Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

without exposing himself to the hazard of suspicion, employed this authorized dialect of his time to give the greater glow to these addresses to his young friend. But who was this young friend? The question bas frequently been asked ; and never once been even speciously answered. I would as readily believe, with the late Mr. G. Chalmers, that this object of our author's poetic ardour was Queen Elizabeth, changed for the particular purpose, like the Iphis of the Roman poet, into a man, as I would be induced to think, with the writer “ On Shakspeare and his Times,” that these familiar and fervent addresses were made to the proud and the lofty Southampton. Neither can I persuade myself, with Malone, that the friend and the mistress are the mere creatures of our Poet's imagination, raised for the sport of his muse, and without “a local habitation or a name.” They were, unquestionably, realities: but who they were must for ever remain buried in inscrutable mystery. That those addressed to his male friend are not open to the infamous interpretation, affixed to them by the Monthly critic, may be proved, as I persuade myself, to demonstration. The odious vice, to which we allude, was always in England held in merited detestation; and would our Poet consent to be the publisher of his own shame? to become a sort of outcast from society? to be made

“A fixed figure for the hand of time
To point bis slow, unmoving finger at?"

If the sonnets in question were not actually published by bim, he refrained to guard them from manuscript distribution; and they soon, as might be expected, found their way to the press; whence they were rapidly circulated, to the honour of his poetry and not to the discredit of his morals. So pure was he from the disgusting vice, imputed to him, for the first time, in the nineteenth century, that he alludes to it only once (if my recollection be at all accurate) in all his voluminous works; and that is where the foul-mouthed Thersites

in Troilus and Cressida *, calls Patroclus “ Achilles's masculine whore.” Under all the circumstances of the case, therefore, that these sonnets should be the effusions of sexual love is incredible, inconceivable, impossible; and we must turn away from the injurious suggestion with honest abhorrence and disdain.

The Will of Shakspeare, giving to bis youngest daughter, Judith, not more than three hundred pounds, and a piece of plate, which probably was valuable, as it is called by the testator, “ My broad silver and gilt bowl,” assigps almost the whole of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, and her husband; whom he appoints to be his executors. The cause of this evident partiality in the father appears to be discoverable in the higher mental accomplishments of the elder daughter; who is reported to have resembled him in her intellectual endowments, and to have been eminently distinguished by the piety and the Christian benevolence wbich actuated her conduct. Having survived her estimable husband fourteen years, she died on the 11th of July 1649; and the inscription on her tomb, preserved by Dugdále, commemorates her intellectual superiority and the influence of religion upon her heart. This in. scription, which we shall transcribe, bears witness also, as we must observe, to the piety of her illustrious father.

Witty above ber sex ; but that's not all :
Wise to salvation was good Mistress Hall.
Something of Shakspeare was in that; but this
Wholly of him, with whom she's now in bliss.
Then, passenger, hast ne'er a tear

To weep with her, that wept with all :
That wept, yet set herself to cheer

Them up with comforts cordial.
Her love shall live, her mercy spread,
When thou hast ne'er a tear to shed.

As Shakspeare's last will and testament will be printed at the end of this biography, we may refer our readers

* Act v. sc. 1.

to that document for all the minor legacies which it bequeaths; and may pass immediately to an account of our great Poet's family, as far as it can be given from records which are authentic. Judith, his younger daugbter, bore to her husband, Thomas Quiney, three sons; Shakspeare, who died in bis infancy, Richard and Thomas, who deceased, the first in his 21st year, the last in his 19th, unmarried and before their mother; wbo, having reached ber 77th year, expired in February 1661-2being buried on the 9th of that month. She appears either not to have received any education, or not to have profited by the lessons of her teachers, for to a deed, still in existence, she affixes her mark.

