THOMAS SHADWELL, an English dramatic poet, wag descended of a good family in the county of Stafford, but born at Stanton-hall, in Norfolk, a seat of his father's, about 1640. He was educated at Caius college in Cambridge, and afterwards placed in the Middle Temple; where be studied the law some time, and then went abroad. Upon his return from his travels he applied himself to the drama, and wrote seventeen plays, with a success which introduced him to the notice of several persons of wit and rank, by whom he was highly esteemed. At the Revolution he was, by his interest with the earl of Dorset, made historiographer and poet-laureat; and when some persons urged that there were authors who had better pretensions to the laurel, his lordship is said to have replied, "that he did not pretend to determine how great a poet Shadwell might be, but was sure that he was an honest man." He succeeded Dryden as poet-laureat; for Dryden had so warmly espoused the opposite interest, that at the Revolution he was dispossessed of his place. This, however, Dryden considered as an indignity, and resented it very warmly. He had once been on friendly terms with Shadwell, but some critical differences appear to have first separated them, and now Dryden introduced Shadwell in his Mac-Fleckno, in these lines:
Others to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense;
which certainly was unjust, for though as a poet Shadwell is not to be mentioned with Dryden, as a writer of comedy he had no superior in that age. His comedies abound in original characters, strongly marked and well sustained, and the manners of the time are more faithfully and minutely delineated than in any author we are acquainted with. Shadwell is said to have written rapidly, and in the preface to his "Psyche" he tells us that that tragedy, by no means, however, his best performance, was written by him in five weeks.
Lord Rochester had such an opinion of his conversation that he said "if Shadwell had burnt all he wrote, and printed all he spoke, he would have had more wit and humour than any other poet." Considering Rochester's character, this, we are afraid, confirms the account of some contemporary writers, that Shadwell, in conversation, was often grossly indecent and profane. Shadwell was a great favourite with Otway, and lived in intimacy with him; which might, perhaps, he the occasion of Dryden's expressing so much contempt for Otway, which was surely less excusable than his hostility towards our author. Shadwell died Dec. 6, 1692; and his death was occasioned, as some say, by a too large dose of opium, given him by mistake. A white marble monument with his bust is erected in Westminster abbey by his son sir John Shadwell, and his funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Nicolas Brady, the translator of the Psalms, who tells us that "he was a man of great honesty and integrity, and had a real love of truth and sincerity, an inviolable fidelity and strictness to his word, an unalterable friendship wheresoever he professed it, and (however the world may be deceived in him) a much deeper sense of religion than many others have, who pretend to it more openly."
Besides his dramatic writings, he was the author of several pieces of poetry, but none of any great merit: the chief are his congratulatory poem on the prince of Orange's coming to England; another on queen Mary; a translation of the tenth satire of Juvenal, &c. The best edition of his works was printed in 1720, 4 vols. 12mo.
Our author's son, Dr. JOHN Shadwell, was physician to queen Anne, George I. and George II. by the former of whom he was knighted. In August 1699, he attended the earl of Manchester, who then went to Paris as ambassador extraordinary to Louis XIV. and continued therewith that nobleman till his return to England in Sept. 1701. He died Dec. 4, 1747.
There was a Charles Shadwell, a dramatic writer, who, Jacob tells us, was nephew to the poet-laureat, but Chetwood, in his "British Theatre," says he was his younger son. He had served in Portugal, and enjoyed a post in the revenue in Dublin, in which city he died August 12, 1726. He wrote seven dramatic pieces, all which, excepting the "Fair Quaker of Deal," and the "Humours of the Army," made their appearance on the Irish stage only, and are printed together in one volume, 1720, 12mo.