Page images
PDF
EPUB

PART 1.

LIFE OF SHAKSPERE.

[ocr errors]

T
may

be asserted that there are few distinguished men of whom so little is known as Shakspere. It has been affirmed, and not without reason, that his character may be best gathered from his incomparable productions.* Judging from these, we would exhibit the

great poet as a man to be admired and loved, and thus is he portrayed in Doctor Drake's “Noontide Leisure,” in an admirable and interesting “ Tale of the Days of Shakspere,” contained in that work.

* Since we wrote the above, we have met with the following important remarks from the pen of the Rector of Eversley, the Rev. Charles Kingsley. “Shakspere,” says the critic, "has found as yet no biographer; has not even left behind him materials for a biography, such at least as are considered worth using. Indeed, we question whether such a biography would be of any use whatever to the world; for the man who cannot, by studying his dramas in some tolerably accurate chronological order, and using as a running accompaniment and closet commenWilliam Shakspere, S-h-a-k-s-p-e-r-e, for in this manner he spells his name in all his genuine signatures, and thus is it spelt also in the Stratford Register both at his baptism and burial, was born of a good family at Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1564. In the ar

chives of this town, we find his father John Shakspere passing through the regular gradations of those municipal offices which were filled by the most respectable inhabitants of a country town. As to the occupation of the elder Shakspere, perhaps nothing is certain. It has been stated, that like Cardinal Wolsey's father, he was a butcher, by some that he was a woolmerchant, and by others that he was a glover, and again, that he was a farmer. In one of the deeds relating to his property, he is called a yeoman. In

tary, those awe-inspiring sonnets of his, attain to some clear notion of what sort of life William Shakspere must have led, would not see him much the clearer for many folios of anecdote. For after all, the best biography of every sincere man is sure to be his own works; here he has set down, 'transferred as in a figure,' all that has happened to him, inward or outward, or rather, all which has formed him, produced a permament effect upon his mind and heart; and knowing that, you know all you need know, and are content, being glad to escape the personality and gossip of names, and places, and of dates even, except in as far as they enable you to place one step of his mental growth before or after another."

Notwithstanding these excellent remarks, we must not hesitate to complete our sketch. General readers will not be disobliged. Such will not be able to form clear notions of Shakspere's life from their too cursory notice of his dramas and sonnets, the latter of which, indeed, are understood with difficulty by the best critics.

[ocr errors]

those days it was not uncommon for persons who possessed landed property, and were designated gentlemen, to be employed in such occupations as we have named, and the writer can state from his own knowledge, that even now, a farmer or agriculturist, is not unfrequently at the same time a butcher or a woolmerchant. It is not unlikely therefore that the father of William Shakspere was engaged in various pursuits, and yet that those occupations, in the then state of society, were not incompatible with his rank and character as an English gentleman. Whether he possessed any patrimonial property or not, he undoubtedly by marriage became the proprietor of an estate. In an old document it is shown that this John Shakspere married Mary “the daughter and one of the heirs," as the manuscript reads, “of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote." Of this ancient family we are told that the “grandfather of Mary Arden was groom of the chamber to Henry VII., and he was the nephew of Sir John Arden, squire of the body to the same king. Sir John Arden was a son of Walter Arden and of Eleanor the daughter of John Hampden of Buckinghamshire. There were thus the ties of a common blood between William Shakspere and one of the most distinguished men of the next generation-John Hampden, who was a student in the Inner Temple when the poet died. Mary Arden's property has been computed to be worth some hundred and ten pounds of the money of her time. It is probable that Mary Arden became the wife of John Shakspere soon after her father's death, which was in 1556.” The father of our great poet died in 1601; his mother, in 1608. The writings of William Shakspere, containing as they do, an almost boundless amount of knowledge on every subject, must, we believe, have been composed by a man who had been “well nurtured in early life-a man who was brought up by parents living in comfort, if not in affluence, and trained in those feelings of honour which were more especially held the possession of those of gentle blood.” Were not his father and mother educated persons ? They might not be familiar with many books, as the age in which they lived was not so prolific in its issue of literary productions as ours, but were they not thoroughly acquainted with some of the best of these? Would they not amidst the beautiful English scenery by which they were surrounded, cherish a kindly love of nature and of rural enjoyments ? Might they not be, as in those days all persons above the lowest rank were, admirers and cultivators of music?

" The man that hath no music in himself, Says their gifted son,

And is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus :

Let no such man be trusted.” Were not also the parents of Shakspere frugal and orderly in all their household arrangements ? The great dramatist's compositions discover a fair knowledge of the Bible-a sense of the enormity of transgression—a consciousness of our responsibility to Heaven! Whence did the poet derive those creditable notions, and those serious impressions ? Were not these inculcated and urged by parents of habitual benevolence and piety? These are interesting questions, and such, indeed, as naturally suggest themselves to our minds.

Mrs. Stowe, in her Sunny Memories,' offers the following beautiful conjectures on the parents of Shakspere:-We know nothing who this Mary was, that was his mother; but one sometimes wonders where in that coarse age, when queen and ladies talked familiarly, as women would blush to talk now, and when the broad, coarse wit of the “Merry Wives of Windsor" was gotten up to suit the taste of a virgin queen-one wonders, I say, when women were such and so, where

Ι he found those models of lily-like purity, women so chaste in soul, and pure in language, that they could not even bring their lips to utter a word of shame. Desdemona cannot even bring herself to speak the coarse word with which her husband taunts her; she cannot make herself believe that there are women in the world who could stoop to such grossness.

For my part I cannot believe that, in such an age, such deep heart-knowledge of pure womanhood could have come otherwise than by the impression on the child's soul of a mother's purity. I seem to have a vision of one of those women whom the world knows not of, silent, deep-hearted, loving, whom the coarser

« PreviousContinue »