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The fashion of the court speedily became, to a certain extent, the fashion of the country, and every individual possessed of a decent competency, was solicitous that his children should acquire the literature in vogue. Had the father of our poet continued in prosperous circumstances, there is every reason to conclude that his son would have had the opportunity of acquiring the customary erudition of the times; but we have already seen, that in 1579 he was so reduced in fortune, as to be excused a weekly payment of 4d., a state of depression which had no doubt existed some time before it attracted the notice of the corporation of Stratford.
One result therefore of these pecuniary difficulties was the removal of young Shakspeare from the free-school, an event which has occasioned, among his biographers and numerous commentators, much controversy and conjecture as to the extent of his classical attainments.
From the short period which tradition allows us to suppose that our poet continued under the instruction of a master, we have a right to conclude that, notwithstanding his genius and industry, he must necessarily have made a very superficial acquaintance with the learned languages. That he was called home to assist his father, we are told by Mr. Rowe; and consequently, as the family was numerous and under the pressure of poverty, it is not likely that he found much time to prosecute what he had commenced at school. The accounts, therefore, which have descended to us, on the authority of Ben Jonson, Drayton, Suckling, etc. that he had not much learning, that he depended almost exclusively on his native genius (that his Latin was small and his Greek less), ought to have been, without scruple, admitted. Fuller, who was a diligent and accurate enquirer, has given us in his Worthies, printed in 1662, the most full and express opinion on the subject. "He was an eminent instance," he remarks, "of the truth of that rule, Poeta non fit, sed nascitur;'“one is not made but born a poet. Indeed his learning was very little, so that as Cornish diamonds are not polished by any lapidary, but are pointed and smoothed even as they are taken out of the earth, so nature itself was all the art which was used upon him."
Notwithstanding this uniform assertion of the contemporaries and immediate successors of Shakspeare, relative to his very imperfect knowledge of the languages of Greece and Rome, many of his modern commentators have strenuously insisted upon his intimacy with both, among whom may be enumerated, as the most zealous and decided on this point, the names of Gildon, Sewell, Pope, Upton, Grey, and Whalley. The dispute, however, has been nearly, if not altogether terminated, by the Essay of Dr. Farmer on the Learning of Shakspeare, who has, by a mode of research equally ingenious and convincing, clearly proved that all the passages which had been triumphantly brought forward as instances of the classical literature of Shakspeare, were taken from translations, or from original, and once popular, productions in his native tongue. Yet the conclusion drawn from this essay, so far as it respects the portion of latinity which our poet had acquired and preserved, as the result of his school-education, appears to us greatly too restricted. "He remembered," says the Doctor, "perhaps enough of his school-boy learning to put the Hig, hag, hog, into the mouth of Sir Hugh Evan: and might pick up in the writers of the time, or the course of his conversation, a familiar phrase or two of French or Italian: but his studies were most demonstratively confined to nature and his own language."÷
A very late writer, in combating this part of the conclusion of Dr. Farmer, has advanced an opinion in several respects so similar to our own, that it will be necessary, in justice to him and previous to any further expansion of the idea which we have embraced, to quote his words.
"Notwithstanding," says he, "Dr. Farmer's essay on the deficiency of Shakspeare in learning, I must acknowledge myself to be one who does not conceive that his proofs of that fact sufficiently warrant his conclusions from them: that his studies were demonstrably confined to
• Worthies, v. iii p. 126.
† Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii, p. 85.
