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education of William Shakspere, and of the circumstances in which he was placed at the most influential period of his life, it may not be unprofitable to consider how far these revelations of the private affairs of his father support the case which Malone holds he has so triumphantly proved. The documents which he has brought forward certainly do not constitute the whole case; and, without lending ourselves to a spirit of advocacy, we believe that the inferences which have been drawn from them, and adopted by men of higher mark than their original promulgator, are altogether gratuitous and incongruous. We shall detain our readers a very short time, whilst, implicitly adopting all these discoveries (as they are called),—without attempting to infer that some of the cir cumstances may apply to another John Shakspere, we trace what we think a more probable course of the fortunes of the alderman of Stratford, until the period when his illustrious son had himself become the father of a family.
In the year 1568 John Shakspere was high bailiff of Stratford. In 1571 he was chief alderman. The duties of the first office demanded a constant residence in Stratford. Beyond occasional attendance, the duties of the second office would be few. In 1570 he is the occupier of a small estate at Ingon, in the parish of Stratford, two miles from the town, at a rent which unquestionably shows that a house of importance was attached to " the meadow.” In 1574 he purchased two freehold houses in Henley Street, with gardens and orchards; and he probably occupied one or both of these. In 1578 he mortgaged the estate of Asbies to Edmund Lambert; who also appears to have been security for him for the sum of five pounds. At the time, then, when Malone holds that John Shakspere is insolvent, because another is his security for five pounds, and that other the mortgagee of his estate, he is also excused public payments because he is poor. But he is the possessor of two freehold houses in Henley Street, bought in 1574. Malone, a lawyer by profession, supposes that the money for which Asbies was mortgaged went to pay the purchase of the Stratford freeholds; according to which theory, these freeholds had been unpaid for during four years, and the "good and lawful money was not "in hand" when the vendor parted with the premises. We hold, and we think more reasonably, that in 1578, when he mortgaged Asbies, John Shakspere became the purchaser, or at any rate the occupier, of lands in the parish of Stratford, but not in the borough ; and that, in either case, the money for which Asbies was mortgaged was the capital employed in this undertaking. The lands which were purchased by William Shakspere of the Combe family, in 1601, are described in the deed as "lying or being within the parish, fields, or town of Old Stretford." But the will of William Shakspere, he having become the heir-at-law of his father, devises all his lands and tenements "within the towns, hamlets, villages, fields, and grounds of Stratford-upon-Avon, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Welcombe." Old Stratford is a local denomination, essentially different from Bishopton or Welcombe; and, therefore, whilst the lands purchased by the son in 1601 might be those recited in the will as lying in Old Stratford, he might have derived from his father the lands of Bishopton and Welcombe, of the purchase of which by himself we have no record. So, in the same way, the tenements referred to by the will as being in Stratford
upon-Avon, comprised not only the great house purchased by him, but the freeholds in Henley Street which he inherited from his father. Indeed it is expressly stated in a document of 1596, a memorandum upon the grant of arms in the Heralds' College to John Shakspere, "he hath lands and tenements, of good wealth and substance, 500l." The lands of Bishopton and Welcombe are in the parish of Stratford, but not in the borough. Bishopton was a hamlet, having an ancient chapel of ease. We hold, then, that in the year 1578 John Shakspere ceased, though perhaps not wholly so, to reside within the borough of Stratford. Other aldermen are rated to pay towards the furniture of pikcmen, billmen, and archers, six shillings and eight-pence; whilst John Shakspere is to pay three shillings and four-pence. Why less than other aldermen? The next entry but one, which relates to a brother alderman, answers the question:
"Robert Bratt, nothing IN THIS PLACE."
