Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

A BIOGRAPHY.

enlighten the outer world, the squire humbly followed with the cloak; when royalty needed refection, the squire duly presented the pottage. But at night it was his duty, and much watchfulness did it require, to preside over all those jealous safeguards that once fenced round a sleeping king from a traitorous subject. In a pallet bed, in the same room with the king, rested the gentleman or lord of the bedchamber; in the ante-room slept the groom of the bedchamber; in the privy chamber adjoining were two gentlemen in waiting; and, lastly, in the presence chamber reposed the squire for the body under the cloth of estate. Locks and bolts upon every door defended each of these approaches, and the sturdy yeomen mounted guard without, so that the pages, who made their pallets at the last chamber threshold, might sleep in peace. It is not improbable that the ancestor of John Shakspere might have guarded the door without, whilst Sir John Arden slept upon the haut pas within. They had each their relative importance in their own day; but they could little foresee that in the next century their blood would mingle, and that one would descend from them who would make the world agree not utterly to forget their own names, however indifferent that future world might be to the comparative importance of the Court servitude of the Arden or the Shakspere. Robert Arden, the groom of the bedchamber to Henry VII., probably left the Court upon the death of his master. He married, and he had a son, also Robert, whose youngest daughter was Mary, the mother of William Shakspere.

Mary Arden! The name breathes of poetry. It seems the personification of some Dryad of

Robert Arden died in December, 1556. His will is dated the 24th of November in, the same year, and the testator styles himself“ Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, in the paryche of Aston Cauntlow.” This was in the reign of Philip and Mary, and we cannot, therefore, be sure that the wording of his will is any absolute proof of his religious opinions : “First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God and to our blessed Lady Saint Mary, and to all the holy company of heaven, and my body to be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist in Aston aforesaid.” One who had conformed to the changes of religion might even have begun his last testament with this ancient formula, even as the will of Henry VIII. himself is so worded. Mary, his youngest daughter, from superiority of mind, or some other cause of her father's confidence, occupies the most prominent position in the will:—“I give and bequeath to my youngest daughter Mary all my land in Wilmecote, called Asbies, and the crop upon the ground, sown and tilled as it is, and six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence of money to be paid over ere my goods be divided.” To his daughter Alice he bequeaths the third part of all his goods, movable and unmovable, in field and town; to his wife Agnes, the stepmother of his children, £6 135. 4d., under the condition that she should allow his daughter Alice to occupy half of a copyhold at Wilmecote, the widow having her "jointure in Snitterfield,” near Stratford. The remainder of his goods is divided amongst his other children. Alice and Mary are made the “full executors ” to his will. We thus see that the youngest daughter has an undivided estate and a sum of money; and, from the crop being also bequeathed to her, it is evident that she was considered able to continue the tillage. The estate thus bequeathed to her consisted of about sixty acres of arable and pasture, and a house. It was a small fortune for a descendant of the lord of forty-seven manors in the county of Warwickshire, but it was enough for happiness. Luxury had scarcely ever come under her paternal roof. The house of Wilmecote would indeed be a well-timbered house, being in a woody country. It would not be a house of splints and clay, such as made the Spaniard in that very reign of Mary say, “These English have their houses made of sticks and dirt, but they fare commonly as well as the king.” It was some twenty years after the death of Robert Arden that Harrison described the growth of domestic luxury in England, saying, “There are old men yet dwelling in the village where I remain, which have noted three things to be marvellously altered in England within their sound remembrance.” One of these enormities is the multitude of chimneys lately erected, whereas formerly each one made his fire against a reredosse in the hall, where he dined and dressed his meat: the second thing is the great amendment of lodging—the pillows, the beds, the sheets, instead of the straw pallet, the rough mat, the good round log or the sack of chaff under the head: the third thing is the exchange of vessels, as of treen platters into pewter, and wooden spoons into silver or tin. He then describes the altered splendour of the substantial farmer :A fair garnish of pewter on his cupboard, with so much more in odd vessels going about the house; three or four feather-beds; so many coverlids and carpets of tapestry; a silver salt, a bowl for wine, and a dozen of spoons to furnish up the suit.” Robert Arden had certainly not a

“ Many a huge-grown wood, and many a shady grove,”

called by that generic name of Arden-a forest with many towns,

“ Whose footsteps yet are found,
In her rough woodlands more than any other ground,
That mighty Arden held even in her height of pride,
Her one hand touching Trent, the other Severn's side.”3

