1750 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Shadwell

William Oldys, ca. 1750; in Censura Literaria 1 (1805) 181-82n.



Thomas Shadwell was born at Stanton-Hall in Norfolk, 1640. His father had eleven children. He was bred up at Bury school, and Caius College in Cambridge. At the age of twenty-three years he went over to Ireland, and at four months end returned. His father was bred to the law, and had a place of profit and distinction in his profession in Ireland, and when Tom returned from Ireland he had chambers in the Middle Temple. His father bestowed the learning and exercises of a gentleman upon him, as music, &c. which himself tells us in his dedication to the 10th Satire of Juvenal to Sir Charles Sedley. See the Preface of Henry Higden's Modern Essay on the 10th Satire of Juvenal with annotations, dedicated to Richard Lord Lumley, with verses prefixed by Dryden, Mrs. Behn, and E. Settle; — in which preface this author laughs at Shadwell's Translation of Juvenal, and at him too. It is printed in 4to. 1689, in fifty-eight pages.

Notwithstanding that Lord Rochester has said,

None seem to touch upon true comedy,
But hasty Shadwell and slow Wycherley;

yet that Lord had a better opinion of his conversation than his writings, when he said, that if Shadwell had burned all he wrote, and printed all his spoke, he would have shewn more wit and humour than any other poet. But the wit of his conversation was often very immoral, obscene, and profane. By which course having meanness of spirit and servility to render himself ridiculous and contemptible to men of fortune, title, and wit, he got their favour and assistance, under the pretence of being a useful instrument of the Revolution. Lord Lansdowne has a short discourse on these two lines above, against the remark of Wycherley's being a slow writer.

I have heard that Dorset, Sedley, and others of those idle wits would write whole scenes for him.

Shadwell died Nov. 1691, aged about 57 (but qu. the date of his birth above?) — See his Life before his plays, in 3 vols. 12mo. 1720, published by his son John Shadwell, and dedicated to the King. He also wrote that account of his father's Life before it, and the epitaphy at the end in Latin, in which Bishop Sprat prevailed on him to retrench part of the high encomium he had given of the plays, unseemly to be read in a church: but here the castrated inscription is restored according to the original as it is said in his life.

Upon the death of Mr. Shadwell, see a character of him as a comic writer and useful in his degree, no sublime genius, or master of an elegant style, in P. Motteux's Gentleman's Journal, or Monthly Miscellany for Nov. 1692, p. 21, and of his being succeeded by Tate as Poet Laureate, and by Rymer as Historiographer; also of his posthumous comedy The Volunteers.

His wife, Anne Shadwell, acted in Otway's Don Carlos.

His son, sir John Shadwell, knight, physician to Q. Anne, died 4 Jan. 1747. Gent. Mag. vol. xvii. p. 47.