We have already mentioned the dates of the birth, marriage, and death of Susanna Hall. She left only one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized on the 21st of February 1607-8, eight years before her grandfather's decease, and was married on the 22d of April, 1626, to Mr. Thomas Nash, a country gentleman, as it appears, of independent furtune. Two years after the death of Mr. Nash, who was buried on the 5th of April 1647, she married on the 5th of June 1649, at Billesley in Warwickshire, Sir John Barnard, Knight, of Abington, a small village in the vicinity of Northampton. She died, and was buried at Abington, on the 17th of February 1669-70; and, as she left no issue by either of her husbands, her death terminated the lineal descendents of Shakspeare. His collateral kindred have been indulged with a much longer period of duration; the descendents of his sister, Joan, having continued in a regular succession of generations even to our days; whilst none of them, with a single exception, have broken from that rank in the community in which their ancestors, William Hart and Joan Shakspeare united their unostentatious fortunes in the year 1599. The single exception to which we allude is that of Charles Hart, believed, for good reasons, to be the son of William, the eldest son of William and Joan Hart, and consequently the grandnephew of our Poet. At the early age of seventeen, Charles Hart, as lieutenant in Prince Rupert's regi

ment, fought at the battle of Edgehill; and, subsequently betaking himself to the stage, he became the most renowned tragic actor of his time. “What Mr. Hart delivers,” says Rymer, (I adopt the citation from the page of Malone) “ every one takes upon content: their eyes are prepossessed and charmed by his action before aught of the poet's can approach their ears; and to the most wretched of characters he gives a lustre and brilliancy, which dazzles the sight that the deformities in the poetry cannot be perceived.” “ Were I a poet,” (says another contemporary writer)“ nay a Fletcher or a Shakspeare, I would quit my own title to immortality so that one actor might never die. This I may modestly say of him (nor is it my particular opinion, but the sense of all mankind) that the best tragedies on the English stage have received their lustre from Mr. Hart's performance: that he has left such an impression behind him, that no less than the interval of an age can make them appear again with half their majesty from any second hand.” This was a brilliant eruption from the family of Shakspeare: but as it was the first so it appears to have been the last; and the Harts have ever since, as far at least as it is known to us, “pursued the noiseless tenor of their way," within the precincts of their native town on the banks of the soft-flowing Avon *. · Whatever is in any degree associated with the personal history of Shakspeare is weighty with general interest. The circumstance of his birth can impart con

* By intelligence, on the accuracy of which I can rely, and which bas only just reached me, from the birthplace of Shakspeare, I learn that the family of the Harts, after a course of lineal descents during the revolution of two hundred and twentysix years, is now on the verge of extinction; an aged woman, who retains in single blessedness her maiden name of Hart, being at this time (Nov. 1825) its sole surviving representative. For some years she occupied the house of her ancestors, in which Shakspeare is reported to have first seen the light; and here she obtained a comfortable subsistence by showing the antiquities of the venerated mansion to the numerous strangers who were attracted to it. Being dispossessed of this residence by the

sequence even to a provincial town; and we are not unconcerned in the past or the present fortunes of the place, over which hovers the glory of his name. But the house, in which he passed the last three or four years of his life, and in which he terminated his mortal labours, is still more engaging to our imaginations, as it is more closely and personally connected with him. Its history, therefore, must not be omitted by us; and if, in some respects, we should differ in it from the narrative of Malone, we shall not be without reasons sufficient to justify the deviations in which we indulge. New Place, then, which was not thus first named by Shakspeare, was built in the reign of Henry VII., by Sir Hugh Clopton, Kt., the younger son of an old family resident near Stratford, who had filled in succession the offices of Sheriff and of Lord Mayor of London. In 1563 it was sold by one of the Clopton family to William Bott; and by him it was again sold in 1570 to William Underhill, (the purchaser and the seller being both of the rank of esquires) from whom it was bought by our Poet in 1597. By him it was bequeathed to his daughter, Susanna Hall; from whom it descended to her only child, Lady Barnard. In the June of 1643, this Lady, with her first husband Mr. Nash, entertained, for nearly three weeks, at New Place, Henrietta Maria, the queen of Charles I., when, escorted by Prince Rupert and a large body of troops, she was on her progress to meet her royal consort, and to proceed with him to Oxford. On the death of Lady Barnard without children, New

rapaciousness of its proprietor, she settled herself in a dwelling nearly opposite to it. Here she still lives; and continues to exhibit some reliques, not reputed to be genuine, of the mighty bard, with whom her maternal ancestor was nourished in the same womb. She regards herself also as a dramatic poet; and, in support of her pretensions, she produces the rade sketch of a play, aniuformed, as it is said, with any of the vitality of genius. For this information I am indebted to Mr. Charles Fellows of Nottingham ; who, with the characteristic kindness of his most estimable family, sought for the intelligence which was required by me, and obtained it.

« ZurückWeiter »