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name Mosely, found hidden between the rafters and the tiling a manuscript consisting of six leaves stitched together, which he gave to Mr. Peyton, an alderman of Stratford, who sent it to Mr. Malone, through the Rev. Mr. Devonport, vicar of Stratford. This paper, which was first published by Malone in 1790, is printed also in Reed's Shakspeare and in Drake's 'Shakspeare and his Times.' It consists of fourteen articles, purporting to be a confession of faith of “John Shakspear, an unworthy member of the holy Catholic religion.” We have no hesitation whatever in believing this document to be altogether a fabrication. Chalmers says, “It was the performance of a clerk, the undoubted work of the family priest.”* Malone, when he first published the paper in his edition of Shakspeare, said—“ I have taken some pains to ascertain the authenticity of this manuscript, and, after a very careful inquiry, am perfectly satisfied that it is genuine.” In 1796, however, in his work on the Ireland forgeries, he asserts—" I have since obtained documents that clearly prove it could not have been the composition of any one of our poet's family.” We not only do not believe that it was “the composition of any one of our poet's family,"
“the undoubted work of the family priest,” but we do not believe that it is the work of a Roman Catholic at all. It professes to be the writer's “last spiritual will, testament, confession, protestation, and confession of faith.” Now, if the writer had been a Roman Catholic, or if it had been drawn up for his approval and signature by his priest, it would necessarily, professing such fulness and completeness, have contained something of belief touching the then material points of spiritual difference between the Roman and the Reformed Church. Nothing, however, can be more vague than all this tedious protestation and confession, with the exception that phrases, and indeed long passages, are introduced for the purpose of marking the supposed writer's opinions in the way that should be most offensive to those of a contrary opinion, as if by way of bravado or seeking of persecution. Thus: “ Item, I, John Shakspear, do protest that I will also pass out of this life armed with the last sacrament of extreme unction.” Again: “Item, I, John Shakspear, do protest that I am willing, yea, I do infi. nitely desire and humbly crave, that of this my last will and testament the glorious and ever Virgin Mary, mother of God, refuge and advocate of sinners, (whom I honour specially above all saints,) may be the chief executress, together with these other saints, my patrons, (Saint Winefride,) all whom I invoke and beseech to be present at the hour of my death, that she and they comfort me with their desired presence.” Again: "Item, I, John Shakspear, do in like manner pray and beseech my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowels of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that, since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, for fear notwithstanding lest by reason of my sins I be to pass and stay a long while in purgatory, they will vouchsafe to assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the mass, as being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains; from the which if I shall, by God's gracious goodness, and by their virtuous works, be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them for so
Apology for the Believers, page 199.
great a benefit.” This last item, which is the twelfth of the paper, is demonstrative to us of its spuriousness. That John Shakspere was what we popularly call a Protestant in the year 1568, when his son William was four years old, may be shown by the clearest of proofs. He was in that year the chief magistrate of Stratford; he could not have become so without taking the Oath of Supremacy, according to the statute of the 1st of Elizabeth, 1558-9. To refuse this oath was made punishable with forfeiture and imprisonment, with the pains of præmunire and high treason. “ The conjecture,” says Chalmers (speaking in support of the authenticity of this confession of faith), “that Shakspeare's family were Roman Catholics, is strengthened by the fact that his father declined to attend the corporation meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body.” He was removed from the corporate body in 1585, with a distinct statement of the reason for this removal—his non-attendance when summoned to the halls. According to this reasoning of Chalmers, John Shakspere did not hesitate to take the Oath of Supremacy when he was chief magistrate in 1564, but retired from the corporation in 1585, where he might have remained without offence to his own conscience or to others, being, in the language of that day, a Popish recusant, to be stigmatized as such, persecuted, and subject to the most odious restrictions. If he left or was expelled the corporation for his religious opinions, he would, of course, not attend the service of the church, for which offence he would be liable, in 1585, to a fine of 201. per month; and then, to crown the whole, in this his last confession, spiritual will, and testament, he calls upon all his kinsfolks to assist and succour him after his death “ with the holy sacrifice of the mass," with a promise that he “will not be ungrateful unto them for so great a benefit,” well knowing that by the Act of 1581 the saying of mass was punishable by a year's imprisonment and a fine of 200 marks, and the hearing of it by a similar imprisonment and a fine of 100 marks. The fabrication appears to us as gross as can well be imagined. It must be borne in mind that the parents of William Shakspere passed through the great changes of religious opinion, as the greater portion of the people passed, without any violent corresponding change in their habits derived from their forefathers. In the time of Henry VIII, the great contest of opinion was confined to the supremacy of the Pope; the great practical state measure was the suppression of the religious houses. Under Edward VI. there was a very careful compromise of all those opinions and practices in which the laity were participant. In the short reign of Mary the persecution of the Reformers must have been offensive even to those who clung fastest to the ancient institutions and modes of belief; and even when the Reformation was fully established under Elizabeth, the habits of the people were still very slightly interfered with. The astounding majority of the conforming clergy is a convincing proof how little the opinions of the laity must have been
*“ And all and every temporal judge, mayor, and other lay or temporal officer and minister, and every other person having your Highness's fee or wages within this realm, or any your Highness's dominions, shall make, take, and receive a corporal oath upon the Evangelist, before such person or persons as shall please your Highness, your heirs or successors, under the great seal of England, to assign and name to accept and take the same, according to the tenor and effect hereafter following, that is to say,” &c.
