Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Iste 1843

THE

LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.

BY CHARLES SYMMONS, D. D.

Wherever any extraordinary display of human inferences of lawless and vagabond conjecture. Intellect has been made, there will human cu. Of this remarkable ignorance of one of the most riosity, at one period or the other, be busy to richly endowed with intellect of the human ohtain some personal acquaintance with the dis- species, who ran his mortal race in our own tinguished mortal whom Heaven had been pleas-country, and who stands separated from us by ed to endow with a larger portion of its own no very great intervention of time, the causes ethereal energy. If the favoured man walked may not be difficult to be ascertained. William on the high places of the world; if he were con- Shakspeare was an actor and a writer of plays; versant with courts; if he directed the move-in neither of which characters, however he might ments of armies or of states, and thus held in his excel in them, could he be lifted high in the hand the fortunes and the lives of multitudes of estimation of his contemporaries. He was hohis fellow-creatures, the interest, which he noured, indeed, with the friendship of nobles, excites, will be immediate and strong; he stands and the patronage of monarchs; his theatre was on an eminence where he is the mark of many frequented by the wits of the metropolis; and he eyes; and dark and unlettered indeed must be associated with the most intellectual of his times. the age in which the incidents of his eventful life But the spirit of the age was against him; and, will not be noted, and the record of them be pre-in opposition to it, he could not become the subserved for the instruction or the entertainment ject of any general or comprehensive interest. of onborn generations. But if his course were the nation, in short, knew little and cared less through the vale of life: if he were unmingled about him. During his life, and for some years with the factions and the contests of the great: after his death, inferior dramatists outran him if the powers of his mind were devoted to the in the race of popularity; and then the flood of silent pursuits of literature-to the converse of puritan fanaticism swept him and the stage philosophy and the Muse, the possessor of the together into temporary oblivion. On the reethereal treasure may excite little of the attention storation of the monarchy and the theatre, the of his contemporaries ; may walk quietly, with school of France perverted our taste, and it was a veil over his glories, to the grave; and, in not till the last century was somewhat advanced other times, when the expansion of his intel. that William Shakspeare arose again, as it were,

lectual greatness has filled the eyes of the world, from the tomb, in all his proper majesty of light. 11 it may be too late to inquire for his history as a He then became the subject of solicitous and

man. The bright track of his genius indelibly learned inquiry : but inquiry was then too late h remains ; but the trace of his mortal footstep is and all that it could recover, from the ravage of

Boon obliterated for ever. Homer is now only a time, were only a few human fragments, which bame-a solitary name, which assures us, that, could scarcely be united into a man. To these at some unascertained period in the annals of causes of our personal ignorance of the great mankind, a mighty mind was indulged to a bard of England, must be added his own strange human being, and gave its wonderful produc- indifference to the celebrity of genius. When tions to the perpetual admiration of men, as they he had produced his admirable works, ignorant spring in succession in the path of time. Of or heedless of their value, he abandoned them Homer himself we actually know nothing; and with perfect indifference to oblivion or to fame. we see only an arm of immense power thrust It surpassed his thought that he could grow into forth from a mass of impenetrable darkness, and the admiration of the world; and, without any

holding up the hero of his song to the applauses reference to the curiosity of future ages, in which .

of never-dying fame. But it may he supposed he could not conceive hiniself to possess an inthat the revolution of, perhaps, thirty centuries, terest, he was contented to die in the arms of has collected the cloud which thus withdraws obscurity, as an unlaurelled burgher of a prothe father of poesy from our sight. Little more vincial town. To this combination of causes than

two centuries has elapsed since William are we to attribute the scantiness of our mateSbakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod rials for the Life of William Shakspeare. His of the self-same soil with ourselves; and if it were works are in myriads of hands: he constitutes

not for the records kept by our Church in its the delight of myriads of readers: his renown is registers of births, marriages, and burials, we coextensive with the civilization of man; and, should at this moment be as personally ignorant striding across the ocean from Europe, it occu. of the "sweet swan of Avon," as we are of the pies the wide region of transatlantic empire: bat old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That he is himself only a shadow which disappoints William Shakspeare was born in Stratford upon our grasp : an undefined form which is rather Avon; that he married and had three children ; intimated than discovered to the keepest searchthat he wrote a certain number of dramas; that ings of our eye. Of the little however, questions he died before he had attained to old age, and able or certain, which can be told of him, we was buried in his native town, are positively the must now proceed to make the best use in our only facts, in the personal history of this extra- power, to write what by courtesy may be called ordinary man, of which we are certainly

