Imágenes de página




whole village dance to his magic pipe, even to the reverendicity of the frere leaping in profane guise as the little boy commanded, so that when he ceased piping he could make the frere and the hard step-mother obedient to his innocent will! There was beautiful wisdom in these old tales-something that seemed to grow instinctively out of the bosom of nature, as the wild blossoms and the fruit of a rich intellectual soil, uncultivated, but not sterile. Of the romances of chivalry might be read, in the fair types of Richard Pynson, Sir Bevis of Southampton;' and in those of Robert Copland, Arthur of lytell Brytayne;' and 'Sir Degore, a Romance,' printed by William Copland; also 'Sir Isenbrace,' and The Knighte of the Swanne,' a "miraculous history," from the same press. Nor was the dramatic form of poetry altogether wanting in those days of William Shakspere's childhood-verse, not essentially dramatic in the choice of subject, but dialogue, which may sometimes pass for dramatic even now. There was 'A new Interlude and a mery of the nature of the iiii elements;' and 'Magnyfycence; a goodly interlude and mery;' and an interlude "wherein is shewd and described as well the bewte of good propertes of women as theyr vyces and euyll condicions;" and An interlude entitled Jack Juggeler and mistress Boundgrace;' and, most attractive of all, A newe playe for to be played in Maye games, very plesaunte and full of pastyme,' on the subject of Robin Hood and the Friar. The merry interludes of the indefatigable John Heywood were preserved in print, in the middle of the sixteenth century, whilst many a noble play that was produced fifty years afterwards has perished with its actors. To repeat passages out of these homely dialogues, in which, however homely they were, much solid knowledge was in some sort conveyed, would be a sport for childhood. Out of books, too, and single printed sheets, might the songs that gladdened the hearts of the English yeoman, and solaced the dreary winter hours of the esquire in his hall, be readily learnt. What countryman, at fair, or market, could resist the attractive titles of the "balletts" printed by the good widow Toy, of London—a munificent widow, who presented the Stationers' Company, in 1560, with a new table-cloth and a dozen of napkins-titles that have melody even to us who have lost the pleasant words they ushered in? There are,"Who lyve so mery and make suche sporte As they that be of the poorer sorte ?"



[ocr errors]

"God send me a wyfe that will do as I say;"

and, very charming in the rhythm of its one known line, "The rose is from my garden gone."

Songs of sailors were there also in those days-England's proper songs-such as

Hold the anchor fast.' There were collections of songs, too, as those of "Thomas Whithorne, gentleman, for three, four, or five voices," which found their way into every yeoman's house when we were a musical people, and could sing in parts. It was the wise policy of the early Reformers, when chantries had for the most part been suppressed, to direct the musical taste of the laity to the performance of the church service; and many were the books adapted to this

[ocr errors]

Amongst the pleasantest and most encouraging improvements of the present day is the revival


end, such as Bassus,' consisting of portions of the service to be chanted, and The whole Psalms, in four parts, which may be sung to all musical instruments' (1563). The metrical version of the Psalms, by Sternhold and Hopkins, first printed in 1562, was essentially for the people; and, accustomed as we have been to smile at the occasional want of refinement in this translation, its manly vigour, ay, and its bold harmony, may put to shame many of the feebler productions of our own feebler times. Sure we are that the child William Shakspere had his memory stored with its vigorous and idiomatic English.

But there was one book which it was the especial happiness of that contemplative boy to be familiar with. When in the year 1537 the Bible in English was first printed by authority, Richard Grafton, the printer, sent six copies to Cranmer, beseeching the archbishop to accept them as his simple gift, adding, “For your lordship, moving our most gracious prince to the allowance and licensing of such a work, hath wrought such an act worthy of praise as never was mentioned in any chronicle in this realm." From that time, with the exception of the short interval of the reign of Mary, the presses of London were for the most part employed in printing Bibles. That Book, to whose wonderful heart-stirring narratives the child listens with awe and love, was now and ever after to be the solace of the English home. With "the Great Bible" open before her, the mother would read aloud to her little ones that beautiful story of Joseph sold into slavery, and then advanced to honour-and how his brethren knew him not when, suppressing his tears, he said, "Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake?"—or, how, when the child Samuel was laid down to sleep, the Lord called to him three times, and he grew, and God was with him;-or, how the three holy men who would not worship the golden image walked about in the midst of the burning fiery furnace ;—or, how the prophet that was unjustly cast into the den of lions was found unhurt, because the true God had sent his angels and shut the lions' mouths. These were the solemn and affecting narratives, wonderfully preserved for our instruction from a long antiquity, that in the middle of the sixteenth century became unclosed to the people of England. But more especially was that other Testament opened which most imported them to know; and thus, when the child repeated in lisping accents the Christian's prayer to his Father in heaven, the mother could expound to him that, when the Divine Author of that prayer first gave it to us, He taught us that the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, were the happy and the beloved of God; and

of a love for and a knowledge of music amongst the people. The birthplace of Shakspere now presents a worthy example to England. The beautiful church in which our great poet is buried has been recently repaired and newly fitted up with rare propriety; and, most appropriately in this fine old collegiate church and chantry, the choir of young persons of both sexes, voluntarily formed from amongst the respectable inhabitants, is equal to the performance in the most careful style of the choral parts of the service, and of those anthems whose highest excellence is their solemn harmony rather than the display of individual voices. Such a cultivation and employment of music is the result of a better intellectual spirit diffusing itself gradually through society, and developing a taste which allies itself with the higher aspirations of our being, and which does not seek that its dimensions should be taken by the measuring-tape of what we have arrogantly been accustomed exclusively to denominate the useful.

laid down that comprehensive law of justice, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We believe that the home education of William Shakspere was grounded upon this Book; and that, if this Book had been sealed to his childhood, he might have been the poet of nature, of passion, his humour might have been as rich as we find it, and his wit as pointed, but that he would not have been the poet of the most profound as well as the most tolerant philosophy; his insight into the nature of man, his meanness and his grandeur, his weakness and his strength, would not have been what it is.

