Page images
PDF
[merged small][ocr errors][graphic]

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.

THERE are few districts even in historic En-1 Within its borders is the quaint old town of gland that can vie with the County of War- Coventry, where, in the olden time, the good wickshire in delightful associations of the past. I Lady Godiva took an airing on horseback in a

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year ISCi, by Harper and Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Vol. XXIII.—No. 136.—Ee

very singulur mauner; Warwick, with its noble castle, where the King-Maker and the GiantKiller lived—the castle of Caesar's tower, erected before the Norman conqueror appeared in the land; Beauchamp chapel, where sleeps the redfaced lover of Queen Elizabeth and the Regent of France, Richard Beauchamp; the remains of the regal palace of Kenilworth, with its ivy running rejoicingly and protectingly over its decayed magnificence—the old work of Do Monfort; John of Gaunt and the Gipsy Earl; the grand monastic remains of Evesham; Stoneleigh, the princely seat of the Leighs, where Charles the First was entertained when the Coventry men shut their gates on his rueful and elongated countenance, and which was, in "the long ago," a Cistercian abbey, and granted to Charles Brandon, the lover and husband of the beautiful Princess Mary; Guy's Cliff, where Guy of Warwick turned hermit (if indeed there ever was a Guy), and where Mrs. Siddons used to go to breathe the fresh country air after the fatigue of a London season; the noble Elizabethan mansion of Charlecote; the little sequestered hamlet of Shottcry; and Stratford, which but for one circumstance in its uneventful history, had else been unknown and unvisited.

To that spot genius has imparted an interest that does not attach to any other place on the globe. Many a pilgrim has walked the quiet streets of that quaint old Warwickshire village and sought out a rude thatched house in Henley

Street, where, during the month that the trees put forth their buds and blossoms, in the seventh year of the reign of "good Queen Bess," in a low-roofed apartment with huge oak beams and roughly-plastered walls, on whose surface myriads of autographs cross each other, so closely written and so continuous that it has the appearance of being covered with fine spider-web, was born the immortal Shakspeare. There you may still see the church in which he was baptized and buried; the same sweet silvery Avon where he fished and sailed and swam; the school-house in which he was taught

"Small Latfne and less Grecke;" the same pathway through woods and flowery fields that led the poet to the cottage of his lady-love, "sweet Anne Hathaway," and the old mansion of the Lucys, intact as in the days of "the myriad minded," to use Coleridge's happy expression, almost the only epithet of the many applied to Shakspeare that is to be tolerated.

Stratford is situated on the right bank of the Avon. It is a place of great antiquity. The name, according to Dugdale, "was originally given from the ford or passage over the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley, in Arden, toward London." In AngloSaxon times a monastery existed here for four centuries before the Norman Conquest. In the days of Richard the Lion-Hearted and King John charters for markets and charters for fairs were granted to Stratford, and in good time it became a town of considerable traffic. The municipal government was settled in the seventh year of the reign of Edward the Fourth (1553), by a regular charter of incorporation. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous at Stratford, and such were in every case the centres of civilization and refinement.

[graphic][merged small]

In the year of Shakspeare's birth, judging from the number of baptisms and deaths upon received principles of caleulation, the

town contained a population of about fifteen hundred. It was a town of wooden tenements, many of them doubtless mean timber buildings and thatched cottages. During

the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James the First the place was nearly destroyed by fire, and as late as 1618 tha iirivy Council represented to the Corporatiojf Qf Stratford "that great and lamentable lossh.ul happened to that town by casualty of fire, lyhieh, 0f lato years, hath been very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cot^S^S sJacks of straw, furzes, and such like combustibU> stllff, whicll are suffered to be erected and made confusedly in most of the principal PartSlof the town without restraint."

The Stratford of to-day is but little changed what it was nearly three hundred years ago. It has now a population of less than four thousand; twelve principal streets, well paved Mid well lighted; some modern houses, but for the most part the same old-fashioned tenements that were in vogue when Will Shakspeare was iorn, and not a few of the identical buildings, unaltered, as they were in the year 15C4. The most notable is the cottage in which the most universally-minded man who ever lived opened his babe-eyes on our beautiful world; the Grammar-School, and Guild Hall; the Chapel of the Guild, and the Church of the Holy Trinity. Another ancient structure is the stone bridge over the Avon. In the time of Henry the Seventh a wealthy alderman of London built it, and from that day to this it has borne the namo of "Clopton's Bridge."

