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That the necessity for this union, however, did not exist towards the latter part of his life, there is much reason to imagine, both from the increasing reputation and affluence of his son William, and from the fact of his applying to the College of Heralds, in 1596 and 1599, for a grant of arms; events, of which the first, considering the character of the poet, must almost necessarily have led to, and the second directly pre-supposes, the possession of comparative competence and respectability.
The only remaining circumstance which time has spared us, relative to the personal conduct of John Shakspeare, is, that there appears some foundation to believe that, a short time previous to his death, he made a confession of his faith, or spiritual will; a document still in existence, the discovery and history of which, together with the declaration itself, will not improperly find a place at the close of this commencing chapter of our work.
About the year 1770, a master-bricklayer, of the name of Mosely, being employed by Mr. Thomas Hart, the fifth in descent, in a direct line, from the poet's sister, Joan Hart, to new-tile the house in which he then lived, and which is supposed to be that under whose roof the bard was born, found hidden between the rafters and the tiling of the house, a manuscript, consisting of six leaves, stitched together, in the form of a small book. This manuscript Mosely, who bore the character of an honest and industrious man, gave (without asking or receiving any recompense) to Mr. Peyton, an alderman of Stratford ; and this gentleman very kindly sent it to Mr, Malone, through the medium of the Rev. Mr. Davenport, vicar of Stratford. It had, however, previous to this transmission, unfortunately been deprived of the first leaf, a deficiency which was afterwards supplied by the discovery, that Mosely, who had now been dead about two years, had copied a great portion of it, and from his transcription the introductory parts were supplied.* The daughter of Mosely and Mr. Hart, who were both living in the year 1790, agreed in a perfect recollection of the circumstances attending the discovery of this curious document, which consists of the following fourteen articles.
1. “In the name of God, the Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, the most holy and blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the holy host of archangels, angels, patriarchs, prophets, evangelists, apostles, saints, martyrs, and all the celestial court and company of heaven : 1 John Shakspear, an unworthy member of the holy Catholic religion, being at this my present writing in perfect health of body, and sound mind, memory, and understanding, but calling to mind the uncertainly of life and certainty of death, and that I may be possibly cut off in the blossome of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions externally, and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, pennance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever, do in the holy presence above specified, of my own free and voluntary accord, make apd ordaine this my last spiritual will, testament, consession, proleslalion, and confession of faith, hopinge hereby to receive pardon for all my sinnes and offences, and thereby to be made partaker of life everlasting, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my saviour and redeemer, who took upon himself the likeness of man, suffered dealb, and was crucified upon the crosse, for the redemption of sinners.
2. “ Item, I Jobo Shakspear doe by this present protest, acknowledge, and confess, that in my past life I have been a most abominable and grievous sinner, and therefore unworthy to be forgiven without a true and sincere repentance for the same. But trusting in the manifold mercies of my blessed Saviour and Redeemer, I am encouraged, by relying on his sacred word, to hope for salvation, and be made partaker of his heavenly kingdom, as a member of the celestial company of angels, saints, and martyrs, there to reside for ever and ever in the court of my God.
3. “ Ilem, I John Shakspear doe by tbis present protest and declare, that as I am certain I must passe out of this transilory, life into another that will last to eternity, I do hereby most humbly implore and intreat my good and guardian angell to instruct me in this my solemn preparation, protestation, and confession of faith, at least spiritually, in will adoring and most humbly beseeching my Saviour, Ibat he will be pleased to assist me in so dangerous a voyages
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii, p. 197, 198.
to defend me from the snares and deceites of my infernal enemies, and to conduct me to the secure baven of his eternal blisse.
4. “ Item, 1 John Shakspear doe protest that I will also passe out of this life, armed with the last sacrament of extreme unction: the which is through any let or hindrance I should not then be able to have, I doe now also for that time demand and crave the same; beseeching his Divine Majesty that he will be pleased 10 anoynt my senses both internall and externall with the sacred oyle of his infinite mercy, and to pardon me alle my sins committed by seeing, speaking, feeling, smelling, hearing, touching, or by any other way whatsoever.
5. “ Item, I John Shakspear doe by this present protest, that I will never through any templation whatsoever despaire of the divine goodness, for the multitude and grealness of my sinpes; for which, although I confesse that I have deserved hell, yet will I sleadfastly hope in God's infinite mercy, knowing that he halh heretofore pardoned many as great sinners as mysell, whereof I have good warrant sealed with his sacred moulb, in holy writ, whereby he pronounceth that he is not come to call the just, but singers.
