صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

6 Hugh Aynger, 6 quarters.

6 Thomas Badsey, 6 quarters—bareley 1 quarter.
1. 2 str. John Rogers, 10 strikes.

8 Wm. Emmettes, 8 quarters.
11 M'. Aspinall, aboute 11 quarters.
10 W. Shackespere, 10 quarters.
7 Jul. Shawe, 7 quarters.”

We shall have occasion hereafter again to refer to this document upon another point, but in the mean time we may remark that the name of John Shakespeare is not found in any part of it. This fact gives additional probability to the belief that the two old people, possibly with some of their children, were living in the house of their son William, for such may be the reason why we do not find John Shakespeare mentioned in the account as the owner of any corn.

It may likewise in part explain how it happened that William Shakespeare was in possession of so large a quantity: in proportion to the number of his family, in time of scarcity, he would be naturally desirous to be well provided with the main article of subsistence; or it is very possible that, as a grower of grain, he might keep some in store for sale to those who were in want of it. Ten quarters does not seem much more than would be needed for his own consumption; but it affords some proof of his means and substance at this date, that only two persons in Chapel-street Ward had a larger quantity in their hands. We are led to infer from this circumstance that our great dramatist may have been a cultivator of land, and it is not unlikely that the wheat in his granary had been grown on his mother's estate of Asbyes, at Wilmecote, of which we know that no fewer than fifty, out of about sixty, acres were arable.

We must now return to London and to theatrical affairs there, and in the first place advert to a pas

• Malone's Shakespeare, by Boswell, vol. ii. p. 25.

sage in Rowe's Life of Shakespeare, relating to the real or supposed commencement of the connexion between our great dramatist and Ben Jonson’. Rowe tells us that “Shakespeare's acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakespeare, luckily, cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public.” This anecdote is entirely disbelieved by Mr. Gifford, and he rests his incredulity upon the supposition, that Ben Jonson's earliest known production, “Every Man in his Humour, was originally acted in 1597 at a different theatre, and

7 For the materials of the following note, which sets right an important error relating to Ben Jonson's mother, we are indebted to Mr. Peter Cunningham.

Malone and Gifford (Ben Jonson's Works, vol. i. p. 5) both came to the conclusion that the Mrs. Margaret Jonson, mentioned in the register of St. Martin's in the Fields as having been married, 17th November, 1575, to Mr. Thomas Fowler, was the mother of Ben Jonson, who then took a second husband. “ There cannot be a reasonable doubt of it,” says Gifford ; but the fact is nevertheless certainly otherwise. It appears that Ben Jonson's mother was living after the comedy of “ Eastward Ho!" which gave offence to King James, (and which was printed in 1605,) was brought out.-(Laing's edit. of “Ben Jonson's Conversations,” p. 20.) It is incontestable that the Mrs. Margaret Fowler, who was married in 1575, was dead before 1595 ; for her husband, Mr. Thomas Fowler, was then buried, and in the inscription upon his tomb, in the old church of St. Martin's in the Fields, it was stated that he survived his three wives, Ellen, Margaret, and Elizabeth, who were buried in the same grave. The inscription (which may be seen in Strype's edit. of Stowe's Survey, 1720, b. vi. p. 69) informs us also, that Mr. Thomas Fowler was

born at Wicam, in the county of Lancaster,” and that he bad been “ Comptroller and Paymaster of the Works" to Queen Mary, and for the first ten years of Queen Elizabeth. The date of his death is not stated in the inscription, but by the register of the church it appears that he was buried on the 29th May, 1595. The Mrs. Margaret Fowler, who died before 1595, could not have been the mother of Ben Jonson, who was living about 1604; and if Ben Jonson's mother married a second time, we have yet to ascertain who was her second husband.

he produces as evidence Henslowe's Diary, which, he states, proves that the comedy came out at the Rose®.