That name of Mary Arden sounds as blandly as the verse of this fine old panegyrist of his “native country,” when he describes the songs of birds in those solitudes amongst which the house of Arden had for ages been seated :

“ The softer with the shrill (some hid among the leaves,

Some in the taller trees, some in the lower greaves)
Thus sing away the morn, until the mounting sun
Through thick exhaled fogs his golden head hath run,
And through the twisted tops of our close covert creeps
To kiss the gentle shade, this while that sweetly sleeps.” 4

High as was her descent, wealthy and powerful as were the numerous branches of her family, Mary Arden, we doubt not, led a life of usefulness as well as innocence within her native forest hamlet. The face of the country must have been greatly changed in three centuries. A canal, with lock rising upon lock, now crosses the hill upon which the village stands; but traffic has not robbed the place of its green pastures and its shady nooks, though nothing is left of the ancient magnificence of the great forest. There is very slight appearance of antiquity about the present village, and certainly not a house in which we can conceive that Robert Arden resided.

This information is given in a long extract from a manuscript in the Herald's Office, quoted in Malone's Life of Shakspeare.

2 From the connection of these immediate ancestors of Shakspere's mother with the Court of Henry VII., Malone has assumed that they were the “antecessors” of John Shakspere declared in the grants of arms to have been advanced and rewarded by the conqueror of Bosworth Field. Because Robert Arden had a lease of the royal manor of Yoxsall, in Staffordshire, Malone also contends that the reward of lands and tenements stated in the grant of arms to have been bestowed upon the ancestor of John Shakspere really means the beneficial lease to Robert Arden. He holds that popularly the grandfather of Mary Arden would have been called the grandfather of John Shakspere, and that John Shakspere himself would have so called him. The answer is very direct. The grant of arms recites that the great-grandfather of John Shakspere had been

advanced and rewarded by Henry VII., and then goes on to say that John Shakspere had married the daughter of Robert Arden of Wellingcote :- He has an ancient coat-of-arms of his own derived from his ancestor, and the arms of his wife are to be impaled with these his own arms. Can the interpretation of this document, then, be that Mary Arden's grandfather is the person pointed out as John Shakspere's great-grandfather; and that, having an ancient coat-of-arms himself, his ancestry is really that of his wife, whose arms are totally different ?

3 Drayton, Poly-Olbion, Song XIII.
4 Ibid.
5 See Rymer's Fædera.

6 See an account in Dugdale of the possessions, recited in Domesday Book, of Turchil de Arden.

3

mansion filled with needless articles for use or ornament. In the inventory of his goods taken after his death we find table-boards, forms, cushions, benches, and one cupboard in his hall; there are painted cloths in the hall and in the chamber; seven pairs of sheets, five board-cloths, and three towels; there are one feather bed and two mattresses, with sundry coverlets, and articles called canvasses, three bolsters, and one pillow. The kitchen boasts four pans, four pots, four candlesticks, a basin, a chafing-dish, two caldrons, a frying-pan, and a gridiron. And yet this is the grandson of a groom of a king's bedchamber, an office filled by the noble and the rich, and who, in the somewhat elevated station of a gentleman of worship, would probably possess as many conveniences and comforts as a rude state of society could command. There was plenty outdoors-oxen, bullocks, kine, weaning calves, swine, bees, poultry, wheat in the barns, barley, oats, hay, peas, wood in the yard, horses, colts, carts, ploughs. Robert Arden had lived through unquiet times, when there was little accumulation, and men thought rather of safety than of indulgence: the days of security were at hand. Then came the luxuries that Harrison looked upon with much astonishment and some little heart-burning.

