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sing to-day in tle pleasant woods of Warwickshire. He loved all that we call and prize as so English.” He loved the heroes whom he saw round him in every-day life, the bardy, bronzed mariners that went sailing “Westward Ho.” Indeed, the mention of England's name offers one of our best opportunities for a personal recognition ; when an English thought has struck him, how he brands the “ mark of the lion” on his lines ! We may see also in his early plays what were his personal relations to the England of that memorable time which helped to mould him : see how the war stirred his nature to its roots, and made them clasp England with all their fibres : we may see how he fought the Spaniard in feeling, and helped to shatter their “invincible" armadas. We learn how these things made him turn to teach his country's history, portray its past, and exalt its heroes in the eyes of all the world. How often does he show the curse of civil strife, and read the lesson that England is safe so long as she is united. Thus he lets us know how true an Englishman he was.
There are times when he quite overruns the speech of a character with the fulness of his own English feeling. In one or two instances this is very striking ; for example, in that speech of old Gaunt's in Richard II., at the name of England the writer is off, and cannot stop. His own blood leaps along the shrunken veins of grave and aged Gaunt; Shakspeare's own heart throbs through the whole speech; the dramatic mask grows transparent with the light of his own kindled countenance, and you know it is Shakspeare's own face behind ; his own voice that is speaking; a fact that he had forgotten for the moment, because Nature was at times too strong for his art. Again, we have but to read the speech of King Harry V., on the night, or rather the dawn, of Agincourt, to feel how keen was the thrill of Shakspeare's patriotism.' Harry was a hero after our Poet's own English heart, and he takes great delight in such a character. His thoughts grow proud and jolly; his eyes fill, his soul overflows, and there is a riot of life which takes a large number of lines to quell! That “little touch of Harry in the night” gives us a flash of Shakspeare in the light.
Shakspeare's starting point for his victorious career had been the vantageground that England won when she had broken t!ıe strength of the Spaniard, and sat enthroned in her sea-sovereignty, breathing an ampler air of liberty, glowing with the sense of a lustier life, and glad in the great dawn of a future new and limitless. He had an eye very keenly alive to the least movement of the national life. When the fresh map of England is published he takes immediate note of it. Maria, in Twelfth Night, says, “ He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies." And when the two crowns of England and Scotland are united in the person of James, Shakspeare alters the eld diggerel,
“Fi, fo! fum!
" I smell the blood of a British man."
for which the Scotch take him closer to beart, and give him a hug of aulditional delight.
The tradition is that Shakspeare in person was a handsome, well-made man, and that the parts he played were those demanding dignity of presence and nobility of bearing. Such a man is rong ly rendere l by the Droeshout etching and the Stratford bust. These two are sufficient for us to re-create our Shakspeare as a man of sturdy build, with large lineaments; with a coronal region to his head as royal as the intellectual. The hair of a warm brown, and the beard somewhat more golden; a man, not made out of cheeseparings and heeltaps, but full of ripe life and cordial spirits and concentrated energy; with eyes to be felt by those on whom they looked ; such eyes as see most things without the head turning about ; a full mouth, frank and brave, and richly humorous, capable of giving free utterance to the langh that would ring out of the manly chest with all his heart in it. Mr. Dyce observed that the bust exhibits the Poet in the act of composition, and enjoying, as it were, the richness of his own conceptions.
A happy remark in illustration of Shakspeare's smile was likewise made by R. B. Haydon the painter, in a note of his written June 13th, 1828, in the album kept at Stratford Church. Speaking of the bust, he says, " The forehead is fine as Raphael's or Bacon's, and the form of the nose and exquisite refinement of the mouth, with its amiable, genial hilarity of wit and good-nature, so characteristic, unideal, bearing truth in every curve, with a little bit of the teeth showing at the moment of smiling, which must have been often seen by those who had the happiness to know Shakspeare, and must have been pointed out to the sculptor as necessary to likeness when he was dead.” 1
These outward presentments of the man are a sufficient warrant for what we feel in communing with the spirit of his works. In these we apprehend him as having been essentially a cheerful man, full to overflowing with healthy gladness. This is manifest from the first, in his poems written at an age when most youngsters are wanton with sadness. There is no sadness in his first song; he sustains a merry note lustily; the Venus and Adonis, the Lover's Complaint, are brimful of health; they bespeak the ruddy English heart, the sunbrowned mirth, "country quicksilver,” and country cheer. The royal blood of his happy health runs and riots in their rural vein. It is shown in his hearty and continuous way of working. It is proved by his great delight in common human nature, and his full satisfaction with the world as he found it. It is supremely shown in the nature of his whole work. reigning cheerfulness was the sovereign quality of the man. And no one ever did so much in the poetic sphere to delight and make men nobly happy. The Shakspeare of the present version of the Sonnets is one in personality with the writer of the Poems and Plays, the Etching and the Bust.
