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WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. .
NOTWITHSTANDING the research assiduously devoted of late years to the biography of Shakspeare, the archives that have been explored, and the collateral lights that have been thrown upon the subject from various quarters, few new personal details of importance have been discovered, and the actual facts, ascertained and placed beyond doubt, are still scanty and fragmentary. To present these facts in a connected form, without venturing into the more ambitious province of investigation and conjecture, already occupied by many zealous inquirers, is the sole object proposed to be attempted in the following outline.*
The ancestors of Shakspeare appear to have been settled in Warwickshire as far back as the 14th century. They spread over the whole county, and were found in most of the villages and towns. The name is still familiar there. Richard Shakspeare, of Snitterfield, is presumed to have been the paternal grandfather of the poet. This presumption rests mainly on the fact that only one family of that name can be traced at that period in the registers of the village, and that John Shakspeare, the father of the poet, had a brother Henry who resided there, which seems to establish the connection.
* In the preparation of the materials for this memoir, all the existing biographies of the poet have been consulted ; but I must ex. press my principal obligations to the elaborate Life by Mr. Halliwell, which I have chiefly followed throughout. The vast amount of information collected into that work, the variety of documentary evidence by which its statements are supported and illustrated, and the vast expenditure of time and toil bestowed upon its production, render it altogeth of the most remarkable monuments of industry and intelligence, concentrated on a single subject, in the whole range of biographical literature.
John Shakspeare married into the family of the Ardens, of Wilmecote. The Ardens belonged to the class of independent yeomen, and possessed landed property of considerable value. Several members of the family in former periods occupied positions of trust and honour. Robert Arden was married twice, and had seven daughters by his first wife, Mary, the youngest of whom was the mother of William Shakspeare. It is probable that the Shakspeares, although less is known about them, were in the same rank of life as the Ardens. It is certain that they held some land at Snitterfield, and it is conjectured that Richard was a farmer in substantial circumstances.
John Shakspeare came to reside at Stratford about 1551. In 1552 he was living in Henley-street, engaged in the business of a glover, as we learn from certain proceedings which subsequently took place in the bailiff's court. Some time in 1557 he married Mary Arden, with whom he received two copyhold tenements in Stratford, a small estate at Wilmecote, called Ashbies, variously estimated at from fifty to fifty-six acres, and his wife's portion of some property at Snitterfield. From this point his prosperity may be traced through the properties he purchased, the new affairs in which he embarked, the contributions he gave to the local charities, and the various offices he held in the town, till he ascended at last to the highest dignity the municipality could confer. In the year of his marriage he was chosen one of the burgesses, and appointed ale-taster; in 1558, he was elected one of the four constables, to which office he was re-elected in the following year, and also one of the four affeerors, whose duty it was to determine fines for offences not included in the statutes; to this post he was again elected in 1565, and also nominated one of the chamberlains for the borough, a situation which he held for two years; in 1565, he was chosen an alderman ; in 1568, high bailiff; and in 1571, chief alderman. As his means and influence increased, he embraced a wider sphere of industrial operations, entered into agricultural speculations, and thence, by an easy transition, added to his other occu