And so in the winter of 1556 was Mary Arden left without the guidance of a father. We learn, from a proceeding in Chancery some forty years later, that with the land of Asbies there went a messuage. Mary Arden had, therefore, a roof-tree of her own. Her sister Alice was to occupy another property at Wilmecote with the widow. Mary Arden lived in a peaceful hamlet; but there were some strange things around her-incomprehensible things to a very young woman. When she went to the church of Aston Cantlow, she now heard the mass sung, and saw

the beads bidden; whereas a few years before there was another form of worship within those walls

She learnt, perhaps, of mutual persecutions and intolerance, of neighbour warring against neighbour, of child opposed to father, of wife to husband. She might have beheld these evils. The rich religious houses of her county and vicinity had been suppressed, their property scattered, their chapels and fair chambers desecrated, their very walls demolished. The new power was trying to restore them, but, even if it could have brought back the old riches, the old reverence was passed away. In that solitude she probably mused upon many things with an anxious heart. The wealthier Ardens of Kingsbury and Hampton, of Rotley and Rodburne and Park Hall, were her good cousins; but bad roads and bad times perhaps kept them separate. And so she lived a somewhat lonely life, till a young yeoman of Stratford, whose family had been her father's tenants, came to sit oftener and oftener upon those wooden benches in the old hall—a substantial yeoman, a burgess of the Corporation in 1557 or 1558; and then in due season, perhaps in the very year when Romanism was lighting its last fires in England, and a queen was dying with “Calais ” written on her heart, Mary Arden and John Shakspere were, in all likelihood, standing before the altar of the parish church of Aston Cantlow, and the house and lands of Asbies became administered by one who took possession “by the right of the said Mary,” who thenceforward abided for half a century in the good town of Stratford. There is no register of the marriage discovered: but the date must have been about a year after the father's death ; for “ Joan Shakspere, daughter to John Shakspere," was, according to the Stratford register, baptized on the 15th of Sep tember, 1558.

CHAPTER II.

STRATFORD.

A PLEASANT place is this quiet town of Stratford--a place of ancient traffic, “the name having been originally occasioned from the ford or passage over the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley-in-Arden towards London.”1 England was not always a country of bridges: rivers asserted their own natural rights, and were not bestrid by domineering man. If the people of Henley-inArden would travel towards London, the Avon might invite or oppose their passage at his own good-will; and, indeed, the river so often swelled into a rapid and dangerous stream, that the honest folk of the one bank might be content to hold somewhat less intercourse with their neighbours on the other than Englishmen now hold with the antipodes. But the days of improvement were sure to arrive. There were charters for markets, and charters for fairs, obtained from King Richard and King John; and in process of time Stratford rejoiced in a wooden bridge, though without a causey, and exposed to constant damage by flood. And then an alderman of London-in days when the very rich were not slow to do magnificent things for public benefit, and did less for their own vain pride and luxury-built a stone bridge over the Avon, which has borne the name of Clopton's Bridge, even from the days of Henry VII. until this day. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous at Stratford ; and such were, in every case, the centres of civilisation and prosperity. The parish

church was a collegiate one, with a chantry of five priests; and there was an ancient Guild and Chapel of the Holy Cross, partly a religious and partly a civil institution. A Grammar School was connected with the Guild; and the municipal government of the town was settled in a Corporation by charter of Edward VI., and the Grammar School especially maintained. Here, then, was a liberal accumulation, such as belongs only to an old country, to make a succession of thriving communities at Stratford; and they did thrive, according to the notion of thrift in those days. But we are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and heiress of Arden from the old hall of Wilmecote he placed her in some substantial mansion in his corporate town, ornamental as well as solid in its architecture, spacious, convenient, fitted up with taste, if not with splendour. Stratford had, in all likelihood, no such houses to offer; it was a town of wooden houses, a scattered town—no doubt with gardens separating the low and irregular tenements, sleeping ditches intersecting the properties, and stagnant pools exhaling in the road. A zealous antiquarian has discovered that John Shakspere inhabited a house in Henley Street as early as 1552; and that he, as well as two other neighbours, was fined for making a dung-heap in the street. In 1553 the jurors of Stratford present certain inhabitants as violators of the municipal laws : from which presentment we learn

i Dugdale.

2 Hunter, New Illustrations, vol. i. p. 18.

4

[blocks in formation]

that ban-dogs were not to go about unmuzzled; nor sheep pastured in the ban-croft for more than an hour each day; nor swine to feed on the common land unringed. It is evident that Stratford was a rural town, surrounded with common fields, and containing a mixed population of agriculturists and craftsmen. The same character was retained as late as 1618, when the Privy Council represented to the Corporation of Stratford that great and lamentable loss had “happened to that town by casualty of fire, which, of late years, hath been very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cottages, stacks of straw, furzes, and such-like combustible stuff, which are suffered to be erected and made confusedly in most of the principal parts of the town without restraint.”? If such were the case when the family of William Shakspere occupied the best house in Stratford-a house in which Queen Henrietta Maria resided for three weeks, when the Royalist army held that part of the country in triumph-it is not unreasonable to suppose that sixty years earlier the greater number of houses in Stratford must have been mean timber buildings, thatched cottages run up of combustible stuff; and that the house in Henley Street which John Shakspere occupied and purchased, and which his son inherited and bequeathed

to his sister for her life, must have been an important house-a house fit for a man of substance, a house of some space and comfort, compared with those of the majority of the surrounding population.

