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This Edition of Shakspeare has been carefully prepared from the earliest and more modern Editions. Where Commentators have differed as to the sense of obscure or doubtful passages, we have selected those readings which we believed to be most Shakspearian and best suited to a popular Edition.
MEMOIR OF SHAKSPEARE - ix
MEMOIR OF SHAKSPEARE.
LIFE of peace and prosperity furnishes but little matter for a chronicle. Such, doubtless, with but a brief interval, was that of England's greatest poet, for the record of it is brief and jejune in the extreme; only to be traced in registers and occasional notices. Unhappily for us, Shakspeare did not find, amongst the manifold characters which surrounded him, a Boswell, to note down the witty utterances with which his contemporaries were charmed; we have no authentic anecdotes of the "myriad-minded man," as Coleridge terms him, only imperfect and apocryphal traditions. But everything that is known of him is of value in the eyes of Englishmen; we subjoin, therefore, a short notice of his life, from the few records that remain.
William Shakspeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon, on St. George's Day, April 23, 1564. He was the eldest son of John Shakspeare and his wife, Mary Arden.
His family were "gentle" upon both sides. His paternal ancestor is believed to have fought at Bosworth Field on the side of Richmond, for he received from Henry VII., in reward for "valiant and faithful" services, tenements and lands in Warwickshire, on which his descendants dwelt till the birth of him who was destined to immortalize their name. Shakspeare's mother was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, (or Wellingcote,) in Warwickshire, a gentleman of ancient and honourable family, deriving its name probably from the forest land on which its possessions stood.
The year of Shakspeare's birth was marked by the outbreak of the plague in Stratford; but the spotted curse passed harmlessly by the cradle of the glorious infant; whilst his then well-to-do father contributed of his means to the relief of the poor who had suffered by its ravages. The boyhood of Shakspeare, till he was ten years old, was spent, probably, in a manner well adapted to foster his genius. On his mother's heritage of Asbyes—in his father's nearer meadows—the young poet must have revelled in the greenwood shades, and amid the daisied meads of which he afterwards painted such sweet sylvan pictures. The forest of Arden, the sheepshearing of Perdita, the fairy-haunted woods, &c., were doubtless memories of his boyhood.
From about the time Shakspeare completed his eleventh year, the prosperity < his family waned; the shadow of evil days gathered over the hitherto prosperous yeoman. In 1578, John Shakspeare was unable to pay poor-rates; and—happy and considerate must the age have been !—he "was left untaxed." During these eleven years his gifted eldest son was receiving his early education at the free