Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

occurrences frequently drew Shakspeare from London to the purer atmosphere of his native fields; for, in the year succeeding the marriage of his daughter, two events of this kind took place, of which one required his personal attendance. On the 21st of February, 1608, his granddaughter Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Hall, was baptized; and, on the 16th of the October following, he stood godfather for William Walker, the son of Henry Walker of Stratford, remembering the child in his will, with twenty shillings in gold, under the title of his "godson William Walker."

The year 1609 is sufficiently commemorated by the general opinion, that, at this period, Shakspeare planted the Mulberry Tree, whose premature fate has been recorded in a preceding note.

"That Shakspeare planted this tree," "observes Mr. Malone, "is as well authenticated as any thing of that nature can be. The Rev. Mr. Davenport informs me, that Mr. Hugh Tayler (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."

That it was planted in the year above-mentioned, seems established by the facts, that, previous to the epoch in question, mulberry-trees, though not absolutely unknown in this country, were extremely scarce; and that, in 1609, King James, with a view to the encouragement of the silk manufacture, imported many hundred thousand of these trees from France, dispersing them all over England. accompanied by circular letters, written to induce the inhabitants to cultivate so useful, and at the same time so ornamental, a production of the vegetable world. It may safely be inferred, therefore, that our poet, on his visit this year to Stratford, had, in deference to the recommendation of his sovereign, as well as from his own taste and inclination, embellished his garden with this elegant tree. With the exception of a Writ, issued out of the Stratford Court of Record, in June, 1610, for a small debt due to our author, scarcely a vestige of his existence, apart from his works, can be found for the next three years. This writ, and another issued the preceding year for a similar purpose, have the subjoined signature of Greene, being that of Thomas Greene, Esq., a cousin of the poet's; who, though resident in Stratford, and clerk to its corporation, had at the same time chambers in the Middle Temple, and was a barrister in Chancery. He is entitled to this notice, as being not only the relation, but the intimate friend of Shakspeare. We now approach the last year of Shakspeare's abode in London, which, there is every reason to suppose, continued to be in that part of it where we found him in 1596; where he assuredly was, according to Malone, in 1608, and where he no doubt remained, until, as a resident, he quitted the capital for ever. Before he took this step, however, he became the purchaser of a tenement in Blackfriars, for which, according to a deed still extant, he agreed to give one Henry Walker the sum of 1402., of which he paid 801. down, and mortgaged the premises for the remainder. The property acquired by this transaction, which took place on the 10th of March, 1613, is in his will bequeathed to his daughter Susanna, and being there described as "that messuage or tenement, with the appurtenances, wherein John Robinson dwelleth, situate, lying, and being, in the Blackfriars in London, near the Wardrobe," was probably let to this tenant soon after the purchase.

Among the arrangements which such a change of situation would almost necessarily require, it is reasonable to imagine, that his property in the Globe theatre

[ocr errors][merged small]

would not be forgotten; but as this is neither mentioned in his will, nor he himself once noticed in the transactions of the theatre for 1613, we are entitled to infer, that he disposed of his interest in the concern previous to his leaving London.

That this event took place before the close of 1613, in all probability during the summer of the year, not only this circumstance relative to the theatre, and the general tradition, that a few years anterior to his death, he had left the metropolis for "ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends" at Stratford, but two other circumstances of importance, will lead us to conclude. For, in the first place, it has been calculated that, at this period, his income from real and personal property was such, as to enable him to live handsomely in the country, independent of any profit from the stage;* and secondly, we have found suflicient data for believing, that his literary career was terminated by the production of The Twelfth Night, and that this play was written in 1613.

These considerations, when united, impress us with a perfect conviction, that when Shakspeare bade adieu to London, he left it predetermined to devote the residue of his days exclusively to the cultivation of social and domestic happiness in the shades of retirement.

Gildon says that Shakspeare left behind him an estate of 3007. per annum, equal to at least 10001. per ann. at this day; but Mr. Malone doubts "whether all his property, real and personal, amounted to much more than 2007. per ann, which yet was a considerable fortune in those days. "If,” he adds, “we rate the New Place with the appurtenances, and our poet's other houses in Stratford, at 607. a year, and his house, &c. in the Blackfriars, (for which he paid 1407.) at 207. a year, we have a rent-roll of 1507. per ann. Of his personal property it is not now possible to form any accurate estimate ; but if we rate it at 5007., money then bearing an interest of 107. per cent. Shakspeare's total income was 2007. per ann.”