That population of the corporate town of Stratford, containing within itself rich endowments and all the framework of civil superiority, would appear insignificant in a modern census. The average annual number of baptisms in 1564 was fifty-five; of burials in the same year fortytwo: these numbers, upon received principles of calculation, would give us a total population of about one thousand four hundred. In a certificate of charities, &c., in the thirty-seventh year of Henry VIII., the number of “houselyng people" in Stratford is stated to be fifteen hundred. This population was furnished with all the machinery by which Englishmen, even in very early times, managed their own local affairs, and thus obtained that aptitude for practical good government which equally rejects the tyranny of the one or of the many. The Corporation in the time of John Shakspere consisted of fourteen aldermen and fourteen burgesses, one of the aldermen being annually elected to the office of bailiff. The bailiff held a Court of Record every fortnight, for the trial of all causes within the

Northern borare

Bo

Igory lowoso

Spre Gugmamalegn
whebton staaff/A

staffper

qe bomas song
Roga faller Gode alsoemy +
nython Counsho a borob mpany to the of


ga

Shoy tayford
amfag pembe
thin Lott

Shoy bolet
Bogart Butto

CE Bomal Deer
Rauff cuore 7

Я Array

[ocr errors]

Nyttin Vry for

jurisdiction of the borough in which the debt and damages did not amount to £30. There was a Court-leet also, which appointed its ale-tasters, who presided over the just measure and wholesome quality of beer, that necessary of life in ancient times; and which Court-leet chose also, annually, four affeerors, who had the power in their hands of summary punishment for offences for which no penalty was prescribed by statute. The constable was the great police officer, and he was a man of importance, for the burgesses of the Corporation invariably served the office. John Shakspere appears, from the records of Stratford, to have gone through the whole regular course of municipal duty. In 1556 he was on the jury of the Court-leet; in 1557, an ale-taster; in 1558, a burgess; in 1559, a constable; in 1560, an affeeror; in 1561, a chamberlain; in 1565, an alderman; and in 1568, high bailiff of the borough, the chief magistrate.

There have been endless theories, old and new, affirmations, contradictions, as to the worldly calling of John Shakspere. There are ancient registers in Stratford, minutes of the Common Hall, proceedings of the Court

leet, pleas of the Court of Record, writs, which have been
hunted over with unwearied diligence, and yet they tell us
nothing, or next to nothing, of John Shakspere. When he
was elected an alderman in 1565, we can trace out the
occupations of his brother aldermen, and readily come to
the conclusion that the municipal authority of Stratford
was vested, as we may naturally suppose it to have been,
in the hands of substantial tradesmen-brewers, bakers,
butchers, grocers, victuallers, mercers, woollen-drapers.
Prying into the secrets of time, we are enabled to form
some notion of the literary acquirements of this worshipful
body. On rare, very rare occasions, the aldermen and
burgesses constituting the Town Council affixed their
signatures, for greater solemnity, to some order of the
court; and on the 29th of September, in the 7th of Eliza-
beth, upon an order that John Wheler should take the
office of bailiff, we have nineteen names subscribed, alder-
men and burgesses. Out of the nineteen six only can say,
“I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can
write my name.”4 The stock of literary acquirement
amongst the magnates of Stratford was not very large.

1 The proceedings of the court are given in Mr. Halliwell's Life of Shak. speare, a book which may be fairly held to contain all the documentary evidence of this life which has been discovered.

