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On the 26th day of February, 1564, says the register of the parish church of St. George the Martyr, in the ancient city of Canterbury, was christened Christofer the sonne of John Marlowe ; and exactly two months afterwards, on the 26th of April, 1564, the register of the church of Stratford-upon-Avon records the baptism of Gulielmus, filius Johannis Shakspere. So few days intervened between the births of these two children, one of whom was destined to lead the way in showing what an English Play ought to be, and the other to carry the English Drama to the highest conceivable pitch of excellence and glory. But although they came into the worlıl so nearly together, there was an interval of many years between their deaths. Marlowe perished suddenly before he was twenty-nine, and Shakspeare went quietly to his rest at the age of fifty-two. Had their fates been reversed how different an aspect would our literary history have borne. It is idle to speculate on what Marlowe might have performed if twenty-three years had been added to the narrow span of his working existence ; but it is quite safe to assert that, if Shakspeare had died in 1593, the name, which now fills the whole wide world with its renown, must have been content with a narrow niche in Specimens of Poets of the Age of Elizabeth.*
John Marlowe, the father of Christopher, is stated in a scurrilous ballad of uncertain date to have followed a "trade;"+ and in two scribbles, I "in a very old hand,” in the margins of volumes, themselves not printed for some years after the poet's death, the particular trade is fixed as that of a “shoemaker.” From a more reliable source we learn that he survived his son, and the entry of his funeral in 1605 describes him as “ clarke of St. Maries.” He had two other sons, Thomas and John, and two daughters,
"Marlowe was buried on June 1, 1593, and there is reason to suppose that previons to that year Shakspeare had done little more than improve the three parts of Henry VI. (if indeed he touched the third part of Henry VI. at all), and had written The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors. His Richard 11. has generally been assigned to the year 1593." Collier's Memoirs of Alleyn, p. 10.
"Had he been brought up to the trade
His father followed still,
—Appendix A, p. 370. * "'Marlowe a shooe makers sonne of Cant,' MS. note in a very old hand, on the margin of a copy of Beard's Theatre of God's Judgments, 1598, which, when I saw it, belonged to Mr. B. H. Bright. His father was a shoemaker in Canterburie,' MS. note in a copy of Hero and Leander, ed. 1639, now in the possession of Mr. J. P. Collier."--Mr. Dyce's Note.
Mary and Margaret. The poet appears to have been the second child and first son of his parents. The earlier entry of 1548 I take to refer to an aunt, not a sister.*
It was a great advantage in those days, and not at all a bad thing now, to be born in a cathedral city. There was always the certainty of a good school, and the probability that among the numerous clergy who battened in the shadow of the ancient Minster, (men of greater culture and more abundant leisure than their fellows), some particular individual might haply be found with discernment to discover and taste to appreciate any instance of distinguished merit which might crop up among the boys who were educated at their doors. There is something, too, in the daily sight of one of these
vast abbayes” which rains as much poetic influence on the soul of a youthful genius as all the shaggy woods, brown heaths, fountains, and floods between the Land's End and John o' Groats. In the next generation the “antique pillars, massy proof,” of Powles, and the “storied windows, richly dight," of the Minster on Thorney Island, were found to be meet nurses for the poetic child of a scrivener in Bread Street; while, nearer to our own time the grimy tower and gloomy record chamber of an old church in Bristol were the Helicon and Hippocrene of Thomas Chatterton.
Canterbury, even now, with the single exception of Oxford, is the most interesting city in England, and in the sixteenth century it was possessed of still greater relativel importance. For the sordid spirit of the "little beagle,” Robert Cecil, had not yet turned its buildings into quarries for his palace in the Strand;t the shrine of its am. biguous archbishop had not ceased to be regarded by at least one-half of the people as the holiest spot in the island; and the venerable town was still as it were an ante-city to the metropolis, the halting-place of every foreign prince and ambassador who sought the court of the great Elizabeth. Strange emotions must have stirred the soul of the schoolboy who ten years afterwards was to write Doctor Faustus and Edward II. when he ascended the pilgrim-worn steps which led to the shrine of Becket, or looked up at the sword and shield, and helmet and surcoat, which overhung the stately tomb of thel Black Prince.
There is something that requires clearing up about Marlowe's stay at the King's School at Canterbury. Mr. Dyce details the “great difficulty" which he experienced m
1548. The 28th day of December was christened Marget the daughter of John Marlow.
1566. The roth day of December was buried Simon the sonne of Thomas Marlow,
The existing register is only a copy from the lost original, and the blanks arose from the tratscriber's inability to decipher the names.
