Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

accumulation of which the town ordinances and the infliction of fines could not prevent, even before the doors of the better sort of people. The very first we hear of John Shakespeare himself, in 1552, is that he and a certain Humphrey Reynolds and Adrian Quiney "fecerunt sterquinariumin the quarter called Henley Street, against the order of the court; for which dirty piece of business they were in misericordia,as they well deserved. But the next year John Shakespeare and Adrian Quiney repeated the unsavory offence, and this time in company with the bailiff himself. This noisome condition of their streets, however, did not indicate a peculiar carelessness of dirt among the Stratford folk, at a time when in noblemen's houses, and even in palaces, the great halls, in which the household ate, were offensive, because the rushes with which the floors were strewed, by way of carpet, remained until they became mouldy, and beneath were bones and crusts, dogs' refuse, that were left there to decay. Launce gives us a glimpse of the habits and manners of those days, in that touching remonstrance which he addresses to Crab, upon his sad misbehavior when he was presented to Madam Silvia. But, with the strange, sad incongruity of early times, although squalor and discomfort thus pervaded the little town of Stratford, it had public structures beautiful and venerable, - such as now-a-days would not be erected in a place of fifty times its size. Now, a

rich river-side city of fifty thousand inhabitants, nearly all of whom are comfortably, and a large proportion of them elegantly, housed, is content to be approached over a serviceable wooden bridge, resting on strong, but homely, stone piers; the people worship according to their choice in various, perhaps pretty, but almost surely unpretending churches; if there be other market than the butchers' and hucksters' stalls scattered through the streets, it presents no other attractions than those of convenience and cleanliness; and there is no private dwelling so superior and lofty, that it looks down upon the others round it as the homes of an inferior caste. But the little nest of plaster-walled, thatch-roofed cottages, most of them of a single floor, in which William Shakespeare was born, was approached by a noble stone bridge of fourteen arches, built at his own expense by Sir Hugh Clopton, a Stratford grandee and Mayor of London. The single parish church was a collegiate foundation, and had had a chantry of five priests. In size it was superior to, and in general appearance not unlike, the largest church in the United States, its namesake Trinity, in New York. Its interior walls were decorated with rude but striking fresco paintings, representing, among other subjects, some groups of the Dance Macabre, otherwise known as the Dance of Death; and around its aisles and chancel end were monuments and effigies of departed great folk of that neigh

borhood. There was the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross, a fine, well-proportioned building of the earlier Tudor style of ecclesiastical architecture, and some parts of it very much older, which, after the dissolution of religious houses by that conscientious Protestant, Henry VIII., had been used by the endowed and incorporated Grammar School of Stratford. The walls of this building were also decorated with paintings of sacred and historical subjects. In the open place, where the markets and the fairs were held, was a market cross with clock and belfry, from the steps of which the public crier performed his clamorous duty. Hard by the Chapel of the Guild was the Great House, or New Place, a grand mansion then a hundred years old, and more, built by Sir Hugh Clopton, of bridge memory, who lived and died there; and near the Great House was the college, a fine monastic structure, which had been converted into a dwelling, and where lived one John a Combe, a wealthy gentleman who lent money upon interest and good security. From the narrow limits of the town the country stretched away, with gentle undulations, into a broad expanse of meadows and cornfields, bright with grass and grain, laced with little brooks and divided by the ever stone-bridged Avon, dotted with old clumps of trees, darkened with remnants of the ancient forest, enlivened with rustic hamlets, and adorned with parks and gardens. Clopton House, old,

manorial, and substantial, the home of Sir Hugh's family, was only two miles off; and about four miles distant, on another road, was Charlecote, a new country-seat built by Sir Thomas Lucy, in the form of an E, to please his royal mistress, insatiable of flattery. Only nine miles away was the county town, and the grand old feudal pile of Warwick Castle, dating back to the time of Alfred, of which William Shakespeare's maternal ancestor had been governor; and five miles farther was Kenilworth, not quite so old, but not less magnificent, where the Earl of Leicester, the Queen's favorite, was lately come as lord, and where within a few years he had spent 60,000, or according to our present measure of value $ 1,500,000, in making the place grand and beautiful.

It was. in such a town and amid such a country that William Shakespeare passed his early years; and a glance at them has been worth our while; for when he left them for a wider, busier, and more varied field of observation, marvellous as were the flexibility of his nature and the range and activity of his thought, his memory never lost the forms, nor did his soul cast off the influences, which had surrounded him in boyhood. As to the people of Stratford, they were much like others of their class and condition; simple folk, contentedly looking after their fields, their cattle, and their little trade, not troubling themselves about the great world which lay beyond their ken, but somewhat over

ready to take the law of one another upon small provocation, and strongly inclined to Puritanism. If they had one trait which seems more prominent than any other, it was a great capacity for liquor, which they tested on every possible occasion. The sums which they spent in providing themselves and each other, and the strangers within their gates, with ale possets, claret, and sack and sugar, must have been no small proportion of the yearly outlay of the town. And yet perhaps in this respect they were but of their day and generation.

What was the education of William Shakespeare were a question indeed of interest to all reasonable creatures, and to those who think that education makes great men, of singular importance. But of his teachers we know nothing, save of one, - his father. What were his mother's traits of character, and whether she had transmitted

any of them to her son, we cannot tell. In which ignorance there is a kind of bliss to those people who have taken up the novel notion of the day, that men of mark derive their mental and their moral gifts, not from the father, but the mother. A fungus fancy, which must have sprung up while men could forget that Philip the Great of Macedon was eclipsed by his son Alexander ; that there was a family of Scipios, all eminent; that Hamilcar, one of the master generals and

« AnteriorContinuar »