6. “ Item, I John Shakspear do protest, that I do not know that I have ever done any good worke meritorious of life everlasting: and if I have done any, I do acknowledge that I have done it with a great deale of negligence and imperfection ; neither should I bave been able to have done the least without the assistance of his divine grace. Wherefore let the devill remain confounded : for 1 doe in no wise presume lo merit heaven by such good workes alone, but through the merits and bloud of my Lord and Saviour Jesus, shed upon the cross for me most miserable sinner.
7. “ Item, I John Shakspear do protest by this present writing, that I will patiently endure and suffer all kind of infirmily, sickness, yea, and the paine of death itself : wherein if it should happen, which God forbid, that through violence of paine and agony, or by subtilty of the devill, I should fall into any impatience or templation of blasphemy, or murmuration against God, or the Catholic faith, or give any signe of bad example, I do henceforth, and for that present, repent me, and am most heartily sorry for the same : and I do renounce all the evill whatsoever, which I might have then done or said; beseeching bis divine clemency that he will not forsake me in that grievous and paignefull agony.
8, “ Item, I John Shakspear, by virlue of this present teslament, I do pardon all the injuries and offences that any one hath ever done unto me, either in my reputation, life, goods, or any other way whatsoever ; beseeching sweet Jesus lo pardon them for the same ; and I do desire that they will doe the like by me whome I have offended or injured in any sort howsoever.
9. “ Item, I John Shakspear do here protest, ibat I do render infinite thanks to his Divine Majesty for all the benefits Ibat I have received, as well secret as manifest, and in particular for the benefit of my creation, redemption, sanctification, conservation, and vocation to the holy knowledge of him and his true Catholic faith : but above all for his so great expectation of me to pennance, when he might most justly have taken me out of this life, when I least thought of it, yea, even then, when I was plunged in the durly puddle of my sinnes. Blessed be therefore and praised, for ever and ever, his infinite patience and charity.
Item, I John Sbakspear do protest, that I am willing, yea, I do infinitely desire and humbly crave, that of this my last will and testament the glorious and ever Virgin Mary, mother of God, refuge and advocale of sinners (whom I honour ecially above all saints), may be the chiefe executresse, togeather with these other saints, my patrons (Saint Winefride), all whome I invoke and beseech to be present at the hour of my death, that she and they comfort me with their desired presence, and crave of sweet Jesus that he will receive my soul into peace.
11. “ Item, In virtue of lbis present writing, I John Shakspear do likewise most willingly and with all bumility constitute and ordaine my good angell for defender and protector of my soul in the dreadfull day of judgment, when the finall sentence of elernall life or death shall be discussed and given: beseecbing bim that, as my soule was appointed to his custody and protection when I Jived, even so he will vouchsafe to defend the same at that houre, and conduct il to elernall bliss.
12. Item, I John Shakspear do in like manner pray and beseech all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowells of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, for fear polwilbstanding least by reason of my sinnes I be to pass and stay a long while in purgatory, they will vouchafe to assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory workes, especially with the holy sacrifice of the masse, as being the most effectual means lo deliver soules from their torments and paines; from the which, if I shall by God's gracious goodnesse, and by their vertuous workes, be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungratefull unto them for so great a benefitt.
13. “ Item, 1 John Shakspear doe by this my last will and testament bequeath my soul, as
as soon as it shall be delivered and loosened from the prison of this my body, to be entombed in the sweet and amorous coffin of the side of Jesus Christ; and that in this life-giving sepulcher it may rest and live, perpetually enclosed in that eternall habitation of repose, there to blesse for ever and ever that direful iron of the launce, which, like a charge in a censore, formes so sweet and pleasant a monument within the sacred breast of my Lord and Saviour.
14. Item, Lastly 1 John Shakspear doe prolest, that I will willingly accept of death in wbat manner soever it may befall me, conforming my will unto the will of God; accepling of the same in satisfaction for my sinnes, and giving thanks unlo his Divine Majesty for the life he hath bestowed upon me. And if it please him to prolong or shorten the same, blessed be he also a thousand thousand times; inlo whose most holy hands 1 commend my soul and body, my life and death: and I beseech bim above all things, that he never permit any change to be made by me John Shakspear of this my aforesaid will and testament. Amen.
