The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume II Part 3

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Mr. Philips and Mr. Winstanley, according to their old custom, have ascribed two other anonymous plays to our author: The Woman Hater Arraigned, a Comedy, and Charles the First, a Tragedy, which Langbaine has shewn not to be his.

JAMES s.h.i.+RLEY,

A very voluminous dramatic author, was born in the city of London, and: was descended from the s.h.i.+rleys in Suffex or Warwicks.h.i.+re; he was educated in grammar learning in Merchant Taylors school, and transplanted thence to St. John's College, but in what station he lived there, we don't find.

Dr. William Laud, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, presiding over that house, conceived a great affection for our author, and was willing to cherish and improve those promising abilities early discoverable in him. Mr. s.h.i.+rley had always an inclination to enter into holy orders, but, for a very particular reason, was discouraged from attempting it by Dr. Laud; this reason to some may appear whimsical and ridiculous, but has certainly much weight and force in it.

s.h.i.+rley had unfortunately a large mole upon his left cheek, which much disfigured him, and gave him a very forbidding appearance. Laud observed very justly, that an audience can scarce help conceiving a prejudice against a man whose appearance shocks them, and were he to preach with the tongue of an angel, that prejudice could never be surmounted; besides the danger of women with child fixing their eyes on him in the pulpit, and as the imagination of pregnant women has strange influence on the unborn infants, it is somewhat cruel to expose them to that danger, and by these means do them great injury, as ones fortune in some measure depends upon exterior comeliness[1].

But s.h.i.+rley, who was resolute to be in orders, left that university soon after, went to Cambridge, there took the degrees in arts, and became a minister near St. Alban's in Hertfords.h.i.+re; but never having examined the authority, and purity of the Protestant Church, and being deluded by the sophistry of some Romish priests, he changed his religion for theirs[2], quitted his living, and taught a grammar school in the town of St. Alban's; which employment he finding an intolerable drudgery, and being of a fickle unsteady temper, he relinquished it, came up to London, and took lodgings in Gray's Inn, where he commenced a writer for the stage with tolerable success. He had the good fortune to gain several wealthy and beneficent patrons, especially Henrietta Maria the Queen Consort, who made him her servant.

When the civil war broke out, he was driven from London, and attended upon his Royal Mistress, while his wife and family were left in a deplorable condition behind him. Some time after that, when the Queen of England was forced, by the fury of opposition, to sollicit succours from France, in order to reinstate her husband; our author could no longer wait upon her, and was received into the service of William Cavendish, marquis of Newcastle, to take his fortune with him in the wars. That n.o.ble spirited patron had given him such distinguis.h.i.+ng marks of his liberality, as s.h.i.+rley thought himself happy in his service, especially as by these means he could at the same time serve the King.

Having mentioned Henrietta Maria, s.h.i.+rley's Royal Mistress, the reader will pardon a digression, which flows from tenderness, and is no more than an expression of humanity. Her life-time in England was embittered with a continued persecution; she lived to see the unhappy death of her Lord; she witnessed her exiled sons, not only oppressed with want, but obliged to quit France, at the remonstrance of Cromwel's amba.s.sador; she herself was loaded with poverty, and as Voltaire observes, "was driven to the most calamitous situation that ever poor lady was exposed to; she was obliged to sollicit Cromwel to pay her an allowance, as Queen Dowager of England, which, no doubt, she had a right to demand; but to demand it, nay worse, to be obliged to beg it of a man who shed her Husband's blood upon a scaffold, is an affliction, so excessively heightened, that few of the human race ever bore one so severe."

After an active service under the marquis of Newcastle, and the King's cause declining beyond hope of recovery, s.h.i.+rley came again to London, and in order to support himself and family, returned his former occupation of teaching a school, in White Fryars, in which he was pretty successful, and, as Wood says, 'educated many ingenious youths, who, afterwards in various faculties, became eminent.' After the Restoration, some of the plays our author had written in his leisure moments, were represented with success, but there is no account whether that giddy Monarch ever rewarded him for his loyalty, and indeed it is more probable he did not, as he pursued the duke of Lauderdale's maxim too closely, of making friends of his enemies, and suffering his friends to s.h.i.+ft for themselves, which infamous maxim drew down dishonour on the administration and government of Charles II. Wood further remarks, that s.h.i.+rley much a.s.sisted his patron, the duke of Newcastle, in the composition of his plays, which the duke afterwards published, and was a drudge to John Ogilby in his translation of Homer's Iliad and Odysseys, by writing annotations on them. At length, after Mr. s.h.i.+rley had lived to the age of 72, in various conditions, having been much agitated in the world, he, with his second wife, was driven by the dismal conflagration that happened in London, Anno 1666, from his habitation in Fleet-street, to another in St. Giles's in the Fields. Where, being overcome with miseries occasioned by the fire, and bending beneath the weight of years, they both died in one day, and their bodies were buried in one grave, in the churchyard of St. Giles's, on October 29, 1666.