pos- his life ; and we have only to lament that the sessed ; and, if we should be solicitous to fill up result of our labonr must greatly disappoint the this bare and most unsatisfactory outline, we cîriosity which has been excited by the grandeur must have recourse to the vague reports of un- of his reputation. The slight

narrative of Rowe, substantial tradition, or to the süll more shadowy founded on the information obtained, in the be

ginning of the last century, by the inquiries of ject of controversy. According to the testimony Betterton, the famous actor, will necessarily of Rowe, grounded on the tradition of Stratford, supply us with the greater part of the materials the father of our poet was a dealer in wool, or, with which we are to work.

in the provincial vocabulary of his country, a William Shakspeare, or Shakspere, (for the wool-driver; and such he has been deemed by floating orthography of the name is properly all the biographers of his son, till the fact was attached to the one or the other of these varieties,) thrown into doubt by the result of the inquisiwas baptized in the church of Stratford upon tiveness of Malone. Finding, in an old and obAvon, as is ascertained by the parish register, scure MS. purporting to record the proceedings on the 26th of April 1564 ; and he is said to have of the bailiff's court in Stratford, our John been born on the 23d of the same month, the Shakspeare designated as a glover, Malone day consecrated to the tutelar saint of England. insults over the ignorance of poor Rowe, and His parents, John and Mary Shakspeare, were assumes no small degree of merit to himself as not of equal ranks in the community; for the the discoverer of a long sought and a most imformer was only a respectable tradesman, whose portant historic truth. If he had recollected the ancestors cannot be traced into gentility, whilst remark of the clown in the Twelfth Night, the latter belonged to an ancient and opulent that " a sentence is but a cheverel glove to a good house in the county of Warwick, being the wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned youngest daughter of Robert Arden of Wilme outwards !” he would, doubtless, have pressed cote. The family of the Ardens (or Ardernes, the observation into his service, and brought it as it is written in all the old deeds,) was of con- as an irresistible attestation of the veracity of siderable antiquity and importance, some of his old MS. them having served as high sheriff's of their Whatever may have been the trade of John county, and two of them (Sir John Arden and Shakspeare, whether that of wool-merchant or his nephew, the grandfather of Mrs. Shakspeare,) of glover, it seems, with the little fortune of his having enjoyed each a station of honour in the wite, to have placed him in a state of easy compersonal establishment of Henry VII. The petence. In 1569 or 1570, in consequence partly younger of these Ardens was made, by his of his alliance with the Ardens, and parily of sovereign, keeper of the park of Aldercar and his attainment of the prime municipal honours bailiff of the lordship of Códnore. He obtained, of his town, he obtained a concession of arms also, from the crown a valuable grant in the from the herald's office, a grant, which placed lease of the manor of Yoxsal in Staffordshire, him and his family on the file of the gentry of consisting of more than 4,600 acres, at a rent of England ; and, in 1574, he purchased two houses, 421. Mary Arden did not come dowerless to her with gardens and orchards annexed to them, plebeian husband, for she brought to him a small in Henley Street in Stratford. But before the freehold estate called Asbies, and the sum of 61. year 1578, his prosperity, from canses not now 138.4d. in money. The freehold cousisted of a ascertainable, had certainly declined; for in house and fifty-four acres of land ; and, as far that year, as we find from the records of his as it appears, it was the first piece of landed pro-borough, he was excused, in condescension to perty which was ever possessed by the Shak-his poverty, from the moiety of a very moderate speares. Cf this marriage the offspring was four assessment of six skllings and eightpence, made sons and four daughters; of whom Joan (or, by the members of the corporation on themaccording to the orthography of that time,Jone, selves; at the same time that he was altogether and Margaret, the eldest of the children, died exempted from his contribution to the relief of one in infancy and one at a somewhat more ad- the poor. During the remaining years of his vanced age; and Gilbert, whose birth immedi- life, his fortunes appear not to have recovered ately succeeded to that of our Poet, is supposed themselves; for be ceased to attend the meetby some not to have reached his maturity, and ings of the corporation hall, where he had once by others to have attained to considerable lon- presided ; and, in 1586, another person was subgevity. Joan, the eldest of the four remaining stituted as alderman in his place, in consequence children, and named after her deceased sister, of his magisterial inefficiency.' He died in the married William Hart, a hatter in her native September of 1601, when his illustrious son had town; and Edmund, the youngest of the family, already attained to high celebrity; and his wife, adopting the profession of an actor, resided in Mary Shakspeare, surviving him for seven years, St. Tjaviour's parish in London ; and was buried deceased in the September of 1608, the burial in St. Saviour's Church on the last day of De of the former being registered on the eighth and cember 1607, in his twenty-eighth year. Of Anne that of the latter on the ninth of this month, in and Richard, whose birihs intervened between each of these respective years. those of Joan and Edmund, the parish register On the 30th of June 1564, when our poet had tells the whole history, when it records that the not yet been three months in this breathing former was buried on the 4th of April 1579, in world, his native Stratford was visited by the the eighth year of her age, and the latter on the plague; and, during the six succeeding months, 4th of February 1612-13, when he had nearly the ravaging disease is calculated to have swept completed his thirty-ninth.