nature and his own language' is, as Dr. Farmer concludes, truc enough; but when it is added, that he only picked up in conversation a familiar phrase or two of French, or remembered enough of bis school-boy's learning to put hig, hay, hog, in the mouths of others:' he seems to me to go beyond any evidence produced by him of so little knowledge of languages in Shakspeare. He proves indeed sufficiently, that Shakspeare chiefly read English books, by his copying sometimes minutely the very errors made in them, many of which he might have corrected, if he had consulted the original Latin books made use of by those writers: but this does not prove that he was not able to read Latin well enough to examine those originals if he chose; it only proves his indolence and indifference about accuracy in minute articles of no importance to the chief object in view of supplying himself with subjects for dramatic compositions. Do we not every day meet with numberless instances of similar and much greater oversights by persons well skilled in Greek as well as Latin, and professed critics also of the writings and abilities of others? If Shakspeare made an ignorant man pronounce the French word bras like the English brass, and evidently on purpose, as being a probable mistake by such an unlearned speaker, has not one learned modern in writing Latin made Paginibus of Paginis, and another mentioned a person as being born in the reign of Charles the First, and yet as dying in 1600, full twenty-five years before the accession of that king? Such mistakes arise not from ignorance, but a heedless inattention, while their thoughts are better occupied with more important subjects; as those of Shakspeare were with forming his plots and his characters, instead of examining critically a great Greek volume to see whether he ought to write on this side of Tiber or on that side of Tiber; which however very possibly he might not be able to read; but Latin was more universally learnt in that age, and even by women, many of whom could both write and speak it; therefore it is not likely that he should be so very deficient in that language, as some would persuade us, by evidence which does not amount to sufficient proofs of the fact. Nay, even although he had a sufficiency of Latin to understand any Latin book, if he chose to do it, yet how many in modern times, under the same circumstances, are led by mere indolence to prefer translations of them, in case they cannot read Latin with such perfect ease, as never to be at a loss for the meaning of a word, so as to be forced to read some sentences twice over before they can understand them rightly. That Shakspeare was not an eminent Latin scholar may be very true, but that he was so totally ignorant as to know nothing more than hic, hæc, hoc, must have better proofs before I can be convinced."
The truth seems to be, that Shakspeare, like most boys who have spent but two or three years at a grammar-school, acquired just as much Latin as would enable him, with the assistance of a lexicon, and no little share of assiduity, to construe a minor classic; a degree of acquisition which we every day see, unless forwarded by much leisure and much private industry, immediately becomes stationary, and soon retrograde. Our poet, when taken from the free-school of Stratford, had not only to direct his attention to business, in order to assist in warding off from his father's family the menacing approach of poverty; but it is likewise probable that his leisure, as we shall notice more at large in the next chapter, was engaged in other acquisitions; and when at a subsequent period, and after he had become a married man, his efforts where thrown into a channel perfectly congenial to his taste and talents, still to procure subsistence for the day was the immediate stimulus to exertion. Under these circumstances, and when we likewise recollect that popular favour and applause were essential to his success, and that nearly to the last period of his life he was a prolific caterer for the public in a species of poetry which called for no recondite or learned. resources, it is not probable, nay, it is, indeed, scarcely possible, that he should have had time to cultivate and increase his classical attainments, originally and necessarily superficial. To translations, therefore, and to popular and legendary lore, he was alike directed by policy, by inclination, and by want of leisure; yet must we still agree, that, had a proficiency in the learned languages been necessary to his career, the means resided within himself, and that, on the basis merely of his school-education, although limited as we have seen it, he might, had he early and steadily directed his attention to the subject, have built the reputation of a scholar.
That the powers, however, of his vast and capacious mind, especially if we
consider the shortness of his life, were not expended on such a attempt, we have reason to rejoice; for though his attainments, as a linguist, were truly trifling, yet his knowledge was great, and his learning, in the best sense of the term, that is, as distinct from the mere acquisition of language, multifarious, and extensive beyond that of most of his contemporaries.
It is, therefore, to his English studies that we must have recourse for a due estimate of his reading and research; a subject which will be treated of in a future portion of the work.
Shakspeare, after leaving School, follows his Father's Trade-Statement of Aubrey-Probably present in his Twelfth Year at Kenilworth, when Elizabeth visited the Earl of Leicester-Tradition of Aubrey concerning him-Whether there is reason to suppose that, after leaving his Father, he was placed in an Attorney's Office, who was likewise Seneschal or Steward of some Manor-Anecdotes of Shakspeare-Allusions in his Works to Barton, Wilnecotte, and Barston, Villages in Warwickshire-Earthquake in 1580 alluded to-Whether, after leaving School, he acquired any Knowledge of the French and Italian languages.
