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name in literature. There can be no extravagance in saying, that to all who speak the English language his genius has made the world better worth living in, and life a nobler and diviner thing. And even among those who do not “speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake," large numbers are studying the English language mainly for the purpose of being at home with him. How he came to be what he was, and to do what he did, are questions that can never cease to be interesting, wherever his works are known, and men's powers of thought in any fair measure developed. But Providence has left a veil, or rather a cloud, about his history, so that these questions are not likely to be satisfactorily answered.
The first formal attempt at an account of Shakespeare's life was made by Nicholas Rowe, and the result thereof
* Much discussion has been had in our time as to the right way of spelling the Poet's name. The few autographs of his that are extant do not enable us to decide positively how he wrote his name; or rather they show that he had no one constant was of writing it. But the Venus and Adonis and the Lucrece were unquestionably published by his authority, and in the dedications of both these poems the name is printed "Shakespeare." The same holds in all the quarto issues of his plays where the author's name is given, with the one exception of Lorce's Labour's Lost, which has it “Shakespere"; as it also holds in the follo. And in very many of these cases the name is printed with a nypnen, “Shakespeare," as if on purpose that there might be no mistake about it. All which, surely, is or ought to be decisive as to how the Poet willed his name to be spet in print. Inconstancy in the spelling of names was very common in his time.
that very good sources of information were accessible in in such cases
published in 1709, ninety-three years after the Poet's death. Rowe's account was avowedly made up, for the most part, from traditionary materials collected by Betterton the actor, who made a visit to Stratford expressly for that purpose. Betterton was born in 1635, nineteen years after the death of Shakespeare; became an actor before 1660, retired from the stage about 1700, and died in 1710. At what time he visited Stratford is not known. It is to be regretted that Rowe did not give Betterton's authorities for the particulars gathered by him. It is certain, however, his time: Judith Quiney, the Poet's second daughter, lived till 1662; Lady Barnard, his granddaughter, till 1670; and Sir William Davenant, who in his youth had known Shakespeare, wa manager of the theatre in which Betterton acted.
After Rowe's account, scarce any thing was added till the time of Malone, who by a learned and most industrious searching of public and private records brought to light a considerable number of facts, some of them very important, touching the Poet and his family. And in our own day Mr. Collier has followed up the inquiry with very great diligence, and with no inconsiderable success; though, unfortunately, much of the matter supplied by him has been discredited as unauthentic, by those from whom there is his intelligent and indefatigable labours to the same task, and made some valuable additions to our stock.
The lineage of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, on the paternal side, has not been traced further back than his grandfather. The name, which in its composition smacks of brave old knighthood and chivalry, was frequent in Warwickshire from an early period.
The father of our Poet was John SHAKESPEARE, who is found living at Stratford-on-Avon in 1552. He was most likely a native of Snitterfield, a village three miles from Stratford; as we find a Richard Shakespeare living
there in 1550, and occupying a house and land owned by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of our Poet. This appears from a deed executed July 17, 1550, in which Robert Arden conveyed certain lands and tenements in Snitterfield, described as being “now in the tenure of one Richard Shakespeare,” to be held in trust for three daughters “after the death of Robert and Agnes Arden."
An entry in a Court Roll, dated April, 1552, ascertains that John Shakespeare was living in Stratford at that time. And an entry in the Bailiff's Court, dated June, 1556, describes him as “John Shakespeare, of Stratford in the county of Warwick, glover.” In 1558, the same John Shakespeare, and four others, one of whom was Francis Burbadge, then at the head of the corporation, were fined four pence each “for not keeping their gutters clean.”
There is ample proof that at this period his affairs were in a thriving condition. In October, 1556, he became the owner of two copyhold estates, one of them consisting of a house with a garden and a croft attached to it, the other of a house and garden. As these were estates of inheritance, the tenure was nearly equal to freehold; so that he must have been pretty well-to-do in the world at the time. For several years after, his circumstances continued to improve. Before 1558, he became the owner, by marriage, of a farm at Wilmecote, consisting of fifty-six acres, besides two houses and two gardens; moreover, he held, in right of his wife, a considerable share in a property at Snitterfield. Another addition to his property was made in 1575,
a freehold estate, bought for the sum of £40, and described as consisting of “two houses, two gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances.”
