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rials for the exercise of his imagination.” “Every attempt,” remarks Mr. Stoddart, who has introduced this anecdote into his interesting Tour, “ to illustrate the slightest circumstance, concerning such a mind, deserves our gratitude ; but in this instance, conjecture seems to have gone its full length, if not to have overstepped the modesty of nature. The probability of Shakspeare's ever having been in Scotland, is very remote. It should seem, by his uniformly accenting the name of this spot Dunsináne, that he could not possibly have taken it from the mouths of the country-people, who as uniformly accent it Dunsínnan. Every one knows, with what ease local tradition is so modified, as to suit public history; and it is probable, that what Sir John heard in 1772, was a superstructure raised upon the drama itself. Amid the blaze of Shakspeare's genius, small praise is lost ; but it is, perhaps, more honourable to his intellectual energies to suppose,
that so much minute information was collected from books, or from conversation, than from an actual acquaintance with the place.” *
Though we by no means contend for the validity of the inference, yet we must observe, that one of the principal objections of Mr. Stoddart is unfounded; for Shakspeare certainly was familiar with both modes of pronunciation, and has given us a specimen of the popular accent in the following well-known passage:
“ Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be, until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Neither do we think, that his genius would have suffered rioration, nor his drama any loss of interest, had he actually painted from local observation. +
* Remarks on Local Scenery and Manners in Scotland, 8vo. vol. ïi. pp. 197, 198.
+ It is a remarkable circumstance, however, that James is said, during this very year (1599), to have solicited Queen Elizabeth to send a company of English comedians to Edinburgh.-Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 51.
If we be correct in attributing Much Ado about Nothing to the year 1599, it is here that some notice should be taken of an anecdote recorded by Aubrey, who, meaning to allude to the character of Dogberry in this play, though by mistake he refers to the MidsummerNight's Dream, says, that “ the humour of the constable he (Shakspeare) happened to take at Grendon, in Bucks, which is the roade from London to Stratford, and there was living that constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxon. Mr. Jos. Howe is of that parish, and knew him. Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of men dayly, wherever they came."*
That Shakspeare was accustomed to visit Stratford annually, has been already noticed t; and we learn from Antony Wood, that in performing these journeys, he used to bait at the Crown-Inn, in Oxford, which was then kept by John Davenant, the father of the poet. Antony represents Mrs. Davenant as both beautiful and accomplished, and her husband as a lover of plays, and a great admirer of Shakspeare. † The frequent visits of the bard, and the charms of his landlady, appear to have given birth to some scandalous surmises ; for Oldys, repeating Wood's story, adds, on the authority of Betterton and Pope, that “their son, young Will. Davenant, (afterwards Sir William,) was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day, an old townsman observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father Shakspeare. There's a good boy, said the other, but have a care that you
don't take God's name in vain.” It has also been said, that Sir William had the weakness to feel gratified by the publicity of the supposition. ||
+ Vide Part II. Chapter 1.
* Bodleian Letters, vol. iii. p. 307.
| Ibid. vol. iii. p. 209.
It is very probable that, in 1600, Shakspeare might so time his annual visit to Stratford, as to be present at the christening of his nephew, William Hart, his sister's eldest son ; who, according to the Register, was baptized on the 28th of the August of this year, and who, together with his two brothers, Thomas and Michael, is remembered in the poet's will, by a legacy of five pounds.
The subsequent year exhibits our bard in great favour at court. The Queen had been delighted with the Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, and honoured their author with a command to bring forward Falstaff in another play. Tradition says, this was executed in a fortnight, and afforded Her Majesty the most entire satisfaction. The approbation and encouragement, indeed, of the two sovereigns under whose reigns he flourished, was a subject of contemporary notoriety ; for Jonson, in his celebrated eulogy, thus apostrophises his departed friend :
66 Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were,
To see thee in our waters yet appear :
That Elizabeth 66
him many gracious marks of her favour,” has been mentioned by Rowe as a matter of no doubt ; and he elsewhere observes, that " what grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made * ;” an observation which ushers in the acknowledgment of Southampton's well-known generosity.
The pleasure arising from this tide of success must have been, in no slight degree, damped by the sorrow which a son so truly great and good, must have felt on the loss of his father. This worthy man, of whom, in the opening of our work, some account will be found, expired on the 8th of September, 1601, leaving a name immortalised by the celebrity of his offspring.
* Vide Rowe's Life of Shakspeare, in Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. pp. 65, 66.
In 1602, no other trace of our author is discoverable, independent of his literary exertions, than that, on the 1st day of May, he purchased, in the town and parish of Stratford, one hundred and seven acres of land, for the sum of 3201., which lands appear to have been indissolubly connected with his former purchase of New Place, and to have descended with it, until the extinction of the latter by Mr. Gastrell. *
The year following, however, brought an accession of dignity and power ; for no sooner had James gotten possession of the English throne, than he granted a Licence to the Company at the Globe, which bears date the 19th of May, 1603, and being entitled “ Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare et aliis,” gives us reason to conclude, that the persons thus distinguished were, if not joint managers, at least leaders in the concern. +
It was about this period also that Shakspeare may, upon good grounds, be supposed to have taken his farewel of the stage as an actor ; relinquishing this profession of which he appears not to have been very fond, for the purpose of more closely superintending the general concerns of the theatre, of which his writings continued to be the chief support. One strong motive for this deduction has arisen from the circumstance, that his name, as a performer, is no where visible beyond the era of Jonson's Sejanus, in which play, first acted in 1603, it is found in the list of the principal comedians, while in The Fox, published only two years afterwards, performed at the same theatre, and by the same company, he is not mentioned, though the list of players is, as usual, inserted. That the term fellow, which continued to be mutually used by Shakspeare and the comedians of the Globe, cannot indicate a contrary conclusion, is evident from the language of the poet himself, who, in his will, though written three years after all connection, on his part, with the theatre had been given up, still speaks of Hemynge, Burbage, and Condell as his fellows.
* Wheler's Guide to Stratford upon Avon, p. 18. + See this Licence given at length in our History of the Stage, Part II. Chapter 7.
To nearly the same epoch we may attribute the friendly association of Shakspeare and Jonson in the celebrated club at the Mermaid, a form of society to which, from its ease and independency, Englishmen have always been peculiarly partial. The institution in question originated with Sir Walter Raleigh, and, as Mr. Gifford has well observed, speaking of Jonson's resort to it about the year 1603, “ combined more talent and genius, perhaps, than ever met together before or since; — here,” he adds, “ for many years, he (Jonson) regularly repaired with Shakspeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, and many others, whose names, even at this distant period, call up a mingled feeling of reverence and respect. Here, in the full flow and confidence of friendship, the lively and interesting wit-combats' took place between Shakspeare and our author; and hither, in probable allusion to them, Beaumont fondly lets his thoughts wander, in his letter to Jonson, from the country:
“ What things have we seen,
For the expression “ wit-combats,” in this interesting passage, we must refer to Fuller, who, describing the character of the bard of Avon, says : “ Many were the wit-combates between Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. I behold them like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances, Shakspeare, like the latter, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention." +
With what delight should we have hung over any well authenticated instances of these “ wit-combats !” but, unfortunately, nothing,
* Gifford's Jonson, vol. i. Memoirs, pp. Ixv. Ixvi.