Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a

also in the dark as to the period when he left'it. Rowe, indeed, has told us that the poverty of John Shakespeare, and the necessity of employing his son profitably at home, induced him to withdraw him, at an early age, from the place of instruction. But the education of the son of a member of the corporation would cost nothing; so that, if the boy were removed from school at the period of his father's embarrassments, the expense of continuing his studies there could not have entered into the calculation: he must have been taken away, as Rowe states, to aid his father in the maintenance of his family; and we are without the power of confirming or contradicting his statement.

Aubrey has asserted positively, that "in his younger years Shakespeare had been a schoolmaster in the country;" and the truth may be, that being a young man of abilities, and rapid in the acquisition of knowledge, he had been employed by Jenkios (the master of the school from 1577 to 1580) to aid him in the instruction of the junior boys.

We decidedly concur with Malone in thinking, that after Shakespeare quitted the free-school, he was employed in the office of an attorney. Proofs of something like a legal education are to be found in many of his plays; they do not occur anything like so frequently in the dramatic productions of his contemporaries. We doubt if, in the whole works of Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Jonson, Heywood, Chapman, Marston, Dekker, and Webster, so many law terms and allusions are to be found, as in only six or eight plays by Shakespeare; and these applied with much technical exactness and propriety. We may presume that, if so employed, he was paid something for his services; for, if he were to earn nothing, his father could have had no motive for taking him from school. Supposing him to have ceased to receive instruction from Jenkins in 1579, when his father's distresses were apparently most severe, we may easily imagine that he was, for the next year or two, in the office of one of the seven attorneys of Stratford. That he wrote a good hand we are perfectly sure, not only from the extant specimens of his signature, when in health, but from the ridicule which, in “Hamlet,” (Act V. sc. ii) he throws upon such as affected to write illegibly:

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“I once did hold it, as our statists do,

A baseness to write fair." In truth, many of his dramatic contemporaries wrote excellently; Ben Jonson's penmanship was beautiful.

It is certain also that Shakespeare wrote with great facility, and that his compositions required little correction. This fact we have on the indubitable assertion of Ben Jonson, who thus speaks in his “Discoveries," written in old age, when as he tells us, his memory began to fail, and printed in 1641: _“I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out line. My answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their igoorance, who chuse that circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped. His wit was in his own power, would the use of it had been so too! But he redeemed his vices with his virtues: there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”

Excepting from mere tradition, we hear not a syllable regarding William Shakespeare from the time of his birth until he had considerably passed his eighteenth year, and then we suddenly come to one of the most important events of his life, established on irrefragable testimony: we allude to his marriage with Anne Hathaway, which could not have taken place before the 20th Nov. 1582, because on that day two persons, entered into a preliminary bond, in the penalty of £40 to be forfeited to the bishop of the diocese of Worcester, if it were thereafter found that there existed any lawful impediment to the solemnization of matrimony between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, of Stratford. The object was to obtain such a dispensation from the bishop of Worcester as would authorise a clergyman to unite the bride and groom after only a single publication of the banns; and it is not to be con

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

:

cealed, or denied, that the whole proceeding seems to indicate haste and secrecy. The seal used when the bond was executed, has upon it the initials R. H., as if it had belonged to R. Hathaway, the father of the bride, who had thus it would seem given his consent to the union, and who, Rowe tells us, was “said to have been a substantial yeoman.” It is not known at what church the ceremony was performed, but certainly not at Stratford-uponAvon, to which both the parties belonged, and where it would have been registered. A recent search in the registers of several of the churches in the neighbourhood of Stratford has not been attended with any success.