Again, ten months after," It is ordained that every alderman shall pay weekly, towards the relief of the poor, four-pence, save John Shakspere and Robert Bratt, who shall not be taxed to pay anything." Here John Shakspere is associated with Robert Bratt, who, according to the previous entry, was to pay nothing in this place; that is, in the borough of Stratford, to which the orders of the council alone apply. The return, in 1579, of Mr. Shakspere as leaving unpaid the sum of three shillings and three-pence, was the return upon a levy for the borough, in which, although the possessor of property, he might have ceased to reside. Seven years after this comes the celebrated return to the warrant of distress, that John Shakspere has nothing to distrain upon. The jurisdiction of the bailiff's court of Stratford is wholly confined to the borough; and out of the borough the officers could not go. We have traced the course of this action in the bailiff's books of Stratford, beyond the entries which Malone gives us. It continued before the court for nearly five months; proceeding after proceeding being taken upon it, with a pertinacity on the part of the defendant which appears far more like the dogged resistance of a wealthy man to a demand which he thought unjust, than that of a man in the depths of poverty, seeking to evade a payment which must be ultimately enforced by the seizure of his goods, or by a prison. The distringas, which the officers of the borough of Stratford could not execute, was followed by a capias; and then, no doubt, the debt was paid, and the heavier fees of the lawyers discharged. Further, in the very year of this action, John Shakspere ceases to be a member of the corporation; and the circumstances attending his withdrawal or removal from that body are strongly confirmatory of the view we have taken. "I find," says Malone, "on inspecting the records, that our poet's father had not attended at any hall for the seven preceding years." This is perfectly correct. At these halls, except on the very rarest occasions, the members attending do not sign their names, as we have previously shown; but after the entry of the preliminary form by the town-clerk,-such as "Stratford Burgus, ad aulam ibid. tent. vi. die Septembris anno regni dña Elizabethæ vicesimo octavo,"-the town-clerk enters the names of all the aldermen and burgesses, and there is a dot or other mark placed against the names of those who are in attendance. The last entry
in which the name of John Shakspere is so distinguished as attending occurs in 1579. But at the hall held on the 6th of September, in the 28th of Elizabeth, is this entry:" At this hall William Smythe and Richard Courte are chosen to be aldermen in the place of John Wheler and John Shaxspere; for that Mr. Wheler doth desyer to be put out of the companye, and Mr. Shaxspere doth not come to the halls when they be warned, nor hath not done of long tyme." Is it not more credible that, from the year 1579 till the year 1586, when he was removed from the corporation, in all probability by his own consent, John Shakspere was not dwelling in the borough of Stratford,-that he had ceased to take an interest in its affairs, although he was unwilling to forego its dignities; -than that during these seven years he was struggling with hopeless poverty; that he allowed his brother aldermen and burgesses to sit in judgment on his means of paying the assessments of the borough; that they consented to reduce and altogether to discharge his assessment, although he was the undoubted possessor of property within the borough; that he proclaimed his poverty in the most abject manner, and proclaimed it untruly whilst he held any property at all, and his lands were mortgaged for a very inadequate sum, when the first object of an embarrassed man would have been to have upheld his credit by making an effort to meet every public demand? What is the most extraordinary thing of all is, that he should have recovered this long humiliation so suddenly that, in 1596, he goes to the College of Arms for additions to his armorial bearings, and states that he is worth five hundred pounds in lands and tenements. During this period he was unquestionably a resident in the parish of Stratford; for the register of that parish contains the entry of the burial of a daughter in 1579, and the baptism of a son in 1580. His grandchildren, also, are baptized in that parish, in 1583 and 1585. But his assessments in "that place”—the borough-are reduced in 1578, and wholly foregone in 1579. He has ceased to be amenable to the borough assessments. The lands of Welcombe and Bishopton, we may fairly assume, were his home. He has not been dependent upon the trade of Stratford, whether in gloves or wool. He is a cultivator, and his profits are not very variable. His son purchases a large quantity of land in the same district a few years afterwards; and that son himself becomes a cultivator, even whilst he is the most successful dramatist of his time. That son has also his actions in the bailiff's court, as his father had, for corn sold and delivered, of which more hereafter. That son cleaves to his native place with a love which no fame won, no pleasure enjoyed, in the great capital,-the society of the great, the praises of the learned,—can extinguish. Neither does that son take any part in the affairs of the borough. He purchases the best house in Stratford in 1597, but the records of Stratford show that he had no desire for local honours. The father, instead of sinking into poverty, appears to us to have separated himself from the concerns of the borough, and from the society of the honest men who administered them. He probably had not more happiness in his struggle to maintain the rank of gentleman; but that he did make that struggle is, we think, consistent with all the circumstances upon record. That the children of William Shakspere should have been brought up at Stratford, that Stratford should have been his home, although London was his
place of necessary sojourn,-is, we think, quite incompatible with the belief that, at the exact period when the poet was gaining rapid wealth as a sharer in the Blackfriars Theatre, the father was so reduced to the extremity of indigence that he had nothing to distrain upon in his dwelling in the place where he had dwelt for years, in competence and honour.
