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But you affirm (and in it seems most eager)
"When the Stratford lads went over to Bidford, they found the topers were gone to Evesham fair; but were told, if they wished to try their strength with the sippers, they were ready for the contest. This being acceded to, our bard and his companions were staggered at the first outset, when they thought it adviseable to sound a retreat, while the means of retreat were practicable; and then had scarce marched half a mile, before they were all forced to lay down more than their arms, and encamp in a very disorderly and unmilitary form, under no better covering than a large crab-tree; and there they rested till morning.
"This tree is yet standing by the side of the road. If, as it has been observed by the late Mr. T. Warton, the meanest hovel to which Shakspeare has an allusion interests curiosity, and acquires an importance, surely the tree that has spread its shade over him and sheltered bin from the dews of the night, has a claim to our attention.
"In the morning, when the company awakened our bard, the story says they intreated him to return to Bidford, and renew the charge; but this he declined, and looking round upon the adjoining villages, exclaimed, No! I have had enough; I have drank with
'Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bidford.'
"Of the truth of this story I have very little doubt: it is certain that the crab-tree is known all round the country by the name of Shakspeare's crab; and that the villages to which the allusion is made, all bear the epithels here given them: the people of Pebworth are still famed for their skill on the pipe and tabor: Hillborough is now called Haunted Hillborough; and Grafton is notorious for the poverty of its soil."*
To the immediate neighbourhood indeed of Stratford, and to the adjacent country, with which, at this early period of his life, our poet seems to have been familiarised by frequent excursions either of pleasure or business, are to be found some allusions in his dramatic works. In the Taming of the Shrew, Christopher Sly being treated with great ceremony and state, on waking in the bed-chamber of the nobleman, exclaims-" What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton-heath; by birth a pedlar, by education a card-maker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not: if she say I am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom. What, I am not bestraught!" + There are two villages in Warwickshire called Burton Dorset and Burton Hastings; but that which was the residence of old Sly, is, in all probability, Burton on the Heath, on the south side of the Avon, opposite to Bidford, and about eighteen miles from Stratford. The first scene of the play is described as "Before an Alehouse on a Heath," and it is remarkable that on Burton-heath there still remains a tenement, which was formerly a public-house, under the name of Woncott or Onecot: yet there is much reason to conclude, from the mode in which Wincot is spoken of, both in this place and in the following passage, that Burtonheath and Wincot were considerably distant: in the Second Part of King Henry IV. Davy says to Justice Shallow, "I beseech you, Sir, to countenance William Visor of Wincot against Clemont Perkes of the hill," a phraseology which seems to imply, not an insulated house, but a village, an inference which is strongly supported by the fact that near Stratford there is actually a village with the closely resembling name of Wilnecotte, which in the pronunciation and orthography of the common people would almost necessarily become Wincot. It should
Ireland's Picturesque Views, P. 229-233.
† Act i. sc. 2.
likewise be mentioned that Mr Warton is of opinion that this is the place to which Shakspeare alludes, and he adds, "the house kept by our genial hostess still remains, but is at present a mill."
We are indebted also to the Second Part of King Henry IV. for another local allusion of a similar kind: Silence, addressing Pistol, nicknames him "goodman Puff of Barson," a village which, under this appellation, and that of Barston, is situated between Coventry and Solyhall. It may indeed excite some surprise that we have not more allusions of this nature to commemorate; that the scenery which occurred to him early in life, and especially at this period, when the imagery drawn from nature must have been impressed on his mind in a manner peculiarly vivid and defined, when he was free from care, unshackled by a family, and at liberty to roam where fancy led him, has not been delineated in some portion of his works, with such accuracy as immediately to designate its origin. For, if we consider the excursive powers of his imagination, and the desultory and unsettled habits which tradition has ascribed to him during his youthful residence at Stratford, we may assert, without fear of contradiction, and as an undoubted truth, that his rambles into the country, and for a poet's purpose, were both frequent and extensive, and that not a stream, a wood, or hamlet, within many miles of his native town, was unvisited by him at various times and under various circumstances.