to the grave more than a seventh part of the In consequence of a document, discovered in whole population of the place. But the favoured the year 1770, in the house in which, if tradition infant reposed in security in his cradle, and is to be trusted, our poet was born, some per- breathed health amid an atmosphere of pestisons have concluded that John Shakspeare was lence. The Genius of England may be supposed a Roman Catholic, though he had risen, hy the to have held the arm of the destroyer, and not regular gradation of office, to the chief dignity to have permitted it to fall on the consecrated of the corporation of Stratford, that of high bai. dwelling of his and Nature's darling. The disliff; and, during the whole of this period, had ease, indeed, did not overstep his charmed unquestionably conformed to the rites of the threshold; for the name of Shakspeare is not Church of England. The asserted fact seemed to be found in the register of deaths throughout not to be very probable; and the document in that period of accelerated mortality. That he question, which, drawn 'np in a testamentary survived this desolating calamity of his towns form and regularly attested, zealously professes men, is all that we know of William Shakspeare the Roman faith of him in whose name it speaks, from the day of his birth till he was sent, as we having been subjected to a rigid examination are informed by Rowe, to the free-school of by Malone, has been pronounced to be spurions. Stratford ; and was stationed there in the course The trade of John Shakspeare, as well as his of his education, till, in consequence of the straitreligious faith, has recently been made the sub

* Act iii. sc. L.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ened circumstances of his father, he was recallednion, both parties are wrong, both they who to the paternal roof. As we are not told at what contend for our poet's learning, and they who age he was sent to school, we cannoj form any place his illiteracy on a level with that of John estimate of the time during which he remained Taylor, the celebrated water-poet, I must rethere. But if be was placed under his master sume my humble and most deficient narrative. when he was six years old, he might have conti-The classical studies of William Shakspeare, nued in a state of instruction for seven or even for whatever progress he may or may not have made eight years; a term sufficiently long for any boy, in them, were now suspended ; and he was renot an absolute blockhead, to acquire something placed in his father's house, when he had atmore than the mere elements of the classical tained his thirteenth or fourteenth year, to assist languages. We are too ignorant, however of with his hand in the maintenance of the family. dates, in these instances, to speak with any con- Whether he continued in this situation whilst fidence on the subject, and we can only assert he remained in his single state, has not been that seven or eight of the fourteen years, which told to us, and cannot therefore at this period intervened between the birth of our poet in 1564 be known. But in the absence of information, and the knowo period of his father's diminished conjecture will be busy ; and will soon cover fortune in 1578, might very properly have been bare

with unprofitable vegetation. given to the advantages of the free-school. But Whilst Malone surmises that the young poet now the important question is to be asked passed the interval, till his marriage, or a large What were the attainments of our young Shak. portion of it, in the office of an attorney, Aubrey speare at this seat of youthful instruction ? Did stations him during the same term at the head he return to his father's house in a state of utter of a country school. But the surmises of Malone ignorance of classic literature? or was he as are pot universally happy; and to the assertions far advanced in his school-studies as boys of his of Aubrey I am not disposed to attach more age (which I take to be thirteen or fourteen) credit than was attached to them by Anthony usually are in the common progress of our pub- Wood, who knew the old gossip, and was ooinfic and more reputable schools? That his scho-petent to appreciate his character. It is more lastic attainments did not rise to the point of probable that the necessity, which brought young learning, seems to have been the general opinion Shakspeare from his school, retained him with of his contemporaries; and to this opinion 1 his father's occupation at home, till the acquiam willing to assent. But I cannot persuade sition of a wife made it convenient for him to myself that he was entirely unacquainted with remove to a separate habitation. It is reasonthe classic tongues; or that, as Farmer and his able to conclude that a mind like his, ardent, followers Jabour to convince us, he could re-excursive, and “ all compact of imagination, ceive the instructions, even for three or four would not be satisfied with entire inactivity years, of a school of any character, and could but would obtain knowledge where it could, if then depart without any knowledge beyond not from the stores of the ancients, from those at that of the Latin accidence. The most accom- least which were supplied to him by the writers plisted