See Note at the end of this Chapter.
disturbed. They would naturally go along with their old teachers. We have to imagine, then, that the father of William Shakspere, and his mother, were, at the time of his birth, of the religion established by law. His father, by holding a high municipal office after the accession of Elizabeth, had solemnly declared his adherence to the great principle of Protestantism—the acknowledgment of the civil sovereign as head of the church. The speculative opinions in which the child was brought up would naturally shape themselves to the creed which his father must have professed in his capacity of magistrate; but, according to some opinions, this profession was a disguise on the part of his father. The young Shakspere was brought up in the Roman persuasion, according to these notions, because he intimates an acquaintance with the practices of the Roman church, and mentions purgatory, shrift, confession, in his dramas.* Surely the poet might exhibit this familiarity with the ancient language of all Christendom, without thus speaking “from the overflow of Roman Catholic zeal.”+ Was it “Roman Catholic zeal” which induced him to write those strong lines in King John against the “ Italian priest,” and against those who
“ Purchase corrupted pardon of a man”? Was it “Roman Catholic zeal” which made him introduce these words into the famous prophecy of the glory and happiness of the reign of Elizabeth
“ God shall be truly known'? He was brought up, without doubt, in the opinions which his father publicly professed, in holding office subject to his most solemn affirmation of those opinions. The distinctions between the Protestant and the Popish recusant were then not so numerous or speculative as they afterwards became. But, such as they were, we may be sure that William Shakspere learnt his catechism from his mother in all sincerity; that he frequented the church in which he and his brothers and sisters were baptized; that he was prepared for the discipline of the school in which religious instruction by a minister of the church was regularly afforded as the end of the other knowledge there taught. He became tolerant, according to the manifestation of his after-writings, through nature and the habits and friendships of his early life. But that tolerance does not presume insincerity in himself or his family. The “Confession of Faith' found in the roof of his father's house two hundred years after he was born would argue the extreme of religious zeal, even to the defiance of all law and authority, on the part of a man who had by the acceptance of office professed his adherence to the established national faith. If that paper were to be believed, we must be driven to the conclusion that John Shakspere was an unconscientious hypocrite for one part of his life, and a furious bigot for the other part. It is much easier to believe that the Reformation fell lightly upon John Shakspere, as it did upon the bulk of the laity; that he and his wife, without any offence to their consciences, saw the Common Prayer take the place of the Mass-book, and acknowledged the temporal sovereign to be head of the church;
* See Chalmers's “ Apology,' p. 200. + Chalmers. See also Drake, who adopts, in great measure, Chalmers's argument.
that in the education of their children they dispensed with auricular confession and penance; but that they, in common with their neighbours, tolerated, and perhaps delighted in, many of the festivals and imaginative forms of the old religion, and even looked up for heavenly aid through intercession, without fancying that they were yielding to an idolatrous superstition, such as Puritanism came subsequently to denounce. The transition from the old worship to the new was not an ungentle one for the laity. The early reformers were too wise to attempt to root up habits—those deep-sunk foundations of the
past which break the ploughshares of legislation when it strives to work an inch below the earth's surface.
