Imatges de pÓgina

JUNE 28, 1938









THE name of Shakspeare, which is mentioned by Verstegan, among those 'syrnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feats of arms, is one of great antiquity in the woodland districts of Warwickshire. The family, thus honourably distinguished, appears to have received its origin either at Rowington or Lapworth. Long before the genius of our great dramatic poet had rendered their name a subject of national interest, the Shakspeares were established among the more affluent inhabitants of those villages, and thence several individuals of the race, from time to time, removed, and became settlers in the principal places of the county.

the estate which the royal munificence had thus conferred on his ancestor, it was insufficient for his wants; and he was obliged to have recourse to trade to increase the narrow measure of his patrimony. The traditional accounts that have been received respecting him are consistent in describing him as engaged in business, though they disagree in the nature of the employment which they ascribe to him. In the MS. notes which Aubrey had collected for a life of the poet, it is affirmed, that his father was a butcher;' while on the other hand, it is stated by Rowe that he was 'a considerable dealer in wool.' The truth of the latter report it is scarcely possible to doubt. It was received from Betterton the player, whose veneration for the poet induced him to make a pilgrimage to Warwickshire, that he might collect all the information respecting the object of his enthusiasm which remained among his townsmen, at a time when such prominent facts as the circumstances and avocation of his parents could not yet have sunk into oblivion. It is, indeed, not improbable that both these accounts may be correct.

After the most indefatigable researches Malone found himself unable to trace the particular branch of the family from which Shakspeare himself descended, beyond his immediate ancestor; but it is mentioned by Rowe, as being of good figure and fashion,'† in the town of Stratford. This statement is supported by the authority of a document, preserved in the College of Heralds, conferring the grant of a coat of arms on John Shakspeare, the father of the poet, in which the title of gentleman is added to his denomination; and it is stated, that his great grandfather had been rewarded by king Henry the Seventh, for his faithful and approved services, with lands and tenements given him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation and credit.'


Few occupations,' observes Malone, 'can be named which are more naturally connected with each other.' Dr. Farmer has shewn that the two trades were occasionally united:|| or if they were not thus exercised together by the poet's father, his having adopted them separately at different periods of his life, is not inconsistent with the changeful character of his circumstances. The new notion of John Shakspeare's

If Shakspeare's father inherited any portion of

'Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 4to. 1605. P. 201.

+ Rowe's Life of Shakspeare.

Grant of arms to John Shakspeare, made 1599. Malone, who always appears to have had a double object in his researches, first, to discredit all received pinions respecting our poet and his family, and secondly, to introduce some fanciful conjecture of his en, suggests that these expressions relate not to the ancestor of John Shakspeare, but to the ancestor of his wife. His arguments are not devoid of plausibility; but what certainty can we ever hope to obtain

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in the consideration of remote events, if the express authority of contemporary official documents is to be set aside by the questionable conjectures of the antiquarian?

Betterton was born in 1635. Shakspeare's young. est daughter lived till 1662, and his grand-daughter till 1670; and many of his relatives and connexions, the Harts and the Hathaways, were surviving at the time of Betterton's visit to Stratford.

See REED's Shakspeare, vol. 18. p. 346, 347. Steevens' note.

having been a glover, which has been advanced | ley Street; in 1570 he rented fourteen acres of in Malone's last edition of our author's works, land, called Ington Meadow: and we find him I have no hesitation in dismissing. It is neither four years afterwards, becoming the purchaser of supported by tradition, nor probability; and the two additional houses in Henley Street, with a brief minute which the laborious editor disco- garden and orchard attached to each. vered in the bailiff's court at Stratford, must have referred to some other of the innumerable John Shakspeares, whom we find mentioned in the wills and registers of the time.

The father of Shakspeare married, probably about the year 1555 or 1556, Mary the daughter of Robert Arden, of Willingcote, in the county of Warwick; by which connexion he obtained a small estate in land, some property in money,* and such accession of respectability as is derived from an equal and honourable alliance. The family of Mary Arden, like his own, was one of great antiquity in the county, and her ancestors also had been rewarded for their faithful and important services by the gratitude of Henry the Seventh. The third child, and the eldest son of this union, was the celebrated subject of the present memoirs.

In this season of prosperity, Mr. John Shakspeare was not careless of the abilities of his child. His own talents had been wholly unimproved by education, and he was one of the twelve, out of the nineteen aldermen of Stratford, whose accomplishments did not extend to This cirbeing able to sign their own names. cumstance, by the bye, most satisfactorily establishes the fact, that he could not have written the confession of faith which was found in repairing the roof of his residence at Stratford.‡ But, whatever were his own deficiences, he was careful that the talents of his son should not suffer from a similar neglect of education. William was placed at the Free School of Stratford : it is not uninteresting to know the names of the instructors of Shakspeare. They have been traced by the minute researches of Malone. Mr. Thomas Hunt, and Mr. Thomas Jenkins, were successively the masters of the school, from 1572 to 1580, which must have included the schoolboy days of our poet.

At the time of the birth of his illustrious offspring, John Shakspeare evidently enjoyed no slight degree of estimation among his townsmen. He was already a member of the corporation, and for two successive years, had been nominated one of the chamberlains of Stratford.+ From this time he began to be chosen in due succession to the highest municipal offices of the borough. In 1569, he was appointed to discharge the important duties of high bailiff; and was subsequently elected and sworn chief alder-the different companies of players, the comedians man for the year 1571.

At this time, Shakspeare would have possessed ample means of obtaining access to all those books of history, poetry, and romance, with which he seems to have had so intimate an acquaintance, and which were calculated to attract his carly taste, and excite the admiration of his young and ardent fancy; and he might also thus early have become imbued with a taste for the drama, by attending the performances of

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born on the 23d of April, 1564, and baptized on the 26th of the same month.

During this period of his life, which constitutes the poet's years of childhood, the fortune of Master John Shakspeare-for so he is uni formly designated in the public writings of the borough, from the time of his acting as high bailiff-perfectly corresponded with the station which we find him holding among his townsmen. His charities rank him with the second class of the inhabitants of Stratford. In a subscription for the relief of the poor, 1564, out of twentyfour persons, twelve gave more, six the same, and six less, than the poet's father; and in a second subscription, of fourteen persons, eight gave more, five the same, and one less. So early as 1556, he held the lease of two houses in the town, one in Green Hill, and the other in Hen

The whole was worth little more than 1007, at that time considered a fair provision for a daughter. + He was admitted to the corporation probably in 1557. He was elected chamberlain in 1561.

6 From the sentiment and the language, this confession appears to be the effusion of a Roman Catholic mind, and was probably drawn up by some Roman Catholic priest. If these premises be granted, it will

of the Queen, of the Earl of Worcester, of Lord Leicester, and of other noblemen, who were continually making the Guildhall of Stratford, the scene of their representations. But he was soon called to other cares, and the discharge of more serious duties. The prosperity of his father was not of permanent duration. In 1578, Mr. John Shakspeare mortgaged the estate which he had received from his wife; in the following year he was exempted from the contribution of fourpence a week for the poor, which was paid by the other aldermen; and that this exception in his favour was made in consequence of the pecuniary embarrassments under which he was known to labour, is manifest from his having been at the same period reduced to the necessity of obtaining Mr. Lambert's security for the pay

follow, as a fair deduction, that the family of Shak-
Chalmers' Apology,
speare were Roman Catholics.'
p. 198. The paper was found in 1770, and communi-
cated to Malone; but are not the official situations
held by Shakspeare's father in the borough conclu-
sive against the opinion which Mr. Chalmers has
grounded upon it?

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