Abbildungen der Seite

surmises that the young Poet passed the interval, til his marriage, or a large portion of it, in the office of an attorney, Aubrey stations him during the same term at the head of a country school. But the surmises of Malone are not universally happy; and to the assertions of Aubrey* I am not disposed to attach more credit than was attached to them by Anthony Wood, who knew the old gossip and was competent to appreciate his character. It is more probable that the necessity, which brought young Shakspeare from his school, retained him with his father's occupation at home, till the acquisition of a wife made it convenient for him to remove to a separate habitation. It is reasonable to conclude that a mind like bis, ardent, excursive, and “ all compact of imagination,” would not be satisfied with entire inactivity; but would obtain knowledge where it could, if not from the stores of the ancients, from those at least which were supplied to him by the writers of his own country.

In 1582, before he had completed his eighteenth year, he, married Anne Hathaway, the daughter, as Rowe informs us, of a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. We are unacquainted with the precise period of their marriage, and with the church in which it was solemnized, for in the register of Stratford there is no record of the event; and we are made certain of the year, in which it occurred, only by the baptism of Susanna, the first produce of the union, on the 26th of May 1583. As young Shakspeare neither increased his fortune by this match, though he probably received some money with his wife, nor raised himself by it in the community, we may conclude that he was induced to it by inclination, and the impulse of love. But the youthful poet's dream of happiness does not seem to

* What credit can be due to this Mr. Aubrey, who picked up information on the highway and scattered it every where as authentic? who whipped Milton at Cambridge in violation of the university statutes; and who, making our young Shakspeare a butcher's boy, could embrue his bands in the blood of calves, and represent him as exulting in poetry over the convulsions of the dying animals?

have been realized by the result. The bride was eight years older than the bridegroom; and whatever charms she might possess to fascinate the eyes of her boy-lover, she probably was deficient in those powers which are requisite to impose a durable fetter on the heart, and to bold “in sweet captivity” a mind of the very highest order. No charge is intimated against the lady: but she is left in Stratford by her busband during his long residence in the metropolis; and on his death, she is found to be only slightly and, as it were, casually remembered in his will. Her second pregnancy, which was productive of twins, (Hamnet and Judith, baptized on the 2d of February 1584-5,) terminated her pride as a mother; and we know nothing more respecting her than that, surviving her illustrious consort by rather more than seven years, she was buried on the 8th of August 1623, being, as we are told by the inscription on ber tomb, of the age of sixty-seven. Respecting the habits of life, or the occupation of our young Poet by which he obtained his subsistence, or even the place of his residence, subsequently to his marriage, not a floating syllable has been wafted to us by tradition for the gratification of our curiosity; and the history of this great man is a perfect blank till the occurrence of an event, which drove him from his native town, and gave bis wonderful intellect to break out in its full lustre on the world. From the frequent allusions in his writings to the elegant sport of falconry, it has been suggested that this, possibly, might be one of his favorite amusements: and nothing can be more probable, from the active season of his life, and his fixed babitation in the country, than his strong and eager passion for all the pleasures of the field. As a sportsman, in his rank of life, he would naturally become a poacher; and then it is highly probable that he would fall into the acquaintance of poachers; and, associating with them in his idler hours, would occasionally be one of their fellow-marauders on the manors of their rich neighbours. In one of these licentious excursions on the grounds of Sir


Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, in the immediate vicinity of Stratford, for the purpose as it is said of stealing bis deer, our young bard was detected; and, having farther irritated the knight by affixing a satirical ballad on him to the gates of Charlecote, he was compelled to fly before the enmity of his powerful adversary, and to seek an asylum in the capital. Malone *, who is prone to doubt, wishes to question the truth of this whole narrative, and to ascribe the flight of young Shakspeare from his native country to the embarrassment of bis circumstances, and the persecution of his creditors. But the story of the deer-stealing rests upon the uniform tradition of Stratford, and is confirmed by the character of Sir T. Lucy, who is known to have been a rigid preserver of his game; by the enmity displayed against bis memory by Shakspeare in his succeeding life ; and by a part of the offensive balladt itself, preserved by a Mr. Jones of Tarbick, a village near to Stratford, who obtained it from those who must bave been acquainted with the fact, and who could not be biased by any interest or passion to falsify or misstate it. Besides, the objector, in this instance, seems not to be aware that it was easier to escape from the resentment of an offended proprietor of game than from the avarice of a creditor: that whilst the former might be satisfied with the removal of the delinquent to a situation where he could no longer infest his parks or his warrens, the latter