olar may read with pleasure the of his own country. poetic versions of the classic poets; and the less In 1582, before he had completed his eighadvanced proficient may consult his indolence teenth year, he married Anne Hathaway, the by applying to the page of a translation of a daughter, as Rowe informs us, of a substantial prose classic, when accuracy of quotation may yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. We not be required : and on evidences of this nature are unacquainted with the precise period of is supported the charge which has been brought, their marriage, and with the church in which and which is now generally admitted, against it was solemnized, for in the register of Stratour immortal bard, of more than school-boy ford there is no record of the event; and we are ignorance. He might, indeed, from necessity, made certain of the year, in which it occurred, apply to North for the interpretation of Plu- only by the baptism of Susanna, the first protarch; bat he read Golding's Ovid only, as I duce of the union, on the 26th of May, 1583. As am satisfied, for the entertainment of its Eng. young Shakspeare neither increased his fortune !ish poetry. 'Ben Jonson, who must have been by this match, though he probably received intimately conversant with his friend's classic some money with his wife, nor raised himsel acquisitions, tells us expressly that, “He had by it in the community, we may conclude that small Latin and less Greek." Bui, according he was induced to it by inclination, and the to the usual plan of instruction in our schools, impulse of love. But the youthful poet's dream he must have traversed a considerable extent of happiness does not seem to have been realized of the language of Rome, before he could touch by the result. The bride was eight years older even the confines of that of Greece. He must, than the bridegroom: and whatever charms she in short, have read Ovid's Metamorphoses, and might possess to fascinate the eyes of her boy. 4 part at least of Virgil, before he could open lover, she probably was deficient in those the grammar of the more ancient, and copious, powers which are requisite to impose a durable and complex dialect. This I conceive to be a fetter on the heart, and to hold " in sweet capfair statement of the case in the question re-tivity" a mind of the very highest order. No specting Shakspeare's learning. Beyond contro-charge is intimated gainst the lady : but she is versy he was not a scholar; but he had not pro left in Stratford by her husband during his

long filed so little by the hours, which he had passed residence in the metropolis; and on his death, in school, as not to be able to understand the she is found to be only slightly, and, as it were, more easy Roman authors without the assistance casually remembered in his will. Her second of a translation. If he himself had been asked pregnancy, which was productive of twins, on the subject, he might have parodied his own | (Hamnet and Judith, baptized on the 2d of Feb. Falstaff, and have answered, " Indeed I am not ruary 1584-5,) terminated her pride ag a mother; 2. Scaliger or a Budæus, but yet no blockhead, and we know nothing more respecting her than friend.". I believe also that he was not wholly that, surviving her illustrious consort by rather tinacquainted with the popular languages of more than seven years, she was buried on the France and Italy. He had abundant leisure to 8th of August, 1623, being, as we are told by the acquire them; and the activity and the curiosity inscription on her tomb, of the age of sixty-seven. of his mind were sufficiently strong to urge him Respecting the habits of life, or the occupation to their acquisition. But to discuss this much of our young poet by which he obtained his Agitated question would lead me beyond the subsistence, or even the place of his residence, limits which are prescribed to me; and, con- subsequently to his marriage, not a floating syl. ienting wywell with declaring that, in my opi-llable has been wasted to us by tradition for the

[ocr errors]

gratification of our curiosity; and the history in which no fortunate isle could be seen to glitter of this great man is a perfect blank till the oc- amid the gloomy and sullen tide. But he was currence of an event, which drove him from his blessed with youth and health: his conscience native town, and gave his wonderful intellect was unwounded, for the adventure for which to break out in its full lustre on the world. From he suffered, was regarded,

in the estimation of the frequent allusions in his writings to the ele- his times, as a mere boy's frolick, of not greater gant sport of falconry, it has been suggested guilt than the robbing of an orchard ; and his that this, possibly, might be one of his favourite inind, rich beyond example in the gold of bea. amusements: and nothing can be more proba- ven, could throw lustre over the black waste ble, from the active season of his life, and his before him, and could people it with a beautiful fixed habitation in the country, than his strong creation of her own. We may imagine him, and eager passion for all the pleasures of the then, departing from his home, not indeed like field. Ås a sportsman, in his rank of life, he the great Roman captive as he is described by would naturally become a poacher; and then it the poetis highly probable that he would fall into the

