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Biography of Shakspeare resumed-His Irregularities-Deer-stealing in Sir Thomas Lucy's Park -Account of the Lucy family-Daisy-hill, the keeper's Lodge, where Shakspeare was confined, on the Charge of stealing Deer-Shakspeare's Revenge-Ballad on Lucy-Severe Prosecution by Sir Thomas-never forgotten by Shakspeare-this Cause, and probably also Debt, as his Father was now in reduced Circumstances, induced him to leave the Country for London about 1586-Remarks on this Removal.
AFTER the slight sketch of rural life which we have just given; of its manners, customs, diversions, and superstitions, as they existed during the latter part of the sixteenth century, we shall now proceed with the biographical narrative of our author, resuming it from the close of the fourth chapter.
To regulate the workings of an ardent imagination, and to control the effervescence of the passions in early life, experience has uniformly taught us to consider as a task of great difficulty; and seldom, indeed, capable of being achieved without the advice and direction of those, who, under the guidance of similar admonition, have successfully borne up against the numerous temptations to which human frailty is subjected. That Shakspeare possessed powers of fancy greatly beyond the common lot of humanity, and that with these is almost constantly connected a correspondent fervency of temperament and passion, will not probably be denied; and if it be recollected that the poet came the arbitrator of his own conduct at the early age of eighteen, not much wonder will be excited, although he was a married man, and a father, if we have to record some juvenile irregularities. Tradition affirms, and the report has been repeated by Mr. Rowe, that he had the misfortune, shortly after his settlement in Stratford, to form an intimacy with some young men of thoughtless and dissipated character, who, among other illegalities, had been in the habit of deer-stealing, and by whom, more than once, he was induced, under the idea of a frolic, to join in their reprehensible practice.
The scene of depredation when Shakspeare and his companions were detected, was Fulbroke Park, at that time belonging to Sir Thomas Lucy, knight. This gentleman, who has obtained celebrity principally, if not solely, as the prosecutor of Shakspeare, was descended from a family, whose pedigree has been deduced, by Dugdale, from the reign of Richard the First; the name of Lucy, however, was not assumed by his ancestors until the thirty-fourth of Henry the Third. Sir Thomas, in the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, built noble mansion at Charlcott, near Stratford, but on the opposite side of the Avon; this edifice, which still exists, is constructed of brick with stone coins, and though somewhat modernized, still preserves, as a whole, its ancient Gothic character, especially the grand front, which exhibits pretty accurately its pristine state. Fuller has recorded Sir Thomas as sheriff for ! the county of Warwickshire in the tenth year of Elizabeth, and informs us, that his armorial bearings were Gul. Crusulee Or, 3 Picks (or Lucies) Hauriant Ar.*
That the rich woods, sequestered lawns, and romantic recesses of Fulbroke Park, would very frequently attract the footsteps of our youthful bard, independent of any lure which the capture of its game might afford, we may justly surmise; and still more confidently may we affirm, that his meditations or
* Fuller's Worthies, part iii. p. 132. The Luce or Pike is very abundant in this part of the Avon, and here may still be seen in the kitchen of Charlcott-house, the representation of a pike, weighing forty pounds native of this stream, and caught in the year 1640.
diversions in this forest laid the foundation of a part of the beautiful scenery which occurs in As You Like it. The woodland pictures in this delightful play are faithful transcripts of what he had felt and seen in those secluded haunts, particularly the description of the wounded deer, the pathos and accuracy of which are no doubt referrible to the actual contemplation of such an incident, in the shades of Fulbroke; they strikingly prove, indeed, that the habits of the chase, though fostered in the morn of youth, had not, even in respect to the objects of their sport, in the smallest degree impaired the native tenderness and humanity of the poet. The expressions of pity, in fact, for the sufferings of a persecuted animal were never uttered in words more impressive than what the ensuing dialogue exhibits:
Duke. Come, shall we go and kill us venison?
Indeed, my lord,
The melancholy Jaques grieves at that;
Under an oak, whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along this wood:
The detection of Shakspeare in his adventurous amusement, was followed, it is said, by confinement for a short time in the keeper's lodge, until the charge had been substantiated against him. A farm-house in the park, situated on a spot called Daisy Hill, is still pointed out as the very building which sheltered the delinquent on this unfortunate occasion.*
That Sir Thomas had reason to complain of this violation of his property, and was warranted in taking proper steps to prevent its recurrence, who will deny? and yet it appears from tradition, that a reprimand and public exposure of his conduct constituted all the punishment that was at first inflicted on the offender. Here the matter would have rested, had not the irritable feelings of our young bard, inflamed by the disgrace which he had suffered, induced him to attempt a retaliation on the magistrate. He had recourse to his talents for satire, and the ballad which he produced for this purpose was probably his earliest effort as a writer.
