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MEMOIR OF SHAKESPEARE.
BY THE REV. ALEXANDER DYCE.
"He was not of an age, but for all time."
"ALL that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakespeare, is-that he was born at Stratford upon Avon-married and had children there went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays-returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried."1 Such is the remark of the most acute of his commentators; and I have quoted it here, as a sort of apology to the reader for the imperfections of the present essay.
It appears, that John Shakespeare, the father of our poet, could not boast a descent from ancestors of gentle blood, though his family had been long established in the county of Warwick. The place of his birth is doubtful; but not long after the year 1550, we find him settled as a tradesman in Stratford upon Avon. Concerning the nature of his vocation biographers disagree. The memoranda of Aubrey declare that he was a
'Note by George Steevens on Shakespeare's xciiid Sonnet.
butcher; according to Rowe, he "was a considerable dealer in wool;" and Malone has adduced a contemporary document, which renders it probable that he followed the profession of a glover.3
3" William Shakespeare's father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy, he exercised his father's trade; but when he killed a calfe, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech!" M. S. Aubrey. Mus. Ashmol. Oxon.
Rowe tells us, that he received from Betterton, the actor, the chief part of the materials for our poet's Life; "his veneration for the memory of Shakespeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what remains he could of a name for which he had so great a veneration."
Malone, at one time, thought the assertions of Aubrey and Rowe by no means inconsistent : "Dr. Farmer," says he, "has illustrated a passage in Hamlet from information derived from a person who was at once a woolman and butcher, and, I believe, few occupations can be named which are more naturally connected with each other." Shak. by Reed, iii. 214. ed. 1813. But he afterwards discovered the following entry in a very old manuscript, containing an account of the proceedings in the bailiff's court, which he considered decisive as to the occupation of our poet's father:
'Stretford, ss. Cur. Phi. et Mariæ Dei gra, &c. secundo et tercio, ibm tent. die Marcurii. videlicet xvij. die Junii, ann. predict. [17 June, 1555] coram Johñi Burbage Ballivo, &c.
"Thomæ Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. querit versus Johm Shakyspere de Stretford in com. Warwic. Glover. in plac. quod reddat ei oct. libras, &c." Life of Shakespeare p. 78. (Shak. by Boswell, ii.)
That he was a person of estimable character, may be concluded, as well from his having attained the highest municipal dignities of the town, as from his having formed a matrimonial connexion with a woman, whose rank in life was much superior to his own. About 1557, he married Mary, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilmecote, her portion being a small estate in land called Asbies, and the sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings, and fourpence. The family of Arden was of great antiquity in Warwickshire, and several of its members had held situations of honour, both in their native county, and at the court of their sovereign.
On April 30, 1556, and September 30, 1558, he was one of the jury of the court leet. On August 12, 1556, he was summoned on a jury in a civil action. In June 1557,
he was one of the ale-tasters. On October 6, 1559, and again in May, 1561, he was made an affeeror. Either on Michaelmas day 1557, or early in 1558, he was chosen burgess. In 1558, and the next year, he served as constable. In September, 1561, he was elected one of the chamberlains, and filled the office for the two succeeding years. On July 4, 1565, he was chosen alderman. From Michaelmas, 1568, to Michaelmas, 1569, he served as high-bailiff, and on September 5, 1571, he was elected chief alderman for the ensuing year.
5 From a comparison of the wills of her parents, it appears that she was the youngest of at least four daughters.
Rob. Arden de Bromwich, was in the list of Warwickshire gentry, returned by the commissioners in 1433. In 1562, and 1568, Sim. Arden and Edw. Arden were sheriffs
In 1569, or 1570, John Shakespeare obtained from the Herald's Office a grant of arms; in 1596, he received another grant; and in 1599, a confirmation of arms, the chief object of which seems to have been, to enable him to impale with his own bearings those of Arden.7
There is reason to believe, that during the earlier part of his career, his circumstances were easy, though far from affluent. At a court leet held in October, 1556, the lease of a house in Greenhill-street and that of another in Henleystreet, were assigned to him. In 1564, his charities place him in the second class of the inhabitants of Stratford. In 1570, he rented a field of about fourteen acres, known by the name of "Ingon, alias Ington meadow;" and in 1574, he purchased a small property, consisting of two
of the county. Sir John Arden, the elder brother of our Robert's grandfather, was squire for the body to Henry the Seventh. Robert Arden, the father of our Robert, was groom or page of the bedchamber to the same king, by whom he was constituted keeper of the royal park called Aldercar, and bailiff of the lordship of Codnore: he also obtained from the crown a valuable lease of the extensive manor of Yoxsall in Staffordshire.
7 The later applications were doubtless made at the suggestion of his son, who was then rising into consequence.When in these grants to John Shakespeare, mention is made of his ancestors having been advanced and rewarded by Henry the Seventh, &c. it is certain that the expressions relate not to the ancestors of John Shakespeare, but to those of his wife. See Malone's Life of Shakespeare, p. 28 et seq. (Shak. by Boswell, ii.)
houses in Henley-street, with gardens and orchards annexed to them.
Before 1578, however, his affairs had become greatly embarrassed: in that year he mortgaged for forty pounds the little estate of Asbies, derived from his wife; was required to pay only half the sum for which the other aldermen were assessed; and was altogether excused from contributing his share of a petty weekly tax for the relief of the poor :-see below, where will be found a variety of notices, drawn from the records of the borough of Stratford, &c., which sufficiently indicate the decline of his fortunes. In 1586, in consequence of his having neglected
When it was agreed in January, 1578, that every alderman should " paye towards the furniture of three pikemen, ii billmen, and one archer, vis viii d", John Shakespeare, in consideration of his embarrassments, was required to pay only"iii and ivd:" in November next, when it was ordained that every alderman should contribute iiii d a week for the relief of the poor, it was determined that he should "not be taxed to paye anything." From the will of a baker, named Sadler, who died towards the end of 1578, we find that John Shakespeare owed him five pounds, for the payment of which two persons had entered into securities. In an account of money levied on the inhabitants of Stratford in 1579, for the purchase of armour and defensive weapons, his name occurs among the defaulters. What follows is from the register of the Bailiff's Court, in 1585-6. "Ad hunc diem Servien, ad Clavam burgi predict. retorn. pr. [præceptum] de distr. eis direct. versus Johem Shackspere ad sect. Johis Browne, qd predict. Johis Shackspere nihil habet unde distr. potest levari. Ideo fiat Ca [Capias] versus Johem Shackspere ad sect. Johis Browne, si petatur.”