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THE INCIDENTS, ETC.
THE TEMPEST, 1611. In the Essay on the Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays, published in 1790, I observed, that probably some particular and late misfortune at sea gave rise to the comedy now under our consideration, and induced our poet to denominate it THE TEMPEST. On further investigation of this subject, and after perusing some curious and very scarce tracts of that time, which I had not then seen, I have no doubt that my conjecture was perfectly well founded, and that the leading circumstance of this play, from which its title is derived, was suggested to Shakspeare by a recent disaster, which doubtless engaged much of the conversation of his contemporaries,--the dreadful hurricane that dispersed the fleet of Sir George Somers and Sir Thomas Gates, in July 1609, on their passage with a large supply of provisions and men for the infant colony in Virginia ; by which the Admiral ship, as
it was called, having those commanders on board, was separated from the rest of the fleet, and wrecked on the island of Bermuda. The principal circumstances indeed correspond so precisely, that at the first view it may appear strange, that the true origin of this comedy was not long since found out; but the wonder on that head will cease, when it is considered how very difficult it is to ascertain the minute particulars of an event that happened near two hundred years ago, and that accident alone can furnish us with the volumes which composed Shakspeare's library. Without the aid of those tracts in which the various circumstances of this misadventure were related, the resemblance between certain passages in the play and the archetype on which it was formed, could not be discovered. I may add, that our poet himself also, in some measure, contributed to lead the most sedulous inquirer astray, by very properly making the scene of his piece an island at a considerable distance from Bermuda, in order to give the magical part of his drama a certain mysterious dignity which Bermuda itself, then the general topick of conversation, could not have had. Without having read Tacitus, he 'well knew that OMNE IGNOTUM PRO MAGNIFICO EST; that an unknown island would give a larger scope to his imagination, and make a greater impression on theatrical spectators, than one of which the more enlightened part of his audience had recently read a minute and circumstantial account.--Unquestionably, however, the circumstance of Bermuda's having been considered an enchanted island gave rise to the magick of THE TEMPEST, and was immediately in his thoughts during its composition.
Our poet's great patron, the Earl of Southampton, had early shown a strong disposition to encourage voyages of discovery; in which a principal motive that actuated him and other distinguished persons of those times, seems to have been the hope of civilizing and converting the savages of remote countries to Christianity. In the year 1605, in conjunction with his brother-in-law, Lord Arundel, of Wardour, he had fitted out a ship under the command of Captain George Weymouth, with a view to make discoveries on the coast of Virginia. On what part of the large district which then bore that name he landed, is not exactly known; but a very intelligent writer supposes that he sailed up the river of Connecticut. His stay, however, was very short: for after having for some time explored the country, and carried on some traffick with the natives, from whom he had taken five Indians as hostages during his intercourse with them, finding reason to believe that some treachery was intended towards him, he speedily set sail for England, where he arrived on the 18th of July, after an absence of about three months; bringing with him the Indians above-mentioned. Two of those savages, NAMONTACK and MACHUMPS, lived to sail for their own country with Sir George Somers in 1609; another, named TANTUM, sailed for Virginia with Captain
Smith in 1614 ; and the other two probably died in London, and one of them (or some other Indian) was exhibited as a show after his death, a circumstance to which Shakspeare has alluded in the second act of this comedy, Sc. II.; and which, though then unacquainted with these particulars, I formerly suggested, as likely to contribute some aid in fixing the date of THE TEMPEST: but if even the day of the death of either of them were known, it would only ascertain a time before which the play could not have been composed, unless it were shewn that some Indian had previously died, and been exhibited in London; and I am now not under the necessity of having recourse to such uncertain grounds of conjecture, as I shall be able to point out the precise period when this beautiful comedy was written and first represented.
In 1608, Captain Harlow was sent to Cape Cod by Lord Southampton and some of the inhabitants of the isle of Wight, of which he was Governour, and brought back with him five Indians, one of whom was named EPINEW,, or EPINOW, a man of extraordinary stature and strength, who was exhibited for money in various parts of London.
I have mentioned the voyages of Captains Weymouth and Harlow, because they were undertaken partly at the charge of Lord Southampton, and must on that account alone have attracted our poet's notice, and drawn his attention to the colonial projects that took place at this period. Men's thoughts indeed were then so strongly directed towards the new world, that the successes and miscarriages of the several adventurers who went there could not but have been a very general topick of conversation, as is evinced by the various publicaon those subjects *.
* 1. A briefe and true Relation of the Discoverie of the North Part of Virginia, being a most pleasant, fruitfull, and commodious, soile, made this present yeere 1602, by Captaine Bartholomew Gosnold, Captaine Bartholowmew Gilbert, and divers other gentlemen their associates, by the permission of the honourable Sir Walter Ralegh, &c. written by Mr. John Brereton, one of the voyage, 4to, 1662.
2. A prosperous Voyage on the Discovery of the North Part of Virginia. By Captain George Weymouth. 4to. 1605.
3. Nova Britannia, offering most excellent Fruites by planting in Virginia. 4to. 1609.-This tract was entered in the Stationers' Register, Feb. 17, 1608-9.
4. A good Speed to Virginia. By Robert Gray. Entered in the Stationers' Register, May 3, 1609.
5. A Sermon preached in London before the Right Hon. Lord Delaware, Lord Gov'nor and Captayn Gen'rall of Virginia, and others of his Ma’ties Councell for that Kingdome, 21st of Feb. last, entitled, A Newe Year's Gifte to Virginia." Entered in the Stationers' Register, March 19, 1609-10.
6. Newes from Bermudas. This tract, which I have never seen, appears to have been that set forth by Thomas Gates, and was probably published in September or October 1610. My knowledge of the title is obtained from a manuscript marginal note in an old hand, in one of the pamphlets relative to Virginia, in the collection of my friend, Mr. Bindley.
7. Virginia News :-published before Oct. 1st, 1610, as appears by an assignment of that date, in the Stationers' Register.
I am not sure that this and the next are not the same pamphlet.
8. A Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Divells, &c. by Sil. Jourdan, 4to. 1610. Republished with additions, in 1613.