The truth, however, is, that the play supposed, on the authority of Henslowe, to be Ben Jonson's comedy, is only called by Henslowe “Humours” or “ Umers,” as he ignorantly spells it. It is a mere speculation that this was Ben Jonson's play, for it may have been any other performance, by any other poet, in the title of which the word “Humours” occurred; and we have the indisputable and unequivocal testimony of Ben Jonson himself, in his own authorized edition of his works in 1616, that “Every Man in his Humour” was not acted until 1598: he was not satisfied with stating on the titlepage, that it was “acted in the year 1598 by the then Lord Chamberlain his servants,” which might have been considered sufficient; but in this instance (as in all others in the same volume) he informs us at the end that 1598 was the year in which it was first acted : “This comedy was first acted in the year 1598.” Are we prepared to disbelieve Ben Jonson's positive assertion (a man of the highest and purest notions, as regarded truth and integrity) for the sake of a theory founded upon the bare assumption, that Henslowe by “Umers” not only meant Ben Jonson's “Every Man in his Humour,” but could mean nothing else.

Had it been brought out originally by the Lord Admiral's players at the Rose, and acted with so much success that it was repeated eleven times, as Henslowe's Diary shows was the case with “Umers,” there can be no apparent reason why Ben Jonson should not have said so; and if he had afterwards withdrawn it on some pique, and carried it to the Lord Chamberlain's players, we can hardly conceive it possible that

& The precise form in which the entry stands in Henslowe's account book is this :

“ Maye 1597. 11. It. at the comodey of Vmers." Ben Jonson's Works, 8vo. 1816, vol. i. p. 46.

speare himself.

a man of Ben Jonson's temper and spirit would not have told us why in some other part of his works.

Mr. Gifford, passing over without notice the positive statement we have quoted, respecting the first acting of “ Every Man in his Humour” by the Lord Chamberlain's servants in 1598, proceeds to argue that Ben Jonson could stand in need of no such assistance, as Shakespeare is said to have afforded him, because he was “as well known, and perhaps better,” than Shake

Surely, with all deference for Mr. Gifford's undisputed acuteness and general accuracy, we may doubt how Ben Jonson could be better, or even as well known as Shakespeare, when the latter had been for twelve years connected with the stage as author and actor, and had written, at the lowest calculation, twelve dramas, while the former was only twenty-four years old, and had produced no known play but “ Every Man in his Humour.” It is also to be observed, that Henslowe had no pecuniary transactions with Ben Jonson prior to the month of August, 1598; whereas, if “ Umers” had been purchased from him, we could scarcely have failed to find some memorandum of payments, anterior to the production of the comedy on the stage in May, 1597.

Add to this, that nothing could be more consistent with the amiable and generous character of Shakespeare, than that he should thus have interested himself in favour of a writer who was ten years his junior, and who gave such undoubted proofs of genius as are displayed in “Every Man in his Humour.” Our great dramatist, established in public favour by such comedies as “The Merchant of Venice" and “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” by such a tragedy as “Romeo and Juliet,” and by such histories as “King John," “Richard II.,” and “Richard III.,” must have felt himself above all rivalry, and could well afford this act of “humanity and good-nature,” as Rowe terms it, (though Mr. Gifford, quoting Rowe's words, accidentally omits the two last,) on behalf of a young, needy, and meritorious author. It is to be recollected also that Rowe, the original narrator of the incident, does not, as in several other cases, give it as if he at all doubted its correctness, but unhesitatingly and distinctly, as if it were a matter well known, and entirely believed, at the time he wrote.

Another circumstance may be noticed as an incidental confirmation of Rowe's statement, with which Mr. Gifford could not be acquainted, because the fact has only been recently discovered. In 1598 Ben Jonson, being then only twenty-four years old, had a quarrel with Gabriel Spencer, one of Henslowe's principal actors, in consequence of which they met, fought, and Spencer was killed. Henslowe, writing to Alleyn on the subject on the 26th September, uses these words :-“Since you were with me, I have lost one of my company, which hurteth me greatly ; that is Gabriel, for he is slain in Hoxton Fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer!.” Now, had Ben Jonson been at that date the author of the comedy called “ Umers,” and had it been his “ Every Man in his Humour,” which was acted by the Lord Admiral's players eleven times, it is not very likely that Henslowe would have been ignorant who Benjamin Jonson was, and have spoken of him, not as one of the dramatists in his pay, and the author of a very successful comedy, but merely as “ bricklayer:” he was writing also to bis step-daughter's husband, the leading member of his company, to whom he would have been ready to give the fullest information regarding the disastrous affair. We only adduce this additional matter to show the improbability of the assumption, that Ben Jonson had anything to do with the comedy of “Umers,"

1 See “Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,” p. 51. The author of that work has since seen reason to correct himself on this and several other points.

« السابقةمتابعة »