2 Chalmers's Apology, p. 618.
3 See Malone's Life

of Shakspeare, Boswell's Malone, vol. ii. p. 77:
4 Henry VI., Part II., Act IV.
с

5

And why should that stock of literature have been larger ? There were some who had been at the Grammar School, and they perhaps were as learned as the town-clerk; they kept him straight. But there had been enough turmoil about learning in those days to make goodman Whetely, and goodman Cardre, and their fellows, somewhat shy of writing and Latin. They were not quite safe in reading. Some of the readers had openly looked upon Tyndale's Bible and Coverdale's Bible twelve years before, and then the Bible was to be hidden in dark corners. It was come out again, but who could tell what might again happen? It was safer not to read. It was much less troublesome not to write. The town-clerk was a good penman; they could flourish.

We were reluctant to yield our assent to Malone's assertion that Shakspere's father had a mark to himself. The marks are not distinctly affixed to each name in this document. But subsequent discoveries establish the fact that he used two marks-one, something like an open pair of compasses—the other, the common cross. Even half a century later, to write was not held indispensable by persons of some pretension. In Dekker's “Wonder of a Kingdom” the following dialogue takes place between Gentili and Buzardo :

Gen. What qualities are you furnished with ? Buz. My education has been like a gentleman. Gen. Have you any skill in song or instrument ?

Buz. As a gentleman should have; I know all, but play on none : I am no barber.

Gen. Barber! no, sir, I think it. Are you a linguist ?

Buz. As a gentleman ought to be; one tongue serves one head; I am no pedlar, to travel countries.

Gen. What skill ha' you in horsemanship ?
Buz. As other gentlemen have; I ha' rid some beasts in my time.
Gen. Can you write and read then ?

Buz. As most of your gentlemen do : my bond has been taken with my mark at it."

renting perhaps other land, seated as conveniently in a house in the town of Stratford as in a solitary grange several miles away from it. Such a proprietor, cultivator, yeoman, we consider John Shakspere to have been. In 1556, the year that Robert, the father of Mary Arden, died, John Shakspere was admitted at the Court-leet to two copyhold estates in Stratford. The jurors of the Leet present that George Turnor had alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement, with a garden and croft, and other premises, in Grenehyll Street, held of the lord at an annual quit-rent; and John Shakspere, who is present in court and does fealty, is admitted to the same.

The same jurors present that Edward West has alienated to John Shakspere one tenement and a garden adjacent in Henley Street, who is in the same way admitted, upon fealty done to the lord. Here, then, is John Shakspere, before his marriage, the purchaser of two copyholds in Stratford, both with gardens, and one with a croft, or small enclosed field.? In 1570 John Shakspere is holding, as tenant under William Clopton, a meadow of fourteen acres, with its appurtenance, called Ingon, at the annual rent of £8. This rent, equivalent to at least £40 of our present money, would indicate that the appurtenance included a house—and a very good house. This meadow of Ingon forms part of a large property known by that name near Clopton House. When John Shakspere married, the estate of Asbies, within a short ride of Stratford, came also into his possession, and so did some landed property at Snitterfield. With these facts before us, scanty as they are, can we reasonably doubt that John Shakspere was living upon his own land, renting the land of others, actively engaged in the business of cultivation, in an age when tillage was becoming rapidly profitable,—so much so that men of wealth very often thought it better to take the profits direct than to share them with the tenant? In “A Brief Conceipte touching the Commonweale of this Realme of Englande,” published in 1581-a Dialogue once attributed to William Shakspere—the Knight says, speaking of his class, “Many of us are enforced either to keep pieces of our own lands when they fall in our own possession, or to purchase some farm of other men's lands, and to store it with sheep or some other cattle, to help make up the decay in our revenues, and to maintain our old estate withal, and yet all is little enough."

The belief that the father of Shakspere was a small landed proprietor and cultivator, employing his labour and capital in various modes which grew out of the occupation of land, offers a better, because a more natural, explanation of the circumstances connected with the early life of the great poet than those stories which would make him of obscure birth and servile employments. Take old Aubrey's story, the shrewd learned gossip and antiquary, who survived Shakspere some eighty years :-“Mr. William Shakespear was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher, and I have been told

We must not infer that one who gave his bond with his mark at it was necessarily ignorant of all literature. It was very common for an individual to adopt, in the language of Jack Cade, “a mark to himself,” possessing distinctness of character, and almost heraldically alluding to his name or occupation. Many of these are like ancient merchants' marks; and on some old deeds the mark of a landowner alienating property corresponds with the mark described in the conveyance as cut in the turf, or upon boundary stones, of unenclosed fields. Lord Campbell says -“In my own experience I have known many instances of documents bearing a mark as the signature of persons who could write well.”1

One of the aldermen of Stratford in 1565, John Wheler, is described in the town records as a yeoman. He must have been dwelling in Stratford, for we have seen that he was ordered to take the office of high bailiff, an office demanding a near and constant residence. We can imagine a moderate landed proprietor cultivating his own soil,

1 Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements, p. 15.