Considering all the circumstances, there might be good reasons why the father of Anne Hathaway should concur in the alliance. The first child of William and Anne Shakespeare was christened Susanna on the 26th May, 1583, and the baptismal register stands thus:

"1583. May 26. Susanna daughter to William Shakspere.” Anne was between seven and eight years older than her young husband, and several passages in Shakespeare's plays seem to point directly at the evils resulting from unions in which the parties were “misgraffed in respect of years.” The most remarkable of these is the well-kpown speech of the Duke to Viola, in “Twelfth Night,” (Act II. sc. iv.) where he says,

“Let still the woman take
An elder than herself: so wears she to bim;
So sways she level in her husband's heart:
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,

Than women's are."
Afterwards the Duke adds,

“Then, let thy love be younger than thyself,

Or thy affection cannot bold the bent." Whether these lines did or did not originate in the author's reflections on his own marriage, they are so applicable to his own case, that it seems impossible he should have written them without recalling the circumstances attending his hasty union, and the disparily of years between himself and his wife. It is incident to

[ocr errors]

our nature that youths, just advancing to manhood, should feel with peculiar strength the attraction of women whose charms have reached the full-blown summer of beauty; but we cannot think it so necessary a consequence as some have supposed, that Appe Hathaway should have possessed peculiar personal advantages. It may be remarked that poets have often appeared comparatively indifferent to the features and persons of their mistresses, since in proportion to the strength of their imaginative faculty, they have been able to supply all physical deficiences. When therefore the Rev. Mr. Dyce observes that, “it is unlikely, that a woman devoid of personal charms should have won the youthful affections of so imaginative a being as Shakespeare," he forgets that the mere fact that Shakespeare was an “imaginative being," would render “personal charms,” in his wife less necessary to his happiness.

The balance of such imperfect information as remains to us, leads us to the opinion that Shakespeare was not a very happy married man.

The disparity of age between himself and his wife was such, that she could not “sway level in her husband's heart;" a difference which would become more apparent as they advanced in years; may we say also that the peculiar circumstances attending their marriage, and the birth of their first child, would not tend, even in the most grateful and considerate mind, to increase that respect which is the chief source of confidence and comfort in domestic life. To this may be added the fact, that Shakespeare quitted his home at Stratford a very few years after he had become a husband and a father, and that although he revisited his native town frequently, and ultimately settled there with his family. there is no proof that his wife ever returned with him to London, or resided with him during any of his lengthened sojourds in the metropolis: yet it is very possible, nay very probable, that she may have done so; for in 1609 he certainly paid a weekly poorrate to an amount that would indicate that he occupied a house in Southwark capable of receiving his family, but we are, here, as on many other points, compelled to deplore the absence of distinct testimony. The doubtful and ambiguous indications to be gleaned from his Sonnets contain little to show that he was of a domestic turn, or that he found any great enjoyment in the society of his

[ocr errors]

wife. That such may have been the fact we do not pretend to deny, and we believe that much favourable evidence upon the point has been lost: all we venture to advance on a question of so much difficulty and delicacy is, that what remains to us is not, as far as it goes, perfectly satisfactory.

In the beginning of 1585 Shakespeare's wife produced him twins a boy and a girl and they were baptized at Stratford Church on the 20 Feb. in that year. The registration is, of course, dated 2d Feb. 158 as the year 1585 did not at that date begin until after 25th March: it runs thus:** 1584. Feb. 2. Hamnet & Judeth sonne & daughter to

Williā Sbakspere.” It is a fact pot altogether unimportant, with relation to the terms of affection between Shakespeare and his wife in the subsequent part of his career, that she brought him no more children, although in 1585 she was only thirty years old.

That Shakespeare quitted his home and his family not long afterwards has not been disputed, but no ground for this step has ever been derived from domestic disagreements. It has been alleged that he was obliged to leave Stratford on account of a scrape in which he had involved himself by stealing, or assisting in stealing, deer from the grounds of Charlecote, the property of Sir Thomas Lucy, about five miles from the borough. As Rowe is the oldest authority in print for this story, we give it in his own words: “He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and among them some, that made a frequent practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once in robbing the park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, 'as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill-usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some time, and shelter himself in London.” Malone produced a manuscript of uncertain date, added by the Rev. R. Davies, who died in 1707, to

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »