student of Shakspeare's life and writings observe, in the homely terms of an old panegyrist :

-his works are such As neither man or Muse can praise too much :-

or exclaim more emphatically, in his own melancholy words

“We ne'er shall look upon his like again!"

840

GRANVILLE SHARP.

GRANVILLE SHARP has been deservedly honoured with multiplied memorials of gratitude and honour, as the father of many principles, which have elevated the character of modern liberty to an unprecedented chastity of feeling. His family has attained distinction in the established Church : his father, Dr. Thomas Sharp, was a Prebendary of Durham; and his great grandfather, Dr. J. Sharp, was Archbishop of York. Granville was born at Durham, during the year 1734, and received the rudiments of education at the grammar-school of that city. In the spring of 1750 he arrived in London, and was bound apprentice to a linen-draper on Great Tower Hill; but, after a service of three years, his master, one Halsey, died, and he changed his statica once or twice, in consequence of some conflicting judgments in the Lord Mayor's Court, upon the subject of the remaining period of his apprenticeship, which was concluded in the factory of Bourke and Co., Irish merchants, in Cheapside. His first master was a Quaker ; his second, an Independent; the Irishmen were Catholics; and some other person with whom he lived, appeared, according to Mr. Sharp's report, to have no religion at all. This experience, he was afterwards accustomed to say, early taught him to make proper distinctions between the religious opinions of men and their actions.

Sharp was a controversialist, even in his boyhood : he carried on disquisitions with singular freedom and spirit, not only with the different masters under whom he lived, but with the domestics in their several establishments. In order to prosecute this warfare with success, he read much, and in the issue became as remarkable for his learning as his philanthropy. Thus a dispute with a Unitarian who quoted Greek, determined him to study that language; and soon after, an altercation with a Jew encouraged him to become a master of Hebrew, on which tongue, as connected with the interpretation of the Pentateuch, he has publihed some critical pamphlets.

In 1757, the demise of his mother put him in possession of some ready money, and the interest of his family procured a subordinate situation for him in the Ordnance Office. It was under circumstances humble as these that his attention was first directed to a question which ultimately struck the chains of slavery from the limbs of millions, and wiped one of the most disgraceful uncertainties from the books of English law. This, too, was the noble achievement of an individual as nearly powerless as he was private. Passing through the streets of London, Granville Sharpe was one day struck with the miserable figure of a negro, trembling with want and sickness, and scarcely strong enough to beg for charity from the crowded passengers. Moved by the picture of misery, he stopped to enquire the poor fellow's story, and heard that he was a slave from Virginia, abandoned by the master who brought him to this country, because the change of climate had destroyed his health, and rendered him unequal to labour. The man's name was Somerset: being conveyed to Bartholomew's Hospital, he was there attended through the wants of his sickness, and upon his recovery provided with a decent situation, by the attention of Mr. Sharp.

But the labours of charity only made the slave again valuable to his inhuman master, who seized upon him as his property, and had him committed to prison as a runaway. The negro in this distress applied to his former benefactor, who immediate ly resorted to the Lord Mayor; and the consequence of the investigation between the parties, at the Mansion-House, was a declaration from his lordship that Somerset was free. But the master was still bent on his purpose ; he seized the slave by the collar, and impudently forced him towards his ship, declaring that he would sail without delay. Mr. Sharp was not remiss in claiming the protection of the law for the injuries of the sufferer: he prosecuted the master for an assault, and brought the slave by a writ of Habeas Corpus before the twelve judges, who after repeated hearings, and various sittings, at last solemnly and

unanimously declared, on the 7th of February, 1772, that “the power of slavery was in England acknowledged by no law, and can never be supported;" on the contrary, " that as soon as any slave sets his foot upon British ground, he is free!” The merit of this intrepid perseverance and firm benevolence could not fail to excite the deepest impressions. · From this moment slavery became the unceasing object of Sharp's honourable enmity; and every act that could enlarge the principles of universal freedom, the passion of his studies. With these feelings he published his tract, entitled “A Representation of the Injustice of Slavery in 1779,' and soon after collected a number of the deserted negroes, who were then begging about the purlieus of London, sent them back to Africa, and thus led to the establishment of our colony at Sierra Leone. Two institutions of the most laudable nature, and important services, resulted from these exertions: "The Society in opposition to the Slave Trade,' was founded in 178, and Granville Sharp being father of the cause was elected

! Chairman of the Committee. Some years afterwards the African Institution was established, and Mr. Sharp was chosen a director.

From this series of prosperity it is necessary to revert a little for the purpose of stating, that at the commencement of our unfortunate struggle with the Independence of the American Statis

, Sharp resigned his post in the Ordnance rather than be concerned, even in that distant capacity, either with any men, or any measures, that might tend to depress the cause of freedom throughout the world. This act, under existing circumstances, was him one of peculiar devotion ; for the expenses of his repeated suits at law, in the case of Somerset, had nearly exhausted his personal fortune; and almost his only prospects of competence lay in the emoluments of his office. These, however, he had the spirit not to admit into competition with his principles, and the protector of the helpless stood forward before the world in want of assistance himself. For many years after this event, he was necessitated to live with his brothers, who entertained him with infinite cordiality and affection.

In 1780, he was left a small legacy by a female relation ; and this second beginning of independence was in the course of a fer years augmented by the bequests made to him on some other

in

« EdellinenJatka »