2 It is marvellous that Malone, with these documents before him, which are clearly the admissions of John Shakspere to two copyhold estates, should say :“ At the court-leet, held in October, 1556, the lease of a house in Greenhill Street was assigned to Mr. John Shakspeare, by George Turnor, who was one of the burgesses of Stratford, and kept a tavern or victualling-house there; and another, in Henley Street, was, on the same day, assigned to him, by Edward West, a person of some consideration, who during the reign of Edward VI. had been frequently one of the wardens of the bridge of Stratford.” It is equally wonderful that, Malone having printed the documents, no one who writes about Shakspere has deduced from them that Shakspere's father was necessarily a person of some substance before his marriage, a purchaser of property. The roll says—" et idē Johes pd. in cur. fecit dño fidelitatem pr eisdem,” that is, “and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same.” Every one knows that this is the mode of admission to a copyhold estate in fee simple, and yet Malone writes as if these forms were gone through to enable John Shakspere to occupy two houses in two distinct streets, under lease. We subjoin the documents :

“Stratford super Avon. Vis fră Pleg. cum cur. et Session pais tenit. ibm. secundo die Octobris annis regnorum Philippi et Marie, Dei gratia, &c. tertio et quarto (October 2, 1556).

" It. pre. quod Georgius 'Turnor alienavit Johē Shakespere et hered. suis unum tent, cum gardin. et croft. cum pertinent in Grenehyll stret, tent. de Dño libe

6

pr cart. predd. inde dño pr annu vid et sect. cur. et idē Johes pd. in cur. fecit dño fidelitatem pr eisdem.

“It. quod Edwardus West alienavit pd. eo Johe Shakespere unu tent. cum gardin. adjacen. in Henley street pr redd. inde dño pr ann. vid et sect. cur. et ide Johes pd. in cur. fecit fidelitatem.”

We give a translation of this entry upon the court-roll :

Stratford upon Avon. View of Frankpledge with the court and session of the peace held of the same on the second day of October in the year of the reign of Philip and Mary, by the grace of God, &c., the third and fourth.

"Item, they present that George Turnor has alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement with a garden and croft, with their appurtenances, in Greenhill street, held of the lord, and delivered according to the roll, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per annum, and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same.

“Item, that Edward West has alienated to him, the aforesaid John Shakspere, one tenement, with a garden adjacent, in Henley Street, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per annum, and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty.”

3 See the extracts from the Rot. Claus., 23 Eliz., given in Malone's Life, p. 95.

4 Ingon is not, as Malone states, situated at a small distance from the estate which William Shakspere purchased in 1602. Clopton lies between the two properties.

A BIOGRAPHY.

heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade; but when he killed a calf he would do it in high style, and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this town that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young." Oh, Stratford! town prolific in heroic and poetical butchers; was it not enough that there was one prodigy born in your bosom, who, “when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech,” but that there must even have been another butcher's son fed with thy intellectual milk, “that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit?” Wert thou minded to rival Ipswich by a double rivalry? Was not one Shakspere-butcher enough to extinguish the light of one Wolsey, but thou must have another, “his acquaintance and coetanean?" Aubrey, men must believe thee in all after-time; for did not Farmer aver that, when he that killed the calf wrote

“ There's a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will,"l-

the poet-butcher was thinking of skewers? And did not Malone hold that he who, when a boy, exercised his father's trade, has described the process of calf-killing with an accuracy which nothing but profound experience could give?

younger years a schoolmaster in the country.” Killer of calves, schoolmaster, poet, actor-all these occupations crowded into eighteen years! Honest Aubrey, truly thine is a rope of sand wherein there are no knots to cut or to untie!