The works of this author

1. Changes, or Love in a Maze, a Comedy, acted at a private house in Salisbury Court, 1632.

2. Contention for Honour and Riches, a Masque, 1633.

3. Honoria and Mammon, a Comedy; this Play is grounded on the abovementioned Masque.

4. The Witty Fair One, a Comedy, acted in Drury Lane, 1633.

5. The Traitor, a Tragedy, acted by her Majesty's servants, 1635. This Play was originally written by Mr. Rivers, a jesuit, but altered by s.h.i.+rley.

6. The Young Admiral, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at a private house in Drury Lane, 1637.

7. The Example, a Tragi-Comedy, acted in Drury Lane by her Majesty's Servants, 1637.

8. Hyde Park, a Comedy, acted in Drury Lane, 1637.

9. The Gamester, a Comedy, acted in Drury Lane, 1637; the plot is taken from Queen Margate's Novels, and the Unlucky Citizen.

10. The Royal Master, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Theatre in Dublin, 1638.

11. The Duke's Mistress, a Tragi-Comedy, acted by her Majesty's servants, 1638.

12. The Lady of Pleasure, a Comedy, acted at a private house in Drury Lane, 1638.

13. The Maid's Revenge, a Tragedy, acted at a private house in Drury Lane, with applause, 1639.

13 [sic]. Chabot, Admiral of France, a Tragedy, acted in Drury Lane, 1639; Mr. Chapman joined in this play; the story may be found in the histories of the reign of Francis I.

15. The Ball, a Comedy, acted in Drury Lane, 1639; Mr. Chapman likewise a.s.sisted in this Comedy.

16. Arcadia, a Dramatic Pastoral, performed at the Phaenix in Drury Lane by the Queen's servants, 1649.

17. St. Patrick for Ireland, an Historical Play, 1640; for the plot see Bedes's Life of St. Patrick, &c.

18. The Humorous Courtier, a Comedy, presented at a private house in Drury Lane, 1640.

19. Love's Cruelty, a Tragedy, acted by the Queen's servants, 1640.

20. The Triumph of Beauty, a Masque, 1646; part of this piece seems to be taken from Shakespear's Midsummer's Night's Dream, and Lucian's Dialogues.

21. The Sisters, a Comedy, acted at a private house in Black Fryars, 1652.

22. The Brothers, a Comedy, 1652.

23. The Doubtful Heir, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at Black Fryars, 1652.

24. The Court Secret, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at a private house in Black Fryars, 1653, dedicated to the Earl of Strafford; this play was printed before it was acted.

25. The Impostor, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at a private house in Black Fryars, 1653.

26. The Politician, a Tragedy, acted in Salisbury Court, 1655; part of the plot is taken from the Countess of Montgomery's Urania.

27. The Grateful Servant, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at a private house in Drury Lane, 1655.

28. The Gentleman of Venice, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at a private house in Salisbury Court. Plot taken from Gayron's Notes on Don Quixote.

29. The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses for Achilles's Armour, a Masque, 1658. It is taken from Ovid's Metamorphosis, b. xiii.

30. Cupid and Death, a Masque, 1658.

30 [sic]. Love Tricks, or the School of Compliments, a Comedy, acted by the Duke of York's servants in little Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, 1667.

31. The Constant Maid, or Love will find out the Way, a Comedy, acted at the New House called the Nursery, in Hatton Garden, 1667.

33. The Opportunity, a Comedy, acted at the private house in Drury Lane by her Majesty's servants; part of this play is taken from Shakespear's Measure for Measure.

34. The Wedding, a Comedy, acted at the Phaenix in Drury Lane.

35. A Bird in a Cage, a Comedy, acted in Drury Lane.

36. The Coronation, a Comedy. This play is printed with Beaumont's and Fletcher's.

37. The Cardinal, a Tragedy, acted at a private house in Black Fryars.

38. The Triumph of Peace, a Masque, presented before the King and Queen at Whitehall, 1633, by the Gentlemen of the Four Inns of Court.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume II Part 3

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