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expression, while he yet remained at Stratford, leaves the period of his first application to the law, from the time at which he left school to the era of his visiting London, unfixed; a portion of time which we may fairly estimate as including the lapse of ten years.
With regard to the affirmation of Aubrey, that Shakspeare had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country, the same ingenious critic very justly remarks, that "many traditional anecdotes, though not perfectly accurate, contain an adumbration of the truth;" and then adds,
"I am strongly inclined to think that the assertion contains, though not the truth, yet something like it: I mean that Shakspeare had been employed for some time in his younger years as a teacher in the country; though Dr. Farmer as incontestably proved, that he could not have been a teacher of Latin. I have already suggested my opinion, that before his coming to London he had acquired some share of legal knowledge in the office of a petty country-conveyancer, or in that of the steward of some manorial court. If he began to apply to this study at the age of eighteen, two years afterwards he might have been sufficiently conversant with conveyances to have taught others the form of such legal assurances as are usually prepared by country-attorneys; and perhaps spent two or three years in this employment before he removed from Stratford to London. Some uncertain rumour of this kind might have continued to the middle of the last century, and by the time it reached Mr. Aubrey, our poet's original occupation was changed from a scrivener to that of a schoolmaster."*
In this quotation it will be immediately perceived that the period of our author's application to the study of the law, is now supposed to have occurred at the age of eighteen, when he must have been long removed from school, and that he is also conceived to have been a teacher of what he had acquired in the profession.
These conjectures of Mr. Malone, which, in their latter and modified state, appear to me singularly happy, have met with a warm advocate in Mr. Whiter:
"The anecdotes," he remarks, "which have been delivered down to us respecting our poet, appear to me neither improbable nor, when duly examined, inconsistent with each other: even those which seem least allied to probability, contain in my opinion the adumbrata, if not expressa signa veritatis. Mr. Malone has admirably sifted the accounts of Aubrey; and there is no truth, that is obtained by a train of reasoning not reducible to demonstration, of which I am more convinced than the conjecture of Mr. Malone, who supposes that Shakspeare, before he quitted Stratford, was employed in such matters of business as belonged to the office of a country-attorney, or the steward of a manor-court. I have stated this conjecture in general
terms, that the fact, as is relates to our poet's legal allusions, might be separated from any accidental circumstances of historical truth. I am astonished, however, that Mr. Malone has confirmed his conjecture by so few examples. I can supply him with a very large accession." †
Humbly complaining to Your Lordship, your orator,' etc. are the first words of every bill in chancery.
⚫ A kiss in fee farm! In witness whereof these parties interchangeably have set their hands and seals.' Troilus and Cressida. Cymbeline.
'Art thou a feodary for this act?'
"See the note on that passage, vol. xviii. p. 508. n. 3. Reed's edit.
'Are those precepts served?' says Shallow to Davy, in K. Henry IV.
K. Richard III.
-hath demised, granted, and to farm let,' is the constant language of leases. What poet but Shakspeare has used the word demised in this sense?
"Perhaps it may be said, that our author in the same manner may be proved to have been equally conversant with the terms of divinity or physic. Whenever as large a number of instances of his ecclesiastical or medicinal knowledge shall be produced, what has now been stated will certainly not be entitled to any weight." Malone, Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 276, n. 9.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 222, 223.
Whiter's Specimen of a Commentary, p. 95, note. As Mr Whiter has not chosen to append these additional examples, I have thought it would be satisfactory to give the few which more immediately occur to my memory.
Mr. Chalmers, however, refuses his aid in the structure of this conjectural fabric, and asserts that Shakspeare might have derived all his technical knowledge of the law from a very few books. From "Totell's Presidents," 1572; from "Pulton's Statutes," 1578; and from the "Lawier's Logike," 1578."
