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own soil, renting perhaps other land, seated in a house in the town of Stratford, such as it was in the middle of the sixteenth century, as conveniently as in a solitary grange several miles away from it. Such a proprietor, cultivator, yeoman, we consider John Shakspere to have been. In 1556, the year that Robert, the father of Mary Arden, died, John Shakspere was admitted at the court-leet to two copyhold estates in Stratford. The jurors of the leet present that George Turnor had alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement, with a garden and croft, and other premises in Grenehyll Street, held of the lord at an annual quit-rent; and John Shakspere, who is present in court and does fealty, is admitted to the same. The same jurors present that Edward West has alienated to John Shakspere one tenement and a garden adjacent in Henley Street, who is in the same way admitted, upon fealty done to the lord. Here then is John Shakspere, before his marriage, the purchaser of two copyholds in Stratford, both with gardens, and one with a croft, or small enclosed field.*
In 1570 John Shakspere is holding, as tenant under William Clopton, a meadow of fourteen acres, with its appurtenances, called Ingon, at the annual rent of eight pounds. When he married, the estate of Asbies, within a short ride of Stratford, came also into his possession; and so did some landed property at Snitterfield. With these facts before us, scanty as they are, can we reasonably doubt that John Shakspere was living upon his own land, renting the land of others, actively engaged in the business of cultivation, in an age when men of substance very often thought it better to take the profits direct than to share them with the tenant ? In “A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale of this Realme of Englande," published in 1581,—a Dialogue once attributed to William Shakspere,--the knight says, speaking of his class, "many of us are enforced either to keep pieces of our own lands when they fall in our own possession, or to purchase some farm of other men's lands, and to store it with sheep or some other cattle, to help make up the decay in our revenues, and to maintain our old estate withal, and yet all is little enough.”
The belief that the father of Shakspere was a small landed proprietor and cultivator, employing his labour and capital in various modes which grew out of the occupation of land, offers a better, because a more natural, explanation of the circumstances connected with the early life of the great poet than those stories which would make him of obscure birth and servile employments. Take old Aubrey's story, the shrewd learned gossip and antiquary, who survived Shakspere some eighty years :-“Mr. William Shakespear was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade ; but when he killed a calf he would do it in high style, and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this town that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young.” With an undoubting confidence in Aubrey, Dr. Farmer averred that, when he that killed the calf wrote
“There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them how we will,” |
the poet-butcher was thinking of skewers? Malone also held that he who, when a
* Malone, with the documents before him, treats this purchase as if it had been the mere assignment of a lease ; and, Malone having printed the documents, no one who wrote about Shakspere previous to the publication of our "Biography,” in 1843, deduced from them that Shakspere's father was necessarily a person of some substance before his marriage, a purchaser of property.
+ “Hamlet," Act v. Sc. II.
boy, exercised his father's trade, has described the process of calf-killing with an accuracy which nothing but profound experience could give
“ And as the butcher takes away the calf,
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
Even so," &c.* The story, however, has a variation. There was at Stratford, in the year 1693, a clerk of the parish church, eighty years old,—that is, he was three years old when William Shakspere died,—and he, pointing to the monument of the poet, with the pithy remark that he was the “best of his family,” proclaimed to a member of one of the Inns of Court that “this Shakespeare was formerly in this town bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he ran from his master to London." His father was a butcher, says Aubrey; he was apprentice to a butcher, says the parish clerk. Aubrey was picking up his gossip for his friend Anthony-a-Wood in 1680, and it is not very difficult to imagine that the identical parish clerk was his authority. That honest chronicler, old as he was, had forty years of tradition to deal with in this matter of the butcher's son and the butcher's apprentice; and the result of such glimpses into the thick night of the past is sensibly enough stated by Aubrey himself :—“What uncertainty do we find in printed histories! They either treading too near on the heels of truth, that they dare not speak plain ; or else for want of intelligence (things being antiquated) become too obscure and dark.”
Akin to the butcher's trade is that of the dealer in wool. It is upon the authority of Betterton, the actor, who, in the beginning of the last century, made a journey into Warwickshire to collect anecdotes relating to Shakspere, that Rowe tells us that John Shakspere was a dealer in wool :-"His family, as appears by the register and the public writings relating to that town, were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment.” We are now peeping "through the blanket of the dark.” But daylight is not as yet. Malone was a I believer in Rowe's account; and he was confirmed in his belief by possessing a piece of stained glass, bearing the arms of the merchants of the staple, which had been removed from a window of John Shakspere's house in Henley Street. But, unfortunately for the credibility of Rowe, as then held, Malone made a discovery, as it is usual to term such glimpses of the past : "I began to despair of ever being able to obtain any certain intelligence concerning his trade ; when, at length, I met with the following entry, in a very ancient manuscript, containing an account of the proceedings in the bailiff's court, which furnished me with the long sought-for information, and ascertains that the trade of our great poet's father was that of a glover ;" * Thomas Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. queritversus Johm Shakyspere de Stretford, in com. Warwic. Glover, in plac. quod reddat ei oct. libras, &c." This Malone held to be decisive.