Of this pasquinade, which the poet took care should be affixed to Sir Thomas's park-gates, and extensively circulated through his neighbourhood, three stanzas have been brought forward as genuine fragments. The preservation of the whole would certainly have been a most entertaining curiosity; but even the authenticity of what is said to have been preserved, becomes a subject of interest, when we recollect, that the fate and fortunes of our author hinged upon the consequences of this juvenile production.
The first of these fragments, which is the opening stanza, rests upon testimony of considerable weight and respectability; upon the authority of a Mr. Thomas Jones, who was born about 1613 and resided at Tarbick, a village in Worcestershire, eighteen miles from Stratford, where he died, aged upwards of ninety, in 1703. He is considered by Mr. Malone, as the grandson of a Mr. Thomas Jones, who dwelt in Stratford during the period that Shakspeare was an inhabitant of it, and who had four sons between the years 1581 and 1590, one of whom, settling at Tarbick, became the father of the preserver of the fragment. This venerable old man could remember having heard from several very aged people at Stratford the whole history of the poet's transgression, and could repeat the first stanza of the ballad which he had written in ridicule of Sir Thomas. A friend
Ireland's Views on the Avon, p. 154.
of his to whom he was one day repeating this stanza, which was the whole that he could recollect, had the precaution to take a copy of it from his recitation, and the grandson of the person thus favoured, a Mr. Wilkes, presented a transcript of it to Mr. Oldys and Mr. Capell. Among the collections for a "Life of Shakspeare" left by the former of these gentlemen, this stanza was found, "faithfully transcribed," says its possessor, "from the copy which his (Mr. Jones's) relation very courteously communicated to me;" and of Mr. Oldys's veracity it is important to add, that Mr. Steevens considered it as unimpeachable, remarking, at the same time, that "it is not very probable that a ballad should be forged, from which an undiscovered wag could derive no triumph over antiquarian credulity." It must be confessed that neither the wit nor the poetry of these lines, which we are about to communicate, deserve much praise, and that the greater part of the point, if it can be termed such, depends upon provincial pronunciation; for in a note on the copy which Mr. Capell possessed, it is said, that "the people of those parts pronounce lowsie like Lucy:" but let us listen to the commencement of this once important libel:
"A parliamente member, a justice of peace,
At home a poor scare-crow, at London an asse,
Yet an asse in his state
We allowe by his ears but with asses to mate.
Upon the next fragment of this composition, including two stanzas, an equal degree of confidence cannot be reposed; for it occurs in a mauscript History of the Stage, written between the years 1727 and 1730, in which many falsehoods have been detected; but still the internal evidence is such as to render its genuineness far from improbable. The narrative of its acquisition informs us that "the learned Mr. Joshua Barnes, late Greek Professor of the University of Cambridge, baiting about forty years ago at an inn in Stratford, and hearing an old woman singing part of the above said song, such was his respect for Mr. Shakspeare's genius, that he gave her a new gown for the two following stanzas in it; and could she have said it all, he would (as he often said in company, when any discourse has casually arose about him) have given her ten guineas:
"Sir Thomas was too covetous
To covet so much deer,
When horns enough upon his head,
Most plainly did appear.
Had not his Worship one deer left?
Took pains enough to find him horns
The quibble upon the word deer in these lines strongly tends to authenticate them as a genuine production of our bard; for he has in more places than one of his dramas amused himself with a similar jingle: thus in the First Part of Henry the Sixth, allowing this play to have issued from his pen, Talbot, encouraging his forces, exclaims
"Sell every man his life as dear as mine,
And they shall find dear deer of us, my friends;"—Act iv. sc. 2. and again in the First Part of King Henry the Fourth, the Prince, lamenting over Falstaff, says
Mr. Whiter, who first applied these corroborating passages to the subject before us, adds, "With respect to the verses in question, I cannot but observe that however suspicious their external evidence may appear, they contain within themselves some very striking features of authenticity; and may, I think, be readily conceived to have proceeded from the pen of our young Bard, before he was removed from the little circle of his native place, when his powers, unformed and unpractised, were roused only by resentment to a Country Justice, and destined merely to delight the rustic companions of his deer-stealing adventure.-As an additional evidence to the quibble on the word deer, which appears to be intended in these verses, we may observe that there is no topic, to which our author so delights to allude, as the Horns of the Cuckold.-Let me be permitted to remark in general, that the anecdotes, which have been delivered down to us respecting our poet, appear to me neither improbable, nor, when duly examined, inconsistent with each other: even those, which seem least allied to probability, contain in my opinion the adumbrata, if not expressa signa veritatis.'