That these books were read by Shakspeare, there can, we think, be little doubt; but this concession by no means militates against the idea of his having been employed for a short period in some profitable branch of the law. After weighing all the evidence which can now be adduced, either for or against the hypothesis, we shall probably make the nearest approximation to the truth in concluding, that the object of our research, having assisted his father for some years in the wooltrade, for which express purpose he had been early taken from school, might deem it necessary, on the prospect of approaching marriage, to acquire some additional means of supporting a domestic establishment, and, accordingly, annexed to his former occupation, or superseded it by a knowledge of an useful branch of the law, which, by being taught to others, might prove to himself a source of revenue. Thus combining the record of Rowe with the tradition of Aubrey, and with the evidence derived from our author's own works, an inference has been drawn which, though not amounting to certainty, approaches the confine of it with no small pretensions.
Of the events and circumstances which must have occurred to Shakspeare in the interval between his leaving the free-school of Stratford, and his marriage, scarcely any thing has transpired; the following anecdote, however, which is still preserved at Stratford and the neighbouring village of Bidford, may he ascribed with greater propriety to this than to any subsequent period of his life. We shall give it in the words of the author of the "Picturesque Views on the Avon," who professes to have received it on the spot, as one of the traditional treasures of the place. Speaking of Bidford, which is still equally notorious for the excellence of its ale, and the thirsty clay of its inhabitants, he adds, "there were anciently two societies of village-yeomanry in this place, who frequently met under the appellation of Bidford Topers. It was a custom with these heroes to challenge any of their neighbours, famed for the love of good ale, to a drunken combat: among others the people of Stratford were called out to a trial of strength, and in the number of their champions, as the traditional story runs, our Shakspeare, who forswore all thin potations, and addicted himself to ale as lustily as Falstaff to his sack, is said to have entered the lists. In confirmation of this tradition we find an epigram written by Sir Aston Cockayn, and published in his poems in 1658, p. 124: it runs thus
Chalmers's Apology, p. 554. The “Lawiers Logike” was written by Abraham Fraunce.
But you affirm (and in it seems most eager)
And drink ourselves merry in sober sadness.
"When the Stratford lads went over to Bidford, they found the topers were gone to Evesham fair; but were told, if they wished to try their strength with the sippers, they were ready for the contest. This being acceded to, our bard and his companions were staggered at the first outset, when they thought it adviseable to sound a retreat, while the means of retreat were practicable; and then had scarce marched half a mile, before they were all forced to lay down more than their arms, and encamp in a very disorderly and unmilitary form, under no better covering than a large crab-tree; and there they rested till morning.
"This tree is yet standing by the side of the road. If, as it has been observed by the late Mr. T. Warton, the meanest hovel to which Shakspeare has an allusion interests curiosity, and acquires an importance, surely the tree that has spread its shade over him and sheltered him from the dews of the night, has a claim to our attention.
"In the morning, when the company awakened our bard, the story says they intreated him to return to Bidford, and renew the charge; but this he declined, and looking round upon the adjoining villages, exclaimed, “No! I have had enough; I have drank with
'Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bidford.'
"Of the truth of this story I have very little doubt: it is certain that the crab-tree is known all round the country by the name of Shakspeare's crab; and that the villages to which the allusion is made, all bear the epithets here given them: the people of Pebworth are still famed for their skill on the pipe and tabor: Hillborough is now called Haunted Hillborough; and Grafton is notorious for the poverty of its soil."*
To the immediate neighbourhood indeed of Stratford, and to the adjacent country, with which, at this early period of his life, our poet seems to have been familiarised by frequent excursions either of pleasure or business, are to be found some allusions in his dramatic works. In the Taming of the Shrew, Christopher Sly being treated with great ceremony and state, on waking in the bed-chamber of the nobleman, exclaims-" What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton-heath; by birth a pedlar, by education a card-maker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not: if she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom. What, I am not bestraught!" + There are two villages in Warwickshire called Burton Dorset and Burton Hastings; but that which was the residence of old Sly, is, in all probability, Burton on the Heath, on the south side of the Avon, opposite to Bidford, and about eighteen miles from Stratford. The first scene of the play is described as "Before an Alehouse on a Heath," and it is remarkable that on Burton-heath there still remains a tenement, which was formerly a public-house, under the name of Woncott or Onecot: yet there is much reason to conclude, from the mode in which Wincot is spoken of, both in this place and in the following passage, that Burtonheath and Wincot were considerably distant: in the Second Part of King Henry IV. Davy says to Justice Shallow, "I beseech you, Sir, to countenance William Visor of Wincot against Clemont Perkes of the hill," a phraseology which seems to imply, not an insulated house, but a village, an inference which is strongly supported by the fact that near Stratford there is actually a village with the closely resembling name of Wilnecotte, which in the pronunciation and orthography of the common people would almost necessarily become Wincot. It should + Act i. sc. 2.