Anecdotes relative to Shakspeare during his Retirement at Stratford.

YES, high in reputation as a poet, favoured by the great and accomplished, and beloved by all who knew him, Shakspeare, after a long residence in the capital, to the rational pleasures of which he had contributed more than any other individual of his age, at length sought for leisure and repose on the banks of his native stream: perhaps wisely considering, that, as he had acquired a competency adequate to the gratifications of a well-regulated mind, life had other duties to perform, to the discharge of which, while health and vigour should remain, he was now called upon to dedicate a larger portion of his time.

The Genius of dramatic poetry may sigh over a determination thus early taken! but who shall blame what, from our knowledge of the man, we may justly conceive to have been his predominating motive, the hope that in the bosom of rural peace, aloof from the dissipations and seductions of the stage, he might the better prepare for that event which awaits us all, and which talents, such as his were, can only, from the magnitude of the trust, render more awfully responsible.

That he was greatly honoured and respected at Stratford we are induced to credit, not only from tradition, but from the tone and disposition of heart and intellect which his works everywhere evince; and accordingly, Rowe has told us, that "his pleasurable wit and good-nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood."

He had scarcely, however, settled in the place, when his property, and that of all his neighbours, was threatened with utter extinction; for, on the 9th of July, 1614, a fire broke out in the town, which according to a brief shortly afterwards granted for its relief," within the space of lesse than two houres consumed and burnt fifty and fowre Dwelling Howses, many of them being very faire Houses, besides Barnes, Stables, and other Howses of Office, together with great Store of Corne, Hay, Straw, Wood and Timber therein, amounting to the value of Eight Thowsand Pounds and upwards: the force of which fier was so great the Wind sitting full upon the Towne) that it dispersed into so many places thereof, whereby the whole Towne was in very great danger to have been utterly consumed." Shakspeare's house fortunately escaped.

On the 10th of July, 1614, our author was deprived of his neighbour and acquaintance, Mr. John Combe, a character whose celebrity is altogether founded on the epitaph which Shakspeare is said to have written upon him. The story, however, as related by Rowe, is injurious to the memory of its supposed author, by representing him as wantonly inflicting pain at the moment when his friendship and forbearance were most required. "In a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends," relates Rowe, "Mr. Combe told Shakspeare, in a laughing

* Wheler's History and Antiquities of Stratford, p 15.

manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately; upon which Shakspeare gave him these four verses:

* Ten in the hundred lies here engrav'd ;
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd:
If any man ask, who lies in this tomb?

Oh! ho! quoth the Devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe.'

But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it."

That Shakspeare, the gentle and unoffending Shakspeare, as he is always represented, should have violated the hour of confidential gaiety by this sarcastic and condemnatory sally, is of itself sufficiently improbable; but we are happily released from weighing the inconsistencies accompanying such an anecdote, by the discovery of a prior and more authentic statement, which completely exonerates the bard, as it proves that the epitaph in question was written after the death of its object : "One time as he (Shakspeare) was at the taverne at Stratford," narrates Aubrey, "Mr. Combes, an old usurer, was to be buried; he makes then this extemporary epitaph upon him :

'Ten in the hundred the devill allowes,

But Combes will have twelve, he swears and he vowes;

If any one aske, who lies in this tomb,

Hoh! quoth the devill, 'tis my John-a-Combe.” '

Mr. Combe, who, it appears, was buried two days after his disease.† was by no means a popular character, having amassed considerable wealth, through the medium of usury, a term then uniformly applied to the practice of all who took any interest or usance for money. The custom, though now honourable and familiar, was then deemed so odious, and even criminal, that to be a moneylender, on such a plan, was considered as an indelible reproach.

That Shakspeare, therefore, though intimate with the family, should, after the death of Mr. Combe, have uttered this impromptu (which the reader will observe is in Aubrey, without the condemnatory clause) as a censure on his well-known rapacity, may, without any charge of undue severity on his part, or even any breach of his customary suavity of temper, readily be granted.

It is certain that he continued on good terms with the relatives of the deceased, as in his Will he bequeaths tojMr. Thomas Combe, the nephew of the usurer, his sword, as a token of remembrance.

Nor is this the only epitaph which Shakspeare is said to have written; two others have been ascribed to him, one of which, as being given on the authority of Sir William Dugdale, "a testimony," observes Mr. Malone, “sufficient to ascertain its authenticity," and possessing besides strong internal marks of being genuine, requires admission into our text.