Seeing, then, that at any rate, in the year 1574, when John Shakspere purchased two freehold houses in Stratford, it was scarcely necessary for him to withdraw his son William from school, as Rowe has it, on account of the narrowness of his circumstances (the education at that school costing the father nothing), it is not difficult to believe that the son remained there till the period when boys were usually withdrawn from grammar-schools. In those days the education of the university commenced much earlier than at present. Boys intended for the learned professions, and more especially for the church, commonly went to Oxford and Cambridge at eleven or twelve years of age. If they were not intended for those professions, they probably remained at the grammar-school till they were thirteen or fourteen; and then they were fitted for being apprenticed to tradesmen, or articled to attorneys, a numerous and thriving body in those days of cheap litigation. Many also went early to the Inns of Court, which were the universities of the law, and where there was real study and discipline in direct connection with the several Societies. To assume that William Shakspere did not stay long enough at the grammarschool of Stratford to obtain a very fair "proficiency in Latin," with some knowledge of Greek, is to assume an absurdity upon the face of the circumstances; and it could never have been assumed at all, had not Rowe, setting out upon a false theory, that, because in the works of Shakspere "we scarce find any traces of anything that looks like an imitation of the ancients," held that therefore "his not copying at least something from them may be an argument of his never having read them." Opposed to this is the statement of Aubrey, much nearer to the times of Shakspere: "he understood Latin pretty well." Rowe had been led into his illogical inference by the "small Latin and less Greek" of Jonson; the "old mother-wit" of Denham; the "his learning was very little" of Fuller; the "native wood-notes wild" of Milton,-phrases, every one of which is to be taken with considerable qualification, whether we regard the peculiar characters of the utterers, or the circumstances connected with the words themselves. The question rests not upon the interpretation of the dictum of this authority or that; but upon the indisputable fact that the very earliest writings of Shakspere are imbued with a spirit of classical antiquity; and that the allusive nature of the learning that manifests itself in them, whilst it offers the best proof of his familiarity with the ancient writers, is a circumstance which has misled those who never attempted to dispute the existence of the learning which was displayed in the direct pedantry of his contemporaries. "If," said Hales of Eton, "he had not read the classics, he had likewise not stolen from them." Marlowe, Greene, Peele, and all the early dramatists, overload their plays with quotation and mythological allusion. According to Hales, they steal, and therefore they have read. He who uses his knowledge skilfully is assumed not to have read.
It is not our intention here to enter upon a general examination of the vari ous opinions that have been held as to the learning of Shakspere, and the tendency of those opinions to show that he was without learning.* We only desire to point out, by a very few observations, that the learning manifested in his early productions does not bear out the assertion of Rowe that his proficiency in the Latin language was interrupted by his early removal from the free-school of Stratford. His youthful poem, Venus and Adonis, the first heir of his invention, is upon a classical subject. The Rape of Lucrece is founded upon a legend of the beginnings of Roman history. Would he have ventured upon these subjects had he been unfamiliar with the ancient writers, from the attentive study of which he could alone obtain the knowledge which would enable him to treat them with propriety? His was an age of sound scholarship. He dedicates both poems to a scholar, and a patron of scholars. Does any one of his contemporaries object that these classical subjects were treated by a young man ignorant of the classics? Will the most critical examination of these poems detect anything that betrays this ignorance? Is there not the most perfect keeping in both these poems,—an original conception of the mode of treating these subjects, advisedly adopted with the full knowledge of what might be imitated, but preferring the vigorous painting of nature to any imitation? Love's Labour's Lost, undoubtedly one of the earliest comedies, shows— upon the principle laid down by Coleridge, that "a young author's first work almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits"-that the habits of William Shakspere "had been scholastic, and those of a student." The Comedy of Errors is full of those imitations of the ancients in particular passages which critics have in all cases been too apt to take as the chief evidences of learning. The critics of Shakspere are puzzled by these imitations; and when they see with what skill he adopts, or amends, or rejects, the incidents of the Menæchmi' of Plautus, they have no resource but to contend that his knowledge of Plautus was derived from a wretched translation, published in all probability eight or ten years after The Comedy of Errors was written. The three Parts of Henry VI. are the earliest of the historical plays. Those who dispute the genuineness of the First Part affirm that it contains more allusions to mythology and classical authors than Shakspere ever uses; but, with a most singular inconsistency, in the passages of the Second and Third Parts which they have chosen to pronounce as the additions of Shakspere to the original plays of another writer or writers, there are to be found as many allusions to mythology and classical writers as in the part which they deny to be his.† We have remarked upon these passages that they furnish the proof that, as a young writer, he possessed a competent knowledge of the ancient authors, and was not unwilling to display it; "but that, with that wonderful judgment which was as remarkable as the prodigious range of his imaginative powers, he soon learnt to avoid the pedantry to which inferior men so pertinaciously clung in the pride of their scholarship."
* This question, if necessary to be discussed fully at all, may be best treated in our proposed "History of Opinion on the Works of Shakspere.'
See our Essay on Henry VI. and Richard III., page xlii.