Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Mr. Whiter, who first applied these corroborating passages to the subject before us, adds, “With respect to the verses in question, I cannot but observe that however suspicious their external evidence may appear, they contain within themselves some very striking features of authenticity; and may, I think, be readily conceived to have proceeded from the pen of our young Bard, before he was removed from the little circle of his native place, when his powers, unformed and unpractised, were roused only by resentment to a Country Justice, and destined therely to delight the rustic companions of his deer-stealing adventure. -As an additional evidence to the quibble on the word deer, which appears to be intended in these verses, we may observe that there is no topic, to which our author so delights to allude, as the Horns of the Cuckold.-Let me be permitted to remark in general, that the anecdotes, which have been delivered down to us respecting our poet, appear to me neither improbable, nor, when duly examined, inconsistent with each other: even those, which seem least allied to probability, contain in my opinion the adumbrata, if not expressa signa veritatis.

Whatever might be the merits of this ballad as a poetical composition, its effect as a satire was severely felt; nor can we greatly blame the conduct of Sir Thomas Lucy, if we consider, on the one hand, the lenity which was at first shown to the young offender, and, on the other, the publicity which was industriously given to this provoking libel; for it is recorded by Mr. Jones of Tarbick, that it was the placarding of this piece of sarcasm “ which exasperated the knight to apply to a lawyer at Warwick to proceed against him.” More magnanimity, it must be confessed, would have been displayed by altogether neglecting this splenetic retaliation; but still the provocation was sufficiently bitter to excite the resentment of a man who might not be entitled to the appellations so liberally bestowed on Sir Thomas by one of the poet's commentators of "vain, weak, and vindictive." The protection of property and character, provided the means resorted to for security be proportioned to the offence, can neither be deemed foolish nor oppressive, and that the bounds of moderation were exceeded in this instance, we have no suflicient grounds for asserting. Of the character of the magistrate nothing certain has transpired; but if we may be allowed to form an opinion of his temper and abilities, from the only trait which can be considered as indicatory, we must pronounce them to have been neither despicable nor unamiable. In the church at Charlcott there are still remaining several monuments of the Lucy family, among which is one to the memory of Sir Thomas and his lady; the effigies of the knight allords a very pleasing idea of his countenance, but is unaccompanied by date or inscription; over his wife, however, who reposes by his side, at the age of sixty-three, is a very striking encomium written by himself, the conclusion of which is attested in the following emphatic terms; after much apparently sincere eulogy, he adds, that she was, “when all is spoken that can be said, a woman so furnished and garnished with vertue as not to be bettered, and hardly to be equalled by any. As she lived most vertuously, so she dyed most godly. Set down by him that best did know what hath been written to be true. Thomas LICY."

This may very justly be considered, we think, as a proof, not only of the conjugal happiness of our knight, but of his possession of an intellect far from contemptible; yet is it very possible that resentment, even in a mind of still superior order, should for a time excite undue warmth and animosity, especially under the lash of satire; and we are the more willing to believe this to have been the case in the present instance, both from the known benevolence of the poet's character, and from the pertinacity with which he continued to remember the injury; for it is generally agreed that the opening scene of the Merry Wives of Windsor is intended to ridicule Sir Thomas , under the character of Justice Shallow. Now the representation of this comedy in its new modelled and enlarged

Whiter': Specimen of a Commentary on Shakspeare, p. 94, 95.

state, certainly did not take place until after the accession of King James, and as the prosecutor of our bard died on the 18th of August, 1600, it is not probable that the resentment of the poet would have survived the death of Sir Thomas, had not the severity of the magistrate been originally pushed too far.

This dialogue also between Shallow, Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans, serves strongly to confirm the authenticity of the commencing stanza of the ballad; for the Welsh parson plays upon the word luce in the same manner as that fragment has done upon the surname Lucy. Justice Shallow, it should likewise be remembered, is complaining of Falstaff for beating his men, killing his deer, and breaking open his lodge, and he threatens that “if he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire,” to which Slender adds,

“In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram. Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum.

Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too, and a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself armigero; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.

Shal. Ay, that we do; and have done any time these three hundred years.

Slen. All his successors, gone before him, have done't; and all his ancestors, that come after him, may: they may give the dozen white luces in their coat.

Shal. It is an old coat. Evans. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies-love.

Shal. The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.
Slen. I may quarter, coz ?
Shal. You may, by marrying.
Evans. It is marring, indeed, if he quarter it.
Shal. Not a whit.

Evans. Yes, py'r-lady; if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures; but this is all one: if Sir John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence, to make atonements and compromises between you. Shal. The Council shall hear it; it is a riot."

Act i. sc. I. Though the portrait thus given of Sir Thomas Lucy in the person of Shallow) represent him as weak and vain, yet we must recollect that it is still drawn in the spirit of retaliation and satire, and was most undoubtedly meant for a caricature.

It appears then more than probable, indeed from the testimony of Mr. Jones it appears to be the fact, that the prosecution, which, there is little doubt, had been threatened on the detection of the trespass, was only carried into execution in consequence of the poetical assault on the part of our author, who, possibly, thought nothing serious could occur from such a mode of revenge.

The circumstances, therefore, of the prosecution being threatened in the first instance, and taking place in the second, might occasion the report which Mr. Rowe has inserted in his Lise of Shakspeare, where, speaking of the ballad as his first essay in poetry, he adds, “it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London."

That Shakspeare left Stratford for London, about the year 1586 or 1587, and that the prosecution commenced by Sir Thomas Lucy contributed to this change of situation, are events which we may with safety admit; but that the libel was the sole cause of the removal appears not very probable; and we are inclined to be lieve with Mr. Chalmers, that debt added wings to his flight. “While other boys,” remarks this ingenious controversialist, “are only snivelling at school, and thinking nothing of life, Shakspeare entered the world,' with little but his love to make him happy, and little but his genius to prevent the intrusion of misery. An increasing family, and pressing wants, obliged him to look beyond the limits of Stratford, for subsistence, and for fame. He felt, doubtless, emotions of genius, and he saw, certainly, persons, who had not better pretensions than his own, rising to eminence in a higher scene. By these motives was he probably induced to remove to London, in the period, between the years 1585 and 1588 ; chased from his home, by the terriers of the law, for debt, rather than for deer-stealing, or for libelling."

The probability of this having been the case, will be much heightened, when we recollect, that between the years 1579 and 1586 the father of Shakspeare had fallen into distressed circumstances; that during the first of these periods, he had been excused paying a weekly contribution of 4d., and that during the latter he was under the necessity

of resigning his office as alderman, not being able to defray the expense of attendance at the common halls; facts, which while they ascertain his impoverished state, at the same time prove his utter inability to assist his son, now burdened with a family, and anxiously looking round for the means of its support.

For the adoption of the year 1586 or 1587, as the era of our author's emigration to town, several powerful, and almost convincing, arguments may be given, and these it will be necessary here to state.

It is well ascertained that Shakspeare married in the year 1582, and Mr. Rowe has affirmed that in this kind of settlement he continued for some time, till an extravagance (the deer-stealing frolic) that he was guilty of, forced him both out of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up.” Now that this settlement for some time was the period which elapsed between the years 1582 and 1586, will almost certainly appear, when we recollect the domestic events which occurred during its progress; that, according to tradition, he had embraced his father's business, on entering into the marriage-state; and that the family of the poet in short was increased in this interval, by the birth of three children, baptized at Stratford; Susanna, May 26th, 1583, and Hamnet and Judith, Feb. 2d, 1584–5.

