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A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
the 23d, St George's Day, the festival of the Patron Saint of England. His parents had to tremble for his life when he was no more than two months old; for the plague broke out at Stratford, raging there with fatal effect from June to December, and carrying off more than a seventh part of the population, calculated to have been about fourteen hundred inhabitants. But the baby Shakespeare escaped; and the world, with his father and mother, had cause to bless God and rejoice. Three months after his little son had completed his first year, John Shakespeare was elected one of the fourteen aldermen of his native village town; and he gradually advanced in rank and municipal im
A MAN who held no higher rank than glover, a simple villager, with a plain yeoman name,— John Shakespeare,-had so much of intrinsic worth and attraction as to gain the heart and hand of Mary Arden, daughter to a man of good landed estate and ancient family, who was grandnephew to a Sir John Arden, esquire of the body to Henry VII. Something originally and innately fine about these Shakespeares! The marriage may be believed to have taken place somewhere in 1557; and Joan, the first child, was baptized in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon, on the 15th September 1558. A sweet English village, this Stratford! seated on the edge of a silvery river, green with turfy banks and woody slopes, picturesque with cottage houses and cot-portance, until he received the highest distinctage gardens; crowned with a village church, ivy clad, surrounded by moss-grown graves, approached by a lime-tree avenue, and its slender spire tapering towards heaven. In this same pleasant village John Shakespeare bought him two houses, one of which, in Henley street, he made his residence, and brought home thither his wife. A homely tenement, one story high, few rooms on a floor, plastered walls and beamed roof; but in an upper chamber of this small house, Mary Arden Shakespeare gave birth to two daughters, (Joan and Margaret, both of whom died in infancy,) and then to a SON. The faint first cry of her new-born boy gave but the token of joy common to all happy mothers that her babe lived, and might still live to bless her in his future life. She could then have had no thrill of consciousness as to what would be to the world the hereafter utterances of him who now drew his first breath. Could she at that moment have beheld in beatific prevision the immortal destiny awaiting her child, no dreams vouchsafed to mortal travail-worn woman might equal hers. At the font he received the name of William, being christened on the 26th April 1564; and as it was then the custom to have infants baptized at an early period, there is great probability that the day of his birth was
tion in the power of his fellow-townsmen to bestow-being elected Bailiff of Stratford-uponAvon in 1568. He was thus, ex officio, a magistrate. When William was two years old he had a brother born, Gilbert, baptized 13th October 1566; and by the time he reached the age of five years, he had a sister born, Joan, baptized 15th April 1569. She had the same name given to her as her parents' first-born; and this was probably owing to the fact of there being an Aunt Joan, who, in all likelihood, stood godmother on both occasions. This "Aunt Joan" was sister to the mother, Mary (Arden) Shakespeare, and had married Edward Lambert.
During the year 1569 there were theatrical performances by "The Queen's Players," in Stratford-upon-Avon; and perhaps "Aunt Joan" may have taken the little five-year-old fellow for a treat to the play. Certain it is, that in tho following twelvemonth, John Shakespeare became possessed of a field called "Ingon Meadow;" and here doubtless little William ran about to gather "daisies pied and violets blue,” -a "boy pursuing summer butterflies." Next year he had another sister born, Anne, baptized 28th September 1571; and now probably commenced his schoolboy time, when, "with satchel and shining morning face," he sallied forth, even
Stratford stripling, who would be sure to find means of making acquaintance with them.
