Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE LIFE

OF

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.

Taz name of Shakspeare, which is mentioned by the estate which the royal munificence had thus Verstegan, among those 'syrnames imposed upon conferred on his ancestor, it was insufficient for the first bearers of them for valour and feats of his wants; and he was obliged to have recourse arms,'*

'* is one of great antiquity in the woodland to trade to increase the narrow measure of his districts of Warwickshire. The family, thus patrimony. The traditional accounts that have honourably distinguished, appears to have re- been received respecting him are consistent in ceived its origin either at Rowington or Lap- describing him as engaged in business, though worth. Long before the genius of our great they disagree in the nature of the employment dramatic poet had rendered their name a subject | which they ascribe to him. In the MS. notes of national interest, the Shakspeares were esta- which Aubrey had collected for a life of the blished among the more affluent inhabitants of poet, it is affirmed, that his father was a bitthose villages, and thence several individuals of cher;' while on the other hand, it is stated by the race, from time to time, removed, and became Rowe that he was a considerable dealer in settlers in the principal places of the county. wool. The truth of the latter report it is

After the most indefatigable researches Malone scarcely possible to doubt. It was received from found himself unable to trace the particular Betterton the player, whose veneration for the branch of the family from which Shakspeare poet induced him to make a pilgrimage to War. himself descended, beyond his immediate an- wickshire, that he might collect all the infor. cestor ; but it is mentioned by Rowe, as being mation respecting the object of his enthusiasm 'of good figure and fashion,'t in the town of which remained among his townsmen, at a time Stratford. This statement is supported by the when such prominent facts as the circumstances authority of a document, preserved in the Col- and avocation of his parents could not yet lege of Heralds, conferring the grant of a coat have sunk into oblivion. It is indeed, not imof arms on John Shakspeare, the father of the probable that both these accounts may be correcta poet, in which the title of gentleman is added to • Few occupations,' observes Malone, 'can be his denomination; and it is stated, that his named which are more naturally connected with great grandfather had been rewarded by king each other.' Dr. Farmer has shewn that the two Henry the Seventh, for his faithful and approved trades were occasionally united : // or if they services, with lands and tenements given him in were not thus exercised together by the poet's aose parts of Warwickshire, where they have father, his having adopted them separately at continued by some descents in good reputation different periods of his life, is not inconsistent and credit.lt

with the changeful character of his circumIf Shakspeare's father inherited any portion of stances. The new notion of John Shikspeare's

Restitution of Decayed Intellig

4to. 1605.

p. 294.

+ Rowk's Life of Shakspeare.

Grant of arms to John Shakspeare, made 1599. Malone, who always appears to have had a double object in bis researches, first, to discredit all received opinions respecting our poet and his family, and secondly, to introduce some fanciful conjecture of his own, suggests that these expressions relate not to the ancestor of John Shakspeare, but to the ancestor of his wife. His arguments are not devoid of plausibility; but what certainty can we ever hope to obtain

in the consideration of remote events, if the express authority of contemporary official documents is to be set aside by the questionable conjectures of the antiquarian?

Betterton was born in 1635. Shakspeare's young. est daughter lived till 1662, and his grand daughter till 1670 ; and many of his relatives and connexions, the Harts and the Hathaways, were surviving at the time of Betterton's visit to Stratford.

|| See Reed's Shakspeare, vol. 18. p. 346 347. Stue veus' pote.

baving been a glover, which has been advanced | ley Street ; in 1570 he rented fourteen acres al in Malone's last edition of our author's works, land, called Ington Meadow: and we find him I have no hesitation in dismissing. It is neither four years afterwards, becoming the purchaser of supported by tradition, nor probability; and the two additional houses in Henley Street, with a brief minute which the laborious editor disco- garden and orchard attached to each. vered in the bailiff's court at Stratford, must In this season of prosperity, Mr. John Shak. have referred to some other of the innumerable speare was not careless of the abilities of his John Shakspeares, whom we find mentioned in child. His own talents had been wholly unimthe wills and registers of the time.

proved by education, and he was one of the The father of Shakspeare married, probably twelve, out of the nineteen aldermen of Stratabout the year 1555 or 1556, Mary the daughter ford, whose accomplishments did not extend to of Robert Arden, of Willingcote, in the county being able to sign their own names.