As the boy advanced towards the age of seven a little preparation for the grammar-school would be desirable. There would be choice of elementary books. The Alphabetum Latino Anglicum,' issued under the special authority of Henry VIII., might attract by its most royal and considerate assurance that "we forget not the tender babes and the youth of our realm." Learning, however, was not slow then to put on its solemn aspects to the "tender babes;" and so we have some grammars with a wooden cut of an awful man sitting on a high chair, pointing to a book with his right hand, but with a mighty rod in his left. On the other hand, the excellent Grammar of William Lilly would open a pleasant prospect of delight and recreation, in its well-known picture of a huge fruit-bearing tree, with little boys mounted amongst its branches and gathering in the bounteous crop-a vision not however to be interpreted too literally. Lilly's Grammar, we are assured by certain grave reasoners, was the Grammar used by Shakspere, because he quotes a line from that Grammar which is a modification of a line in Terence. Be it so, as far the Grammar goes. The memory of his school-lessons might have been stronger than that of his later acquirements. He might have quoted Lilly, and yet have read Terence. This, however, is not the place for the opening of the quæstio vexata of Shakspere's learning. To the grammar-school, then, with some preparation, we hold that William Shakspere goes, in the year 1571. His father is at this time, as we have said, chief alderman of his town; he is a gentleman, now, of repute and authority; he is Master John Shakspere; and assuredly the worthy curate of the neighbouring village of Luddington, Thomas Hunt, who was also the schoolmaster, would have received his new scholar with some kindness. As his "shining morning face" first passed out of the main street into that old court through which the upper room of learning was to be reached, a new life would be opening upon him. The humble minister of religion who was his first instructor has left no memorials of his talents or his acquirements; and in a few years another master came after him, Thomas Jenkins, also unknown to fame. All praise and honour be to them; for it is impossible to imagine that the teachers of William Shakspere were evil instructors-giving the boy husks instead of wholesome aliment. They could not have been harsh and perverse instructors, for such spoil the gentlest natures, and his was always gentle:-" My gentle Shakspeare" is he called by a rough but noble spirit-one in whom was all honesty and genial friendship under a rude exterior. His wondrous abilities could not be spoiled even by ignorant instructors.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

In the seventh year of the reign of Edward VI. a royal charter was granted to Stratford for the incorporation of the inhabitants. That charter recites"That the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon was an ancient borough, in which a certain guild was theretofore founded, and endowed with divers lands, tenements, and possessions, out of the rents, revenues, and profits whereof a certain free grammar-school for the education of boys there was made and supported." The charter further recites the other public objects to which the property of the guild had been applied ;-that it was dissolved; and that its possessions had come into the hands of the king. The charter of incorporation then grants to the bailiff and burgesses certain properties which were parcel of the possessions of the guild, for the general charges of the borough, for the maintenance of an ancient almshouse, " and that the free grammar-school for the instruction and education of boys and youth there should be thereafter kept up and maintained as theretofore it used to be." It may be doubted whether Stratford was benefited by the dissolution of its guild. We see that its grammar-school was an ancient establishment: it was not a creation of the charter of Edward VI., although it is popularly called one of the grammar-schools of that king, and was the last school established by him.† The people of Stratford had possessed the advantage of a school for instruction in Greek and Latin, which is the distinct object of a grammar-school, from the time of Edward IV., when Thomas Jolyffe, in 1482, "granted to the guild of the Holy Cross of Stratford-upon-Avon

Report of the Commissioners for inquiring concerning Charities. + See Strype's 'Memorials.'

all his lands and tenements in Stratford and Dodwell, in the county of Warwick, upon condition that the master, aldermen, and proctors of the said guild should find a priest, fit and able in knowledge, to teach grammar freely to all scholars coming to the school in the said town to him, taking nothing of the scholars for their teaching."* Dugdale describes the origin of guilds, speaking of this of Stratford :-" Such meetings were at first used by a mutual agreement of friends and neighbours, and particular licences granted to them for conferring lands or rents to defray their public charges, in respect that, by the statute of mortmain, such gifts would otherwise have been forfeited."

In the surveys of Henry VIII., previous to the dissolution of religious houses, there were four salaried priests belonging to the guild of Stratford, with a clerk, who was also schoolmaster, at a salary of ten pounds per annum.† They were a hospitable body these guild-folk, for there was an annual feast, to which all the fraternity resorted, with their tenants and farmers; and an inventory of their goods in the 15th of Edward IV. shows that they were rich in plate for the service of the table, as well as of the chapel. That chapel was partly rebuilt by the great benefactor of Stratford, Sir Hugh Clopton; and after the dissolution of the guild, and the establishment of the grammar-school by the charter of Edward VI., the school was in all probability kept within it. There is an entry in the Corporation books, of February 18, 1594-5-" At this hall it was agreed by the bailiff and the greater number of the company now present that there shall be no school kept in the chapel from this time following." associating, therefore, the schoolboy days of William Shakspere with the Free


[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »