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SHAKSPEARE IN RETIREMENT.
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 ;
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, hist 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
Letters by Eminent Persons, &c 1813, vol. iii. p. 307.
On the 12th of July, 1614.
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.'
"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;
This stony register is for his bones,
His fame is more perpetual than these stones :
"Written upon the west ende thereof.
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
"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 me."
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.
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.
in London), both of whom seem to have been desirous of inclosing. Mr. Green's memorandum, as far as it can be transcribed, being almost illegible and the paper somewhat damaged, is as follows:
23. Dec. (1614.) a Hall. Lres. wrytten, one to Mr. Manyring-another to Mr. Shakspeare, with almost all the company's hands to eyther. I also wrytte myself to my Csn. (Cousin) Shakspear, the coppyes of all our then also a note of the inconvenyences wold by "From a copy of the corporation's letter to Arthur Mannering, Esq.' (then residing at the Lord Chancellor's house, perhaps in some official capacity) as noticed by Green to have been written on the 23d of December, 1614, it appears that he was apprized of the injury to be expected from the intended inclosure; reminded of the damage that Stratford, then lying in the ashes of desolation,' had sustained from recent fires; and entreated to forbear the inclosure. The letter written to Shakspeare, the author has not been sufficiently fortunate to discover; but it was probably to the same effect. A petition was presented from the corporation to the Lords of the Privy Council, requesting their injunction to William Combe, Esq. of Stratford College, then High Sheriff of this County; who, being proprietor of considerable estates at Welcombe, was desirous of an inclosure. Nothing, however, was done, as Shakspeare had surmised; and the fields remained open until the year 1774."
Early in 1616 our poet married his youngest daughter Judith to Mr. Thomas Quiney, a vintner in Stratford. The ceremony took place on February the 10th, 1616, the bridegroom being four years older than the bride, who had, however, completed her thirty-second year.
The daughters of Shakspeare appear to have been, like those of Milton, ignorant of the art of writing; Judith, at least, in attesting a deed still extant, being under the necessity of making her mark, which is accompanied by the explanatory appendage of "Signum Judeth Shakspeare" The omission, however, is less extraordinary in the days of Shakspeare than in those of his great successor; the education of women, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James, being in general calculated, with a few splendid exceptions, principally in the upper classes of society, for the discharge of mere domestic duties; and when, to be able to read was considered as a very distinguishing compliment.
The fruit of this marriage was three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas Quiney; the first dying in his infancy, the second in his twenty-first year, and the third in his twentieth year; so that, as Elizabeth, the daughter of Susanna, by Dr. Hall, had no issue by her two husbands, Thomas Nash, Esq. and Sir John Barnard, she proved the last lineal descendant of her grandfather.
It was very shortly after the marriage of Judith, that our author, being in perfect health and memory, deemed it necessary to make his Will; a document which appears to have been drawn up on the 25th of February, 1616, though not executed until the 25th of the following month.‡
That the event, for which this was a proper preparatory act, should have so rapidly followed, could be little in the contemplation of one who had not reached his fifty-second year, and who, according to his own account, was in perfect health and memory. Yet we may venture to infer, from what tradition has left us of his life and character, that few were better prepared for the transition, that few could be found, over whom, when the event had occurred, with more justice might it be said,
The Death of Shakspeare
Observations on his Will-On the Disposition and Moral Character of Shakspeare-On the Monument erected to his Memory, and on the Engraving of him prefixed to the first Folio Edition of his Plays-Conclusion.
THE death of Shakspeare, of which the closing paragraph of the last chapter had afforded us an intimation, took place on Tuesday, the 23d of April, 1616, on his birth-day, and when he had exactly completed his fifty-second year. It is remarkable, that on the same day expired, in Spain, his great and amiable contemporary, Cervantes; the world being thus deprived, nearly at the same moment, of the two most original writers which modern Europe has produced.
That not the smallest account of the disease which terminated so valuable a life, should have been transmitted to posterity, is perhaps equally singular; and the more so, as our poet was, no doubt, attended by his son-in-law, Dr. Hall, who was then forty years of age; and who should have recollected, that the circumstances which led to the dissolution of such a man, had, whether professionally important or not, a claim to preservation and publicity. But the age was a most incurious one, as to the personal history of literary men; and Hall, who left for publication a manuscript collection of cases, selected from not less than a thousand diseases, has omitted the only one which could have secured to his work any permanent interest or value. *
On the second day after his decease, the remains of Shakspeare were committed to the grave; being buried on the 25th of April, on the north side of the chancel of the great church of Stratford.
Fortunately, some light has been thrown upon the domestic circumstances of the poet, by the preservation of his Will, yet extant in the Prerogative Court, and which, though often published, we have again introduced, as a necessary appendage to our work.
The most striking features in this document, are the apparent neglect of his wife, and the favouritism exhibited with regard to his eldest daughter. Mrs. Shakspeare, indeed, was so entirely forgotten in the original Will, that the only beques which her husband makes her, of his "second best bed, with the furniture," is introduced by an interlineation.
This omission, and the trifling nature of the legacy, have given birth to some conjectures on the part of his biographers and commentators. Oldys, misapplying the language of one of his sonnets, has hinted, that the poet entertained some doubts as to the fidelity of his beautiful wife; an intimation which soon after occasioned a curious controversy between Messrs. Steevens and Malone; the latter impeaching, and the former defending, the conjugal affection of their bard. "His wife had not wholly escaped his memory," observes Mr. Malone; "he had forgot her, he had recollected her,—but so recollected her, as more strongly to mark how little he esteemed her; he had already (as it is vulgarly expressed) cut her off, not indeed with a shilling, but with an old bed."" That our poet was jealous of this lady," remarks Mr. Steevens, "is an unwarrantable conjecture. Having, in times of health and prosperity, provided for her by settlement (or knowing that her father had already done so), he bequeathed to her at his
These Cases were afterwards translated from the original Latin by James Cooke, a Surgeon at Warwick, under the title of "Select Observations on English Bodies; or Cures, both emperical and historical, performed upon very eminent persons in desperate diseases." London, 1657. 12mo.'