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nature and his own language is, as Dr. Farmer concludes, truc enough; but when it is added, 'that be only picked up in conversation a familiar phrase or two of French, or remembered enough of bis school-boy's learning to put hig, hay, hoy, in the mouths of others:' he seems lo me lo go beyond any evidence produced by him of so little knowledge of languages in Sbakspeare. He proves indeed sufficiently, that Shakspeare chiefly read English books, by bis copying sometimes minutely the very errors made in them, many of which he might have corrected, if he had consulted ibe original Latin books made use of by those writers : but this does not prove that he was not able to read Latin well enough to examine those originals if he chose; it only proves bis indolence and indifference about accuracy in minule articles of no importance to the chief object in view of supplying himself with subjects for dramatic compositions. Do we not every day meet with numberless instances of similar and much greater oversights by persons well skilled in Greek as well as Latin, and professed critics also of the writings and abilities of others? If Shakspeare made an ignorant man pronounce the French word bras like the English brass, and evidently on purpose, as being a probable mistake by such an unlearned speaker, has not one learned modern in writing Lalin made Paginibus of Paginis, and another mentioned a person as being born in the reign of Charles the First, and yet as dying in 1600, full lwenty-five years before the accession of that king? Such mistakes arise not from ignorance, but a heedless inattention, while their thoughts are beller occupied with more important subjects ; as those of Shakspeare were with forming his plots and his characters, inslead of examining crilically a great Greek volume to see whether he ought to write on this side of Tiber or on that side of Tiber; which however very possibly he might not be able to read; but Lalin was more universally learnt in that age, and even by women, many of whom could both write and speak it; therefore it is not likely that he should be so very deficient in that language, as some would persuade us, by evidence which does not amount to sufficient proofs of the fact. Nay, even although he had a sufficiency of Latin to understand any Latin book, if he chose to do it, yet how many in modern limes, under the same circumstances, are led by mere indolence to prefer translations of them, in case they cannot read Latin with such perfect ease, as never to be al a loss for the meaning of a word, so as to be forced to read some sentences twice over before they can understand them rightly. That Shakspeare was not an eminent Latin scholar may be very true, but that he was so lotally ignorant as to know nothing more than hie, hæc, hoc, must have betler proofs before I can be convinced."
The truth seems to be, that Shakspeare, like most boys who have spent but two or three years at a grammar-school, acquired just as much Latin as would enable him, with the assistance of a lexicon, and no little share of assiduity, to construe a minor classic; a degree of acquisition which we every day see, unless forwarded by much leisure and much private industry, immediately becomes stationary, and soon retrograde. Our poet, when taken from the free-school of Stratford, had not only to direct his attention to business, in order to assist in warding off from his father's family the menacing approach of poverty; but it is likewise probable that his leisure, as we shall notice more at large in the next chapter, was engaged in other acquisitions; and when at a subsequent period, and after he had become a married man, his efforts where thrown into a channel perfectly congenial to his taste and talents, still to procure subsistence for the day was the immediate stimulus to exertion. Under these circumstances, and when we likewise recollect that popular favour and applause were essential to his success, and that nearly to the last period of his life he was a prolific caterer for the public in a species of poetry which called for no recondite or learned resources, it is not probable, nay, it is, indeed, scarcely possible, that he should have had time to cultivate and increase his classical attainments, originally and necessarily superficial. To translations, therefore, and to popular and legendary lore, he was alike directed by policy, by inclination, and by want of leisure; yet must we still agree, that, had a proficiency in the learned languages been necessary to his career, the means resided within himself, and that, on the basis merely of his school education, although limited as we have seen it, he might, had he carly and steadily directed his attention to the subject, have built the reputation of a scholar.