Yet, if we can seldom point out in his works any distinct reference to the actual scenery of Stratford and its neighbourhood, we may observe, that few of the remarkable events of his own time appear to have escaped his notice; and among these may be found one which occurred at this juvenile period of his life, and to which we have an allusion in Romeo and Juliet; for though the personages of the drama exist and act in a foreign clime, yet in this, and in many similar instances, he hesitates not to describe the events of his native country as occurring wherever he has chosen to lay the scene. Thus the nurse, describing to Lady Capulet the age at which Juliet was weaned, says
"Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,”
a line, which, as Mr. Tyrhwitt and Mr. Malone have observed, ‡ manifestly alludes to a phenomenon of this kind that had been felt throughout England in the year 1580, and of which Holinshed, the favourite historian of our bard, has given the following striking account:
"On the sixt of April (1580), being Wednesdaie in Easter weeke, about six of the clocke toward evening, a sudden earthquake happening in London, and almost generalie throughout all England, caused such an amazednesse among the people as was wonderfull for the time, and caused them to make their earnest praiers so Almighty God! The great clocke bell in the palace at Westminster strake of it selfe against the hammer with the shaking of the earth, as diverse other clocks and bels in the steeples of the cities of London and elswhere did the like. The gentlemen of the Temple being then at supper, ran from the tables, and out of their hall with their knives in their hands. The people assembled at the plaic-houses in the fields, as at the Whoreater (the Theater I would saie) were so amazed, that doubting the ruine of the galleries, they made hast to be gone. A péece of the Temple church fell downe, some stones fell from Saint Paule's church in London and at Christs church neere to Newgate-market, in the sermon while, a stone fell from the top of the same church, which stone killed out of hand one Thomas Greie an apprentice, and another stone fell on his fellow-servant named Mabell Eueret, and so brused hir that she lived but four daies after. Diverse other at that time in that place were sore hart, with running out of the church one over an other for feare. The tops of diverse chimnies in the citie fell downe, the houses were so shaken: a part of the castell at Bishops Stratford in Essex fell downe. This earthquake indured in or about London not passing one minute of an boure, and was no more felt. But afterward in Kent, and on the sea cosat it was felt three
Mr. Edwards and Mr Steevens have conjectured that Barton and Woodmancot, vulgarly pronounced Woncot, in Gloucestershire, might be the places meant by Shakspeare; and Mr Tollet remarks, that Woneof may be put for Wolphmancote, vulgarly Ovencote, in Warwickshire. Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 30, and vol. xii. p. 240.
+ Act v. sc. 3.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol xx. p. 38, n. 2.
times; and at Sandwich at six of the clocke the land not onelie quaked, but the sea also fomed, so that the ships tottered. At Dover also the same houre was the like, so that a péece of the cliffe fell into the sea, with also a péece of the castell wall there: a piece of Saltwood castell in Kent fell downe: and in the church of Hide the bels were heard to sound. A péece of Sutton church in Kent fell downe, the earthquake being there not onlie felt, but also heard. And in all these places and others in east Kent, the same earthquake was felt three times to move, to wit, at six, at nine, and at eleven of the clocke."
In this passage, to which we shall again have occasion to revert, the violence and universality of the event described, are such as would almost necessarily form an era for reference in the poet's mind; and the date, indeed, of the prima s'amina of the play in which the line above-mentioned is found, may be nearly ascertained by this allusion.
If, as some of his commentators have supposed, Shakspeare possessed any grammatical knowledge of the French and Italian languages, it is highly probable that the acquisition must have been obtained in the interval which took place between his quitting the grammar-school of Stratford and his marriage, a period, if our arrangement be admitted, of about six years; and consequently, any consideration of the subject will almost necessarily claim a place at the close of this chapter.
