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fully, and to employ to lasting profit. Our grammar-schools were wise institutions. They opened the road to usefulness and honour to the humblest in the land; they bestowed upon the son of the peasant the same advantages of education as the son of the noble could receive from the most accomplished teacher in his father's halls. Long may they be preserved amongst us in their integrity; not converted by the meddlings of innovation into lecture-rooms for cramming children with the nomenclature of every science; presenting little idea even of the physical world beyond that of its being a vast aggregation of objects that may be classified and catalogued; and leaving the spiritual world utterly uncared for, as a region whose products cannot be readily estimated by a money value!
Every schoolboy's dwelling-place is a microcosm; but the little world lying around William Shakspere was something larger than that in which boys of our own time for the most part live. The division of employments had not so completely separated a town life from a country life as with us; and even the town occupations, the town amusements, and the town wonders, had more variety in them than our own days of systematic arrangement can present. Much of the education of William Shakspere was unquestionably in the fields. A thousand incidental allusions manifest his familiarity with all the external aspects of nature. He is very rarely a descriptive poet, distinctively so called; but images of mead and grove, of dale and upland, of forest depths, of quiet walks by gentle rivers,—reflections of his own native scenery,—spread themselves without an effort over all his writings. All the occupations of a rural life are glanced at or embodied in his characters. The sports, the festivals, of the lone farm or the secluded hamlet are presented by him with all the charms of an Arcadian age, but with a truthfulness that is not found in Arcadia. The nicest peculiarities in the habits of the lower creation are given at a touch; we see the rook wing his evening flight to the wood; we hear the drowsy hum of the sharded beetle. He wreathes all the flowers of the field in his delicate chaplets; and even the nicest mysteries of the gardener's art can be expounded by him. All this he appears to do as if from an instinctive power. His poetry in this, as in all other great essentials, is like the operations of nature itself; we see not its workings. But we may be assured, from the very circumstance of its appearing so accidental, so spontaneous in its relations to all external nature and to the country life, that it had its foundation in very early and very accurate observation. Stratford was especially fitted to have been the “green lap” in which the boypoet was “ laid.” The whole face of creation here wore an aspect of quiet loveliness. Looking on its placid stream, its gently swelling hills, its rich pastures, its sleeping woodlands, the external world would to him be full of images of repose: it was in the heart of man that he was to seek for the sublime. Nature has thus ever with him something genial and exhilarating. There are storms in his great dramas, but they are the accompaniments of the more terrible storms of human passions: they are raised by the poet's art to make the agony of Lear more intense, and the murder of Duncan more awful. But his love of a smiling creation seems ever present. We must image Stratford as it was, to see how the young Shakspere walked “in glory and in joy” amongst his native fields. Upon the bank of the Avon, having a very slight rise, is placed a scattered town; a town whose dwellings have orchards and gardens, with lofty trees growing in its pathways. Its splendid collegiate church, in the time of Henry VIII., was described to lie half a mile from the town. Its eastern window is reflected in the river which flows beneath; its grey tower is embowered amidst lofty elm-rows. At the opposite end of the town is a fine old bridge, with a causeway whose “wearisome but needful length” tells of inundations in the low pastures that lie all around it. We look upon Dugdale's Map of Barichway Hundred, in which Stratford is situated, published in 1656, and we see four roads issuing from the town. The one to Henley in Arden, which lies through the street in which Shakspere may be supposed to have passed his boyhood, continues over a valley of some breadth and extent, unenclosed fields undoubtedly in the sixteenth century, with the hamlets of Shottery and Bishopton amidst them. The road leads into the then woody district of Arden. At a short distance from it is the hamlet of Wilmecote, where Mary Arden dwelt; and some two miles aside, more in the heart of the woodland district, and hard by the river Alne, is the village of Aston Cantlow. Another road indicated on this old map is that to Warwick. The wooded hills of Welcombe overhang it, and a little aside, some mile and a half from Stratford, is the meadow of Ingon which John Shakspere rented in 1570. Very beautiful, even now, is this part of the neighbourhood, with its rapid undulations, little dells which shut in the scattered sheep, and sudden hills opening upon a wide landscape. Ancient crab-trees and hawthorns tell of uncultivated downs which have rung to the call of the falconer or the horn of the huntsman; and then, having crossed the ridge, we are amongst rich corn-lands, with farm-houses of no modern date scattered about; and deep in the hollow, so as to be hidden till we are upon it, the old village of Snitterfield, with its ancient church and its yew-tree as ancient. Here the poet's maternal grandmother had her jointure; and here it has been conjectured his father also had possessions. On the opposite side of Stratford the third road runs in the direction of the Avon to the village of Bidford, with a nearer pathway along the river-bank. We cross the ancient bridge by the fourth road (which also diverges to Shipston), and we are on our way to the celebrated house and estate of Charlcote, the ancient seat of the Lucys, the Shaksperian locality with which most persons are familiar through traditions of deer-stealing, of which we have not yet to speak. A pleasant ramble indeed is this to Charlcote and Hampton Lucy, even with glimpses of the Avon from a turnpike-road. But let the road run through meadows without hedgerows, with pathways following the river's bank, now diverging when the mill is close upon the stream, now.crossing a leafy elevation, and then suddenly dropping under a precipitous wooded rock, and we have a walk such as poet might covet, and such as Shakspere did enjoy in his boy rambles.
