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LITTLE more than two centuries has elapsed since William Shakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod the self-same soil with ourselves; and if it were not for the records kept by our Church in its registers of births, marriages, and burials, we should at this moment be as personally ignorant of the “sweet swan of Avon" as we are of the old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That William Shakspeare was born in Stratford upon Avon; that he married and had three children; that he wrote a certain number of dramas; that he died before he had attained to old age, and was buried in his native town,--are positively the only facts, in the personal history of this extraordinary man, of which we are certainly possessed; and, if we should be solicitous to fill up this bare and most unsatisfactory outline, we must have recourse to the vague reports of unsubstantial tradition, or to the still more shadowy inferences of lawless and vagabond conjecture. Of this remarkable ignorance of one of the most richly endowed with intellect of the human species, who ran his mortal race in our own country, and who stands separated from us by no very great intervention of time, the causes may not be difficult to be ascertained. William Shakspeare was an actor and a writer of plays; in neither of which characters, however he might excel in them, could he be lifted high in the estimation of his contemporaries. He was honored, indeed, with the friendship of nobles and the patronage of monarchs: his
on the information obtained, in the beginning of the last century, by the inquiries of Betterton, the famous actor, will necessarily supply us with the greater part of the materials with which we are to work.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, or SHAKSPERE (for the floating orthography of the name is properly attached to the one or the other of these varieties), was baptized in the church of Stratford upon Avon, as is ascertained by the parish register, on the 26th of April, 1564; and he is said to have been born on the 23d of the same month, the day consecrated to the tutelar saint of England His parents, John and Mary Shakspeare, were not of equal ranks in the community; for the former was only a respectable tradesman, whose ancestors cannot be traced into gentility, whilst the latter belonged to an ancient and opulent house in the county of Warwick, being the youngest daughter of Robert Arden of Wilmecote. The family of the Ardens (or Ardernes, as it is written in all the old deeds) was of considerable antiquity and importance, some of them having served as high sheriffs of their county, and two of them (Sir John Arden and his nephew, the grandfather of Mrs. Shakspeare) having enjoyed each a station of honor in the personal establishment of Henry VII. The younger of these Ardens was made, by his sovereign, keeper of the park of Aldercar, and bailiff of the lordship of Codnore. He obtained, also, from the crown, a valuable grant in the lease of the manor of Yoxsal, in Staffordshire, consisting of more than 4,600 acres, at a rent of 421. Mary Arden did not come dowerless to her plebeian husband; for she brought to him a small freehold estate called Asbies, and the sum of 6l. 13s. 4d. in money. The freehold consisted of a house and fifty-four acres of land; and, as far as it appears, it was the first piece of landed property which was ever possessed by the Shakspeares. Of this marriage the offspring was four sons and four daughters; of whom Joan (or, according to the orthography of that time, Jone) and Margaret, the eldest of the children, died, one in infancy and one at a somewhat more advanced age; and Gilbert, whose birth immediately succeeded to that of our Poet, is supposed by some not to have reached his maturity, and by others, to have attained to considerable longevity. Joan, the eldest of the four remaining children, and named after her deceased sister, married William
--- he would, doubtless, have pressed the observation into his service, and brought it as an irresistible attestation of the veracity of his old MS.
Whatever may have been the trade of John Shakspeare, whether that of wool-merchant or of glover, it seems, with the little fortune of his wife, to have placed him in a state of easy competence. In 1569 or 1570, in consequence partly of his alliance with the Ardens, and partly of his attainment of the prime municipal honors of his town, he obtained a concession of arms from the herald's officema grant which placed him and his family on the file of the gentry of England; and, in 1574, he purchased two houses, with gardens and orchards annexed to them, in Henley Street, in Stratford. But before the year 1578, his prosperity, from causes not now ascertainable, had certainly declined; for in that year, as we find from the records of his borough, he was excused, in condescension to his poverty, from the moiety of a very moderate assessment of six shillings and eight pence, made by the members of the corporation on themselves; at the same time that he was altogether exempted from his contribution to the relief of the poor. During the remaining years of his life, his fortunes appear not to have recovered themselves; for he ceased to attend the meetings of the corporation hall, where he had once presided; and, in 1586, another person was substituted as alderman in his place, in consequence of his magisterial inefficiency. He died in the September of 1601, when his illustrious son had already attained to high celebrity; and his wife, Mary Shakspeare, surviving him for seven years, deceased in the September of 1608, the burial of the former being registered on the eighth, and that of the latter on the ninth of this month, in each of these respective years.
On the 30th of June, 1564, when our Poet had not yet been three months in this breathing world, his native Stratford was visited by the plague; and, during the six succeeding months, the ravaging disease is calculated to have swept to the grave more than a seventh part of the whole population of the place. But the favored infant reposed in security in his cradle, and breathed health amid an atmosphere of pestilence. The Genius of England may be supposed to have held the arm of the destroyer, and not to have permitted it to fall on the consecrated dwelling of his and Nature's darling