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HUMAN LIFE IN SHAKESPEARE.
THE GROWING AND PERPETUAL
INFLUENCE OF SHAKESPEARE.
HETHER Shakespeare did or did not
study law, - Lord Campbell implies that he did, - is of interest only as every inquiry is which concerns the personal existence of a poet who has fully revealed man, and entirely concealed himself. Shakespeare is, indeed, as to his individuality, THE GREAT UNKNOWN; so, instead of knowledge, we strive after hints, conjectures, guesses, and we are excited if any one of them serves even as an illusive link by which we can connect our common life with his. So it is that association with the mighty confers dignity on trifles. When, therefore, we ridicule contemporary gossip about the peculiarities of distinguished characters, we are ridicul
ing by anticipation matters that ere long will be invaluable for biography. What an amount of interest there is in that short letter of Cicero's, in which he describes how Cæsar dined with him ; how "he ate and drank without reserve; sumptuously, indeed, and with due preparation ;' and not only that, " but with good conversation, well digested and seasoned, and, if you ask, cheerfully;" how the guest was not one to whom you would say, "Pray come to me in the same manner when you return;
once was enough ;” how " there was nothing of importance in the conversation, but a great deal of liberal learning ;" how, “in short, he was highly pleased, and enjoyed himself”! Thus we find that "the man who kept the world in awe" ate, and drank, and talked as any other cultivated gentleman would; and the community of nature between him and us, which the majesty of his genius seemed to destroy, the dinner-table thoroughly restores. Nor is the interest lessened by the recollection that, even then, the dagger was nearly ready for Cæsar's imperial heart. In the same way, we long for particulars which would put aside the majesty of Shakespeare's genius, and open an entrance for us to his individual humanity. We would like even to learn surely that he had been a lawyer's clerk, in order to see
him in some prosaic relation to life, which would make him our familiar and our companion. But all Lord Campbell's acute investigation does not give us such assurance. In the intermediate details of the argument, his lordship is confident and emphatic; but a sceptic he begins, and a sceptic he ends, although in the course of the discussion leaning to the positive. The whole argument — leaving out the illustrative quotations and the comments on them - may be stated in small compass. Shakespeare constantly uses law phrases and terms. He does this, not as with any conscious preparation, but with a spontaneous freedom, which, by the evident absence of design, shows intimate mental familiarity with legal habits. His frequent use of legal phraseology is not in the manner of such casual analogy as any intelligent person might be equal to; it is with a subtile and scientific discrimination, in which even practised lawyers might commit mistakes. All this seems to imply actual experience in the business working of the law. In addition to the whole, a contemporary called him, in derision, by the nickname of "Noverint,” intending, it is said, to stigmatize him as an attorney's hack. After laying the fullest stress allowable on these indications, Lord Campbell suggests various possible explanations, and considers the case as still undecided. We venture, in addition, two or three unprofessional remarks.
Stratford contained fifteen hundred inhabitants, and seven attorneys. It would therefore be no marvel if Shakespeare had been in some law office, a clerk or an apprentice; but as it must have been a place where a good deal of law business was done, it would still be no marvel if Shakespeare, without having been either a clerk or an apprentice, had picked up some of that law lore which must have been in cheap and extensive circulation. We have known, in our time, an Irish village, where, by means of two families obstinately engaged in a lawsuit, the technicalities of the courts became almost as common as those of farming. If so it was in a place miles away from attorney, barrister, or magistrate, what must it have been in a place where there was the magical circle of an official seven ? The English have always been a people noted for their attachment to law. Among the rude of other people, a blow is the answer to an insult; among the lower English, the answer is a threatening of the law. Among such, "If there's law to be had in England, I'll have it against you,” is a very common and a very angry exclamation.
In a country where the law had thus such popular recognition, it would
be a matter of more intimate knowledge, and of closer interest, in the degree that society was uncomplicated and undeveloped. In such a social stage, people are fond of going to law; and without newspapers, books, or parliamentary debates, law would be a constant subject of conversation, not merely in relation to events and facts, but also in relation to theories and principles. With the intellectual, especially, this would
In our stage of society, mere law is lost in the multitude of other interests and affairs; in a simpler stage, it would concentrate attention by an isolated importance. A meagre state of the body lays bare the outline of its structure; a meagre state of society also brings to sight the outline of its structure; and law is to society what the skeleton is to the body. The state of English society, when Shakespeare lived, was a meagre one; and therefore a good deal of English law might have been acquired in it by an intelligent but unprofessional observer. One remark more, and then we quit the topic. Many of the law phrases and terms found in the writings of Shakespeare concern legitimacy, hereditary succession, high treason, and capital felonies, generally. If we consider the spirit of the times, we cannot believe that legal phraseology belonging to matters such as these, which were always