The Kesselstadt Mask, weak, thin-lipped, consumptive-looking, and lacking in the backbone of character, is a likeness good enough for the Shakspeare evolved by a wrong reading of the Sonnets. But these two are as opposite as substance and shadow, different as life from death. The bust is a gloriously real if a rough embodiment of the man. The Mask is a fitting representative of the diseased Ideal of Shakspeare.
It is pleasant to think of our great Poet so amply reaping the fruits of his industry and prudence early in life, and spending his calm latter days in the old home of his boyhood which he had left a-foot and come back to in the saddle. The date of his retirement from London cannot be determined. I am decidedly of opinion that it was before the publication of the Sonnets in 1609, and other circumstances seem to indicate that he was living at Stratford in 1608, in the August of which year he sued Addenbroke; on the 6th of September, his
1 Shak-peare Society's Papers, vol. ii. p. 10.
Mother was buried; and, on the 16th of October, he was sponsor at the baptism of Henry Walker's son.
He had the feeling, inexpressibly strong with Englishmen, for owning a bit of this dear land of ours and living in one's own house; paying rent to no man. We know how he clung to his native place all through his London life, strengthening his rootage there all the while. We learn how he went back once a year to the field-flowers of his childhood, to hear in the leaves the whispers of LongAgo and "get some green -as Chaucer says—where the overflowing treasure of youth had, dew-like, given its glory to the grass, its freshness to the flower, and climb the hills up which the boy had run, and loiter along the lanes where he had courted his wife as they two went slowly on the way to Shottery, and the boy thought Anne Hathaway fair whilst lingering in the tender twilight, and the honeysuckles smelled sweet in the dusk, and the star of love shone over them, and shook with tremulous splendour, and Willie's arm was round her, and in their eyes would glisten the dews of that most balmy time.
We might fancy, too, that on the stage, when he was playing some comparatively silent part, his heart would steal away and the audience melt from before his face, as he wandered back to where the reeds were sighing by Avon stream, and the nightingale was singing in the Wier-brake just below Stratford Church, and the fond fatherly heart took another look at the grave of little Hamnet-patting it, as it were, with an affectionate “ Come to you, little one, by and by,” and the play was like an unsubstantial pageant faded in the presence of that scenery of his soul.
Only we know what a practical fellow he was, and if any such thought came into his mind, it would be put back with a “lie thou there, Sweetheart," and he would have addressed himself more sturdily than ever to the business in hand.
At last he had come back to live and write; die and be buried at home. He had returned to the old place laden with honours and bearing his sheaves with him ; wearing the crown invisible to most of his neighbours, but having also such possessions as they could appreciate. They looked up to him now, for the son of poor John Shakspeare, the despised deer-stealer and player, had become a most respectable man, able to spend £500 or so a year amongst them. He could sit under his own vine, and watch the ongoings of country life whilst waiting for the sunset of his own; nestle in the bosom of his own family, walk forth in his own fields, plant his niulberry-tree, compose several of his noblest dramas, and ripen for his rest in the place where he bad climbed for birds'-nests, and, as they say, poached for deer by moonlight. I think he must have enjoyed it all vastly. He entered into local plans, listened to the tongue of Tradition babbling in the mouth of the old folks,“ Time's doting chronicles ;' and astonished his fellowtownsmen by his business habits. And they would like him too, if only because he was so practical by habit, so English in feeling. We know that he fought on their side in resisting an encroachment upon Welcomb Common. He “could not bear the enclosing of Welcomb," he said. We feel, however, that as he moved amongst these honest, unsuspecting folk, with so grave and douce a face, he must have had internal ticklings at times, and quite enough to do to keep quiet those sprites of mirth and mischief lurking in the corners of his mouth and in the twinkle of his eyes as be thought how much capital he had made out of them, and how he had taken their traits of character to market, and turned them into the very money to which his fellow-townsmen were so respectful Low.