† See the Calendars of State Papers, Domestic Series.
cbtaining an extract from the Treasurer's Accounts; and after giving this extract, which proves that Marlowe was a scholar from Michaelmas, 1578, till Michaelmas, 1579,* he goes on to inform us in a note that the accounts for that very year, and the year before and after it, are“ wanting”! Beyond the dates in this curiously-derived extract, nothing is known of him until 1580, when, at sixteen years of age, he was entered at Benet (Corpus Christi) College, Cambridge. The terms in which this entry is made, the bare name Marlin being written without prefix or affix, is conceived to render it“ nearly certain” that he had not obtained one of the two scholarships which had recently been founded in this very college for the benefit of the boys of the King's School at Canterbury. But when a biographer is reduced to the dilemma of choosing between two improbabilities, the safest course is to select the lesser; and in the present case there can, I think, be no question that it is less unlikely that a hurried and quasi informal entry has been made in the College books, than that a boy of Marlowe's ability and industry and precocity of intellect should have gone from that particular school to that particular college on any footing but that of a fourdation scholar. The matter is of little consequence, except as furnishing a curious instance of the manner in which a “ speculative” biography is almost of necessity built up. Two centuries and a half after this entry was made, “a gentleman of Corpus”+ remarks to the Rev. George Skinner that * scholars were entered with a pomp and circumstance not found in the notice of Marlin,” He was therefore not a scholar. Two anonymous scribblers in the margins of books had noted that he was the son of a "şhoemaker," so the father is at once set down as a cobbler and a pauper, and unable to pay the expenses of a college. Somebody else, therefore, must have paid them, but who could that somebody be? By great good fortune, as the very moment when this question had to. be answered, a manuscript copy of a Latin epitaph on a Kentish Squire, with Márlowe's name inscribed on it, turns up,t and one Sir Roger Manwood is immediately hailed as the generous and discriminating patron! But although a certain baldness in the wording of the College, entry has thus suggested a doubt; which, if true, demanded an hypothesis ; which, if not fulse, required a guess; which if possessing a fragment of a toe to stand upon, was to be recorded as history-the entries in the Records of the Uniyersity are plain and satisfactory, and refuse to be burdened with any such rickety superstructure. The Matriculation Book tells us that on the 17th of March, 1581,$ when just turned seventeen, he was matriculated as Pensioner of Benet College: the Grace Book adding that hç proceeded B,Ą. 1583, and commenced M.A. 1587.11 How Marlowe passed the interval between these two degrees it is impossible now to determine. Of his two contemporaries at the University, who grew to distinction in the saine literary pursuits,
“The year ending at the Feast of St. Michael, aist Eliz."
# Some Account of Marlowe and his Writings, p. xii. Note. *This epitaph was discovered by Mr. Collier, but the strangely ingenious deductions from It were entirely the work of others.
Athena Cantabrigienses, ii. 158. 27 Mar. 1580. Chrof. Marlen Pensioner." Cambridge Matriculation Book.
| “Xrof Marlyn, 1583, A.B.” “Chr. Marley, 1587, A.M." Cambridge Grace Book.
Thomas Nash, we know, passed* “ seven yere together lacking a quarter" in residence at Cambridge; Robert Greene, t on the other hand, tells us that he had been drawn into travelling to Italy and Spain, and on his return to England had “ ruffeled out in my silks in the habit of malcontent" before he became a Master of Arts. There was nothing, therefore, to have prevented Marlowe from travelling out of the island, and his home at Canterbury placed him in the very trackt of the bold spirits who followed Leicester and Sidney to the Wars of the Low Countries. His familiarity with militaryl. terms, and his fondness for using them are most remarkable; and I make no doubt myself that he was trailing a pike or managing a charger with the English force a few months after " that strange engine for the brunt of war," " the fiery keel,” had been hurled against "Antwerp bridge.” In the days of Elizabeth, as in those of Anne, it, may be granted that our army swore terribly in Flanders, and in the rough school of the march and the leaguer he was more likely to have acquired the habit of using profane oaths and appealing to the dagger than in the quiet halls on the banks of the i Cam. While, therefore, it is very probable that some portion of the interval between 1583 and 1587 was thus employed, it is quite certain that a still greater part of it must have been passed in a diligent cultivation of the Muses ; for the researches of Mr. Collier have placed it beyond a doubt, not only that Marlowe was the author of Tamburlaine the Great, but that both parts of that, in every sense of the word, astonishing drama, had been publicly performed in London at least as early as 1587. & 1 have already mentioned Robert Greene and Thomas Nash as contemporaries at Cam. bridge. The former had taken his M.A. degree from Clare Hall in 1583, and the latter had just left St. John's College with nothing but the Bachelor's degree which he had obtained the year before. It seems probable that he had been compelled to quity the University, but, at any rate there were circumstances which rendered Marlowe's better fortune peculiarly irritating to him. Greene had originally belonged to the same College as Nash, and it may have been owing to this circumstance, or to a common jealousy of Marlowe's rising talents, that, when the former in this year 1587 published his Mena phon, Camilla's Alarum to Slumbering Euphues in his melancholy cell of Sileradra, &c. &c., he permitted or invited Nash to prefix an Epistle to the Reader. Of the work itself we learn from its interminable title-page that it was “worthie the youngest eares for pleasure, or the gravest censures for principles,” but it derives all its interest now from Nash's preface, which contains a violent tirade against the “idiot art-masters who intrude themselves to our ears as the alchymists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbrave better pens by the swelling bombast of braggart blank verse ;" as also against those "who commit the digestion of their choleric incumbrances to the spucious volubility of a drumming decasylla.
• Athena Cantabrigienses.
+ The Repentance of Robert Greene. la a letter dated 12th Jan. 1586, Burghley describes to Leycester how his son Thomas Cach with bo komes and 200 foot, had been lying at “Margat in Kent ever sence" the 26th December,
| History of Dramatic Poetry, ii, 113.