*Ireland's Picturesque Views, p. 229–233. + Act v. sc 1.
likewise be mentioned that Mr Warton is of opinion that this is the place to which Shakspeare alludes, and he adds, "the house kept by our genial hostess still remains, but is at present a mill."
We are indebted also to the Second Part of King Henry IV. for another local allusion of a similar kind: Silence, addressing Pistol, nicknames him "goodman Puff of Barson," a village which, under this appellation, and that of Barston, is situated between Coventry and Solyhall. It may indeed excite some surprise that we have not more allusions of this nature to commemorate; that the scenery which occurred to him early in life, and especially at this period, when the imagery drawn from nature must have been impressed on his mind in a manner peculiarly vivid and defined, when he was free from care, unshackled by a family, and at liberty to roam where fancy led him, has not been delineated in some portion of his works, with such accuracy as immediately to designate its origin. For, if we consider the excursive powers of his imagination, and the desultory and unsettled habits which tradition has ascribed to him during his youthful residence at Stratford, we may assert, without fear of contradiction, and as an undoubted truth, that his rambles into the country, and for a poet's purpose, were both frequent and extensive, and that not a stream, a wood, or hamlet, within many miles of his native town, was unvisited by him at various times and under various circumstances.
Yet, if we can seldom point out in his works any distinct reference to the actual scenery of Stratford and its neighbourhood, we may observe, that few of the remarkable events of his own time appear to have escaped his notice; and among these may be found one which occurred at this juvenile period of his life, and to which we have an allusion in Romeo and Juliet; for though the personages of the drama exist and act in a foreign clime, yet in this, and in many similar instances, he hesitates not to describe the events of his native country as occurring wherever he has chosen to lay the scene. Thus the nurse, describing to Lady Capulet the age at which Juliet was weaned, says
66 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,”—
a line, which, as Mr. Tyrhwitt and Mr. Malone have observed, ‡ manifestly alludes to a phenomenon of this kind that had been felt throughout England in the year 1580, and of which Holinshed, the favourite historian of our bard, has given the following striking account:
"On the sixt of April (1580), being Wednesdaie in Easter weeke, about six of the clocke toward evening, a sudden earthquake happening in London, and almost generalie throughout all England, caused such an amazednesse among the people as was wonderfull for the time, and caused them to make their earnest praiers so Almighty God! The great clocke bell in the palace at Westminster strake of it selfe against the hammer with the shaking of the earth, as diverse other clocks and bels in the steeples of the cities of London and elswhere did the like. The gentlemen of the Temple being then at supper, ran from the tables, and out of their hall with their knives in their hands. The people assembled at the plaie-houses in the fields, as at the Whoreater (the Theater I would saie) were so amazed, that doubting the ruine of the galleries, they made hast to be gone. A péece of the Temple church fell downe, some stones fell from Saint Paule's church in London and at Christs church neere to Newgate-market, in the sermon while, a stone fell from the top of the same church, which stone killed out of hand one Thomas Greie an apprentice, and another stone fell on his fellow-servant named Mabell Eueret, and so brused hir that she lived but four daies after. Diverse other at that time in that place were sore hurt, with running out of the church one over an other for feare. The tops of diverse chimnies in the citie fell downe, the houses were so shaken: a part of the castell at Bishops Stratford in Essex fell downe. This earthquake indured in or about London not passing one minute of an houre, and was no more felt. But afterward in Kent, and on the sea cosat it was felt three
*Mr. Edwards and Mr Steevens have conjectured that Barton and Woodmancot, vulgarly pronounced Woncot, in Gloucestershire, might be the places meant by Shakspeare; and Mr Tollet remarks, that Woncot may be put for Wolphmancote, vulgarly Ovencote, in Warwickshire. Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 30, and vol. xii. p. 240.
