« PreviousContinue »
these dignitaries from their happy oblivion, saying to each, “Dost thou use to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself like an honest plain-dealing man?” Alas! out of the nineteen seven only can answer, “I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.”*
Thomab per t
Wo gumsenfra og
t ng coff 1993 (W (onde gong of assunuz
. bobart heti Nytton Joy fogo Rauff curore
* Henry VI., Part II., Act iv.
“ George Whetely, high bailiff,” makes an elaborate mark like a trivet with one leg hidden ; and, with a dignity as great as that of a mailed king sealing with his thumb, he calls it his “sign manual :” he was a woollen-draper; and five-and-twenty years afterwards he continues to make his sign manual, a little tremblingly perhaps, but still as emphatically as if his yard wand were a sceptre. “ Roger Sadler, head alderman,” baker, makes the good old cross, his own bun mark. • Wyllm Smythe,” mercer, delights in a serpentine sign, waving like the ribbons upon a May-pole. “Lewes ap w (Lewis ap Williams), ironmonger, has a most mystical mark, symbolical perhaps of spikes and bolts, but otherwise unintelligible. Adryan Quynee,” grocer; “Umfrey Plymley,” mercer ; “Wyllm Bott,” of whose pursuits history makes no mention; “ Rychrd Hylle,” woollen-draper; and another “ Wyllm Smythe,” a shoemaker, delight not in these emblems; they write their names according to the penmanship of their age, but with the variety which belongs to individual character. “Rarff Cardre,” we are sure, was a sleek humorist: he has the gridiron for a sign manual, an emblem not of martyrdom, but of good cheer; he was a butcher.
Wylliam Brace ” belongs to the same fraternity as the clerk of Chatham, for that he hath“ been so well brought up;" and so does “ John Shacksper.” But we are called upon not to "hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck.” It is held by Malone, and other grave antiquarians, that the pair of compasses standing opposite the name of “Thomas Dyxun,”—a most clever drawing of an open pair of compasses, such as carpenters use, having a quadrant upon which the leg moves,—belongs not to “ Thomas Dyxun,” but to “ John Shacksper:"_“It nearly resembles a capital A,” says Malone, “and was, perhaps, chosen in honour of the lady whom he had married.”* Assuredly the lady was greatly honoured in so apt a scholar; and when this Orlando took to carving A “on every tree,” and writing it on every lawful occasion, it is surprising that the inspiration was not carried farther, and that the faculty thus developed by love did not terminate in real caligraphy. Be that as it may, one thing is certain,—the stock of literary acquirement amongst the magnates of Stratford was not very large. The six remaining are all marksmen. And why should that stock of literature have been larger? There were some who had been at the grammar-school, and they perhaps were as learned as the town-clerk; they kept him straight. But there had been enough turmoil about learning in those days to make goodman Whetely, and goodman Cardre, and their fellows, somewhat shy of writing and Latin. They were not quite safe in reading. Some of the readers had openly looked upon Tyndale’s Bible and Coverdale’s Bible twelve years before, and then the Bible was to be hidden in dark corners. It was come out again, but who could tell what might again happen. It was safer not to read. It was much less troublesome not to write. The town-clerk was a good penman; they could flourish. †
See Note at the end of this Chapter. + There are twelve marksmen, five of whom bear the name of John. All these Johns are written without doubt by the same pen-Jhon; but the Jhon of our poet's father has a marked difference:
One of the aldermen of Stratford in 1565, John Wheler, is described in the town records as a yeoman. He must have been dwelling in Stratford, for we have seen that he was ordered to take the office of high bailiff, an office demanding a near and constant residence. We can imagine a moderate landed proprietor cultivating his own soil, renting perhaps other land, seated as conveniently in a house in the town of Stratford as in a solitary grange several miles away from it. Such a proprietor, cultivator, yeoman, we consider John Shakspere to have been. In 1556, the year that Robert, the father of Mary Arden, died, John Shakspere was admitted at the court-leet to two copyhold estates in Stratford. The jurors of the leet present that George Turnor had alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement, with a garden and croft, and other premises, in Grenehyll Street, held of the lord at an annual quit-rent; and John Shakspere, who is present in court and does fealty, is admitted to the same. The same jurors present that Edward West has alienated to John Shakspere one tenement and a garden adjacent in Henley Street, who is in the same way admitted, upon fealty done to the lord. Here then is John Shakspere, before his marriage, the purchaser of two copyholds in Stratford, both with gardens, and one with a croft, or small enclosed field.* In
in the five the h is most distinctly separated from the following letter ; in his it is as distinctly con. nected with it. There are two marksmen whose names begin with a capital S. The s beginning the name of Shacksper is entirely different—it cannot be called a capital, being the plain longs, the same that is found in the second syllable, sper.
* It is marvellous that Malone, with these documents before him, which are clearly the admissions of John Shakspere to two copyhold estates, should say :—“At the court-leet, held in October, 1556, the lease of a house in Greenhill Street was assigned to Mr. John Shakspeare, by George Turnor, who was one of the burgesses of Stratford, and kept a taveru or victualling-house there; and another, in Henley Street, was, on the same day, assigned to him, by Edward West, a person of some consideration, who during the reign of Edward VI. had been frequently one of the wardens of the bridge of Stratford.” It is equally wonderful that, Malone having printed the documents, no one who writes about Shakspere has deduced from them that Shakspere's father was necessarily a person of some substance before his marriage, a purchaser of property. The roll says“ et idē Johes pd. in cur. fecit dño fidelitatem p" eisdem,” that is," and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same.” Every one knows that this is the mode of admission to a copyhold estate in fee simple, and yet Malone writes as if these forms were gone through to enable John Shakspere to occupy two houses in two distinct streets, under lease. We subjoin the documents :
“ Stratford super Avon. Vis frā Pleg. cum cur. et Session pais tenit. ibm. secundo die Octobris annis regnorum Philippi et Marie, Dei gratia, &c. tertio et quarto (October 2, 1556).