That the dramas of our great poet exhibit numerous instances in which both these languages are introduced, and especially the former, of which we have an entire scene in Henry V., will not be denied by any reader of his works; nor will any person, acquainted with the literature of his times, venture to affirm, that he might not have acquired by his own industry, and through the medium of the introductory books then in circulation, a sufficient knowledge of French and Italian for all the purposes which he had in view. We cannot therefore agree with Dr. Farmer, when he asserts, that Shakspeare's acquaintance with these languages consisted only of a familiar phrase or two picked up in the writers of the time, or the course of his conversation. †
The corrupted state of the French and Italian passages, as found in the early editions of our poet's plays, can be no argument that he was totally ignorant of these languages; as it would apply with nearly equal force to prove that he was similarly situated with regard to his vernacular tongue, which in almost every scene of these very editions has undergone various and gross corruptions. Nor will greater conviction result, when it is affirmed that this foreign phraseology might be the interpolation of the players; for it is remains to be ascertained, that they possessed a larger portion of exotic literature than Shakspeare himself.
The author of an essay on Shakspeare's learning in the Censura Literaria, from which we have already quoted a passage in favour of his having made some progress in latinity, is likewise of opinion that his knowledge of the French was greater than Dr. Farmer is willing to allow.
"I have been confirmed in this opinion," he observes, "by a casual discovery of Shakspeare having imitated a whole French line and description in a long French epic poem, written by Garnier, called the " Henriade," like Voltaire's, and on the same subject, first published in
"In As You Like It, Shakspeare gives an affecting description of the different manners of men in the different ages of life, which closes with these lines :
'What ends this strange eventful history
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.'
'Now-why have recourse for an insipid preposition to a language of which he is said to have been totally ignorant? I always supposed therefore that there must have been some peculiar
* Holinshed's Chronicles, vol. iv. p. 426. edit. of 1808.
† Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 85. Mr. Capel Lofft's opinion of the Italian literature of Shakspeare is somewhat more extended than my own. "My impression," says he, "is, that Shakspeare was not unacquainted with the most popular authors in Italian prose: and that his ear had listened to the enchanting tones of Petrarca and some others of their great poets." Preface to his Laura, p. excii.
circumstance well known in those times, which must have induced him to give this motley garb to his language but what that circumstance was I could not discover until I accidentally, in a foreign literary journal, met with a review of a republication of that poem of Garnier at Paris, in which were inserted, as a specimen of the poem, a description of the appearance of the ghost of Admiral Coligny on the night after his murder at the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and in the following lines:
'Sans pieds, sans mains, sans nez, sans oreilles, sans yeux,
Tant cette vision étoit triste et horrible!'
"Here it immediately appeared to what author Shakspeare had gone for the archetype of his own description of the last stage of old age, which, by a parody on the above lines, he meant to represent like to that mutilated ghost; and this seems to indicate that he had read that poem in the original; for we even find the meurtri de toutes parts imitated by sans every thing. A friend of mine formerly mentioned this to Mr. Steevens, and he has briefly noticed this parody, if I recollect rightly, in his joint edition along with Johnson,* but he did not copy the original lines of Garnier; nor so far as I know any editor since; which however are too remarkable to be altogether consigned to oblivion; and it is not very likely, that any Englishman will ever read through that long dull poem; neither should I myself have known of those lines, if they had not been quoted as a specimen. Steevens's note is so very brief as to be quite obscure in regard to what consequence he thought deducible from the imitation: he seems to suggest as if there might have been some English translation of the poem published, though now unknown; this is the constant refuge for Shakspeare's knowledge of any thing written originally in another language. But even if the fact were true, yet no translator would have preserved the repetition of that wordsans; for this he must have gone to the French poem itself, therefore must at least have been able to read that line in French, if not also the whole description of the ghost; and if that, why not able also to read other French books? It may, indeed, be supposed, that some friend may bave shown him the above description, and explained to him the meaning of the French lines, but this is only to make a second supposition in order to support a former one made without sufficient foundation: we may just as well make a single supposition at once, that he was himself able to read and understand it, since he has evidently derived from it his own description of the decrepitude of old age. Upon the whole, if his copy of a single word from Holinshed, viz. on this side Tiber,' is a proof of his having read that historian, why also is not his copy of the repetition of sans, and his parody of Coligny's ghost, an equally good proof of his having read the poem of Garnier in the original French language? To reason otherwise is to say, that when be gives us bad French, this proves him not to understand it; and that when he gives us good French, applied with propriety and even with ingenuity, yet this again equally proves that he neither understood what he wrote, nor was so much as able to read the French lines, which he has thus so wittily imitated.” †
Dr. Farmer has himself granted that Shakspeare began to learn Latin: why then not allow, from premises still more copious and convincing, that he began likewise to learn French and Italian? That he wanted not inclination for the attempt, the frequent use of these languages in his works will sufficiently evince; that he had some leisure at the period which we have appropriated to these acquisitions, namely, between the years 1576 and 1582, few will be disposed to deny; and that he had books which might enable him to make some progress in these studies, the following list will ascertain :
1. A Treatyse English and French right necessary and profitable for all young Children. 1560. 2. Principal Rules of the Italian Grammar, &c. Newly corrected and imprinted by Wykes: 1560, reprinted 1567.