Akin to the butcher's trade is that of the dealer in wool. It is upon the authority of Betterton, the actor, who, in the beginning of the last century, made a journey into Warwickshire to collect anecdotes relating to Shakspere, that Rowe tells us that John Shakspere was a dealer in wool : —“His family, as appears by the register and the public writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment.” We are now . veeping “through the blanket of the dark.” But daylight 1. not as yet. Malone was a believer in Rowe's account; and he was confirmed in his belief by possessing a piece of stained glass, bearing the arms of the merchants of the staple, which had been removed from a window of John Shakspere's house in Henley Street. But, unfortunately for the credibility of Rowe, as then held, Malone made a discovery, as it is usual to term such glimpses of the past :-“I began to despair of ever being able to obtain any certain intelligence concerning his trade; when, at length, I met with the following entry, in a very ancient manuscript, containing an account of the proceedings in the bailiff's court, which furnished me with the long-sought-for information, and ascertains that the trade of our great poet's father was that of a glover ;” “ Thomas Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. querit' versus Johm Shakyspere de Stretford, in com. Warwic. Glover, in plac. quod reddat ei oct. libras, &c.” This Malone held to be decisive.

We give this record above as Malone printed it, not very correctly: in the original the second syllable is contracted. Mr. Collier and Mr. Halliwell affirm that the word is glover ; and we accept their interpretation. But we still hold to our belief that he was, in 1556, a landed proprietor and an occupier of land; one who, although sued as a glover on the 17th of June of that year, was a suitor in the same court on the 19th of November, in a plea against a neighbour for unjustly detaining eighteen quarters of barley. We still refuse to believe that John Shakspere, when he is described as a yeoman in after years, “had relinquished his retail trade," as Mr. Halliwell judges; or that his mark, according to the same authority, was emblematical of the glove-sticks used for stretching the cheveril for fair fingers. We have no confidence that he had stores in Henley Street of the treasures of Autolycus

“ And as the butcher takes away the calf,

And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house ;
Even so, remorseless, have they borne him hence.
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do naught but wail her darling's loss;
Even so,” &c.

The story, however, has a variation.

There was at Stratford, in the year 1693, a clerk of the parish church, eighty years old,—that is, he was three years old when William Shakspere died,—and he, pointing to the monument of the poet, with the pithy remark that he was the “best of his family,” proclaimed to a member of one of the Inns of Court that “this Shakespeare was formerly in this town bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he ran from his master to London.”3 "His father was a butcher, says Aubrey; he was apprentice to a butcher, says the parish clerk. Aubrey was picking up his gossip for his friend Anthony à Wood in 1680, and it is not very difficult to imagine that the identical parish clerk was his authority. That honest chronicler, old as he was, had forty years of tradition to deal with in this matter of the butcher's son and the butcher's apprentice; and the result of such glimpses into the thick night of the past is sensibly enough stated by Aubrey himself:-“What uncertainty do we find in printed histories! They either treading too near on the heels of truth, that they dare not speak plain ; or else for want of intelligence (things being antiquated) become too obscure and dark !” Obscure and dark indeed is this story of the butcher's son. If it were luminous, circumstantially true, palpable to all sense, as Aubrey writes it down, we should only have one more knot to cut, not to untie, in the matters which belong to William Shakspere. The son of the butcher of Ipswich was the boy bachelor of Oxford at fifteen years of age; he had an early escape from the calfkilling ; there was no miracle in his case. If we receive Aubrey's story we must take it also with its contradictions, and that perhaps will get rid of the miraculous. “When he was a boy he exercised his father's trade.” Good :“This William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, I guess about eighteen." Good: “He understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his

" Gloves as sweet as damask roses."

We think that butcher, dealer in wool, glover, may all be reconciled with our position, that he was a landed proprietor occupying land. Our proofs are not purely hypothetical.

Harrison, who mingles laments at the increasing luxury of the farmer, with somewhat contradictory denouncements of the oppression of the tenant by the landlord, holds that the landlord is monopolizing the tenant's profits. His complaints are the natural commentary upon the social condition of England, described in “ A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale :"_“Most sorrowful of all to understand, that men of great port and countenance are so far from suffering their farmers to have any gain at all, that they themselves become GRAZIERS, BUTCHERS, TANNERS, SHEEPMASTERS, WOODMEN, and denique quid non, thereby

1 Hamlet, Act V. Sc. II. 2 Henry VI., Part II., Act III. Sc. I.

3 Traditionary Anecdotes of Shakespeare.

« VorigeDoorgaan »