Through these pleasant places would the boy William Shakspere walk hand in hand with his father, or wander at his own free will with his school companions. All the simple processes of farming life would be familiar to him. The fitable mysteries of modern agriculture would not embarrass his youthful experience. He would witness none of that anxious diligence which compels the
earth to yield double crops, and places little reliance upon the unassisted operations of nature. The seed-time and the harvest in the corn-fields, the gathering-in of the thin grass on the uplands and of the ranker produce of the flooded meadows, the folding of the flocks on the hills, the sheep-shearing, would seem to him like the humble and patient waiting of man upon a bounteous Providence. There would be no systematic rotation of crops to make him marvel at the skill of the cultivator. Implements most skilfully adapted for the saving of animal labour would be unknown to him. The rude plough of his Saxon ancestors would be dragged along by a powerful team of sturdy oxen ; the sound of the flail alone would be heard in the barn. Around him would, however, be the glad indications of plenty. The farmer would have abundant stacks, and beeves, and kine, though the supply would fail in precarious seasons, when price did not regulate consumption ; he would brew his beer and bake his
ryebread; his swine would be fattening on the beech-mast and the acorns of the free wood; his skeps of bees would be numerous in his garden; the colewort would sprout from spring to winter for his homely meal, and in the fruitful season the strawberry would present its much coveted luxury. The old orchard would be rich with the choicest apples, grafts from the curious monastic varieties; the rarer fruits from southern climates would be almost wholly unknown. There would be no niggard economy defeating itself; the stock, such as it was, would be of the best, although no Bakewell had arisen to preside over its improvement :
“ Let carren and barren be shifted away,
For best is the best, whatsoever ye pay. William Shakspere would go out with his father on a Michaelmas morning, and the fields would be busy with the sowing of rye and white wheat and . barley. The apples and the walnuts would be then gathered; honey and wax taken from the hives; timber would be felled, sawn, and stacked for seasoning In the solitary fields, then, would stand the birdkeeper with his bow. As winter approached would come what Tusser calls “ the slaughtertime,” the killing of sheep and bullocks for home consumption; the thresher would be busy now and then for the farmer's family, but the wheat for the baker would lie in sheaf. No hurrying then to market for fear of a fall in price; there is abundance around, and the time of stint is far off. The simple routine was this:
“ In spring-time we rear, we do sow, and we plant;
In summer get victuals, lest after we want.
The joyous hospitality of Christmas had little fears that the stock would be prematurely spent; and whilst the mighty wood-fire blazed in the hall to the mirth of song and carol, neighbours went from house to house to partake of the abundance, and the poor were fed at the same board with the opulent. As the frost
Tusser, chapter xvi.
