« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion,* and, in that, to his wish; and is said to
Hales of Eton affirmed, that he would show all the poets of antiquity out-done by Shakspeare, in all the topicks and commonplaces made use of in poetry. The enemies of Shakspeare would by no means yield him so much excellence; so that it came to a resolution of a trial of skill upon that subject. The place agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hale's chamber at Eton. A great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet; and on the appointed day my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling, and all the persons of quality that had wit and learning, and interested themselves in the quarrel, met there; and upon a thorough disquisition of the point, the judges chosen by agreement out of this learned and ingenious assembly, unanimously gave the preference to Shakspeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were adjudged to vail at least their glory in that, to the English Hero."
This elogium on our author is likewise recorded at an earlier period by Tate, probably from the same authority, in the preface to The Loyal General, quarto, 1680: "Our learned Hales was wont to assert, that, since the time of Orpheus, and the oldest poets, no common-place has heen touched upon, where our author has not performed as well."
Dryden himself also certainly alludes to this story, which he appears to have related both to Gildon and Rowe, in the following passage of his Essay of Dramatick Poesy, 1667; and he as well as Gildon goes somewhat further than Rowe in his panegyrick. After giving that fine character of our poet which Dr. Johnson has quoted in his preface, he adds, "The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it MUCH BETTER done by Shakspeare; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem: and in the last king's court [that of Charles I,] when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far above him"
Let ever-memorable Hales, if all his other merits be forgotten, be ever mentioned with honour, for his good taste and admiration of our poet. "He was," says Lord Clarendon, "one of the least men in the kingdom; and one of the greatest scholars in Europe." See a long character of him in Clarendon's Life, Vol. I, p. 52. Malone.
*He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion,] Gildon, without authority, I believe, says, that our author left behind him an estate of 3001. per ann. This was equal to at least 10001. per ann. at this day; the relative value of money, the mode of living in that age, the luxury and taxes of the present
have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford.*
time, and various other circumstances, being considered. But I doubt whether all his property amounted to much more than 2001. per ann. which yet was a considerable fortune in those times. He appears from his grand-daughter's will to have possessed in Bishopton, and Stratford Welcombe, four yard land and a half. A yard land is a denomination well known in Warwickshire, and contains from 30 to 60 acres. The average therefore being 45, four yard land and a half may be estimated at about two hundred acres. As sixteen years purchase was the common rate at which land was sold at that time, that is, one half less than at this day, we may suppose that these lands were let at seven shillings per acre, and produced 701. per annum. If we rate the New-Place with the appurtenances, and our poet's other houses in Stratford, at 601. a year, and his house, &c. in the Blackfriars, (for which he paid 1401.) at 201. a year, we have a rent-roll of 1501. per annum. Of his personal property it is not now possible to form any accurate estimate: but if we rate it at five hundred pounds, money then bearing an interest of ten per cent, Shakspeare's total income was 2001. per ann.† In The Merry Wives of Windsor, which was written soon after the year 1600, three hundred pounds a year is described as an estate of such magnitude as to cover all the defects of its possessor:
"O, what world of vile ill-favour'd faults
to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford.] In 1614 the greater part of the town of Stratford was consumed by fire; but our Shakspeare's house, among some others, escaped the flames. This house was first built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighbourhood. Sir Hugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III, and Lord Mayor in the reign of King Henry VII. By his will he bequeathed to his elder brother's son his manor of Clopton, &c. and his house, by the name of the Great House in Stratford. Good part of the estate is yet [in 1733] in the possession of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knt. lineally descended from the elder brother of the first Sir Hugh.
The estate had now been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shakspeare became the pur. chaser: who having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New-Place, which the mansion-house, since erected upon the same spot, at this day retains. The house, and lands which attended it, continued in Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the restoration; when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family, and the mansion now belongs to Sir Hugh
†To Shakspeare's income from his real and personal property must be added 2001. per ann. which he probably derived from the theatre, while he continued on the stage.
His pleasureable wit and good-nature engaged him in the ac,
Clopton, Knt. To the favour of this worthy gentleman I owe the knowledge of one particular in honour of our poet's once dwelling-house, of which I presume Mr. Rowe never was apprized. When the civil war raged in England, and King Charles the First's Queen was driven by the necessity of her affairs to make a recess in Warwickshire, she kept her court for three weeks in New-Place. We may reasonably suppose it then the best private house in the town; and her majesty preferred it to the College, which was in the possession of the Combe family, who did not so strongly favour the King's party. Theobald.
From Mr. Theobald's words the reader may be led to suppose that Henrietta Maria was obliged to take refuge from the rebels in Stratford-upon-Avon: but that was not the case. She marched from Newark, June 16, 1643, and entered Stratford-upon-Avon triumphantly, about the 22d of the same month, at the head of three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, with 150 waggons and a train of artillery. Here she was met by Prince Rupert, accompanied by a large body of troops. After sojourning about three weeks at our poet's house, which was then possessed by his grand-daughter Mrs. Nash, and her husband, the Queen went (July 13) to the plain of Keinton under Edge-hill, to meet the King, and proceeded from thence with him to Oxford, where, says a contemporary historian, "her coming (July 15) was rather to a triumph than a war."
Of the college above-mentioned the following was the origin. John de Stratford, Bishop of Winchester, in the fifth year of King Edward III, founded a chantry consisting of five priests, one of whom was warden, in a certain chapel adjoining to the church of Stratford on the south side; and afterwards (in the seventh year of Henry VIII) Ralph Collingwode instituted four choristers, to be daily assistant in the celebration of divine service there. This chantry, says Dugdale, soon after its foundation, was known by the name of The College of Stratford-uponAvon.