This taste for theatricals and the society of actors may have been indulgences snatched between whiles, during holiday visits to his native place; for we have never been able to divest ourselves of the idea that Shakespeare may have had a portion of college education during the three years when he was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years of age. Although John Shakespeare's income was at that time peculiarly restricted, yet it was not impossible that William may have been a scholar upon the foundation at one of the universities, a sizer or servitor; in which case, his collegiateship would have been no expense to his father. We have always fancied that it was during one of these joyous summer holidays at his Stratford home, that, strolling through the pleasant lanes of Shottery, a young fellow of eighteen, his eye first encountered the sweet face and debonair figure of Anne Hathaway, then in the full bloom of womanhood, and of an age most likely to captivate the imagination of a lad-lover-buxom five-andtwenty. No surer enslaver of an imagination of eighteen, glowing with ideals of womanly perfection, than richly-gifted, accomplished, femininely-crowned five-and-twenty. In the girl of fifteen or sixteen, the youth sees but timidity, insipidity, immaturity; but in womanly fiveand-twenty he beholds a something to worship, to idolize, to inspire him with all lofty aspirations, to emulate him to highest endeavour. His own diffidence feels assured in the contemplation of her supremacy; and his own sense of deficiency takes pride in and reposes on her entire excellence. We can believe that Shakespeare, at eighteen, beheld in Anne Hathaway, at five-and-twenty, the breathing embodiment of all that his young poet-brain had conceived prophetically possible in a Helena, a Rosalind, an Imogen; and to make her his own became the scope of his ambition. Shakespeare a suitor, a pleader, a lover; with his burning words, his ardour, his irresistible impetuosity, his intensity, his vital eloquence, his witchery of playfulness, his vivacity, his power of persuasion! Like his own Master Fenton, "he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May: he will carry 't! he will carry 't!" The plain prose of facts and events gives ample evidence how Shakespeare wooed and won. 1582, a preliminary bond" to the solemnisation of matrimony between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway was dated November 28th; and on May 26th of the following year their first child, Susanna, was baptized. It behoved the nineteen
then, perchance, marking some others his companions "creeping, like snail, unwillingly to school;" for we cannot fancy him averse from his book. The masters of the Free GrammarSchool about that period were, successively, Walter Roche, Thomas Hunt, and Thomas Jenkins; and the latter name irresistibly suggests that he was the prototype of the Welsh parson, Sir Hugh Evans: while we behold, as a pictureverity, Mary (Arden) Shakespeare leading her young son by the hand through Stratford streets, as Mrs Page leads his little namesake, William, through Windsor streets, till they meet with the schoolmaster, who is to "ask him some questions in his accidence." Then we see William bid to hold up his head, answer his master, and be not afraid. We see the boyish sunny eye glance up, look in the old man's face, take minute gauge of its every peculiarity, speak with a roguish affectation of demureness, and be all the while engaged in half-unconsciously registering present characteristic items for future delineation. In 1573, when William was nine years old, his brother Richard was born, being baptized March 11th; and as John Shakespeare's family increased, so did his worldly prosperity; for in the following year he purchased of Edmund and Emma Hall two freehold houses, with gardens and orchards, in Henley Street, Stratford-uponAvon, for the sum of £40, equal to £200 of our present money. But after this period, his circumstances gradually declined during the next three years, until, in 1578, at a Borough-hall meeting, he was permitted to pay but 3s. 4d., as his share of a levied contribution. He also mortgaged some property belonging to his wife by inheritance, a small estate called Asbyes,-and, being unable to afford poor-rates, was left untaxed. In 1580 the youngest son, Edmund, was born, and baptized May 3d; while William had attained the age of sixteen years. Meantime there were not wanting events that may have helped to foster in the youth the poetic and dramatic bias of his genius. In 1575, Queen Elizabeth was entertained by the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth Castle, where masques, pageants, and entertainments of the most gorgeous description were enacted for her majesty's delectation; and it is by no means unlikely that the lad of eleven years old, with heart and brain on fire with accounts of what was in prospect at a place only fourteen miles off, found means to get over there to witness these princely shows. Besides this, there were occasional theatrical performances at Stratford-upon-Avon itself, by eminent travelling companies of actors from the metropolis; and many of these actors were natives of William's own birthplace and its neighbour-year-old Lather to bethink of some means of suphood. The names of Burbage, Slye, Heminge. Tooley, and Greene-all players afterwards connected with Shakespeare's dramatic careerare those of men more or less owing their origin to the county of Warwickshire, and very probably were objects of boyish admiration to the
porting his wife and child; and it is probably at this period that Shakespeare found employment as a teacher at the grammar-school, (mayhap he was usher, under his old master, Thomas Jenkins,) according to some traditions; or as a lawyer's clerk, according to the conjecture of
those who wish to prove that he thus acquired his remarkable amount of legal knowledge. But the fact that there was a Thomas Greene, who acted as clerk of the corporation in Shakespeare's native town, who was son to an attorney there, and who wrote once (in a letter still extant) of the poet, as "my cosen Shakespeare," may suffice to account for the latter's familiar acquaintance with law terms, and legal particulars. Not only did Thomas Greene the younger thus claim cousinship with William Shakespeare, but the burial of Thomas Greene the elder was recorded in the parish register under these terms: —“Thomas Greene, alias Shakespeare, March 6, 1590;" and this gives rise to the belief that there must have been some very strong bond of intimacy between the two families; so that it leads to the inevitable conviction that Shakespeare must have spent many an hour in the Greenes' office, where such a mind as his would gather stores of professional knowledge while seeming merely employed in passing a leisure social hour. Whether or not Shakespeare did actually receive emolument from teaching in a school, or working in a lawyer's office, it is pleasant to fancy him employed in either or both honourable occupations, to earn bread for those who were dependent on his exertions, until the following year, 1585; when the birth of two more children--his twin boy and girl, Hamnet and Judith, baptized February 2d-proved that his then sources of revenue were insufficient to maintain his increasing family.