“1 John Shakspeare have made this present writing of proleslalion, confession, and charter, in presence of the blessed Virgin Mary, my angell guardian, and all the celestial court, as witnesses hereunto: the which my meaning is, that it be of full value now presently and for ever with the force and vertue of lestament, codicill, and donation in course of death; confirming it anew, being in perfect health of soul and body, and signed with mine own hand; carrying also the same about me, and for the belter declaration hereof, my will und intention is that it be dually buried with me after my death.
“ Pater noster, Ave maria, Credo.
Jesu, son of David, have inercy on me.- - Amen." If the intention of the testator, as expressed in the close of this will, were carried into effect, then, of course, the manuscript which Mosely found, must necessarily have been a copy of that which was buried in the grave of John Shakspeare.
Mr. Malone, to whom, in his edition of Shakspeare, printed in 1790, we are indebted for this singular paper, and for the history attached to it, observes, thay he is unable to ascertain whether it was drawn up by John Shakspeare the father, or by John his supposed eldest son ; but he says, “I have taken some pains to
* ascertain the authenticity of this manuscript, and, after a very careful inquiry, am perfectly satisfied that it is genuine.” — In the “ Inquiry," however, which he published in 1796, relative to the Ireland papers, he has given us, though without assigning any reasons for his change of opinion, a very different result : “In my conjecture," he remarks, “concerning the writer of that
I certainly was mistaken ; for I have since obtained documents that clearly prove it could not have been the composition of any one of our poet's family." +
In the “Apology” of Mr. George Chalmers “ for the Believers in the Shakspeare-Papers,” which appeared in the year subsequent to Mr. Malone's “Inquiry," a new light is thrown upon the origin of this confession. “ From the sentiment, and the language, this confession appears to be," says this gentleman, “the effusion of a Roman Catholic mind, and was probably drawn up by some Roman Catholic priest. S If these premises be granted, it will follow, as a fair deduction, that the family of Shakspeare were Roman Catholics; a circumstance this, which is wholly consistent with what Mr. Malone is now studious to inculcate, viz. that this confession could not have been the composition of any of our poet's family. The thoughts, the language, the orthography, all demonstrate the truth of my conjecture, though Mr. Malone did not perceive this truth, when he first published this paper in 1790. But it was the performance of a clerke, the undoubted work of the family-priest. The conjecture, that Shakspeare's family were Roman Catholics, is strengthened by the fact, that his father declined to attend the corporation meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body." ** • Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 199 et seq.
+ Ibid. p. 197. Malone's Inquiry, p. 198, 199.
As a specimen, let us take the beginning of this declaration of faith, and see still stronger terms in the conclusion of this protestation, confession, and charter.
“The place too, the roof of the house, where this confession was found, proves, that it had been therein concealud, during times of persecution for the holy Catholic religion.” Apology, p. 198, 199.
This conjecture of Mr. Chalmers appears to us in its leading points very plausible ; for that the father of our poet might be a Roman Catholic is, if we consider the very unsettled state of his times with regard to religion, not only a possible but a probable supposition : in which case, it would undoubtedly have been the office of the spiritual director of the family to have drawn up such a paper as that which we have been perusing. It was the fashion also of the period, as Mr. Chalmers has subsequently observed, to draw up confessions of religious faith, a fashion honoured in the observance by the great names of Lord Bacon, Lord Burghley, and Archbishop Parker. * That he declined, however, attending the corporation meetings of Stratford from religious motives, and that his removal from that body was the result of non-attendance from such a cause, cannot readily be admitted; for we have clearly seen that his defection was owing to pecuniary difficulties; nor is it, in the least degree, probable that, after having honourably filled the highest offices in the corporation without scruple, he should at length, and in a reign too popularly protestant, incur expulsion from an avowed motive of this kind; especially as we have reason to suppose, from the mode in which this profession was concealed, that the tenets of the person whose faith it declares were cherished in secret.
From an accurate inspection of the hand-writing of this will, Mr. Malone infers that it cannot be attributed to an earlier period than the year 1600, † whence it follows that, if dictated by, or drawn up at the desire of, John Shakspeare, his death soon sealed the confession of his faith; for, according to the register, he was buried on September 8th, 1601.
Such are the very few circumstances which reiterated research has hitherto gleaned relative to the father of our poet ; circumstances which, as being intimately connected with the history and character of his son, have acquired an interest of no common nature. Scanty as they must be pronounced, they lead to the conclusion that he was a moral and industrious man ; that when fortune favoured him, he was not indolent, but performed the duties of a magistrate with respectability and effect, and that in the hour of adversity he exerted every nerve to support with decency a numerous family.