It is written in commemoration of Sir Thomas Stanley, Knight, who died some time after the year 1600, and is thus described by Sir William:

"On the north side of the chancell (of Tongue church, in the county of Salop) stands a very stately tombe, supported with Corinthian columnes. It hath two figures of men in armour, thereon lying, the one below the arches and columnes, and the other above them, and this epitaph upon it :

"Thomas Stanley, Knight, second son of Edward Earle of Derby, Lord Stanley and Strange, descended from the famielie of the Stanleys, married Margaret Vernon of Nether-Hadden, in the county of Derby, Knight, by whom he had issue two sons, Henry and Edward. Henry died an infant; Edward survived, to whom those lordships descended; and married the lady Lucie Percie, second daughter of the Earle of Northumberland: by her he had issue seaven daughters. She and her foure daughters, Arabella, Marie, Alice, and Priscilla, are interred under a monument in On the 12th of July, 1614.

[ocr errors]

Letters by Eminent Persons, &c 1813, vol. iii. p. 307.

the church of Waltham, in the county of Essex. Thomas, her son, died in his infancy, and is buried in the parish church of Winwich in the county of Lancaster. The other three, Petronilla, Frances, and Venesia, are yet living.'

[ocr errors]

The following verses were made by WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, the late famous traged an:

"Written upon the east ende of this tombe.

ASKE who lies here, but do not weepe;
He is not dead, he doth but sleepe.

This stony register is for his bones,

His fame is more perpetual than these stones:
And his own goodness, with himself being gone,
Shall live, when earthly monument is none.

"Written upon the west ende thereof.
'NoT monumental stone preserves our fame,
Nor skye-aspiring pyramids our name.
The memory of him for whom this stands,

Shall out-live marble, aud defacer's hands.

When all to time's consumption shall be given,

Stanley, for whom this stands, shall stand in heaven.'"

It has been well remarked by Mr. Malone, that the fifth and last lines of this epitaph "bear very strong marks of the hand of Shakspeare."

As every circumstance relative to our author is, however minute, possessed of interest, the following particulars and conversation concerning a negociation for the enclosure of some land near Stratford in 1614, and which were first communicated to the public by Mr. Wheler, shall be given in that gentleman's own words.

"About the year 1614," he relates, "there was an intentention of inclosing Welcombe field, in this parish, where part of Shakspeare's landed property lay, which he had purchased in 1602 of William and John Combe, and over which field the tithes extended, of which he purchased a moiety in 1605. Shakspeare was therefore doubly interested in this inclosure; and from some memorandums of notes commenced in London, but concluded at Stratford, by Thomas Green, Esq. (the owner of part of the tithes, perhaps the other moiety), a relation of Shakspeare's—the following particulars of his conversation with Shakspeare are extracted.

'Rec. 16. No. 1614, at 4 o'clock afr. noon, a Lre. from Mr. Bayly, and Mr. Alderman, (the Bailif fand chief Alderman of Stratford-upon-Avon), dated 12. No. 1614, touchyng the inclosure busynes.'

'Jovis 17. No. (1614) My Cosen Shakspeare comyng yesterday to town, I went to see him how he did. He told me that they (the parties wishing to inclose) assured him they ment to inclose no further than to Gospel bush, and so upp straight (leaving out pt. of the Dyngles to the field), to the gate in Clopton hedg and take in Salisbury's peece; and that they mean in April to svey. the land and then to gyve satisfaccion and not before: and he and Mr. Hall, (Shakspeare's son-in-law, probably present) say they think yr. (there) will be nothyng done

at all.'

"Mr. Green, (the common clerk to this corporation, who were adverse to the inclosure) returned to Stratford at the latter end of November, or beginning of December, 1614, and continued his notes until the 23d of December; upon which day it appears that letters were written by the corporation to Shakspeare and to Mr. Manwaring, (another proprietor, resident


"Preserved," says Mr. Malone, "in a collection of Epitaphs, at the end of the Visitation of Salop, taken by Sir William Dugdale in the year 1664, now remaining in the College of Arms, chap. xxxv. fol 20.; a transcript of which Sir Isaac Heard, Garter principal King at Arms, has obligingly transmitted to The other epitaph alluded to in the text, is from "a Manuscript volume of Poems by William Herrick and others, in the hand-writing of the time of Charles I., among Rawlinson's Collections in the Bodleian Library.

[blocks in formation]

It appears from Mr. Malone's researches, that the James's were a family living at Stratford both during and after our poet's time.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »