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NOTE ON THE SUPPOSED HOUSE OF SHAKSPERE'S BIRTH.
This old tenement, or rather the series of tenements forming the property purchased by John Shakspere in 1574, ought to be bought by the Government, or by some public society. The probability is that otherwise, in a few years, they may be swept away, in the course of modern improvement. Whether Shakspere were born here, or not, there can be little doubt that this property was the home of his boyhood. It was purchased by John Shakspere from Edmund Hall and Emma his wife, for forty pounds. In a copy of the chirograph of the fine levied on this occasion (which is now in the possession of Mr. Wheler, of Stratford) the property is described as two messuages, two gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances. This document does not define the situation of the property, beyond its being in Stratford-upon-Avon; but in the deed of sale of another property in 1591 that property is described as situate between the houses of Robert Johnson and John Shakspere; and in 1597 John Shakspere himself sells a “toft, or parcel of land,” in Henley Street, to the purchaser of the property in 1591. The properties can be traced, and leave no doubt of this house in Henley Street being the residence of John Shakspere. He retained the property during his life; and it descended, as his heir-at-law, to his son William. In the last testament of the poet is this bequest to his “ sister Joan :"_" I do will and devise unto her the house, with the appurtenances, in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of twelve-pence.” His sister Joan, whose name by marriage was Hart, was residing there in 1639, and she probably continued to reside there till her death in 1646. The one house in which Mrs. Hart resided was doubtless the half of the building now forming the butcher's shop and the tenement adjoining; for the other house was known as the Maidenhead Inn in 1642. In another part of Shakspere's will he bequeaths, amongst the bulk of his property, to his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, with remainder to her male issue, “two messuages or tenements, with the appurtenances, situate, lying, and being in Henley Street, within the borough of Stratford.” There are existing settlements of this very property in the family of Shakspere's eldest daughter and granddaughter; and this grand-daughter, Elizabeth Nash, who was married a second time to Sir John Barnard, left both houses, namely " the inn called the Maidenhead, and the adjoining house and barn,” to her kinsmen Thomas and George Hart, the grandsons of her grandfather's “ sister Joan." These persons left descendants, with whom this property remained until the beginning of the present century. But it was gradually diminished. The orchards and gardens were originally extensive: a century ago tenements had been built upon them, and they were alienated by the Hart then in possession. The Maidenhead Inn became the Swan Inn, and is now the Swan and Maidenhead. The White Lion, on the other side of the property, extended his lair so as to include the remaining orchards and gardens. The house in which Mrs. Hart had lived so long became divided into two tenements; and at the end of the last century the lower part of one was a butcher's shop, which, according to the Aubrey tradition, some persons believed to have been the original shop where John Shakspere pursued his calf-killing vocation with the aid of his illustrious son. Mr. Wheler, in a very interesting account of these premises, and their mutations, published in 1824, tells us that the butcher-occupant, some thirty years ago, having an eye to every gainful attraction, wrote up,
" WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE WAS BORN IN this House.
N.B.-A HORSE AND TAXED Cart to Let." It is not now used as a butcher's shop, but there are the arrangements for a butcher's trade in the lower room--the cross beams with hooks, and the window-board for joints. We are now told by a sign-board, " THE IMMORTAL SHAKSPEARE WAS BORN IN is House."
Twenty years ago, when we made our first pilgrimage to Stratford, the house had gone out of the family of the Harts, and the last alleged descendant was recently ejected. It had been a gainful trade to her for some years to show the old kitchen behind the shop, and the honoured bedroom. When the poor old woman, the last of the Harts, had to quit her vocation (she claimed to have inherited some of the genius, if she had lost the possessions, of her great ancestor, for she had produced a marvellous poem on the Battle of Waterloo), she set up a rival show-shop on the other side of the street, filled with all sorts of trumpery relics pretended to have belonged to Shakspere. But she was in ill odour. In a fit of resentment, the day before she quitted the ancient house, she whitewashed the walls of the bed-room, so as to obliterate the pencil inscriptions with which they were covered. It has been the work of her successor to remove the plaster; and manifold names, obscure or renowned, again see the light. The house has a few ancient articles of furniture about it; but there is nothing which can be considered as originally belonging to it as the home of William Shakspere.
The poet in his well-known · Seven Ages' has necessarily presented to us only the great boundary-marks of a human life: the progress from one stage to another he has left to be imagined :
" At first the infant Muling and puking in the nurse's arms. Perhaps the most influential, though the least observed, part of man's existence, that in which he learns most of good or of evil, lies in the progress between this first act and the second :
" And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.” Between “the nurse's arms" and the “school” there is an important interval,
filled up by a mother's education. Let us see what the home instruction of the young Shakspere would probably have been.
There is a passage in one of Shakspere's Sonnets, the 89th, which has induced a belief that he had the misfortune of a physical defect, which would render him peculiarly the object of maternal solicitude :
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
Against thy reasons making no defence."
“ As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth." These lines have been interpreted to mean that William Shakspere was literally lame,* and that his lameness was such as to limit him, when he became an actor, to the representation of the parts of old men. We should, on the contrary, have no doubt whatever that the verses we have quoted may be most fitly received in a metaphorical sense, were there not some subsequent lines in the 37th Sonnet which really appear to have a literal meaning; and thus to render the previous lame and lameness expressive of something more than the general selfabasement which they would otherwise appear to imply. In the following lines lame means something distinct from poor and despised :
“ For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, of all, or more,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give." Of one thing, however, we may be quite sure—that, if Shakspere were lame, his infirmity was not such as to disqualify him for active bodily exertion. The same series of verses that have suggested this belief that he was lame also show that he was a horseman. His entire works exhibit that familiarity with external nature, with rural occupations, with athletic sports, which is incompatible with an inactive boyhood. It is not impossible that some natural defect, or some accidental injury, may have modified the energy of such a child; and have che
• “Malone has most inefficiently attempted to explain away the palpable meaning of the above lines; and adds, “If Shakspeare was in truth lame, he had it not in his power to halt occasionally for this or any other purpose. The defect must have been fixed and permanent.' Not so. Surely, many an infirmity of the kind may be skilfully concealed; or only become visible in the moments of hurried movement. Either Sir Walter Scott or Lord Byron might, without any impropriety, have written the verses in question. They would have been applicable to either of them. Indeed the lameness of Lord Byron was exactly such as Shakspeare's might have been ; and I remember, as a boy, that he selected those speeches for declamation which would not constrain him to the use of such exertions as might obtrude the defect of his person into notice.”—Life of William Shakspeare, by the Rev. William Harness, M.A. See Sonnets 50 and 51.
rished in him that love of books, and traditionary lore, and silent contemplation, without which his intellect could not have been nourished into its wondrous strength. But we cannot imagine William Shakspere a petted child, chained to home, not breathing the free air upon his native hills, denied the boy's privilege to explore every nook of his own river. We would imagine him communing from the first with Nature, as Gray has painted him
“ The dauntless child Stretch'd forth his little arms and smil'd. The only qualifications necessary for the admission of a boy into the Free Grammar School of Stratford were, that he should be a resident in the town, of seven years
and able to read. The Grammar School, as we shall presently have to show in detail, was essentially connected with the Corporation of Stratford ; and it is impossible to imagine that, when the son of John Shakspere became qualified by age for admission to a school where the best education of the time was given, literally for nothing, his father, in that year, being chief alderman, should not have sent him to the school. We assume, without any hesitation, that William Shakspere did receive in every just sense of the word the education of a scholar; and as such education was to be had at his own door, we also assume that he was brought up at the Free Grammar School of his own town. His earlier instruction would therefore be a preparation for this school, and the probability is that such instruction was given him at home.
The letters have been taught, syllables have grown into words, and words into short sentences. There is something to be committed to memory :
“ That is question now;
And then comes answer like an Absey-book.” In the first year of Edward VI. was published by authority “The A B C, with the Pater-noster, Ave, Crede, and Ten Commandementtes in Englysshe, newly translated and set forth at the kynges most gracious commandement.” But the A B C soon became more immediately connected with systematic instruction in religious belief. The alphabet and a few short lessons were followed by the catechism, so that the book containing the catechism came to be called an ABC book, or Absey-book. Towards the end of Edward's reign was put forth by authority A Short Catechisme, or playne instruction, conteynynge the sūme of christian learninge,' which all schoolmasters were called upon to teach after the “little catechism” previously set forth. Such books were undoubtedly suppressed in the reign of Mary, but upon the accession of Elizabeth they were again circulated. A question then arises, Did William Shakspere receive his elementary instruction in Christianity from the books sanctioned by the Reformed Church? It has been maintained that his father belonged to the Roman Catholic persuasion. This belief rests upon the following foundation. In the year 1770, Thomas Hart, who then inhabited one of the tenements in Henley Street which had been bequeathed to his family by William Shakspere's granddaughter, employed a bricklayer to new tile the house; and this bricklayer, by
* King John, Act 1., Scene 1.