Here, be it incidentally recorded, was the time of the imputed deer-stealing prank in Sir Thomas Lucy's grounds of Charlcote; and here also was the time when John Shakespeare ceased to be an alderman. His father's impoverished circumstances, his own inadequate gains, the decided bent of his tastes and talents, together with the instances of his theatrical friends, naturally turned William Shakespeare's thoughts towards the stage as a means of livelihood, and combined to urge him upon the course he pursued. He took the grand step of his life, and went up to London in 1586. Of the following years we possess no record; but we may feel sure that he spent them in qualifying himself for his chosen profession of actor, in preparing his own already-written plays for production, and in altering and adapting such dramas by others as were to be brought out at the playhouse, of which he became part proprietor; for in 1589 his name appears as a sharer in the Blackfriars Theatre; occurring twelfth on the list of sixteen shareholders. From that period began his ever-augmenting prosperity of career, until it culminated in a never-dying glory achieved. Little more than a year had elapsed ere Shakespeare's powers as a dramatist were already laudatorily alluded to by Edmund Spenser, in his "Tears of the Muses;" that poem being first published in 1591. That he had attained a high position in public favour,
was not only proved by the eulogium of friends, but by the detractions of envy and malice. An attack by Robert Greene, posthumously produced by Henry Chettle, (but subsequently apologised for in his "Kind-heart's Dream,") made its appearance in 1592. This year the plague visited London, and dramatic performances were suspended; therefore it may have been the occasion when Shakespeare took that journey to Italy, which some of his commentators have conjectured he did, judging from the intimate acquaintance he has shown in some of his plays with local Italian customs, circumstances, and peculiarities. In 1593, when he was twentynine years old, our poet first appeared in print. His "Venus and Adonis" was published under the Author's direction, by a printer named Richard Field-said to have been a Stratford man; and the affectionate hold which his native town and its "old familiar faces " had upon Shakespeare during his metropolitan life, may be deduced from the fact that many of his village-neighbours' names figure in his productions; such, for instance, as Fluellen, Bardolph, Audrey; and more especially Anne,—the name of one of his sisters, and his own wife's name,which so well becomes the pretty yeoman's daughter of Windsor, "Sweet Anne Page.' The first edition of "Lucrece," also brought out at Field's press, was the next publication; and was followed by Spenser's second tribute to Shakespeare in the poem of "Colin Clout's come Home again." In this same year, 1594, it has been supposed that Shakespeare's noble friend and patron, Lord Southampton, made him that munificent present of a thousand pounds.
The spring of the subsequent year probably saw the opening of the Globe Theatre on the Bankside. Its building had been commenced on the 22d December 1593, by the leader of the company of actors, Richard Burbage, and was now ready (1595) for giving performances, which usually commenced at three o'clock in the afterIt was a circular wooden edifice; and, being open to the air, this theatre served for summer representations; while the Playersharers sent in a petition (Shakespeare's name fifth on the list) for leave to repair and enlarge their Blackfriars Theatre for winter perform. ances. In the August of this year, 1596, domestic affliction fell on Shakespeare in his Stratford home; his son Hamnet's burial is registered as having taken place on the 11th of the month; and his parents were in such reduced circumstances that their poet-son found support for his own trouble from endeavouring to alleviate theirs. He set himself to aid in redeeming from mortgage his mother's paternallyinherited estate of Asbyes; he applied for a grant of arms to his father; and had made purchase of a dwelling-house and garden at Stratford, called "New Place," (also, "The Great House,") to which he brought home his parents, and established them there under his own country.
roof. It appears that he had had a residence in London, which he always occupied while in the metropolis, since the year 1596; and a letter of an after-date shows this residence to have been situated in Southwark.
