Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the business of his office, another alderman was appointed in his stead.9

In a bill of complaint against John Lambert, which he exhibited in Chancery in 1597, he describes himself as a " man of very small wealth; 10 and who had very few friends or alliances in the county of Warwick." He died in 1601.

Mary Shakespeare deceased in 1608. We are not to suppose that during their later years, they were left to struggle with pecuniary difficulties: their gifted son, who was then possessed of considerable property, doubtless assisted them to the utmost of his means.

Four sons, and four daughters, born in the following order, were the offspring of this pair: Joan, Margaret, William, Gilbert, another Joan, Anne, Richard, and Edmund. The elder Joan,

"At the hall, holden on the 6th day of September, in the twenty-eighth year of our Sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth. "At this hall, William Smith and Richarde Courte are chosen to be aldermen, in the places of John Wheler and John Shakspeare, for that Mr. Wheler doth desire to be put out of the company, and Mr. Shakspere doth not come to the halls, when they be warned, nor hath not done of long time."

10 At the bottom of the grant of arms to John Shakespeare, made in 1596, is a note, "That he hath lands and tenements of good wealth and substance, 500l." But Malone has, I think, sufficiently accounted for this minute, and shown that it is not entitled to credit. See his Life of Shakespeare, p 89, et seq. (Shak. by Boswell, ii.)

It may be added here, that few of the corporation of Stratford in those days could write their names, and that among the marksmen is found John Shakespeare.

[ocr errors]

Margaret, and Anne, were cut off immaturely. Whether Gilbert died at an early, or at an advanced period of life is uncertain.11 The second Joan became the wife of William Hart, a hatter in Stratford, and died in 1646. Richard, of whom nothing is known, was buried in 1612-13, having nearly attained the age of thirty-nine. Edmund embraced the profession of an actor, played at the Globe Theatre, and was interred in the church of St. Saviour's (the parish where he resided) on the 31st of December, 1607, in his twenty-eighth year.

William Shakespeare, the third child and the eldest son of his parents, was born 12 at Stratfordupon-Avon, in April, 1564; as he was baptized

11 It has been supposed that Gilbert was the brother of our author, who, according to Oldys, "lived to a good old age, even some years after the restoration of King Charles the Second," and saw the great dramatist perform a character in one of his own plays, which, from the description, must have been Adam in As You Like it. The anecdote is given in a later part of this Memoir.

66

12 A house in Henley Street is pointed out as that in which Shakespeare was born; but whether it is the very roof that sheltered his infant innocence," (as Dr. Drake has it) may perhaps be doubted. In 1820, I visited this mansion, and saw the "Shakespearian relics," which are there exhibited to all" curious travellers ;" they consist of a card and dice box with a pincushion on its top, presented to him by the Prince of Castile, a Toledo, an iron box which enclosed his Will, a table cloth of black velvet embroidered with gold, the gift of Queen Elizabeth, his wife's shoe, a drinking-glass, made for him in his sickness, a table on which he wrote his works, Szc.

on the 26th,13 it has been conjectured that his birth took place on the 23rd of the month.

When he was about nine weeks old, the plague broke out in his native town; but though it raged there during six months with the most fatal violence, we gather from the register of deaths that not a single individual of the name of Shakespeare became its victim.

No anecdotes of his earliest years have been preserved. All the education he received was probably at the Free-school of Stratford; 14 but at what period he was first placed there, or how long he remained, are points which it is impossible to ascertain. What quantity of classical learning he possessed, is a question which has given rise to much discussion. That he had no pretensions to scholarship is beyond a doubt; but that he should have failed to carry away from a respectable school as much learning as a talented and well-taught stripling generally acquires, I can see no reason to disbelieve.15 From the line in Jonson's admirable verses to his memory,

13 Malone in his Life of Shakespeare, p. 23., (Shak. by Boswell, ii.) says, that his baptism took place on the 25th; but see the Extracts from the Stratford Register, in an Appendix to that Life, p. 610: all other biographers, I believe, date it the 26th.

14 Rowe Malone has shown that Mr. Thomas Hunt and Mr. Thomas Jenkins were successively masters of the school from 1572 to 1578, during which time we may suppose that Shakespeare belonged to it.

15" He understood Latin pretty well," says Aubrey, "for he had been in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the country." MSS. Mus. Ashmol. Oxon.

"And though thou had'st small Latin, and less Greek," we are not to conclude that he was utterly ignorant of those languages,-Ben probably meant to allow him a school-boy knowledge of both; and be it remembered, that even considerable attainments in learning would have appeared slight to Jonson, who having devoted many a laborious hour to the study of the classics, had stored his mind with all the treasures of antiquity. In opposition to Gildon, Upton, and other critics who asserted the extensive erudition of Shakespeare, Farmer has incontrovertibly shown that, while composing several of his dramas, he had recourse to North's Plutarch, and to other vernacular books, instead of consulting the ancient authors in the original. Let me just observe, that if he was unable to read the Greek text of the "Cheronean sage," not a few worthy gentlemen of our own day, who have taken their degrees at Oxford or Cambridge, stand in the same predicament. It is difficult to believe that he never acquired any knowledge either of Italian or French, as both languages were then more familiar to Englishmen than at the present time.

In consequence of the embarrassments of his father (which have been already noticed) we are informed by Rowe, 15 that the youthful poet was withdrawn from school, his assistance being re

15 Life of Shakespeare.

quired at home. The truth of this statement 16 is weakly disputed by Malone, who, as unsuccessfully endeavours to establish, from the frequent employment of law terms in our author's dramas, that he was stationed for two or three years in the office of a Stratford attorney. Aubrey's assertion,17 that Shakespeare in his youth was a schoolmaster in the country, whether worthy of credit or not, must be referred to this period of his life.

But to turn from uncertainties to facts-in 1582, when he was a little more than eighteen,

16 His brother Gilbert, says Malone, "was little more than two years younger than our poet, and, at the time now under our consideration, was as capable of carrying out parcels of gloves for his father (all that a boy could do) as his elder brother! For this purpose, therefore, it was not necessary to impede the progress of the eldest son's education." Life of Shakespeare, p. 106. (Shak. by Boswell, ii.)

17 See note, p. viii.

A story of Shakespeare and some of his companion having accepted the challenge of the Bidford topers and sippers to drink with them, &c. was communicated to Malone by a native of Stratford, Life of Shakespeare, p. 500, (Shak. by Boswell, ii.) et seq. and is related with some variations in Ireland's Picturesque Views, p. 229 et seq. It informs us that Shakespeare composed these lines on the occasion, which the late Mr. Boswell suspected to have been from Brathwait's pen:

"6 Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Haunted Hilborough, and Hungry Grafton,
With Dadging Exhall, Papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bidford."

« AnteriorContinuar »