+ Act v. sc. 3.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol xx. p. 38, n. 2.
times; and at Sandwich at six of the clocke the land not onelie quaked, but the sea also fomed, so that the ships tottered. At Dover also the same houre was the like, so that a péece of the cliffe fell into the sea, with also a péece of the castell wall there: a piece of Saltwood castell in Kent fell downe: and in the church of Hide the bels were heard to sound. A péece of Sutton church in Kent fell downe, the earthquake being there not onlie felt, but also heard. And in all these places and others in east Kent, the same earthquake was felt three times to move, to wit, al six, at nine, and at eleven of the clocke." *
In this passage, to which we shall again have occasion to revert, the violence and universality of the event described, are such as would almost necessarily form an era for reference in the poet's mind; and the date, indeed, of the prima s'amina of the play in which the line above-mentioned is found, may be nearly ascertained by this allusion.
If, as some of his commentators have supposed, Shakspeare possessed any grammatical knowledge of the French and Italian languages, it is highly probable that the acquisition must have been obtained in the interval which took place between his quitting the grammar-school of Stratford and his marriage, a period, if our arrangement be admitted, of about six years; and consequently, any consideration of the subject will almost necessarily claim a place at the close of this chapter.
That the dramas of our great poet exhibit numerous instances in which both these languages are introduced, and especially the former, of which we have an entire scene in Henry V., will not be denied by any reader of his works; nor will any person, acquainted with the literature of his times, venture to affirm, that he might not have acquired by his own industry, and through the medium of the introductory books then in circulation, a sufficient knowledge of French and Italian for all the purposes which he had in view. We cannot therefore agree with Dr. Farmer, when he asserts, that Shakspeare's acquaintance with these languages consisted only of a familiar phrase or two picked up in the writers of the time, or the course of his conversation. †
The corrupted state of the French and Italian passages, as found in the early editions of our poet's plays, can be no argument that he was totally ignorant of these languages; as it would apply with nearly equal force to prove that he was similarly situated with regard to his vernacular tongue, which in almost every scene of these very editions has undergone various and gross corruptions. Nor will greater conviction result, when it is affirmed that this foreign phraseology might be the interpolation of the players; for it is remains to be ascertained, that they possessed a larger portion of exotic literature than Shakspeare himself.
The author of an essay on Shakspeare's learning in the Censura Literaria, from which we have already quoted a passage in favour of his having made some progress in latinity, is likewise of opinion that his knowledge of the French was greater than Dr. Farmer is willing to allow.
I have been confirmed in this opinion," he observes, "by a casual discovery of Shakspeare having imitated a whole French line and description in a long French epic poem, written by Garnier, called the " Henriade," like Voltaire's, and on the same subject, first published in
In As You Like It, Shakspeare gives an affecting description of the different manners of men in the different ages of life, which closes with these lines :
'What ends this strange eventful history
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.'
Now why have recourse for an insipid preposition to a language of which he is said to have been totally ignorant? I always supposed therefore that there must have been some peculiar
Holinshed's Chronicles, vol. iv. p. 426. edit. of 1808.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 85. Mr. Capel Lofft's opinion of the Italian literature of Shakspeare is somewhat more extended than my own. "My impression," says he, "is, that Shakspeare was not unacquainted with the most popular authors in Italian prose: and that his ear had listened to the enchanting tones of Petrarca and some others of their great poets." Preface to his Laura, p. exeii.