This cir. of Warwick; by which connexion he obtained a cumstance, by the bye, most satisfactorily estasmall estate in land, some property in money, blishes the fact, that he could not have written and such accession of respectability as is derived the confession of faith which was found in refrom an equal and honourable alliance. The pairing the roof of his residence at Stratford. I family of Mary Arden, like his own, was one of But, whatever were his own deficiences, he was great antiquity in the county, and her ancestors careful that the talents of his son should not also had been rewarded for their faithful and im- suffer from a similar neglect of education. Wil. portant services by the gratitude of Henry the liam was placed at the Free School of Stratford : Seventh. The third child, and the eldest son of it is not uninteresting to know the names of the this union, was the celebrated subject of the instructors of Shakspeare. They have been present memoirs.

traced by the minute researches of Malone. Mr. William SHAKSPEARE was born on the 23d Thomas Hunt, and Mr. Thomas Jenkins, were of April, 1564, and baptized on the 26th of the successively the masters of the school, from 1572 same month.

to 1580, which must have included the schoolAt the time of the birth of his illustrious off. boy days of our poet. spring, John Shakspeare evidently enjoyed no At this time, Shakspeare would have posslight degree of estimation among his townsmen. sessed ample means of obtaining access to all He was already a member of the corporation, those books of history, poe and romance, with and for two successive years, had been nominated which he seems to have had so intimate an one of the chamberlains of Stratford.+ From acquaintance, and which were calculated to this time he began to be chosen in due succes- attract his early taste, and excite the admiration sion to the highest municipal offices of the of his young and ardent fancy; and he might borough. In 1569, he was appointed to dis- also thus early have become imbued with a taste charge the important duties of high-bailiff; "and for the drama, by attending the performances of was subsequently elected and sworn chief alder- the different companies of players, the comedians man for the year 1571.

of the Queen, of the Earl of Worcester, of Lord During this period of his life, which con- Leicester, and of other noblemen, who were constitutes the poet's years of childhood, the fortune tinually making the Guildhall of Stratford, the of Master John Shakspeare—for so he is uni- scene of their representations. But he was soon formly designated in the public writings of the called to other cares, and the discharge of more borough, from the time of his acting as high serious duties. The prosperity of his father was bailiff-perfectly corresponded with the station not of permanent duration. In 1578, Mr. John. which we find him holding among his townsmen. Shakspeare mortgaged the estate which he had His charities rank him with the second class of received from his wife ; in the following year he the inhabitants of Stratford. In a subscription was exempted from the contribution of fourfor the relief of the poor, 1564, out of twenty- pence a week for the poor, which was paid by four persons, twelve gave more, six the same, the other aldermen; and that this exception in and six less, than the poet's father ; and in a his favour was made in consequence of the second subscription, of fourteen persons, eight pecuniary embarrassments under which he was gave more, five the same, and one less. So early known to labour, is manifest from his having as 1556, he held the lease of two houses in the been at the same period reduced to the necessity town, one in Green Hill, and the other in Hen- of obtaining Mr. Lambert's security for the pay.

P. 198

• The whole was worth little more than 1001., at follow, as a fair deduction, that the family of Shak. that time considered a fais provision for a daughter. speare were Roman Catholics.' Chalmers' Apology, He was admitted to the corporation probably in

The paper was found in 1770, and conimunj. 1557. He was elected chamberlain in 1561.

cated to Malone ; but are not the official situations 1. From the sentiment and the language, this con- held by Shakspeare's father in the borough conclufension appears to be the effusion of a Roman Catho- sive against the opinion whicb Mr. Chalmers has to mind, and was probably drawn up by some Roman grounded upon it? Catholic priest. If these premises be granted, it will

ment of a debt of five pounds, to Sadler, a baker. | From the celebrated passage in Twelfth Night, This depression of his circumstances is alluded concluding with to by Rowe, and attributed to the expenses in

• Then let thy love be younger than thyself, cidental to a large and increasing family; but in Or thy affection cannot hold the bent,' this statement, the real cause of his difficulties is mistaken. It has been ascertained, by the dili- we may suspect that Shakspeare, at the time of gence of Malone, that the family of Shakspeare's writing this, which was probably his last, play, father was by no means numerous; for of his had lived to repent his too early marriage, and eight children, five only attained to the years the indulgence of an affection so much "misof maturity.* The decay of his affairs" was grafted in respect of years.'! Such is the conthe natural consequence of the decline of the jecture of Malone; but it is hardly fair to apply branch of trade in which he was engaged. As a personally to the poet the general maxims that woolstapler, Mr. John Shakspeare had flourished may be discovered in his works. His daughter as long as the business itself was prosperous ;