The few facts that we get of Shakspeare's life at Stratford are very homely, and one or two of his footprints there are very earthy; but they tell us it was the foot of a sturdy, upright, thrifty, matter-of-fact Englishman, such as will find a firm standing-place even in the dirt, and it corresponds to the bust in the Church at Stratford. Both represent, though coarsely, that yeoman side of his nature which would be most visible in his everyday dealings. For example, we learn that in August, 1608, he brought an action against John Addenbroke for the recovery of a debt. The verdict was in his favour, but the defendant had no effects. Shakspeare then proceeded against Thomas Horneby, who had been bail for Addenbroke. We cannot judge of the humanity of the case. The law says the Poet was right. But, by this we may infer that Shakspeare had learned to look on the world in too practical a way to stand any nonsense.
He would be abused, no doubt, for making anybody cash up that owed him money. There would be people who had come to argue that a player had no prescriptive or natural right to be prudent and thrifty, or exact in money transactions. Shakspeare thought differently. He had to deal with many coarse and pitiful facts of human life; and this he had learned to do in a strong, effectual way. There would be a good deal of coarse, honest prose even in Shakspeare, but no sham poetry of false sentimentality.
The Epitaph said to have been written by himself was evidently composed by some pious friend of Susannah's, from a Scriptural text taken from the Second Book of Kings (ch. xxiii.). When Josiah was desecrating the sepulchres and removing the bones of the dead to burn them, he came to "the sepulchre of the Man of God," and Josiah spared his bones and said, “ Let him alone! Let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone.”
Ben Jonson, in his tribute to Shakspeare, his " Book and his fame," uttered the very one word once for all, when he said—“ Thou wert not of an age, but for all time.” He has nothing merely Elizabethan or Archaic in his work; his language never gets obsolete; in spirit he is modern up to the latest minute ; other writers may be outgrown by their readers, as they ripen with age, or lose the glory of their youth, but not Shakspeare; at every age he is still mature, and still ahead of his readers, just as he always overtops his actors; here also he is not of an age, but abides for all time.
Shakspeare not only does not recede, he is for ever dawning into view. We never do come up with him. He is always ahead of us. Whatsoever new thought is proclaimed in the human domain, whether it be the doctrine of Evolution, or the laws of Heredity, we find Shakspeare still abreast and in line with the latest demonstration of a natural fact or scientific truth !
There is a tradition that our gentle Willie died after a grand merry-making and a bout of drinking. It is said that Ben Jonson and some other of his poet playfellows called on Shakspeare, who was ill in bed, and that he rose and joined them in their jovial endeavours to make a night of it, and that his death was the sad result. This story may illustrate his warm heart and generous hospitality, but I think it is not a true account of his end. I do not for cne moment believe that he died of hard drinking. We shall find no touch of delirium tremens in his last signature. Nothing in his life corroborates such a death.
I have no doubt that he would be unselfish enough to get ont of bed when ill, to give a greeting to his old friends if they called. He must have had the very
soul of hospitality. He kept open house and open heart for troops of friends, and loved to enfranchise and set flying the “dear prisoned spirits of the impassioned grape;" many a time was his broad silver and gilt bowl set steaming; his smile of welcome beamed like the sun through mist; his large heart welled with humanity, and overflowed with good fellowship; his talk brightened the social circle with ripple after ripple of radiant humour as he presided at his own board, Good Will in visible presence and in very person.
We learn from his last Will and Testament that he was in sound health a month before his death; and his sudden decease after so recent a record of his “perfect health " is quite in keeping with our idea of the man Shakspeare, who was the image of life incarnate. Such a death best re-embodies such a life! It leaves us an image of him in the mortal sphere almost as consummate and imperishable as is the shape of immortality he wears forever in the world of mind!
Measured by years and the wealth of work crowded into them, his time was brief ; “Small time, but in that small most greatly lived this star of England !” He went before the fall of leaf, and escaped our winter and the snows of age. We see him in the picture of his life and the season of his maturity just as
• Smiling down the distance, Autumn stands,
The ripened fruitage glowing in his hands,” with no signs of weakness that make us sigh for the waning vitality. He passed on with his powers full-summed, his faculties in their fullest flower, his fires unquenched, his sympathies unsubdued. There was no returning tide of an ebbing manhood, but the great ocean of his life—which had gathered its wealth from a myriad springs-rose to the perfect height, touched the complete circle, and in its spacious fulness stood divinely still.