Fertur pudicæ conjugis osculum, acquaintance of poachers; and, associating with them in his idler hours, would occasionally be

Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor, one of their fellow marauders on the manors

Ab se removisse, et virilem of their rich neighbours. In one of these li

Torvus humi posuisse vultum, &c. centious excursions on the grounds of Sir Tho- but touched with some feelings of natural sormas Lucy of Charlecote, in the immediate vici- row, yet with an unfaltering step, and with hope nity of Stratford, for the purpose as it is said of vigorous at his heart. It was impossible that stealing his deer, our young bard was detected; he should despair; and if he indulged in sanand, having further irritated the knight by af- guine expectation, the event proved him not to fixing a satirical ballad on him to the gates of be a visionary. In the course of a few years; Charlecote, he was compelled to fly before the the exile of Stratford became the associate of enmity of his powerful adversary, and to seek wits, the friend of nobles, the favourite of moan asylum in the capital. Malone, who is prone narchs; and in a period, which still left him to doubt, wishes to question the truth of this not in sight of old age, he returned to his birth whole narrative, and to ascribe the flight of place in affluence, with honour, and with the young Shakspeare from his native country to plaudits of the judicious and the noble resoundthe embarrassment of his circumstances, and ing in his ears. the persecution of his creditors. But the story His iminediate refuge in the metropolis was of the deer-stealing rests upon the uniform tra the stage; to which his access, as ii appears, dition of Stratford, and is confirmed by the cha- was easy.' Stratford was fond of theatrical re racter of Sir T. Lucy, who is known to have presentations, which it accommodated with its been a rigid preserver of his game; by the en- town or guildhall; and had frequently been mity displayed against his memory by Shak- visited by companies of players when our poet speare in his succeeding life ; and by a part of was of an age, not only to enjoy their perforia: the offensive ballad itself, preserved by a Mr. ances but to form an acquaintance with their who obtained it from those who must have been their distinguished actors, has been considered acquainted with the fact, and who could not be by some writers as a kinsman of our author's; biassed by any interest or passion to falsify or and though he, possibly, may have been conmisstate it. Besides the objector, in this in- founded by them with another Thomas Greene stance, seems not to be aware that 'it was easier a barrister, who was unquestionably connected to escape from the resentinent of an offended with the Shakspeares, he was certainly a fellow creditor: that whilst the former might be satis minge and Burbage, two of the leaders of the situation where he could no longer infest his ford or to its immediate neighbourhood. With his debtor wherever bailiffs could find and writs under the impulse of his own theatrical bins could attach him. On every account, therefore, (for however in after life he may have lamented I believe the tradition, recorded by Rowe, that his cegradation as a professional actor, it must our poet retired from Stratford before the exas- be concluded that he nowe felt a strong attachperated power of Sir T. Lucy, and

found a refugement to the stage,) it is not wonderful that young in London, not possibly beyond the reach of Shakspeare should solicit this asylum in his disthe arm, but beyond the hostile purposes of his tress ; or that he should be kindly received by

"The time of this eventful flight of the great connected, if not with his family, at least wine bard of England cannot now be accurately dle his native town. The company to which be termined : but we may somewhat confidently united himself, was the Earl of Leicester's of place it between the years 1585 and 1588 ; for in the Queen's ;' which had obtained the royal the former of these we may conelude him to licence in 1571. The place of its performances

: have been present with his family at the baptism when our poet became enrolled among its memo latter of them we cannot well assign a later date managers subsequently purchased the theatre for his arrival in London, since we know that of Blackfriars, (The oldest theatre in London, before 1592 he had not only written two long which they had previously rented for some Lucrece, but had acquired no small degree of which was open in the centre for summer Top celebrity as an actor and a dramatic writer.

At this agitating crisis of his life, the situation winter, were acted all the dramatic productions vious

aspect, severe and even terrific: "Without into the company in a very subordinate situation under the frown of exasperated power, from as certain that he ever carried a link to lighting his profession from his native fields from

the the frequenters of the theatre, or ever held therler from his wife and his infant . offspring. The fabricated, no doubt, by the

lovers of the mainte world was spread before him, like a dark ocean, Ivellous, who were solicitous to obtain a contrast

« ZurückWeiter »