That the removal was not likely to have taken place later than 1587, will be generally admitted, when we advert to the commencement of his literary labours. The issue of research has rendered it highly probable that our bard was a corrector and improver of old plays for the stage in 1589; it has discovered from evidence amounting almost to certainty, that he was a writer for the theatre on a plan of greater originality in 1591, and that, even so early as 1592, he was noticed as a dramatic poet of some celebrity. Now, if we compare these facts, which will be noticed more fully hereafter, with the poet's own assertion, that the Venus and Adonis was “the first heir of his invention," * it will go far to prove, that this poem, which is not a short one, and is elaborated with great care, must have been composed between his departure from Stratford, and his commencement as a writer for the stage, (that is between the years 1586 and 1589); for while there is no ground to surmise that it was written on the banks of the Avon, there is sufficient evidence to assert that it was finished, though not published, before he was known to fame.

It is impossible to contemplate the flight of Shakspeare from his family and native town, without pausing to reflect upon the consequences which followed that event; consequences most singularly propitious, not only to the intellectual character of his country in particular, but to the excitation and progress of genius throughout the world. Had not proverty and prosecution united in driving Shakspeare from his humble occupation in Wawickshire, how many matchless lessons of wisdom and morality, how many unparalleled displays of wit and imagination, of pathos and sublimity, had been buried in oblivion; pictures of emotion, of character, of passion, more profound than mere philosophy had ever conceived, more impressive than poetry had ever yet embodied; strains which shall now sound through distant posterity with increasing energy and interest, and which shall powerfully and beneficially continue to influence and to mould both national and individual feeling.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

PART II.

SHAKSPEARE IN LONDON,

CHAPTER I.

Shakspeare's Arrival in London about the Year 1546, when twenty-two Years of Age-Leaves his

Family at Stratford, visiting tbem occasionally-His Introduction to the Stage-Alis Merits as an Actor.

No era in the annals of Literary History ever perhaps occurred of greater importance, than that which witnessed the entrance of Shakspeare into the metropolis of his native country; a position which will readily be granted, if we consider the total revolution which this event produced in the Literature of the Stage, and the vast influence which, through the medium of the most popular branch of our poetry, it has subsequently exerted on the minds, manners, and taste of our countrymen. Friendless, persecuted, poor, about the early age of twenty-two, was the greatest poet which the world has ever seen, compelled to desert his home, his wife, his children, to seek employment from the hands of strangers. Rich, however, in talent, beyond all the sons of men, blessed with a cheerful disposition, an active mind, and a heart conscious of integrity, soon did the clouds which overspread his youth break away, and unveil a character which has ever since been the delight, the pride, the boast of England,

We have assigned some strong reasons, at the close of the last chapter, for placing the epoch of Shakspeare's arrival in London, about 1586 or 1587; and we shall now bring forward some presumptive proofs that he not only left his wife and family at Stratford on his first visit to the capital, but that his native town continued to be their settled residence during his life.

Mr. Rowe has affirmed upon a tradition which we have no claim to dispute, that he was obliged to leave his family for some time;" a fact in the highest degree probable from the causes which led to his removal; for it is not to be supposed, situated as he then was, that he would be willing to render his wife and children the companions and partakers of the disasters and disappointments which it was probable he had to encounter. Tradition further says, as preserved in the manuscripts of Aubrey, that “he was wont to go to his native country once a yeare;” and Mr. Oldys, in his collections for a life of our author, repeats this report with an additional circumstance, remarking “if tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journei's to and from London." It is true that these traditions, if insulated from other circumstances, might merely prove that he visited the place of bis birth annually, without necessarily inferring that his family was also resident there; but if we consult the parish-register of Stratford, their testimony will indeed be strong, and powerfully confirm the deduction; for it appears on that record that, merely including his children, there is a succession of baptisms, marriages and deaths in his family at Stratford, from the year 1583 to 1616. This evidence, so satisfactory in itself,

Antony Wood, it appears, was the original author of this anecdote, for he tells us in his Athenæ, that John Davenant, who kept the Crown, was “an adinirer and lover of plays and play-makers, especially Shakspeare, who frequented his house in his journies between Iarwickshire and London." Ath. Oxon. vol, ü. p. 292.

66

« VorigeDoorgaan »