“ It. pre. quod Georgius Turnor alienavit Johē Shakespere et hered. suis unum tent. cum gardin. et croft. cum pertinent in Grenehyll stret, tent. de Dño libe p cart. p redd, inde dño p" annu vid et sect. cur. et idē Johes pd. in cur. fecit dño fidelitatem p' eisdem.
“ It. quod Edwardus West alienavit pd. eo Johe Shakespere unū tent. cum gardin. adjacen. in Henley street p" redd. inde dño pann. vid et sect. cur. et idē Johes pd. in cur. fecit fidelitatem.”
We give a translation of this entry upon the court-roll :
“ Stratford upon Avon. View of Frankpledge with the court and session of the peace held of the same on the second day of October in the year of the reign of Philip and Mary, by the grace of God, &c., the third and fourth.
“ Item, they present that George Turnor has alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement with a garden and croft, with their appurtenances, in Greenhill Street, held of the lord, and
1570 John Shakspere is holding, as tenant under Willam Clopton, a meadow of fourteen acres, with its appurtenance, called Ingon, at the annual rent of eight pounds. This rent, equivalent to at least forty pounds of our present money, would indicate that the appurtenance included a house, and a very good house.* This meadow of Ingon forms part of a large property known by that name near Clopton-house. When John Shakspere married, the estate of Asbies, within a short ride of Stratford, came also into his possession. With these facts before us, scanty as they are, can we reasonably doubt that John Shakspere was living upon his own land, renting the land of others, actively engaged in the business of cultivation, in an age when tillage was becoming rapidly profitable,—so much so that men of wealth very often thought it better to take the profits direct than to share them with the tenant? A yeoman he might call himself, a yeoman he might be called by his neighbours; but he was in that social position that he readily passed out of the yeoman into the gentleman, and in all registers and records after 1569 he was styled Master John Shakspere.
And is all this, it may be said, of any importance in looking at the life of William Shaksperc-a man who stands above all other individual men, above all ranks of men; in comparison with whom, in his permanent influence upon mankind, generations of nobles, fighting men, statesmen, princes, are but as dust? It is something, we think. It offers a better, because a more natural, explanation of the circumstances connected with the early life of the great poet than those stories which would make him of obscure birth and servile employments. Take old Aubrey's story, the shrewd learned gossip and antiquary, who survived Shakspere some eighty years:-“Mr. William Shakespear was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade; but when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style, and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this town that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young." Oh, Stratford! town prolific in heroic and poetical butchers; was it not enough that there was one prodigy born in your bosom, who, “when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech,” but that there must even have been another butcher's son fed with thy intellectual milk, “that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit?” Wert thou minded to rival Ipswich by a double rivalry? Was not one Shakspere-butcher enough to extinguish the light of one Wolsey, but thou must have another, “his acquaintance and coetancan?”
delivered according to the roll, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per annum,
and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same.
“ Item, that Edward West has alienated to him, the aforesaid John Shakspere, one tenement, with a garden adjacent, in Henley Street, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per annum, and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty.”
* See the extracts from the · Rot. Claus.,' 23 Eliz., given in Malone's · Life,' p. 95.
+ Ingon is not, as Malone states, situated at a small distance from the estate which William Shakspere purchased in 1602. Clopton lies between the two properties.
Aubrey, men must believe thee in all after-time; for did not Farmer aver that, when he that killed the calf wrote
“ There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them how we will," *. the poet-butcher was thinking of skewers? And did not Malone hold that he who, when a boy, exercised his father's trade, has described the process of calf-killing with an accuracy which nothing but profound experience could give?
“ And as the butcher takes away the calf,
Even so," &c.t The story, however, has a variation. There was at Stratford, in the year 1693, a clerk of the parish church, eighty years old,—that is, he was three years old when William Shakspere died,—and he, pointing to the monument of the poet, with the pithy remark that he was the “ best of his family,” proclaimed to a member of one of the Inns of Court that “this Shakespeare was formerly in this town bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he ran from his master to London.” I His father was a butcher, says Aubrey; he was apprentice to a butcher, says the parish clerk. Aubrey was picking up his gossip for his friend Anthony-a-Wood in 1680, and it is not very difficult to imagine that the identical parish clerk was his authority. That honest chronicler, old as he was, had forty years of tradition to deal with in this matter of the butcher's son and the butcher's apprentice; and the result of such glimpses into the thick night of the past is sensibly enough stated by Aubrey himself :" What uncertainty do we find in printed histories! They either treading too near on the heels of truth, that they dare not speak plain; or else for want of intelligence (things being antiquated) become too obscure and dark!” Obscure and dark indeed is this story of the butcher's son. If it were luminous, circumstantially true, palpable to all sense, as Aubrey writes it down, we should only have one more knot to cut, not to untie, in the matters which belong to William Shakspere. The son of the butcher of Ipswich was the boy bachelor of Oxford at fifteen years of ge; he had an early escape from the calf-killing; there was no miracle in his
If we receive Aubrey's story we must take it also with its contradictions, and that perhaps will get rid of the miraculous. “When he was a boy he exercised his father's trade.” Good :—" This William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, I guess about eighteen." Good :-“He understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country.” Killer of calves, schoolmaster, poet, actor,-all these occupations
* Hamlet, Act v., Sc. 11.
+ Henry VI., Part II., Act 11., Sc. I. Traditionary Anecdotes of Shakespeare.