The year 1598 witnessed the first acting of Ben Jonson's comedy, "Every Man in his Humour," it is said, through Shakespeare's instrumentality; and we are unwilling to withhold credence from this tradition of Shakespeare's influence generously exerted on behalf of a brother dramatist. There is substantial evidence that on the 25th October 1598 a letter was addressed by a fellow-townsman, one Richard Quiney, to Shakespeare, requesting the loan of £30; a sum sufficiently large to show that the poet was now in affluent circumstances, while the terms in which the request is couched manifest the entire faith the writer reposed in the willingness, as well as ability, of the man he addressed to grant what was asked. The original of this letter-the only one extant, addressed to Shakespeare-is preserved in the Shakespeare Museum at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Before 1601 no fewer than twenty-one of Shakespeare's plays had been performed on the stage,-namely, "Two Gentlemen of Verona ;" "Love's Labour's Lost;" "Taming of the Shrew;" three parts of "Henry VI.;" "Titus Andronicus;" ;" "Midsummer-Night's Dream;" "Hamlet; 99 66 "Richard II. ;" ""Richard III. ;" two parts of "Henry IV.;" "Romeo and Juliet;""King John;" "Henry V. ;" "As You Like It;" "Merchant of Venice;" "All's Well that Ends Well;" ;" "Much Ado about Nothing;" and "Merry Wives of Windsor." While ten of them had found their way into print, in separate quarto form. These ten were, "Love's Labour's Lost;" "Richard II.;” “Richard III. ;" "Romeo and Juliet" two parts of "Henry IV. ;" "Henry V.;""Much Ado about Nothing;" "Midsummer Night's Dream;" and "Merchant of Venice." To counterbalance his London triumphs, sorrow came to him at Stratford-upon-Avon this year. His father, John Shakespeare, died; and the burial was recorded as having taken place on the 8th September 1601. One of those incidents also occurred that seem to be of trivial consequence in themselves, yet leave significant trace to those who observe them in their correlative import. Thomas Whittington, an old shepherd, (possibly the prototype of Corin, "the natural philosopher,") long in the employ of Richard Hathaway, expired; leaving in his will a bequest of forty shillings to the poor of Stratford, which sum he had placed in the hands of his old master's daughter, Anne Shakespeare. This money confided to the care of the poet's wife, speaks with a pleasantly strong effect, in evidence of her trust-inspiring, kindly, reliable nature; and we feel grateful for this piece of mute testimony to the sterling moral qualities possessed by Shakespeare's Anne, as we are irresistibly impressed with the idea of her personal attractions
from her boy-husband's winning and wearing her some twenty years before.
In 1602 there is record of a patent granted on the 17th May by James I. to William Shakespeare and his company of players, that they might perform at the Globe Theatre and elsewhere, (Shakespeare's name second on the list;} and in the same year the now wealthy playwright bought 107 acres of land, adjoining his dwelling at Stratford, for £320. He also became owner of a copyhold tenement there; and made an additional purchase of land for £60 in the following year. It was at this time that Mrs Alleyn (wife to Edward Alleyn, the actor, and founder of Dulwich College) wrote the letter before alluded to, proving the whereabouts of Shakespeare's residence when staying in the metropolis; for she mentions to her husband having seen "Mr Shakespeare of the Globe" in Southwark.
1604 is the probable date of Shakespeare's retirement from the stage as an actor; and the lack of his prudence and discretion in counsel was adverse to the company. His control and pres ence ceasing, the ill effects were felt; but it is probable that at the age of forty, which he had now attained, Shakespeare felt that he had earned a right to enjoy that comparative leisure and withdrawal from the more active bustle of public life, which most men of ardent natures and imaginative temperaments feel creep over them as they advance in maturity. They have drunk to fulness of the wine of life, its sparkle has been theirs unto dazzling; they would fain taste a calmer and more moderate draught of excitement, savoured in peace and repose. Few have the wisdom to relinquish the cup when actually at their lips, and leave it for the quieter abstinence they instinctively begin to prefer: but Shakespeare was wiser, as well as more greatly gifted, than most men; and he ordained his own life-scheme with no less judgment than he mapped out those of the drama-characters he created.