In the 26th year of Edward III," a house of square stone" was built by Ralph de Stratford, Bishop of London, for the habitation of the five priests. This house, or another on the same spot, is the house of which Mr. Theobald speaks. It still bears the name of "The College," and at present belongs to the Rev. Mr. Fullerton.
After the suppression of religious houses, the site of the college was granted by Edward VI, to John Earl of Warwick and his heirs; who being attainted in the first year of Queen Mary, it reverted to the crown.
Sir John Clopton, Knt. (the father of Edward Clopton, Esq. and Sir Hugh Clopton,) who died at Stratford-upon-Avon in April, 1719, purchased the estate of New-Place, &c. some time after the year 1685, from Sir Reginald Forster, Bart. who mar. ried Mary, the daughter of Edward Nash, Esq. sousin-german
quaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen
to Thomas Nash, Esq. who married our poet's grand-daughter, Elizabeth Hall. Edward Nash bought it, after the death of her second husband, Sir John Barnard, Knight. By her will, she di rected her trustee, Henry Smith, to sell the New-Place, &c. (af. ter the death of her husband) and to make the first offer of it to her cousin Edward Nash, who purchased it accordingly. His son Thomas Nash, whom for the sake of distinction I shall call the younger, having died without issue, in August, 1652, Edward Nash by his will, made on the 16th of March, 1678-9, de. vised the principal part of his property to his daughter Mary, and her husband Reginald Forster, Esq. afterwards Sir Regi nald Forster; but in consequence of the testator's only referring to a deed of settlement executed three days before, without reciting the substance of it, no particular mention of New-Place is made in his will. After Sir John Clopton had bought it from Sir Reginald Forster, he gave it by deed to his younger son, Sir Hugh, who pulled down our poet's house, and built one more elegant on the same spot.
In May, 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Macklin, and Mr. De. lane visited Stratford, they were hospitably entertained under Shakspeare's mulberry-tree, by Sir Hugh Clopton. He was a barrister at law, was knighted by George the First, and died in the 80th year of his age, in Dec. 1751. His nephew, Edward Clopton, the son of his elder brother Edward, lived till June, 1753.
The only remaining person of the Clopton family now living (1788), as I am informed by the Rev. Mr. Davenport, is Mrs. Partheriche, daughter and heiress of the second Edward Clop. ton above-mentioned. "She resides," he adds, "at the family mansion at Clopton near Stratford, is now a widow, and never had any issue."
The New-Place was sold by Henry Talbot, Esq. son-in-law and executor of Sir Hugh Clopton, in or soon after the year 1752, to the Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. Every house in that town that is let or valued at more than 40s. a year, is assessed by the overseers, according to its worth and the ability of the occupier, to pay a monthly rate toward the maintenance of the poor. As Mr. Gastrell resided part of the year at Lichfield, he thought he was assessed too highly; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his ser. vants in his absence, he peevishly declared, that that house should never be assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. Wishing, as it should seem, to be "damn'd to everlasting fame," he had some time before cut down Shakspeare's celebrated mulberry-tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration
of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country that he had a particular intimacy
of our great poet led them to visit the poetick ground on which it stood.
That Shakspeare planted this tree, is as well authenticated as any thing of that nature can be. The Rev. Mr. Davenport informs me, that Mr. Hugh Taylor, (the father of his clerk) who is now eighty-five years old, and an alderman of Warwick, where he at present resides, says, he lived when a boy at the next house to New-Place; that his family had inhabited the house for almost three hundred years; that it was transmitted from father to son during the last and the present century; that this tree (of the fruit of which he had often eaten in his younger days, some of its branches hanging over his father's garden,) was planted by Shakspeare; and that till this was planted, there was no mulberry-tree in that neighbourhood. Mr. Taylor adds, that he was frequently, when a boy, at New-Place, and that this tradition was preserved in the Clopton family, as well as in his own.
There were scarce any trees of this species in England till the year 1609, when by order of King James many hundred thousand young mulberry-trees were imported from France, and sent into the different counties, with a view to the feeding of silkworms, and the encouragement of the silk manufacture. See Camdeni Annales ab anno 1603, ad annum 1623, published by Smith, quarto, 1691, p. 7; and Howes's Abridgment of Stowe's Chronicle, edit. 1618, p. 503, where we have a more particular account of this transaction than in the larger work. A very few mulberry-trees had been planted before; for we are told, that in the preceding year a gentleman of Picardy, Monsieur Forest, "kept greate store of English silkworms at Greenwich, the which the king with great pleasure came often to see them worke; and of their silke he caused a piece of taffata to be made.”
Shakspeare was perhaps the only inhabitant of Stratford, whose business called him annually to London; and probably on his return from thence in the spring of the year 1609, he planted this tree.
As a similar enthusiasm to that which with such diligence has sought after Virgil's tomb, may lead my countrymen to visit the spot where our great bard spent several years of his life, and died; it may gratify them to be told that the ground on which The New-Place once stood, is now a garden belonging to Mr. Charles Hunt, an eminent attorney, and town-clerk of Stratford. Every Englishman will, I am sure, concur with me in wishing that it may enjoy perpetual verdure and fertility:
In this retreat our SHAKSPEARE'S godlike mind