THAT Shakspeare, when taken from the free-school of Stratford, became an assistant to his father in the wool-trade, has been the general opinion of his biographers from the period of Mr. Rowe, who first published the tradition in 1709, to the present day. The anecdote was probably collected by Mr. Betterton the player, who visited Stratford in order to procure intelligence relative to his favourite poet, and from whom Mr. Rowe professes to have derived the greater part of his information. + A few incidental circumstances tend also to strengthen the account that both father and son were engaged in this employment, and, for a time, together: in the first place, we may mention the discovery already noticed of the arms of the merchants of the wool-staple on a window of the house in which the poet was born; secondly, the almost certain conclusion that the poverty of John Shakspeare, which we know to have been considerable in 1579, would naturally incline him to require the assistance of his son, in the only way in which, at that time, he could be serviceable to him; and thirdly, we may
"If it were asked from what sources," observes Mr. Capel Lofft, "Shakspeare drew these abundant streams of wisdom, carrying with their current the fairest and most unfading flowers of poetry, I should be tempted to say, he had what would be now considered a very reasonable portion of Latin; he was not wholly ignorant of Greek; he had a knowledge of the French, so as to read it with ease; and I believe not less of the Italian. He was habitually conversant in the chronicles of his country. He lived with wise and highly cultivated men; with Jonson, Essex, and Southampton, in familiar friendship. He had deeply imbibed the Scriptures. And his own most acute, profound, active, and original genius (for there never was a truly great poet, nor an aphoristic writer of excellence without these accompanying qualities) must take the lead in the solution." Aphorisms from Shakspeare: Introduction, p. xii and xiii.
Again, in speaking of his poems, he remarks-"Transcendent as his original and singular genius was, I think it is not easy, with due attention to these poems, to doubt of his having acquired, when a boy, no ordinary facility in the classic language of Rome; though his knowledge of it might be small, comparatively, to the knowledge of that great and indefatigable scholar, Ben Jonson. And when Jonson says he had less Greek,' had it been true that he had none, it would have been as easy for the verse as for the sentiment to have said no Greek.'"-Introduction, p. xxiv.
"Mr Betterton,” observes Mr Malone, “was born in 1635, and had many opportunities of collecting information relative to Shakspeare, but unfortunately the age in which he lived was not an age of curiosity. Had either he or Dryden or Sir William d'Avenant taken the trouble to visit our poet's youngest daughter, who lived till 1662, or his grand-daughter, who did not die till 1670, many particulars might have been preserved which are now irrecoverably lost. Shakspeare's sister, Jone Hart, who was only five years younger than him, died at Stratford in Nov. 1646, at the age of seventy-six; and from her undoubtedly his two daughters, and his grand-daughter Lady Bernard, had learned several circumstances of his early history antecedent to the year 1600." Reed's Shakspeare, p. 119, 120.
It has already been observed, in a note written some years after the composition of the text, that this supposed corroboration is no longer to be depended upon.
adduce the following passages from the works of our Dramatist, which seem to imply a more than theoretic intimacy with his father's business. In the Winter's Tale, the Clown exclaims,
"Let me see:-Every 'leven wether-tods; every tod yields-pound and odd shilling: fifteen hundred shorn-What comes the wool to?" Act IV. Scene 2.
Upon this passage Dr. Farmer remarks, "that to tod is used as a verb by dealers in wool; thus, they say, 'Twenty sheep ought to tod fifty pounds of wool,' etc. The meaning, therefore, of the Clown's words is, Every eleven wether tods; i. e. will produce a tod, or twenty-eight pounds of wool; every tod yields a pound and some odd shillings; what then will the wool of fifteen hundred yield?""
"The occupation of his father," subjoins Mr. Malone, "furnished our poet with accurate knowledge on this subject; for two pounds and a half of wool is, I am told, a very good produce from a sheep at the time of shearing."
"Every 'leven wether-tods," adds Mr. Ritson, "has been rightly expounded to mean that the wool of eleven sheep would weigh a tod, or 28lb. Each fleece would, therefore, be 2lb. 8oz. 11 dr., and the whole produce of fifteen hundred shorn 136 tod, 1 clove, 2lb. 6oz. 2dr. which at pound and odd shilling per tod, would yield 1431. 38. Od. Our author was too familiar with the subject to be suspected of inaccuracy.
"Indeed it appears from Stafford's "Breefe Conceipte of English Pollicye," 1518, p. 16, that the price of a tod of wool was at that period twenty or two-andtwenty shillings: so that the medium price was exactly 'pound and odd shilling.'"* In Hamlet, the prince justly observes,
Lines, of which the words in italics were considered by Dr. Farmer as merely technical. "A woolman, butcher, and dealer in skewers," says Mr. Steevens, "lately observed to him (Dr. F)., that his nephew, an idle lad, could only assist him in making them; he could roughhew them, but I was obliged to shape their ends. To shape the ends of wool-skewers, i. e. to point them, requires a degree of skill; any one can roughhew them. Whoever recollects the profession of Shakspeare's father, will admit that his son might be no stranger to such terms. I have frequently seen packages of wool pinned up with skewers." +
We may, therefore, after duly considering all the evidence that can now be obtained, pretty confidently acquiesce in the traditional account that Shakspeare was, for a time, and that immediately on his being taken from the free-school, the assistant of his father in the wool-trade; but it will be necessary here to mention, that Aubrey, on whose authority it has been related that John Shakspeare was, at one period of his life, a butcher, adds, with regard to our poet, that "when he was a boy, he exercised his father's trade;" and that "when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech." That John Shakspeare, when under the pressure of adversity, might combine the two employments, which are, in a certain degree, connected with each other, we have already recorded as probable; it is very possible, also, that the following similes. may have been suggested to the son, by what he had occasionally observed at home:
And as the butcher takes away the calf,
• Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 322, 323.