Susanna was born in the following year. The and with its failure, his fortunes had fallen into parish register of Stratford informs us that decay. He became involved in the gradual ruin

within eighteen months afterwards his wife bore which fell on the principal trade of the place,

twins, a son and daughter, who were baptized by and which, in 1590, drew from the bailiff and the names of Hamnet and Judith: and thus, burgesses of Stratford, a supplication to the Lord

when little more than twenty, Shakspeare had Treasurer Burghley, lamenting the distresses of already a wife and three children dependant on the town ; ‘for want of such trade as heretofore his exertions for support. they had by clothinge, and making of yarne,

Malone supposes that our author was at this ymploying and mayntayninge a number of poore time employed in an attorney's office, and gives people by the same, which now live in great a long list of quotations from his works, which penury and miserie, by reason they are not set shew how familiarly he was acquainted with the at worke, as before they have been.'t

terms and the usages of the law, in support of In this unfavourable state of the affairs of his his conjecture. As there are no other grounds family, Shakspeare was withdrawn from school ; for entertaining such a supposition; as testimony . bis assistance was wanted at home.' It was, 1 of the same nature, and equally strong, might be should imagine, at this juncture, that his father, auduced to prove that Shakspeare was a member no longer able to secure a respectable subsis- of almost every other trade or profession, for he tence for his wife and children, by his original was ignorant of none; and as the legal knowtrade as a woolstapler, had recourse to the ledge which he displays might easily have been inferior occupation of a butcher; and, if the tale caught up in conversation, or indeed from expebe founded in fact, which Aubrey says ‘he was rience in the quirks and technicalities of the told heretofore by some of his neighbours,' then law, during the course of his own and his father's it must have been, that Shakspeare began to difficulties; I have little hesitation in classing exhibit his dramatic propensities, and when he this among the many ingenious but unsound killed a calfe, would do it in a high style, and conjectures of the learned editor, and adopting make a speech.'s

the tradition of Aubrey respecting the avocation The assistance, however, which the poet ren- of this portion of his life. To satisfy the claims... dered his father in his business, was not of long that were multiplying around him, Shakspeare duration. He had just attained the age of endeavoured to draw upon his talents and aceigh:een, when he married. The object of this quirements as the source of his supplies, and early attachment was Anne, the daughter of undertook the instruction of children. ** Richard Hathaway, a substantial yeoman, in the The portion of classical knowledge that he neighbourhood of his native town. She was brought to the task, has given occasion for much eight years older than her husband ; and Oldys, 7 controversy, which it is now impossible to deterwithout stating his authority, in one of his MSS. mine. The school at which he was educated, mentions her as beautiful. || It may be feared produced several individuals, among the contemthat this marriage was not perfectly happy. poraries of our great poet, who were not deficient

• His family consisted of four sons and four daugh- and was buried in the church of that parish, on the ters. Joan, died in infancy : MARGARET, when only 31st of December, 1607.—SKOTTOwe's Life of Shak four months old. WILLIAM, was the poet : of Git speare, vol. i. p. 7, 8. JERT, notbing is known but the date of his baptism, + Supplication to Lord Treasurer Burghley, Nov and that be lived till after the restoration of Charles 9, 1590, preserved in the chamber at Stratford. the Second : Joan, married William Hart, a hatter, Rowe's Life of Shakspeare. at Stratford; she died in 1646, leaving three suns : AUBREY's MS. Ashmol. Oxon. and in 1794, one of Shakspeare's two houses, in Hen- || BOSWELL's Shakspeare. Note to the 93d Sonnet. ley Street, was the property of Thomas Hart, a but- Boswell's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 112. cber, the sixth in descent from Joan. Ann, died in •* • He understood Latin pretty well, for he had Infancy. RICHARD, was buried in 1612-13. EDMUND, been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the was a player at the Globe; he lived in St. Saviour's, country.'-AUBRKY.

