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Mr. William Henry Smith's
Account. ex officio, a Magistrate : the fact of his humble origin being attested to the last, by his inability to write his name.
He appears, as he rose in consequence, to have abandoned his original trade of 'glover,' and to have turned his attention to agriculture ; but this was not to his permanent advantage, for his fortunes seemed to have waned from 1576; until, after having received various indulgences from his colleagues, the Corporation of Stratford, in the year 1586, came to a resolution depriving John Shakespeare of his alderman's gown, because he doth not come to the halls when warned, nor hath not done of a long time.'
The same reason which caused him to be excused by his brother aldermen, in 1578, from the petty payment of fourpence per week for a temporary purpose, still, doubtless, continued to operate ; and the obvious inference is, that he had suuk into so low a grade of poverty, that he was ashamed to
appear among his fellow-townsmen.
These facts give colour to the reports which were in existence, that William Shakespeare was removed from school at an early age; and it is natural that this removal should have taken place in or about the year 1577, when the necessities of his father began to show themselves openly.
Such being the circumstances connected with the parentage of
Facts established by the latest
investigations. prietor, of good standing in the county of Warwick. In 1565 he was made alderman, in 1568 high bailiff, and in 1571 chief alderman.
He possessed property, occupied and cultivated land, reared sheep, and from a union of different pursuits, by
uncommon at that time, was a farmer, a dealer in wool, and a glover. In 1579, John Shakespeare parted with some of his property, and his prosperity suffered a temporary decline.
This was not, however, so great as some have represented, nor was it of long duration.
In 1596 we find him applying for a grant of arms, in which he is described as “John Shakespeare, of Stratford uppon-Avon, in the counte of Warwick, whose parentes and late antecessors were, for there valeant and faitbefull service advanced and rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the Seventh of famous memorie, sythence whiche tyme they have continewed at those partes in good reputacion and credit ; and that the said John having maryed Mary, daughter and one of the heyrs of Robert Arden, of Wilmcote, in the said counte, gent,” &c., which plainly proves that, either by his own exertions, or the good fortune of his son William, John Shake. speare had, at the time this application was made, recovered his former position in life.
Iu 1580 he was classed among
Mr. William Henry Smith's
Account. William Shakespeare, the infor. mation we possess respecting his early years is even more scanty. There is neither record nor rumour of his having exhibited any precocity of talent. It is only known that, at theage of eighteen, he contracted, or was inveigled into a marriage with a woman eight years older than himself ; and it is believed that, somewhere about the time at which his father was deprived of his alderinan's
he left his wife and family at Stratford-uponAvon, and went to seek his fortune in the inetropolis.”—Pamphlet, pp. 3—5.
Facts established by the latest
investigations. gentlemen and freholders," and died in 1601.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564, was most probably educated at “the King's New School of Stratford-upon-Avon,” to which a charter had been granted by Edward VI. in 1553, and in which there can be no doubt that Latin, if not Greek, was taught. Supposing the poet to have been taken away from school in 1578, as Rowe suggests, on account of the change in the state of his father's affairs, he would then have been in his fifteenth year, and would, consequently, have had ample time to lay the foundations of a liberal education, which his own tastes, inclinations, and ambition would induce him to complete.
In 1582 he married Ann Hathaway, and probably soon after left Stratford for London, where he would naturally enough hope to find a fairer field for the exertion of those abilities with which Providence had blessed him, than within the narrow precincts of a country town.
The marriage licence was discovered by Sir R. Phillips, in the Consistorial Court of Worcester, and published by Mr. Wheler in 1836. It is dated November 28th, in the 25th year of Elizabeth, 1582. The description of the poet's wife is as follows : “Anne Hathwey, of Stratford, in the Dioces of Worcester, maiden.”