That the powers, however, of his vast and capacious mind, especially if we
Censura Literaria, vol, ix.
consider the shortness of his life, were not expended on such a attempt, we have reason to rejoice; for though his attainments, as a linguist, were truly trifling, yet his knowledge was great, and his learning, in the best sense of the term, that is, as distinct from the mere acquisition of language, multifarious, and extensive beyond that of most of his contemporaries.
It is, therefore, to his English studies that we must have recourse for a due estimate of his reading and research; a subject which will be treated of in a future portion of the work.
Shakspeare, after leaving School, follows his Father's Trade-Statement of Aubrey-Probably
present in his Twelfth Year at Kenilworth, when Elizaheth visited the Earl of Leicester-Tradition of Aubrey concerning him—Whether there is reason to suppose that, after leaving his Father, he was placed in an Attorney's Office, who was likewise Seneschal or Steward of some Manor-Anecdotes of Shakspeare- Illusions in his works to Barton, Wilnecotte, and Barston, Villages in Warwickshire-Earthquake in 1580 alluded to-Whether, after leaving School, he acquired any Knowledge of the French and Italian languages.
That Shakspeare, when taken from the free-school of Stratford, became an assistant to his father in the wool-trade, has been the general opinion of his biographers from the period of Mr. Rowe, who first published the tradition in 1709, to the present day. The anecdote was probably collected by Mr. Betterton the player, who visited Stratford in order to procure intelligence relative to his favourite poet, and from whom Mr. Rowe professes to have derived the greater part of his information. A few incidental circumstances tend also to strengthen the account that both father and son were engaged in this employment, and, for a time, together: in the first place, we may mention the discovery already noticed of the arms of the merchants of the wool-staple on a window of the house in which the poet was born †; secondly, the almost certain conclusion that the poverty of John Shakspeare, which we know to have been considerable in 1579, would naturally incline him to require the assistance of his son, in the only way in which, at that time, he could be serviceable to him; and thirdly, we may
* " If it were asked from what sources," observes Mr. Capel Lofft,“ Shakspeare drew these abundant streams of wisdom, carrying with their current the fairest and most unfading flowers of poetry, I should be tempted to say, he had what would be now considered a very reasonable portion of Latin; he was not wholls ignorant of Greek; he had a knowledge of the French, so as to read it with ease; and I believe not less of the Italian. He was habitually conversant in the chronicles of his country. He lived with wise and highly cultivated men; with Jonson, Essex, and Southampton, in familiar friendship. He had deeply imbibed the Scriptures. And his own most acute, profound, active, and original genius (for there never was a truly great poet, nor an aphoristic writer of excellence without these accompanying qualities) must take the lead in the solution.” Aphorisms from Shakspeare : Introduction, p. xii and xiii.
Again, in speaking of his poems, he remarks_“Transcendent as his original and singular genius was, I think it is not easy, with due attention to these poems, to doubt of his having acquired, when a boy, no ordinary facility in the classic language of Rome; though his knowledge of it might be small, comparatively, to the knowledge of that great and indefatigable scholar, Ben Jonson. And when Jonson says he had less Greek,' had it been true that he had none, it would have been as easy for the verse as for the sentiment to have said.no Greek.'”_Introduction, p. xxiv.
“Mr Betterton," observes Mr Malone,“ was born in 1635, and had many opportunities of collecting information relative to Shakspeare, but unfortunately the age in which he lived was not an age of curiosity. Had either he or Dryden or Sir William d'Avenant taken the trouble to visit our poet's youngest daughter, who lived till 1662, or his grand-daughter, who did not die till 1670, many particulars might have been preserved which are now irrecoverably lost. Shakspeare's sister, Jone Hart, who was only five years younger than him, died at Stratford in Nov. 1646, at the age of seventy-six ; and from her undoubtedly his two daughters, and his grand-daughter Lady Bernard, had learned several circumstances of his early history antecedent to the year 1600.” Reed's Shakspeare, p. 119, 120.
# It has already been observed, in a note written some years after the coinposition of the text, that this supposed corroboration is no longer to be depended upon.