Whatever might be the merits of this ballad as a poetical composition, its effect as a satire was severely felt; nor can we greatly blame the conduct of Sir Thomas Lucy, if we consider, on the one hand, the lenity which was at first shown to the young offender, and, on the other, the publicity which was industriously given to this provoking libel; for it is recorded by Mr. Jones of Tarbick, that it was the placarding of this piece of sarcasm "which exasperated the knight to apply to a lawyer at Warwick to proceed against him." More magnanimity, it must be confessed, would have been displayed by altogether neglecting this splenetic retaliation; but still the provocation was sufficiently bitter to excite the resentment of a man who might not be entitled to the appellations so liberally bestowed on Sir Thomas by one of the poet's commentators of "vain, weak, and vindictive." The protection of property and character, provided the means resorted to for security be proportioned to the offence, can neither be deemed foolish nor oppressive, and that the bounds of moderation were exceeded in this instance, we have no suflicient grounds for asserting. Of the character of the magistrate nothing certain has transpired; but if we may be allowed to form an opinion of his temper and abilities, from the only trait which can be considered as indicatory, we must pronounce them to have been neither despicable nor unamiable. In the church at Charlcott there are still remaining several monuments of the Lucy family, among which is one to the memory of Sir Thomas and his lady; the effigies of the knight affords a very pleasing idea of his countenance, but is unaccompanied by date or inscription; over his wife, however, who reposes by his side, at the age of sixty-three, is a very striking encomium written by himself, the conclusion of which is attested in the following emphatic terms; after much apparently sincere eulogy, he adds, that she was, "when all is spoken that can be said, a woman so furnished and garnished with vertue as not to be bettered, and hardly to be equalled by any. As she lived most vertuously, so she dyed most godly. Set down by him that best did know what hath been written to be true. THOMAS LUCY."
This may very justly be considered, we think, as a proof, not only of the conjugal happiness of our knight, but of his possession of an intellect far from contemptible; yet is it very possible that resentment, even in a mind of still superior order, should for a time excite undue warmth and animosity, especially under the lash of satire; and we are the more willing to believe this to have been the case in the present instance, both from the known benevolence of the poet's character, and from the pertinacity with which he continued to remember the injury; for it is generally agreed that the opening scene of the Merry Wives of Windsor is intended to ridicule Sir Thomas, under the character of Justice Shallow. Now the representation of this comedy in its new modelled and enlarged Whiter's Specimen of a Commentary on Shakspeare, p. 94, 95.
state, certainly did not take place until after the accession of King James, and as the prosecutor of our bard died on the 18th of August, 1600, it is not probable that the resentment of the poet would have survived the death of Sir Thomas, had not the severity of the magistrate been originally pushed too far.
This dialogue also between Shallow, Slender, and Sir Hugh Evans, serves strongly to confirm the authenticity of the commencing stanza of the ballad; for the Welsh parson plays upon the word luce in the same manner as that fragment has done upon the surname Lucy. Justice Shallow, it should likewise be remem bered, is complaining of Falstaff for beating his men, killing his deer, and breaking open his lodge, and he threatens that "if he were twenty Sir John Falstafls, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire," to which Slender adds,—
"In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram.
Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum.
Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too, and a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself armgero; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.
Shal. Ay, that we do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Slen. All his successors, gone before him, have done't; and all his ancestors, that come after him, may: they may give the dozen white luces in their coat.
Shal. It is an old coat.
Evans. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies-love.
Evans. Yes, py'r-lady; if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures; but this is all one: if Sir John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence, to make atonements and compromises between you.
Shal. The Council shall hear it; it is a riot."
Act i. sc. 1.
Though the portrait thus given of Sir Thomas Lucy (in the person of Shallow represent him as weak and vain, yet we must recollect that it is still drawn in the spirit of retaliation and satire, and was most undoubtedly meant for a caricature.
It appears then more than probable, indeed from the testimony of Mr. Jones it appears to be the fact, that the prosecution, which, there is little doubt, had been threatened on the detection of the trespass, was only carried into execution in consequence of the poetical assault on the part of our author, who, possibly, thought nothing serious could occur from such a mode of revenge.
The circumstances, therefore, of the prosecution being threatened in the first instance, and taking place in the second, might occasion the report which Mr. Rowe has inserted in his Life of Shakspeare, where, speaking of the ballad as his first essay in poetry, he adds, "it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London."
That Shakspeare left Stratford for London, about the year 1586 or 1587, and that the prosecution commenced by Sir Thomas Lucy contributed to this change of situation, are events which we may with safety admit; but that the libel was the sole cause of the removal appears not very probable; and we are inclined to be lieve with Mr. Chalmers, that debt added wings to his flight. "While other boys," remarks this ingenious controversialist, "are only snivelling at school, and thinking nothing of life, Shakspeare entered the world, with little but his love to make him happy, and little but his genius to prevent the intrusion of misery. An increasing family, and pressing wants, obliged him to look beyond the limits of Stratford, for subsistence, and for fame. He felt, doubtless, emotions of genius, and he saw, certainly, persons, who had not better pretensions than his own. rising to eminence in a higher scene. By these motives was he probably induced