* Malone was much addicted to doubt. Knowing, perhaps, that, on all the chief topics of the Grecian schools of philosophy, the great mind of Cicero faltered in doubt, our commentator and critic wished, possibly, to establish his claim to a superiority of intellect by the same academic withholding of assent. He ought however to have been aware that scepticism, which is sometimes the misfortune of wise men, is generally the affectation of fools.

† The first stanza of this ballad, which is admitted to be genuine, may properly be preserved as a curiosity. But as it is to be found in every life of our author, with the exception of Rowe's, I shall refer my readers, to whom it could not be gratifying, to some other page for it than my own.

would pursue his debtor wherever bailiffs could find and writs could attach him. On every account, therefore, I believe the tradition, recorded by Rowe, that our Poet retired from Stratford before the exasperated power of Sir T. Lucy, and found a refuge in London, not possibly beyond the reach of the arm, but beyond the hostile purposes of his provincial antagonist.

The time of this eventful flight of the great bard of England cannot now be accurately determined: but we nay somewhat confidently place it between the years 1585 and 1588; for in the former of these we may conclude him to have been present with bis family at the baptism of his twins, Hamnet and Judith; and than the latter of them we cannot well assign a later date for his arrival in London, since we know * that before 1592 he had not only written two long poems, the Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece, but had acquired no small degree of celebrity as an actor and a dramatic writer.

At this agitating crisis of his life, the situation of young Shakspeare was certainly, in its obvious aspect, severe and even terrific. Without friends to protect or assist him, he was driven, under the frown of exasperated power, from his profession; from his native fields; from the companions of his childhood and his youth; from bis wife and his infant offspring. The world was spread before him, like a dark ocean, in which no fortunate isle could be seen to glitter amid the gloomy and sullen tide. But he was blessed with youth and brealth ; his conscience was unwounded, for the adventure for which he suffered, was regarded, in the estimation of bis times, as a mere boy's frolick, of not greater guilt tban the robbing of an orchard ; and his mind, rich beyond example in the gold of heaven, could throw lustre over the black waste before him, and could people it with a beautiful creation of her own. We may imagine

* From Robert Greene's posthumous work, written in 1592, and Chettle's Kind Hart's Dream, published very soon afterwards.

him, then, departing from his home, not indeed like the great Roman captive as he is described by the poet

Fertur pudicæ conjugis osculum,
Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor,'

Ab se removisse, et virilem

Torvas bumi posuisse vultum, &c. but touched with some feelings of natural sorrow, yet with an unfaltering step, and with hope vigorous at his heart. It was impossible that he should despair; and if he indulged in sanguine expectation, the event proved him not to be a visionary. In the course of a few years, the exile of Stratford became the associate of wits, the friend of nobles, the favorite of monarchs; and in a period, which still left him not in sight of old age, he returned to his birth-place in affluence, with honour, and with the plaudits of the judicious and the noble resounding in his ears.

His immediate refuge in the metropolis was the stage; to which his access, as it appears, was easy. Stratford was fond of theatrical representations, which it accommodated with its town or guildhall; and had frequently been visited by companies of players when our Poet was of an age, not only to enjoy their performances but to form an acquaintance with their members. Thomas Greene, who was one of their distinguished actors, has been considered by some writers as a kinsman of our author's; and though he, possibly, may have been confounded by them with another Thomas Greene, a barrister, who was unquestionably connected with the Shakspeares, he was certainly a fellow townsman of our fugitive bard's; whilst Heminge and Burbage, two of the leaders of the company in question, belonged either to Stratford or to its immediate neighbourhood. With the door of the theatre thus open to him, and under the impulse of his own theatrical bias, (for however in after life he may have lamented bis degradation as a professional actor, it must be concluded that he now felt a strong attachment to the stage,) it is not

« ZurückWeiter »