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him a consequence in the eyes of posterity that he little dreamed of, or whether the pedigree and the charms of the fair Mary were the only motives of John Shakespeare's choice, we cannot tell; because the wedding did not take place until after, and probably not until a full year after, the death of the young lady's father, by which event she became the inheritress of a pretty fortune in possession and in reversion. Her father had bequeathed her a farm, of between fifty and sixty acres, in Wilmecote, called Ashbies, with a crop upon the ground, and £6 135. 4d. in money, beside her share in what was left after legacies were paid; and she had also a reversionary interest of far greater value than Ashbies in a stepmother's dower estate at Snitterfield, and in some other land at Wilmecote. The small sum of down to the young heiress (though in the end she doubtless had much more) may excite a smile, until we remember that money had then nearly six times its present value, and also how very little of actual money is got, or in fact needed, by agricultural people, even of comparatively large possessions.
Robert Arden died about the ist of December, 1556, and the first child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden was baptized on September 15, 1558. Joan Shakespeare received her name in the Church of the Holy Trinity, the parish, church of Stratford on Avon, where her father
had for some years been settled, and had become a prosperous and rising man. When he went thither, we do not know; but he was there, and a householder in Henley Street, in 1552. His chief occupation seems to have been that of a glover; for he is so styled in a law document issued in June, 1556. But he was also engaged in husbandry, and in company with another person; for on the 19th of November in the same year he brought a suit against Henry Field, who unjustly kept from him eighteen quarters of barley. John Shakespeare's private and public fortunes advanced steadily and rapidly for twenty years from the time when he first appears in Stratford. It is true that he could not write his name; but that was no disgrace, and little impediment, at a time when men much above him in social position were equally incapable. In 1556 he purchased the copyhold of two houses, one with a garden and croft, and one — that in Henley Street — with a garden only. In the course of the next year he acquired other property (how considerable for a man in his station, we have already seen) by his marriage. In this year he was regarded as of sufficient substance and importance to be marked as one of the jury of the court-leet, upon which he served soon afterward; and at this date he was also appointed ale-taster, - an office of which, in spite of its humble name, the mighty consumption of that fluid in Old England must
have made the duties arduous, though pleasant, and the perquisites acceptable. He must have given the burgesses of Stratford cause to speak well of him over the liquor that they loved; for in 1557 they elected him one of their number, and they were only fourteen. The next year saw him a constable, and also the father of the girl who was called after him; and in 1559 he was reelected one of the keepers of the Queen's peace in Stratford. About this time he appears to have dropped his glover's trade. It was, indeed, quite inconsistent with the notions of propriety in that day that the husband of an Arden and an heiress should be an artisan; and this consideration could not but have its weight with the young burgess, now that he had land and beeves. The year 1561 saw him made an affeeror in the spring, and before the leaves began to fall, elected chamberlain. It was the duty of an affeeror to impose fines upon offenders who were punishable arbitrarily for misdemeanors to which no express penalty was attached by statute, - an office only to be filled by a man of discretion and integrity; and as John Shakespeare, according to the date when he is with good reason believed to have been born, was at this time but thirty or thirty-one years old, his appointment to this office by the court indicates, not only soundness of character on his part, but somewhat unusual ripeness of judgment. He served as chamberlain two years, in the second
of which another daughter was born to him, who was called Margaret. But Mary Arden's little family did not thrive like her husband's business. A few months lightened the young mother's arms, , to lay a load upon her heart. Margaret as well Joan died in early infancy.
To the now childless couple there came consolation and a welcome care in their first-born son, whom, on the 26th of April, 1564, they christened and called William. The Reverend (or, as he was then called, Sir) John Breechgirdle probably performed that office. Of the day of William Shakespeare's birth there exists, and probably there was made, no record. Why should it have been otherwise? He was only the son of a Warwickshire yeoman, a burgess of a little rural town. And there were two score at least of children born that year in Stratford, who, in the eyes of their parents and of the good townsfolk, were of just as much importance, and of whose appearance in the world no other note was taken than such as tells us of his advent, — the entry of their christening in the parish register. As yet it was not the custom to record upon the blank leaves of the Bible the dates of life and death in humble families; and had John Shakespeare owned a Bible, neither he nor even his higher-born wife could have written the words to read which, if they had endured, men would have made a pilgrimage. All unsus
pecting what he was whom she had borne and whom she cherished in her bosom, the mother of William Shakespeare could have looked on him only as the probable inheritor of his father's little wealth, the possible recipient of his father's little honors, or mayhap, in some moment of high hope, the occupant of a position like that of his maternal grandfather. And had he become a peer instead of a player, the day of his birth might have been no less uncertain. Tradition says it was the 23d of April ; and the old custom of christening the third day after birth, though it was far from universal, if it did not give rumor a hint, gives tradition some support.
A court roll tells us that in 1552 John Shakespeare lived in Henley Street; and another, that he bought the copyhold of a house in that street in 1556. Tradition points out a house in Henley Street, which we know belonged to John Shakespeare, as the birthplace of his illustrious son, who himself became its owner; and the probability of the truth of this tradition amounts, to all intents and purposes, to certainty. Neglect, subdivision, and base uses had reduced this house at the beginning of the present century to a very forlorn and unsightly condition. But as late as 1769 it preserved enough of its original form to show that William Shakespeare was born and passed his childhood and his adolescent years in a home which was not only pretty and pictu