# Aubrey MS.-Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 213.
Ibid. vol. xviii. p. 346 347.
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Henry IV. Part II. Act III. sc. 1.
but that the father of our poet, the former bailiff of Stratford, should employ his children, instead of servants, in the slaughter of his cattle, is a position so revolting, so unnecessarily degrading on the part of the father, and, at the same time, must have been so discordant with the well-known humane and gentle cast of the poet's disposition, that we cannot, for a moment, allow ourselves to conceive that any credibility can be attached to such a report.
At what age he began to assist his father in the wool-trade, cannot now be positively ascertained; but as he was early taken from school, for this purpose, we shall probably not err far, if we suppose this change to have taken place when he was twelve years old; a computation which includes a period of scholastic education sufficiently long to have imbued him with just such a portion of classical lore, as an impartial enquirer into his life and works would be willing to admit.
A short time previous to this, when our poet was in his twelfth year, and in the summer of 1575, an event occurred which must have made a great impression on his mind; the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the magnificent Earl of Leicester, at Kenelworth Castle. That young Shaskpeare was a spectator of the festivities on this occasion, was first suggested by Bishop Percy, who, in his Essay on the Origin of the English Stage, speaking of the old Coventry play of Hock Tuesday, which was performed before Her Majesty during her residence at the castle, observes.
"Whatever this old play, or 'storial show,' was at the time it was exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, it had probably our young Shakspeare for a spectator, who was then in his twelfth year, and doubtless attended with all the inhabitants of the surrounding country at these Princely Pleasures of Kenelworth,'† whence Stratford is only a few miles distant. And as the Queen was much diverted with the Coventry play, whereat Her Majestic laught well,' and rewarded the performers with two bucks, and five marks in money: who, what rejoicing upon their ample reward, and what triumphing upon the good acceptance, vaunted their play was never so dignified, nor ever any players before so beatified:' but especially if our young Bard afterwards gained admittance into the castle to see a play, which the same evening, after supper, was there presented of a very good theme, but so set forth by the actors' well-handling, that pleasure and mirth made it seem very short, though it lasted two good hours and more,' we may imagine what an impression was made on his infant mind. Indeed the dramatic cast of many parts of that superb entertainment, which continued nineteen days, and was the most splendid of the kind ever attempted in this kingdom, must have had a very great effect on a young imagination, whose dramatic powers were hereafter to astonish the world." ‡
Of the gorgeous splendour and elaborate pageantry which were displayed during this princely fete at Kenelworth, some idea may be formed from the following summary. The Earl met the Queen on Saturday the 9th of July, 1575, at Long Ichington, a town seven miles from Kenelworth, where His Lordship had erected a tent, for the purpose of banqueting Her Majesty, upon such a magnificent scale, "that justly for dignity," says Laneham, "may be comparable with a beautiful palace; and for greatness and quantity, with a proper town, or rather a citadel;" and to give his readers an adequate conception of its magnitude, he adds that "it had seven cart load of pins pertaining to it."S At the first entrance of the Queen into His Lordship's castle a floating island was discerned upon the pool, glittering with torches, on which sat the Lady of the Lake, attended by two nymphs, who addressed Her Majesty in verse, with an historical account of the antiquity and owners of the castle; and the speech was closed with the sound of cornets, and
Mr Malone is also of opinion that Shakspeare was present at this magnificent reception of Elizabeth. Vide "Inquiry," p. 150, note 82.
So denominated from a tract, written by George Gascoigne, Esq., entitled "The Princely Pleasures of Kenelworth Castle." It is inserted in Nichol's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i.
Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, vol. i. p. 143 4th edition.
Nichols's Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i. Laneham's Account of the Queen's Entertainment at Killingworth Castle, 1575, p. 50, or 78 of the original pamphlet.