The next eight years were spent in various oc cupations, taking him now to Stratford-uponAvon, now to London; now investing £440 in the purchase of a lease of tithes in Stratford, 24th July 1605, (in the indenture of which transaction he figures as "William Shakespeare of Stratfordupon-Avon, gentleman;”) now receiving a fel, low-actor's (Augustine Phillips) bequest of a gold piece worth thirty shillings; now superintending the first performance of new plays he had written since the commencement of the century; (before 1606, "Troilus and Cressida ;" "Othello;" "Twelfth Night;' 99.66 Henry VIII.;" ." "Measure for Measure;" "Comedy of Errors; " "Lear;" and "Macbeth" had appeared ;) now giving his daughter Susanna in marriage to Dr John Hall, on the 5th June 1607; now paying the last sad duties to his youngest brother, Edmund, who was buried on the 31st December at St Saviour's, Southwark; then being made a grandfather, by
the birth of Susanna's child, Elizabeth, baptized 21st February 1608; now piously receiving his mother's latest breath, and seeing her remains consigned to the grave, 9th September, the same year; now performing the part of good friend and neighbour, by standing godfather to a boy named William Walker, on the 16th October, in his native place; now being the object of a letter from Lord Southampton, wherein the nobleman styles Shakespeare "my especial friend;" now planting a mulberry-tree in his Warwickshire garden, while his sonnets were being first printed, on the 20th May 1609. Then we find him engaged in instituting a legal process against John Addenbrook, in the month of March 1610, for the recovery of a small debt; when, the debtor decamping, a writ was issued by the borough court against Thomas Horsley, who had become bail: all of which shows that the poet did not choose to be imposed upon. Then, in 1611, there
was a fine levied on the 107 acres of arable land
purchased by William Shakespeare in 1602; and his name stands on a list of donations, (dated 11th September 1611,) contributed by the towns people of Stratford, for defraying the charge of prosecuting "a bill in Parliament for the better repair of highways," &c. And then, in 1612, we come to the probable period of his quitting London entirely, to take up his permanent residence at Stratford; thus fully carrying out his retirement from metropolitan excitement.
But not inertly did he pass his country exist. ence. We find him to have been one of the plaintiffs in a Chancery suit concerning the lease of tithes bought in 1605; we learn that he purchased a house in Blackfriars for £140, on the 10th March 1613, possibly with some view of convenience to his friends and former fellowactors; we discover that he was active in endeavouring to prevent the enclosure of common land at his native Stratford; we even trace him as being once again in London, when Thomas Greene, clerk of the corporation, sent up to town on this same business, made a note, dated 17th November 1614, wherein he mentions going to see Shakespeare on his arriving there also. Other events, nearly concerning Shakespeare, mark these few years:-On the 4th February 1613, his brother Richard was buried; on the 29th June, of the same year, the Globe Theatre was burned down; and on the 9th July 1614, there was a calamity of the same nature-a fire -at Stratford-upon-Avon.
In 1615 there is no especial record; but during the past nine years had appeared "Antony and Cleopatra," "Pericles," "Winter's Tale," "Tempest," Coriolanus," "Timon of Athens," "Julius Cæsar," and "Cymbeline."
In the very opening of the year 1616, Shakespeare seems to have felt some premonitory symptoms of decay and dissolution, for on the 25th January he prepared his will. On the 10th February he married his daughter Judith to Thomas Quiney. And on the 25th March he
executed his will. There is a legend that Ben Jonson and Drayton took a spring holiday, and paid Shakespeare a visit at his Stratford home; while the hospitable reception he gave to them hastened his end :-if so, there is something not uncongenial in the thought that one of his last acts was entertaining his friends and brother poets, and that his convivial, bounteous nature thus concluded. However this be, William Shakespeare expired 23d April 1616, (the fifty. second anniversary of his birth,) living evermore afterwards in the love and gratitude of those to whom he bequeathed his immortal thoughts. They are ours, as it were, by his own words :
"My spirit is thine, the better part of me." Not only did William Shakespeare give to the world grander intellectual brain-product than any human being that ever lived, but he passed through life with a harmonious propriety of circumstance and completeness of achievement allotted to few. Born in that lovely English and intellectual, dwelling amid rural sights and village, bred in wholesome pursuits, physical influences during childhood, and transplanted to an urban atmosphere of refinement and accom
plishment in London when just of age to receive most advantageously this crowning polish, the natural poet became the consummate poet.
He retained an affectionate regard for home ties amid the fascinations of town attachments;
he fulfilled his duties of son, brother, husband, and father, with consistency and truth; he acquired public favour; he won the love of brother-poets and brother-actors; he secured the admiring esteem and friendship of distinguished noblemen, (counting Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke; and Philip, Earl of Montgomery, among his associates and intimates ;) and he gained the favour and gracious approbation of both sovereigns (Elizabeth and James 1) who successively occupied the English high veneration by his own fellow-townsmen, throne during his lifetime. He was held in so that they laid his honoured bones close to the erected his monumental effigy within the walls very communion-rails of their church, and of their chancel; loved as a friend and genial companion by them when alive, reverenced as an ornament to their community in his memory after death.
We cannot but believe that this monumental effigy gives us the best transcript of his appearance during the last years of his life, when in ease and retirement; as the portrait of Martin Droeshout, prefixed to the first collected edition of his works in 1623, most likely affords the truest representation of his appearance while in active public metropolitan life. There is a bland fulness of repose in the monumental face and figure, and a compact, energetic, purposeful look about the Droeshout portrait, that seem severally and satisfactorily characteristic of the man at these different periods of his life. Of his