The view of Stratford accompanying this arti

[graphic]

nouaE In man Street.

cle is taken from the opposite side of the river, at a point known as Cross on the Hill. The venerable church, with its clear, sharp spire, which is a little retired from the town, where he lies buried whose memory shall be "fresh to all ages," is seen surrounded by noble trees, with the Avon flowing near. The scenery, although lacking boldness, is picturesque. The traveler sees around him, if in spring time, the greenest of all green low-lying meadows, rising on both sides into gentle knolls and rich pasture lands, with the Avon passing through the broad valley beneath; and he may here observe all the flowers of Nature's great poet—the daffodil, the dim violet, the pale primrose, and bold oxlip—and may listen to the lark and his other song-birds. Doubtless "the myriad minded" often sought out this spot, and viewed with loving eyes the village of his birth and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it.

Let us to Henley Street. Here stands the "birth-place"—the small, mean-looking edifice where tradition says William Shakspeare was born. A rudely-painted sign-board projecting from the front of the upper story informs us that "The immortal Shakspeare was born in this house." It is now but a fragment of the original building, purchased by John Shakspeare, with its orchards and gardens, from Edmund Hall, for forty pounds. It passed at his death to his son William, and from him to his sister. Joan Hart, who was residing there in 1639, and probably until her death in 1646. Its original features may be seen in the accompanying cut. It was a large building, the timbers of substantial oak, and the walls filled in with plaster. The dormer-windows and gable, the deep porch, the projecting parlor and bay window, all contribute to render it exceedingly picturesque. The changes which it has undergone since the days of Shakspeare may be seen by a glance at the illustrations representing it as it appeared in 1855 and as it now stands. The buildings on both sides of the house have been removed, and the old tenement now stands isolated and secure from any chance of demolition by fire, and around

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic]

TUE UOUSE IN UENLEY STEEET, 1855.

it and over it a glass house is proposed to be constructed, so that the winds of heaven may not visit its hallowed walls too roughly. This will render as far as possible the birth-place of William Shakspeare as imperishable as his works; and in the years and ages to come our posterity will still possess the great privilege of standing beneath the roof that gave birth to the immortal dramatist.

Unable at first to gain admittance—the birds being the only inhabitants astir, and the good people of Stratford, in common with their countrymen having their habitation in towns and cities, being given to late hours—we strolled through the quiet and deserted streets, noting the ancient and old-world appearance of the halftimbered thatched houses, and passed out into the open country. Drops of silver dew decked each wild flower and blade of grass; amidst the rich fields of grain were armies of scarlet poppies; on every side we siVw the beauteous blue flower with its cerulean bell*; the hedges and bushes were mantled and festooned and the morning air rendered fragrant by the wild hop, the white convolvulus, theclematis, or traveler's joy, and other climbing plants, all breathing forth their morning sweetness upon us; and as we stood gazing upon a snuf farm-house and its sur

[graphic][ocr errors]

roundings, a lark arose with silvery song from an adjoining field, and we

u Beheld him twinkling in the morning light,
And wished for wings and liberty liko his."

What more could any one wish for who had long desired to see and hear an English lark, than, like ourselves, to make his acquaintance in the home and haunts of Shakspeare?

Joining our friends, we again presented ourselves at the door of the "small, mean-looking edifice," and—the hour being more seasonable— with better success. Ascending the steps we pass into the shop—a cold, cheerless apartment, with dilapidated stone pavement, and hooks sticking in the wall. Behind is the kitchen, which has been compared to the subjects which so frequently employed the talents of VanOstade.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

A narrow staircase ascends to the chamber where William Shakspeare was born, on the 23d of April, 1564. It is a good-sized apartment, but somewhat low-roofed and dingy, receiving its only light from the large window in front. The fire-place projects close to the door leading into the room; an immense beam of oak forms the mantle-tree, from which a large piece is cut out of one corner, said to have been done by an enthusiastic young American lady, while her companion kept the late proprietors in conversation in the room below. The old oak floor has remained unchanged, although much worn. The original ceiling is covered with lath and plaster work, which, together with the walls, are covered with autographs of persons from every Christian land. Among others still to be seen an those of Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and Washington Irving — the latter repeated three times. Some the names are accompanied by stanza' and attempts at poetry, which have been thus commented upon by one among the number: **Ah, Shakspeare, when we read the votive scrawls With which well-meanim: folks deface these walls; And while we seek in vain

some lucky hit, Amidst the lines whose nonsense nonsense smothers. We Ami, unlike thyFalstalV

in his wit. Thou art not here the can'' of wit in others."

We were equally amused with the following parody on the inscription upon Shakspeare's tombthe authorship of which.

« PreviousContinue »