Before we close this chapter, it may be necessary to state, that the very orthography of the name of Shakspeare has occasioned much dispute. Of Shakspeare the father, no autograph exists; but the poet has left us several, and from these, and from the monumental inscriptions of his family, must the question be decided ; the latter, as being of the least authority, we shall briefly mention, as exhibiting, in Dugdale, three varieties,-Shakespeare, Shakespere, and Shak
, speare. The former present us with five specimens which, singular as it may appear, all vary, either in the mode of writing or mode of spelling. The first is annexed to a mortgage executed by the poet in 1613, and appears thus, Wm Shakspea : the second is from a deed of bargain and sale, relative to the same transaction, and of the same period, and signed, William Shaksper : the third, fourth and fifth are taken from the Will of Shakspeare executed in March, 1616, consisting of three briefs or sheets, to each of which his name is subscribed. These signatures, it is remarkable, differ considerably, especially in the surnames ; for in the first brief we find William Shackspere; in the second, Willm Shakspe re, and in the third, William Shakspeare. It has been supposed, however, that, according to the practice in Shakspeare's time, the name in the first sheet was written by the scrivener who drew the will.
In the year 1790, Mr. Malone, from an inspection of the mortgage, pronounced the genuine orthography to be Shakspeare ; # in 1796, from consulting the deed of sale, he altered his opinion, and declared that the poet's own mode of spelling his name was, beyond a possibility of doubt, thatof Shakspere, though for reasons
Chalmer's Apology, # Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 149.
, p. 200.
+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 198.
which he should assign in a subsequent publication, he should still continue to write the name Shakspeare.*
To this decision, relative to the genuine orthography, Mr. Chalmers cannot accede; and for this reason, that, “when the testator subscribed his name, for the last time, he plainly wrote Shakspeare.”+
It is obvious, therefore, that the controversy turns upon, whether there be, or be not, an a introduced in the second syllable of the last signature of the poet. Mr. Malone, on the suggestion cf an anonymous correspondent, thinks that there is not, this gentleman having clearly shown him, “that though there was a superfluous stroke when the poet came to write the letter r in his last signature, probably from the tremor of his hand, there was no a discoverable in that syllable; and that this name, like both the other, was written Shakspere.”
From the plate of autographs, which is to be found in Mr. Chalmer's Apology, and which presents us with very perfect fac-similes of the signatures, it is at once evident, that the assertion of the anonymous correspondent, that the last signature, “ like both the other, was written Shakspere,” cannot be correct; for the surname in the first brief is written Shackspere, and, in the second, Shakspe re. Now the hiatus in this second signature is unaccounted for in the fac-simile given by Mr. Malone S; but in the plate of Mr. Chalmers it is found to have been occasioned by the intrusion of the word the of the preceding line, a circumstance which, very probably, might prevent the introduction of the controverted letter. It is like wise, we think, very evident that something more than a superfluous stroke exists between the e and r of the last signature, and that the variation is, indeed, too material to have originated from any supposed tremor of the hand.
Upon the whole, it may, we imagine, be safely reposed on as a fact, that Shakspeare was not uniform in the orthography of his own name; that he sometimes spelt it Shakspere and sometimes Shakspeare ; but that no other variation is extant which can claim a similar authority.** It is, therefore, nearly a matter of
Malone's Inquiry, p. 120.
Chalmers's Apology, p. 235. Ibid. pp. 117, 118.
Inquiry, Plate II. No. 12.
Kyd. Yet, it is remarkable, that in this collection of diversities, our dramatist's name is uniformly spelt Shakspeare : in whatever manner this celebrated name may have been pronounced in Warwickshire, it certainly was spoken in London, with the e soft, thus,
Shakespeare : in the registers of the Stationers' Company, it is written, Shakespere, and Shakespeare." Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, pp. 129, 130.
A curious proof of the uncertain orthography of the poet's surname among his contemporaries and immediate successors, may be drawn from a pamphlet, entitled, “ The great_Assizes holden in Parnassus by Apollo and his Assessours: at which Sessions are arraigned, Mercurius Britannicus, etc. etc. London: Printed by Richard Cotes for Edward Husbands, and are to be sold at his shop in the Middle Temple. 1645. qto. 25 leaves.
In this rare tract, among the list of the jurors is found the name of our bard, written William Shakespeere ; and in the body of the poem, it is given Shakespeare, and Shakespear. Vide British Bibliographer vol. i. p. 513.