in learuing ;' and, though he was prematurely perhaps, very fairly estimated the real extent of withdrawn from their companionship, it would Shakspeare's literary acquirements : He had be difficult to believe, that with his quickness of what would now be considered a very reasonable apprehension, he could have mingled for any proportion of Latin; he was not wholly ignorant considerable time in their course of study, without of Greck; he had a knowledge of the French so attaining a proportionate share of their informa- as to read it with ease; and I believe not less of tion. He understood Latin pretty well,' says the Italian. - He was habitually conversant in Aubrey; and this account corresponds exactly the chronicles of his country. He had deeply with the description of his friend Ben Jonson, imbibed the Scriptures.'-And again, in speaking who speaks of him as one possessed ‘of little of his Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece Latin and less Greek.' Dr. Farmer, indeed, has which were the first published efforts of Shakproved, that translations of all the classics to speare's genius, Mr. Lofft continues : ‘I think it which Shakspeare has referred, were already in not easy, with due attention to these poems, to circulation before he wrote; and that in most of doubt of his having acquired, when a boy, no his allusions to Greek and Latin authors, evident ordinary facility in the classic language of Rome; traces are discoverable of his having consulted and, when Jonson said he had “ less Greek,” had the translation instead of the original. But this it been true that he had none, it would have been fact establishes very little: it might have pro- as easy for the verse as for the sentiment, to have ceeded from indolence, or from the haste of com said no Greek.”' position, urging him to the readiest sources of With these qualifications for the task, Shak. information, rather than from any incapacity of speare applied himself to the labour of tuition. availing himself of those which were more pure, But both the time and the habits of his life, renbut less accessible. That he should appear un- dered him peculiarly unfit for the situation. The learned in the judgment of Jonson, who, perhaps, gaiety of his disposition naturally inclined him to measured him by the scale of his own enormous society; and the thoughtlessness of youth preerudition, is no imputation on his classical attain- vented his being sufficiently scrupulous about the ments. A man may have made great advances conduct and the characters of his associates. .He in the knowledge of the dead languages, and yet had by a misfortune, common enough to young be esteemed as having 'little Latin and less fellows, fallen into ill company,' says Rowe; Greek,' by one who had reached those heights of and the excesses into which they seduced him, scholarship, which the friend and companion of were by no means consistent with that seriousShakspeare had achieved. It is a proof that his ness of deportment and behaviour which is exacquirements in the classic languages were con- pected to accompany the occupation that he had siderable, or Jonson would scarcely have deemed adopted. The following anecdote of these days them of sufficient value to be at all numbered of his riot, is still current at Stratford, and the among his qualifications. As to French, it is cer- neighbouring village of Bidford. I give it in tain that he did not deal with translations only; the words of the author from whom it is taken. for the last line of one of his most celebrated Speaking of Bidford, he says, “there were anspeeches, the Seven Ages of Man, in As you like ciently two societies of village-yeomanry in this it, is imitated from a poem called the Henriade, place, who frequently met under the appellation which was first published in 1594, in France, and of Bidford topers. It was a custom of these never translated. Garnier, the author of it, is heroes to challenge any of their neighbours, describing the appearance of the ghost of Admi- famed for the love of good ale, to a drunken ral Coligny, on the night after his murder, at combat : among others, the people of Stratford the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and introduces were called out to a trial of strength, and in the the following passage :-

number of their champions, as the traditional Sans pieds, sans mains, sans nez, sans oreilles, sans story runs, our Shakspeare, who forswore all thin yeux,

potations, and addicted himself to ale as lustily Meurtri de toutes parts. +

as Falstaff to his sack, is said to have entered the The verse of Shakspeare,

lists. In confirmation of this tradition, we find Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing, an epigram written by Sir Aston Cockayn, and scarcely exceeds the rules of legitimate transla- published in his poems in 1658, p. 124 ; it runs tion; and the introduction and repetition of the French preposition, indicates that the coincidence was intentional, and stands as an acknow

Shakspeare, your Wincot ale hath much renown'd, ledgment of the imitation. Mr. Capel Lofft has, That fox'd a beggar so (by chance was found

• Malone shews that the Quineys, Stratford men, + Censura Litteraria, vol. ix. p. 238. and educated at the same school, were familiarly Aphorisms from Shakspeare. Introd. p. 12 conversant with Latin, and even corresponded in 13, 24.

hat language. Boswell's edition of Malone's ý Life of Shakspeare. Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 182.

thus :

TO MR. CLEMENT FISHER, OP WINCOT.

Sleeping) that there needed not many a word it fills us with regret, to find our immortal poet, To make him to believe he was a lord :

with faculties so exalted, competing the bad But you affirm (and in it seems most eager), Twill make a lord as drunk as any beggar.

pre-eminence in such abominable contests. It Bid Norton brew such ale as Shakspeare fancies is some relief to know that though he erred in Did put Kit Sly into such lordly trances :

uniting bimself with such gross associations, be And let us meet there (for a fit of gladness),

was the first to retreat from them in disgust. And drink ourselves merry in sober sadness.