We give this record above as Malone printed it, not very correctly; and having seen the original, we maintained that the word was not Glover. Mr. Collier and Mr. Halliwell affirm that the word Glo, with the second syllable contracted, is glover; and we accept their interpretation. But we still hold to our original belief that he was, in 1556, a landed proprietor and an occupier of land ; one who, although
• "Henry VI.,” Part II. Act 111. Sc. I. † "Traditionary Anecdotes of Shakespere.”
sued as a glover on the 17th June of that year, was a suitor in the same court on the 19th November, in a plea against a neighbour for unjustly detaining eighteen quarters of barley. We still refuse to believe that John Shakspere, when he is described as a yeoman in after years, “ had relinquished his retail trade,” as Mr. Halliwell judges ; or that his mark, according to the same authority, was emblematical of the glove-sticks used for stretching the cheveril for fair fingers. We have no confidence that he had stores in Henley Street of the treasures of Autolycus,
. “Gloves as sweet as damask roses." We think, that butcher, dealer in wool, glover, may all be reconciled with our position, that he was a landed proprietor, occupying land. Our proofs are not purely hypothetical.
Harrison, who mingles laments at the increasing luxury of the farmer, with somewhat contradictory denouncements of the oppression of the tenant by the landlord, holds that the landlord is monopolizing the tenant's profits. His complaints are the natural commentary upon the social condition of England, described in “A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale :"_“Most sorrowful of all to understand, that men of great port and countenance are so far from suffering their farmers to have any gain at all, that they themselves become GRAZIERS, BUTCHERS, TANNERS, SHEEPMASTERS, WOODMEN, and denique quid non, thereby to enrich themselves, and bring all the wealth of the country into their own hands, leaving the commonalty weak, or as an idol with broken or feeble arms, which may in time of peace have a plausible show, but, when necessity shall enforce, have an heavy and bitter sequel." Has not Harrison solved the mystery of the butcher; explained the tradition of the wool-merchant ; shewn how John Shakspere, the woodman, naturally sold a piece of timber to the corporation, which we find recorded ; and, what is most difficult of credence, indicated how the glover is reconcilable with all these employments? We open an authentic record of this very period, and the solution of the difficulty is palpable : In John Strype's “Memorials Ecclesiastical under Queen Mary I,” under the date of 1558, we find this passage : “It is certain that one Edward Horne suffered at Newent, where this Deighton had been, and spake with one or two of the same parish that did see him there burnt, and did testify that they knew the two persons that made the fire to burn him ; they were two glovers or FELLMONGERS.”* A fellmonger and a glover appear from this passage to have been one and the same. The fellmonger is he who prepares skins for the use of the leather-dresser, by separating the wool from the hide—the natural coadjutor of the sheep-master and the woolman. Shakspere himself implies that the glover was a manufacturer of skins : Dame Quickly asks of Slender's man, “Does he not wear a great round beard like a glover's paring knife ?” The peltry is shaved upon a circular board, with a great round knife, to this day. The fellmonger's trade, as it now exists, and the trade in untanned leather, the glover's trade, would be so slightly different, that the generic term, glover, might be applied to each. There are few examples of the word “fellmonger” in any early writers. “Glover” is so common that it has become one of the universal English names derived from occupation,-far more common than if it merely applied to him who made coverings for the hands. At Coventry, in the middle of the sixteenth century, (the period of which we are writing) the Glovers and Whittawers formed one craft. A whittawer is one who prepares tawed leatheruntanned leather-leather chiefly dressed from sheep skins and lamb skins by a simple process of soaking, and scraping, and liming, and softening by alum and salt. Of such were the large and coarse gloves in use in a rural district, even amongst
* Vol. v., p. 277-edit. 1816.
labourers; and such process might be readily carried on by one engaged in agricultural operations, especially when we bear in mind that the white leather was the especial leather of “husbandly furniture," as described by old Tusser.
We may reasonably persist, therefore, even in accord with “flesh and fell” tradition, in drawing the portrait of Shakspere's father, at the time of his marriage, in the free air, —on his horse, with his team, at market, at fair—and yet a dealer in carcases, or wood, or wool, or skins, his own produce. He was a proprietor of land, and an agriculturist, living in a peculiar state of society, as we shall see hereafter, in which the division of employments was imperfectly established, and the small rural capitalists strove to turn their own products to the greatest advantage.
In the eleventh century the Norman Conqueror commanded a Register to be completed of the lands of England, with the names of their possessors, and the number of their free tenants, their villains, and their slaves. In the sixteenth century Thomas Cromwell, as the vicegerent of Henry VIII. for ecclesiastical jurisdiction, issued Injunctions to the Clergy, ordaining, amongst other matters, that every officiating minister shall, for every Church, keep a Book, wherein he shall register every Marriage, Christening, or Burial. In the different character of these two Registers we read what five centuries of civilization had effected for England. Instead of being recorded in the gross as cotarii or servi, the meanest labourer, his wife, and his children, had become children of their country and their country's religion, as much as the highest lord and his family. Their names were to be inscribed in a book and carefully preserved. But the people doubted the intent of this wise and liberal injunction. A friend of Cromwell writes to him, “There is much secret and several communications between the King's subjects ; and (some] of them, in sundry places within the shires of Cornwall and Devonshire, be in great fear and mistrust what the King's Highness and his Council should mean, to give in commandment to the parsons and vicars of every parish that they should make a book, and surely to be kept, wherein to be specified the names of as many as be wedded, and the names of them that be buried, and of all those that be christened." * They dreaded new “charges ;” and well they might dread. But Thomas Cromwell had not regal
* Cromwell's Correspondence, in the Chapter-House. Quoted in Rickman's Preface to Population Returns, 1831.