3. The Italian Grammar and Dictionary: By W. Thomas.
4. Lentulo's Italian Grammar, put into English: By Henry Grenthem. 1578.
5. Ploiche, Peter, Introduction to the French Tongue: 1578.
6. An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie, containing foure sundrie tongues namelie, English, Latine, Greeke, and French: By 1. Baret. 1580. ‡
This notice does not appear in the Variorum edition of 1803.
Vide Chalmers's Apology, p. 549, and Bibliotheca Reediana p 9.
In short, with regard to the literature of Shakspeare, the nearest approximation to the truth will be found to arise from taking a medium course between the conclusions of Dr. Farmer, and of those who have gone into a contrary extreme. That he had made some and that the usual progress in the Latin language during the short period of his school-education, it is, we think, in vain to deny; but that he ever attained the power of reading a Roman classic with facility, cannot with any probability be affirmed: it will be likewise, we are disposed to believe, equally rational and correct, if we conclude, from the evidence which his genius and his works afford, that his acquaintance with the French and Italian languages was not merely confined to the picking up a familiar phrase or two from the conversation or writings of others, but that he had actually commenced, and at an early period too, the study of these languages, though, from his situation, and the circumstances of his life, he had neither the means nor the opportunity of cultivating them to any considerable extent.
Since these observations were written, a work has fallen into my hands under the title of "A Tour in Quest of Genealogy, through several parts of Wales, Somersetshire, and Wiltshire, in a Series of Letters to a Friend in Dublin; interspersed with a description of Stourhead and Stonehenge; together with various Anecdotes and curious Fragments from a Manuscript Collection ascribed to Shakspeare. By a Barrister." London, 1811.
These manuscripts ascribed to Shakspeare, which, from the language and sentiment of almost every line, are manifestly a mere fiction, are said to have been purchased at an auction at Carmarthen, consisting of verses and letters that passed between Shakspeare and his mistress Anne Hatheway, together with letters to and from him and others, a journal of Shakspeare, an account of many of his plays, memoirs of his life by himself, &c. I have mentioned the publication in this place, as it is worthy of remark, that the fabricator of these MSS., whoever he is, appears to have entertained an idea similar to my own, with regard to the period when our poet attempted the acquisition of the modern languages; for of the supposed memoirs said to be written by Shakspeare himself, the following, among others, is given as a specimen :
"Having an ernest desier to lerne forraine tonges, it was mie good happ to have in mie fathere's howse an Italian, one Girolama Albergi, tho he went bye the name of Francesco Manzini, a dier of woole; but he was not what he wished to passe for; he had the breedinge of a gentilman, and was a righte sounde scholer. It was he taught me the littel Italian I know, and rubbed up my Latten; we redd Bandello's Novells together, from the which I gatherid some delliceous flowres to stick in mie dramattick poseys. He was nevew to Battisto Tibaldi, who made a translacion of the Greek poete, Homar, into Italian; he showed me a coppy of it given him by his kinsman, Ercole Tibaldi " P. 202.
I must do the author of this literary forgery, however, the justice to say, that in taste and genius he is immeasurably beyond his youthful predecessor, and that some of the verses ascribed to Anna Hatheway, as he terms her, possess no inconsiderable beauties. It is most extraordinary, however, that any individual should venture to bring forward the following lines, which are exquisitely modern in their structure, as the production of a cottage girl of the sixteenth century.