In his beautiful, though somewhat fanciful" Biography of Shakespeare,” Charles Knight deals very successfully with the calumnies that have been invented by some
critics, with reference to this event. He says : “It is scarcely necessary to point out to our readers that the view we have taken presupposes that the licence for matrimony, obtained from the Consistorial Court at Worcester, was a permission sought for under no extraordinary circumstances ;—still less that the young man who was about to marry was compelled to urge on the marriage as a consequence of previous imprudence. We believe, on the contrary, that the course pursued was strictly in accordance with the customs of the time, and of the class to which Shakspere belonged. The espousals before witnesses, we have no doubt, were then considered as constituting a valid marriage, if followed up within a limited time by the marriage of the Church. However the Reformed Church might have endeavoured to abrogate this practice, it was unquestionably the ancient habit of the people. It was derived from the Roman law, the foundation of many of our institutions. It prevailed for a long period without offence. It still prevails in the Lutheran Church. We are not to judge of the customs of those days by our own, especially if our inferences have the effect of imputing criminality where the most perfect innocence existed."*
Mr. Halliwell, in that wonderful repository of facts and documents connected with the history of Shakespeare, prefixed to his new folio edition of that poet's works, takes precisely the same view. He says: “The espousals of the lovers were celebrated in the summer of 1582. In those days, betrothment, or contract of matrimony, often preceded actual marriage ; and there need be no hesitation in believing that this ceremony was passed through by Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. There is the direct testimony of an author of 1543 that, in some places, it was regarded, in all essential particulars, as a regular marriage; and, provided the ceremony was cele
* Book i. chap. xvi. p. 274, in the new and beautiful edition of this book published by Messrs. Routledge and Co.
brated in a reasonable time, no criminality could be alleged after the contract had been made. This opinion is well illustrated by a passage in the Winter's Tale,' Act i., Scene 2, expressive of disgust at one who'puts to before her troth-plight. The parish register of Stratford will show it was usual for cohabitation to take place before actual marriage; the existence of a contract fully counteracting any charge of impropriety."
It will be seen that Mr. William Henry Smith lays great stress upon the supposed poverty of the poet's father, as well as upon the fact that this worthy parent could not write his own name. More importance has been attached to both of these matters than they de
John Shakespeare was involved in litigation, and he may have had some motive for wishing to conceal the real state of his affairs. From 1577 till 1586, he did not attend to his duties as an alderman, and was consequently, in the last-mentioned year, struck off the list, in precisely the same way as he had before been excused certain municipal payments.
Yet we must not forget that, in two documents recently published, bearing the date of 1580, John Shakespeare is described among the “gentlemen and freeholders,” in the first case of the hundred of Barlichway, and in the second, of the county of Warwick. The latter entry occurs in “A Book of the Names and Dwelling-places of the Gentlemen and Freeholders in the county of Warwick, 1580.”+ And in this John Shakespeare is assigned to Stratford-uponAvon.
* Halliwell, Life, p. 88.
+ See “A Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reigns of Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, 1547—1580, preserved in the State Paper Department of her Majesty's Public Record Office ;” edited by Robert Lemon, F.S.A., under the direction of the Master of the Rolls, and with the sanction of her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department. 1857. These valuable historical documents have not been before published, although they have been referred to and quoted by various writers.
The poet was then sixteen years old ; and there is no positive evidence that he did not pursue his studies at the Stratford-upon-Avon grammar-school up to this period. So much for the supposed poverty of John Shakespeare. Mr. William Henry Smith dwells with a kind of painful satisfaction upon the fact that John Shakespeare could not write his own name ; yet we do not perceive how this can prove that bis son was not the most gifted man of the age. In the times in which John Shakespeare lived, it was not by any means so uncommon a thing for a man in good circumstances, and even of gentle parentage, to make his mark. The youth of John Shakespeare was cast in a period of transition; an old system had been broken up and destroyed, and the new one was not completely established in its.place. Amid the troubles, the contentions, the revolutions and counterrevolutions that occurred between the reigns of Henry VIII. and of James I.-which eventful interval comprised the Reformation, followed by the re-ascendancy of the Catholic party, and the bloody interlude of Queen Mary's sway, and the re-establishment of pure religion under Elizabeth,—education and the gentler arts were but too often neglected.
In those unsettled times, the mental training and discipline of richer and more influential men than John Shakespeare did not receive the attention which they deserved, and there were many filling higher positions in society, who were compelled to plead guilty to the charge of want of scholarship, by affixing their mark to whatever documents they were called upon to subscribe. The poet, however, enjoyed advantages denied to his parent ; learning had in his day once more regained its rightful position; and at the Stratford-upon-Avon grammar-school he doubtless received the rudiments of a liberal education.
Let us grant, for the sake of the argument, that Mr. William Henry Smith's account of the change that