We can scarcely, at the present day, form a • When the Stratford lads went over to Bid correct and impartial judgment of a subsequent ford, they found the topers were gone to Eves. offence, in which these mischievous connexions ham fair; but were told, if they wished to try involved him as a party. The transgression, their strength with the sippers, hey were ready weighty as it would now be considered, appears for the contest. This being acceded to, our to admit of great extenuation, on account of the bard and his companions were staggered at the manners and sentiments that prevailed at the first outset, when they thought it advisable to time; and when we contemplate the consesound a retreat, while the means of retreat were quences to which it led, we find it difficult to practicable; and then had scarce marched half a condemn with much severity of censure the oc. mile, before they were all forced to lay down casion by which Shakspeare was removed from more than their arms, and encamp in a very the intercourse of such unworthy companions, disorderly and unmilitary form, under no better and by which those powerful energies of intelcovering than a large crab-tree; and there they lect were awakened in one, who might otherwise, rested till morning.

perhaps, bave been degraded in the course of * This tree is yet standing by the side of the vulgar sensualities, to an equality with his road. If, as it has been observed by the late associates, or have attained to no higher disMr. T. Warton, the meanest hovel to which tinction than the applauses of a country town. Shakspeare has an allusion interests curiosity, One of the favourite amusements of the wild and acquires an importance, surely the tree companions with whom Shakspeare had conwhich has spread its shade over him, and shel- nected himself, was the stealing of deer and tered him from the dews of the night, has a conies.' This violation of the rights of property, claim to our attention.

must not, however, be estimated with the rigour • In the morning, when the company awaken- which would at the present day attach to a simied our bard, the story says, they entreated him to lar offence. In those ruder ages, the spirit of return to Bidford, and renew the charge ; but Robin Hood was yet abroad, and deer and coneythis he declined, and looking round upon the ad- stealing classed, with robbing orchards, among the joining villages, exclaimed, “No! I have had more adventurous but ordinary levities of youth. enough; I have drank with

It was considered in the light of an indiscretion, Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,

rather than of a criminal offence ; and in this Haunted Hillbro', Hungry Gralton,

particular, the young men of Stratford were Dudging Exhall, Papist Wicksford

countenanced by the practice of the students of Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bidford.”

the C'niversities.In these hazardous exploits, Of the truth of this story, I have very little Shakspeare was not backward in accompanying doubt; it is certain, that the crab-tve is known his comrades. The person in whose neighbourall round the country by the name of Shak- hood, perhaps on whose property,t these enspeare's crab; and that the villages to which the croachments were made, was of all others the allusion is made, all bear the epithets here given individual from whose hands they were least them: the people of Pebworth are still famed likely to escape with impunity in case of detecfor their skill on the pipe and tabor: Hillborough tion. Sir Thomas Lucy was a Puritan; and the is now called Haunted Hillborough; and Grafton severity of manners which has always characis notorious for the poverty of its soil.'*

terized this sect, would teach him to extend very The above relation, if it be true, presents us little indulgence to the excesses of Shakspeare with a most unfavourable picture of the manners and his wilful companions. He was besides a and morals prevalent among the youth of War- game preserver: in his place as a member of wickshire, in the early years of Shakspeare; and parliament, he had been an active instrument in

IRELAND's Picturesque Vieus, p. 229-233. offenders. Nothing, however, can be more uniform + Wood, speaking of Dr. John Thornborough, than the tradition that 'deer and conies' were really bishop of Worcester, and his kinsman, Robert Pin- stolen from some one, by Shakspeare and his friends. key, says, they seldom gave themselves to their Mr. Jones, who died in 1703, aged upwards of ninety, books, but spent their time in the fencing-schools and who lived at Turbich, a village about eighteen and dancing-schools, in stealing deer, and conies, miles from Stratford, related the story to Mr. Thomas &c.'-Athen. Oron. i. 371.

Wilks, and remembered to have heard it from se. * Malone disputes the deer's having been stolen veral old people.'- Besterton was told it at Stratford, from Sir Thomas Lucy. Possibly the deer and and cornmunicated it to Rowe.-Odys has the same conies' were not stolen from him ; and he was only story,--so has Davies, whose additions to Fulman's the magistrate that committed and punished the Notes for a Life of Shakspeare were made in 1600

« PreviousContinue »