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speare and his contemporaries, would not be surprising ; but to find him, classicist as he was, deliberately putting Shakespeare above all writers of any date is a very notable proof of critical acumen.
Neither did the combat end here. The enemies of Shakespeare would not give in: so it came to a trial of skill. The place agreed on for these literary jousts was Hales's rooms at Eton ; a number of books were sent down, and on the appointed day Lord Falkland and Suckling, and several other persons of wit and quality came down; the books were opened, and Shakespeare was arraigned before antiquity, and unanimously (except for Sir John) awarded the palm. We may be sure it would have been different if old Ben Jonson had been present ; there would have been less unanimity and more heat ; but he was much troubled with symptoms of an old, recurrent paralysis, of which he had only partly got the better, and he was melancholic and therefore kept away. Still it is a scene to think of with envy-little Lord Falkland with his untuneable voice, brisk wit, and sweet manner, moderating the assembly ; the summer afternoon, the stately collegiate room, overlooking the studious garden, girdled about by the broad and even-flowing Thames, among sedge and osier-beds, and haunted by no human presence.
This period was probably the
happiest time of Hales's life ; he was at the height of his social reputation.
He was a man of an inveterately companionable disposition. He disliked being alone, except for study-in congenial company a sympathetic talker ; once a year for a short time he used to resort to London for the polite conversation which he so much enjoyed, and when the Court was at Windsor he was greatly in request, being not only a good talker, but a better listener, as his biographer says ; not only divines and scholars resorting to the rooms of this bibliotheca ambulans, as Provost Wotton called him, but courtiers, sprightly wits, and gay sparks from the castle. This it was that earned him his soubriquet. He was familiar with, or corresponded with, all the ablest men of the day, counting as he did, Davenant, Suckling, Ben Jonson, and Lord Falkland, and all that brilliant circle, among his intimate friends.
He was made Canon of Windsor in 1639. In two years the whole pleasant life breaks up before our eyes, never to be restored. Laud's death showed him that as his chaplain, he was in a dangerous position. Besides, the event: itself was a frightful shock to him. He left his lodging in college, and went for a quarter of a year in utter secrecy to a private house at Eton, next door to the old Christopher Inn,
the house of Mrs. Dickenson to whose lad he was godfather. Search was made for him unsuccessfully, though he says that his hiding place was so close that if he had eaten garlic he could have been nosed out. Here he subsisted for three months entirely on bread and beer (strange diet), fasting—as he appears to have done from mistaken medical notions--from Tuesday night to Thursday night.
The reason for this retirement was the fear that certain documents and keys, entrusted to him as Bursar, should fall into the adversary's hands--for it is probable that at first he shared the belief with other enthusiastic royalists that the troubles would speedily blow over. He was, of course, ejected from fellowship and canonry, refusing with some spirit a proposal made to him by Mr. Penwarren, who succeeded him, that he should retain half-“All or none is mine,"though he was reduced to the greatest poverty. He sold his library, which was large and valuable, for £700, devoting a large proportion to others suffering from deprivation. The account of his conversation with Faringdon, an intimate friend, is absolutely heartrending,
Mr. Faringdon coming to see Hales some few months before his death found him in very mean lodgings at Eton, but in a temper gravely cheerful, and well becoming a good man under such circumstances. After a slight and
homely dinner, suitable to their situation, some
other friend that hath too full a purse and will spare me some of it I will not refuse that."
For a few months he went as nominal chaplain and tutor to the children of a lady living at Richings Park, near West Drayton, where there was a little college of deprived priests, among them being Bishop King of Chichester. But when this society was declared treasonous, he retired again to Eton to the same faithful friends, the Dickensons,
the house being called his own lest the accusation of harbouring malignants should fall on the real owner.
A charming contemporary description of him at this date is left by John Aubrey, the antiquary, who went to see him.
“I saw him, a prettie little man, sanguin [i.e., fresh-coloured], of a chearful countenance, very gentele and courteous. I was received by him with much humanity; he was in a kind of violetcoloured cloth gowne with buttons and loopes (he wore not a black gowne), and he was reading Thomas à Kempis. It was within a year before he deceased. He loved Canarie, but moderately, to refresh his spirits; he had a bountiful mind."
At last the end came very quietly. in his seventy-third year, “weary of this uncharitable world," as he said. Only a fortnight ill, and then dying so quietly that Mr. Montague, who had been talking to him, left the room for half-an-hour and found him dead on his return.
He was one of those great men who have a genuine dislike of publicity. He could not be induced to publish anything in his lifetime except a Latin funeral oration--not that it mattered, as one of his contemporaries hinted, “ for he was so communicative that his chair was a pulpit and his chamber a church." In fact it became so much a matter of habit that his friends should