Pass we on to matters more congenial to the universality of William Shakspere's mind than the controversies of doctrine, or the mutual persecutions of rival sects. He escaped their pernicious influences. He speaks always with reverence of the teachers of the highest wisdom, by whatever name denominated. He has learnt, then, at his mother's knee the cardinal doctrines of Christianity; he can read. His was an age of few books. Yet, believing, as we do, that his father and mother were well-educated persons, there would be volumes in their house capable of exciting the interest of an inquiring boyvolumes now rarely seen and very precious. Some of the first books of the English press might be there; but the changes of language in the ninety years that had passed since the introduction of printing into England would almost seal them against a boy's perusal. Caxton's books were essentially of a popular character; but, as he himself complained, the language of his time was greatly unsettled, showing that "we Englishmen ben born under the domination of the moon, which is never steadfast.”* Caxton's Catalogue was rich in romantic and poetical lore—the Confessio Amantis,' the “Canterbury Tales,' • Troilus and Creseide,' the Book of Troy,' the Dictes of the Philosophers,' the • Mirror of the World, the “Siege of Jerusalem,' the Book of Chivalry,' the · Life of King Arthur.' Here were legends of faith and love, of knightly deeds and painful perils,-glimpses of history through the wildest romance-enough to fill the mind of a boy-poet with visions of unutterable loveliness and splendour. The famous successors of the first printer followed in the same careerthey adapted their works to the great body of purchasers ; they left the learned to their manuscripts. What a present must “Dame Julyana Bernes" have bestowed upon her countrymen in her book of Hunting, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, with other books of sports! Master Skelton, laureate, would rejoice the hearts of the most orthodox, by his sly hits at the luxury and domination of the priesthood : Robert Copland, who translated Kynge Appolyne of Thyre,' sent perhaps the story of that prince's “ malfortunes
and perilous adventures” into a soil in which they were to grow into a · Pericles :' and Stephen Hawes, in his · Passe Tyme of Pleasure,' he being “one of the grooms of the most honourable chamber of our sovereign lord King Henry the Seventh,” would deserve the especial favour of the descendant of Robert Arden. Subsequently came the English Froissart of Lord Berners, and other
* Boke of Eneydos.
great books hereafter to be mentioned. But if these, and such as these, were not to be read by the child undisciplined by school, there were pictures in some of those old books which of themselves would open a world to him. That wondrous book of · Bartholomæus de Proprietatibus Rerum,' describing, and exhibiting in appropriate woodcuts, every animate and inanimate thing, and even the most complex operations of social life, whether of cooking, ablution, or the ancient and appropriate use of the comb for the destruction of beasts of prey—the child Shakspere would have turned over its leaves with delight. The Chronicle of England, with the Fruit of Times,'—the edition of 1527, with cuts innumerable,-how must it have taken that boy into the days of “ fierce wars," and have shown him the mailed knights, the archers, and the billmen that fought at Poitiers for a vain empery, and afterwards turned their swords and their arrows against each other at Barnet and Tewkesbury !-What dim thoughts of earthly mutations, unknown to the quiet town of Stratford, must the young Shakspere have received, as he looked upon the pictures of “ the boke of John Bochas, describing the fall of princes, princesses, and other nobles,” and especially as he beheld the portrait of John Lydgate, the translator, kneeling in a long black cloak, admiring the vicissitude of the wheel of fortune, the divinity being represented by a male figure, in a robe, with expanded wings! Rude and incongruous works of art, ye were yet an intelligible language to the young and the uninstructed; and the things ye taught through the visual sense were not readily to be forgotten!
But there were books in those days, simple and touching in their diction, and sounding alike the depths of the hearts of childhood and of age, which were the printed embodiments of that traditionary lore that the shepherd repeated in his loneliness when pasturing his flocks in the uplands, and the maiden recited to her companions at the wheel. Were there not in every house Christmas Carols,'—perhaps not the edition of Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, but reprints out of number? Did not the same great printer scatter about merry England—and especially dear were such legends to the people of the midland and northern counties—“ A lytell Geste of Robyn Hode?” Whose ear amongst the yeomen of Warwickshire did not listen when some genial spirit would recite out of that "lytell Geste ?” —
“ Lithe and lysten, gentylmen
That be of fre bore blode,
Was never none y founde.” The good old printer, Wynkyn, knew that there were real, because spiritual, truths in these ancient songs and gestes; and his press poured them out in company with many “A full devoute and gosteley Treatise.” That charming, and yet withal irreverend, “mery geste of the frere and the boy,"—what genial mirth was there in seeing the child, ill-used by his step-mother, making a