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Annals we have also an account of Sommers's shipwreck, in which this important passage occurs, “Sir George Sommers sitting at the stearne, seeing the ship desperate of reliefe, looking every minute when the ship would sinke, hee espied land, which according to his and Captaine Newport's opinion, they judged it should be that dreadfull coast of the Bermodes, which iland were of all nations said and supposed to bee inchanted and inhabited with witches and devills, which grew by reason of accustomed monstrous thunder, storm, and tempest, neere unto those ilands, also for that the whole coast is so wonderous dangerous of rockes, that few can approach them, but with unspeakable hazard of ship-wrack.” Now if some of these circumstances in the shipwreck of Sir George Sommers be considered, it may possibly turn out that they are “ the particular and recent event which determined Shakspeare to call his play The Tempest," instead of “the great tempest of 1612," which has already been supposed to have suggested its name, and which might have happened after its composition. If this be the fact, the play was written between 1609 and 1614, when it was so illiberally and invidiously alluded to in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew-Fair."
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