# Ibid., chapter xxiv.
breaks, the labourer is again in the fields; hedging and ditching are somewhat understood, but the whole system of drainage is very rude. With such agriculture man seems to have his winter sleep as well as the earth. But nature is again alive; spring corn is to be sown; the ewes and lambs are to be carefully tended; the sheep, now again in the fields, are to be watched, for there are hungry “mastiffs and mongrels” about; the crow and pie are to be destroyed in their nests ere they are yet feathered ; trees are to be barked before timber is fallen. Then comes the active business of the dairy, and, what to us would be a strange sight, the lambs have been taken from their mothers, and the ewes are milked in the folds. May demands the labour of the weed-hook; no horsehoeing in those simple days. There are the flax and hemp too to be sown to supply the ceaseless labour of the spinner's wheel; bees are to be swarmed ; and herbs are to be stored for the housewife's still. June brings its sheep-washing and shearing; with its haymaking, where the farmer is captain of the field, presiding over the bottles and the wallets from the hour when the dew is dry to set
Bustle is there now to get "grist to the mill,” for the streams are drying, and if the meal be wanting how shall the household be fed ? The harvesttime comes; the reapers cry “largess” for their gloves; the tithe is set out for “Sir Parson ;” and then, after the poor have gleaned, and the cattle have been turned in “ to mouth up" what is left,
“ In harvest-time, harvest-folk, servants and all,
Should make, all together, good cheer in the hall;
Such was the ancient farmer's year, which Tusser has described with wonderful spirit even to the minutest detail; and such were the operations of husbandry that the boy Shakspere would have beheld with interest amidst his native corn-fields and pastures. When the boy became deep-thoughted he would perceive that many things were ill understood, and most operations indifferently carried through. He would hear of dearth and sickness, and he would seek to know the causes. But that time was not as yet.
The poet who has delineated human life and character under every variety of passion and humour must have had some early experience of mankind. The loftiest imagination must work upon the humblest materials. In his father's home, amongst his father's neighbours, he would observe those striking differences in the tempers and habits of mankind which are obvious even to a child. Cupidity would be contrasted with generosity, parsimony with extravagance. He would hear of injustice and of ingratitude, of uprightness and of fidelity. Curiosity would lead him to the bailiff's court; and there he would learn of bitter quarrels and obstinate enmities, of friends parted “on a dissension of doit,” of foes who “interjoin their issues” to worry some wretched offender. Small ambition and empty pride would grow bloated upon the pettiest distinctions; and “the insolence of office” would thrust humility off the causeway. There would be loud talk of loyalty and religion, while the peaceful and the pious would be suspected ; and the sycophant who wore the great man's livery would strive to crush the independent in spirit. Much of this the observing boy would see, but much also would be concealed in the general hollowness that belongs to a period of inquietude and change. The time would come when he would penetrate into the depths of these things; but meanwhile what was upon the surface would be food for thought. At the weekly Market there would be the familiar congregation of buyers and sellers. The housewife from her little farm would ride in gallantly between her panniers laden with butter, eggs, chickens, and capons. The farmer would stand by his pitched corn, and, as Harrison complains, if the poor man handled the sample with the intent to purchase his humble bushel, the man of many sacks would declare that it was sold. The engrosser, according to the same authority, would be there with his understanding nod, successfully evading every statute that could be made against forestalling, because no statutes could prevail against the power of the best price. There, before shops were many and their stocks extensive, would come the dealers from Birmingham and Coventry, with wares for use and wares for show,-horse-gear and women-gear, Sheffield whittles, and rings with posies. At the joyous Fair-season it would seem that the wealth of a world was emptied into Stratford ; not only the substantial things, the wine, the wax, the wheat, the wool, the malt, the cheese, the clothes, the napery, such as even great lords sent their stewards to the Fairs to buy,* but every possible variety of such trumpery as fill the pedler's pack, - ribbons, inkles, caddises, coifs, stomachers, pomanders, brooches, tapes, shoe-ties. Great dealings were there on these occasions in beeves and horses, tedious chafferings, stout affirmations, saints profanely invoked to ratify a bargain. A mighty man rides into the Fair who scatters consternation around. It is the Queen's Purveyor. The best horses are taken up for her Majesty's use, at her Majesty's price ; and they probably find their way to the Earl of Leicester's or the Earl of Warwick's stables at a considerable profit to Master Purveyor. The country buyers and sellers look blank; but there is no remedy. There is solace, however, if there is not redress. The ivy-bush is at many a door, and the sounds of merriment are within, as the ale and the sack are quaffed to friendly greetings. In the streets there are morris-dancers, the juggler with his ape, and the minstrel with his ballads. We can imagine the foremost in a group of boys listening to the “small popular musics sung by these cantabanqui upon benches and barrels' heads,” or more earnestly to some one of the “blind harpers, or such-like tavern minstrels, that give a fit of mirth for a groat; their matters being for the most part stories of old time, as · The Tale of Sir Topas,” · Bevis of Southampton,'' Guy of Warwick, ‘Adam Bell and Clymme of the Clough,' and such other old romances or historical rhymes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people.” + A bold fellow, who is full of queer stories and cant phrases, strikes a few notes upon his gittern, and the lads and lasses are around him ready to dance their
* Tusser, chapter xlvii.