Several other particulars have been discovered, which go to ascertain his wealth as compared with that of other Stratford citizens. In 1564, the year of the Poet's birth, a malignant fever, called the plague, invaded Stratford. Its hungriest period was from the last of June to the last of December, during which time it swept off two hundred and
thirty-eight persons out of a population of about fourteen hundred. None of the Shakespeare family are found among its victims. Large draughts were made upon the charities of the town on account of this frightful visitation. In August, the citizens held a meeting in the open air, from fear of infection, and various sums were contributed for the relief of the poor. The High-Bailiff gave 3 s. 4 d., the headalderman 2 s. 8 d.; John Shakespeare, being then only a burgess, gave 12 d.; and in the list of burgesses there were but two who gave more.
Other donations were made for the same cause, he bearing a proportionable share in them.
We have seen that in June, 1556, John Shakespeare was termed a glover. In November of the same year he is found bringing an action against one of his neighbours for unjustly detaining a quantity of barley; which naturally infers him to have been more or less engaged in agricultural pursuits. It appears that at a later period agriculture was his main pursuit, if not his only one; for the town records show that in 1564 he was paid three shillings for a piece of timber; and we find him described in 1575 as a "yeoman." Rowe gives a tradition of his having been “a considerable dealer in wool." It is nowise unlikely that such may have been the case. The modern divisions of labour and trade were then little known and less regarded ; several kinds of business being often carried on together, which are now kept distinct; and we have special proof that gloves and wool were apt to be united as articles of trade.
I must next trace, briefly, the career of John Shakespeare as a public officer in the Stratford corporation. After holding several minor offices, he was in 1558, and again in 1559, chosen one of the four constables. In 1561, he was a second time made one of the four affeerors, whose duty it was to determine the fines for such offences as had no penalties prescribed by statute. The same year, 1561, he was chosen one of the chamberlains of the borough, a very responsible office, which he held two years. Advancing steadily in the
public confidence, he became an alderman in 1565; and in 1568 was elected Bailiff, the highest honour the corporation could bestow. He held this office a year. The series of local honours conferred upon him ended with his being chosen head-alderman in 1571; which office also he held a year. The rule being “ once an alderman always an alderman," unless positive action were taken to the contrary, he retained that office till 1586, when, for persevering nonattendance at the meetings, he was deprived of his gown.
After all these marks of public consequence, the reader may be surprised to learn that John Shakespeare, the father of the world's greatest thinker and greatest poet, could not write his name! Such was undoubtedly the fact; and I take pleasure in noting it, as showing, what is too apt to be forgotten in these bookish days, that men may know several things, and may have witty children, without being initiated in the mysteries of pen and ink. In the borough records for 1565 is an order signed by nineteen aldermen and burgesses, calling upon John Wheler to undertake the office of Bailiff. Of these signers thirteen are markmen, and among them are the names of George Whately, then Bailiff, Roger Sadler, head-alderman, and John Shakespeare. So that there was nothing remarkable in his not being able to wield a pen. As Bailiff of Stratford, he was ex officio a justice of the peace; and two warrants are extant, granted by him in December, 1568, for the arrest of John Ball and Richard Walcar on account of debts; both of them bearing witness that “he had a mark to himself, like an honest, plain-dealing man.” Several other cases in point are met with at later periods; some of which show that his wife stood on the same footing with him in this respect. In October, 1579, John and Mary Shakespeare executed a deed and bond for the transfer of their interest in certain property; both of which are subscribed with their several marks, and sealed with their respective seals.
John Shakespeare's good fortune seems to have reached its height about the year 1575, after which time we meet