Page images




[ocr errors]




SHAKSPEARE's dedication of his Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton, in 1593; the accomplishments, the liberality, and the virtues of this amiable nobleman, and the substantial patronage which, according to tradition, he bestowed upon our poet, together claim for him, in this place, a more than cursory notice as to life and character.

Thomas Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield, was born on the sixth of October, 1573. His grandfather had been created an Earl in the reign of Henry the Eighth; and his father, who married Mary, the daughter of Anthony, first Viscount of Montague, was a strenuous supporter of the rights of Mary Queen of Scots. Just previous to the completion of his eighth year, he suffered an irreparable loss by the death of his father, on the 4th of October, 1581. His mother, however, appears to have been by no means negligent of his education; for he was early sent to Cambridge, being matri



culated there when only twelve years old, on the 11th of December, 1585. He was admitted of St. John's College, where, on the 6th of June, 1589, he took his degree of Master of Arts, and, after a residence of nearly five years in the University, he finally left it for Town, to complete his course of studies at Gray's Inn, of which place, in June, 1590, he had entered himself a member.

The circumstances which, so shortly after Lord Southampton's arrival in London, induced Shakspeare to select him as his patron, may, with an assurance almost amounting to certainty, be ascribed to the following event. Not long after the death of her husband, Lady Southampton married Sir Thomas Heneage, treasurer of the chamber, an office which necessarily led him into connection with actors and dramatic writers. Of this intercourse Lord Southampton, at the age of seventeen, was very willing to avail himself, and his subsequent history evinces, that, throughout life, he retained a passionate attachment to dramatic exhibitions. No stronger proof, indeed, can be given of his love for the theatre, than what an anecdote related by Rowland Whyte affords us, who, in a letter to Sir Robert Sydney, dated October 11th, 1599, tells his correspondent, that “ my Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland come not to the Court (at Nonesuch). The one doth but very seldome. They pass away the tyme in London merely in going to plaies EVERY DAY.


To a young nobleman thus inclined, imbued with a keen relish for dramatic poetry, who was ardent in his thirst for fame, and liberal in the encouragement of genius, it was natural for our poet to look not only with hope and expectation, but with enthusiastic regard. To Lord Southampton, therefore, though only nineteen years old, Shakspeare, in his twenty-ninth year†, dedicated his Venus and Adonis, "the first heire of his invention."


Sydney Papers, vol. ii. p. 132.

+ Venus and Adonis was entered on the Stationers' Books, by Richard Field, April 18.

1593, six days before its author completed the twenty-ninth year of his age.

The language of this dedication, however, indicates some degree of apprehension as to the nature of its reception, and consequently proves that our author was not at this period assured of His Lordship's support; for it commences thus:-" Right Honorable, I'know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship;" and he adds in the opening of the next clause, " onely if your Honor seeme but pleased, I account myselfe highly praised." These timidities appear to have vanished in a very short period: for our author's dedication to the same nobleman of his Rape of Lucrece, which was entered on the Stationers' Books on May 9th, 1594, and published almost immediately afterwards, speaks a very different language, and indicates very plainly that Shakspeare had already experienced the beneficial effects of His Lordship's patronage. Gratitude and confidence, indeed, cannot express themselves in clearer terms than may be found in the diction of this address: "The love I dedicate to Your Lordship," says the bard," is without end. — The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duety would shew greater; meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship." Words more declaratory of obligation it would not be easy to select, and we shall be justified, therefore, in inferring, that Lord Southampton had conferred upon Shakspeare, in consequence of his dedication to him of Venus and Adonis, some marked proof of his kindness and protection.

[ocr errors]

Tradition has recorded, among other instances of this nobleman's pecuniary bounty, that he, at one time, gave Shakspeare a thousand pounds, in order to complete a purchase, a sum which in these days would be equal in value to more than five times its original amount.

* "There is one instance," says Rowe, who first mentioned the anecdote, "so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William Davenant, who was probably very well acquainted

This may be, and probably is, an exaggeration; but that it has been founded on the well-known liberality of Lord Southampton to Shakspeare; on a certain knowledge that donations had passed from the peer to the poet, there can be little doubt. It had become the custom of the age to reward dedication by pecuniary bounty, and that Lord Southampton was diffusively and peculiarly generous in this mode of remuneration, we have the express testimony of Florio, who, dedicating his World of Words to this nobleman in 1598, says :“In truth, I acknowledge an entire debt, not only of my best knowledge, but of all; yea of more than I know, or can to your bounteous lordship, in whose pay and patronage I have lived some years; to whom I owe and vowe the years I have to live. But, as to me, and many more, the glorious and gracious sunshine of your honour hath infused light and life." Here, if we except the direct confession relative to "pay," the language is similar to, and not more emphatically expressive of gratitude than was Shakspeare's; and that, under the phrase "many more, many more," Florio meant to include our poet, we may, without scruple, infer. To an actor, to a rising dramatic writer, to one who had placed the first fruits of his genius under his protection, and who was still contending with the difficulties incident to his situation, the taste, the generosity, and the feeling of Lord Southampton, would naturally be attracted; and the donation which, in all probability, followed the dedication of Venus and Adonis, we have reason, from the voice of tradition, to conclude, was succeeded by many, and still more important, proofs of His Lordship's favour. The patronage of literature, however, was not the only inclination which, at this early period of life, His Lordship cultivated with enthusiasm; the year subsequent to his receival of Shakspeare's dedication of The Rape of Lucrece, saw him entangled in all the perplexities of

with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted; that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time." Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 67.

love, and the devoted slave of the faire Mrs. Varnon. Of this attachment, which was thwarted by the caprice of Elizabeth, Rowland Whyte, in a letter to Sir Henry Sydney, dated September 23rd, 1595, writes in the following terms:-" My Lord Southampton doth with too much familiarity court the faire Mrs. Varnon, while his friends, observing the Queen's humours towards my Lord of Essex, do what they can to bring her to favour him; but it is yet in vain.” * This young lady, Elizabeth Vernon, was the cousin of the celebrated Earl of Essex, between whom and Southampton differences had arisen, which this passion for his fair relative dissipated for ever.

Yet the fascinations of love could not long restrain the ardent spirit of Lord Southampton. In 1597, when Lord Essex was appointed General of the forces destined to act against the Azores, Southampton, at the age of twenty-four, gallantly came forward as a volunteer, on board the Garland, one of Her Majesty's best ships, -an offer which was soon followed by a commission from Essex to command her. An opportunity speedily occurred for the display of his courage; in an engagement with the Spanish fleet, he pursued and sunk one of the enemy's largest men of war, and was wounded in the arm, during the conflict. ‡ Sir William Monson, one of the Admirals of the expedition, tells us, that the Earl lost time in this chase, which might have been better employed §; but his friend Essex appears to have considered his conduct in a different light, and conferred upon him, during his voyage, the honour of knighthood.

* Sydney Papers, vol. i. p. 348.

+ "There were present, at this Council, the Earl of Southampton, with whom, in former times, he (Essex) had been at some emulations, and differences, at Court: But, after, Southampton, having married his Kinswoman, plunged himself wholly into his fortune," &c. Declaration of the Treason of the Earl of Essex, sign. D. quoted by Mr. Chalmers, Supplement. Apology, p. 110.

Rowland Whyte informs us, that "Lord Southampton fought with one of the king's great men of war, and sunk her." Sydney Papers, vol. ii. p. 72; but Sir William Monson calls this man of war "a frigate of the Spanish fleet."

Account of the Wars with Spain, p. 38.

« PreviousContinue »