« PreviousContinue »
period speak of killing a deer with a sort of jovial sympathy, worthy the descendants of Robin Hood. “I'll have a buck till I die, I'll slay a doe while I live,” is the maxim of the Host in “The Merry Devil of Edmonton ;” and even Sir John, the priest, reproves him not: he joins in the fun. The dramatic, and even the serious, literature of Shakspere's youth treats deer-stealing as a venial offence; and naturally so, for public opinion attached no disgrace to it. A century later it was the same. White of Selborne says, “ towards the beginning of this century all this country was wild about deer-stealing. Unless he was a hunter, as they affected to call themselves, no young person was allowed to be possessed of manhood or gallantry." With this loose state of public opinion, then, upon the subject of venison, is it likely that Sir Thomas Lucy would have pursued for such an offence the eldest son of an alderman of Stratford with any extraordinary severity? The knight was nearly the most important person residing in the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford. In 1578 he had been High Sheriff. At the period when the deer-stealing may be supposed to have taken place, he was seeking to be member for the county of Warwick, for which he was returned in 1584. He was in the habit of friendly intercourse with the residents of Stratford; for in 1583 he was chosen as an arbitrator in a matter of dispute by Hamnet Sadler, the friend of John Shakspere and of his son. All these considerations tend, we think, to show that the improbable deerstealing tradition is based, like many other stories connected with Shakspere, on that vulgar love of the marvellous which is not satisfied with the wonder which a being eminently endowed himself presents, without seeking a contrast of profligacy, or meanness, or ignorance in his early condition, amongst the tales of a rude generation
who came after him, and, hearing of his fame, endeavoured to bring him as near as might be to themselves.
Charlcote, then, shall not, at least by us, be surrounded by unpleasant associa
tions in connexion with the youth of Shakspere. It is, perhaps, the most interesting locality connected with his name ; for in its great features it is essentially unchanged. There stands, with slight alteration, and those in good taste, the old mansion as it was reared in the days of Elizabeth. A broad avenue leads to its fine gateway, which opens into the court and the principal entrance. We would desire to people that hall with kindly inmates ; to imagine the fine old knight, perhaps a little too puritanical, indeed, in his latter days, living there in peace and happiness with his family ; merry as he ought to have been with his first wife, Jocosa (whose English name, Joyce, soundeth not quite so pleasant), and whose epitaph, by her husband, is honourable alike to the deceased and to the survivor. “All the time of her life a true and faithful servant of her good God; never detected of any crime or vice ; in religion, most sound ; in love to her husband, most faithful and true ; in friendship, most constant ; to what in trust was committed to her, most secret ; in wisdom, excelling; in governing her house, and bringing up of youth in the fear of God, that did converse with her, most rare and singular. A great maintainer of hospitality ; greatly esteemed of her betters ; misliked of none unless of the envious. When all is spoken that can be said, a woman so furnished and garnished with virtue as not to be bettered, and hardly to be equalled of any. As she lived most virtuously, so she died most godly. Set down by him that best did know what hath been written to be true, Thomas Lucy." We can picture him planting the second avenue, which leads obliquely across the park from the great gateway to the porch of the parishchurch. It is an avenue too narrow for carriages, if carriages then had been common; and the knight and his lady walk in stately guise along that grassy pathway, as the Sunday bells summon them to meet their humble neighbours in a place where all are equal. The relations between one in the social position of Sir Thomas Lucy, and his humble neighbours, could not have been otherwise than kindly ones. The epitaph in which he speaks of his wife as “a great maintainer of hospitality,” is tolerable evidence of his own disposition. Hospitality, in those days, consisted not alone in giving mighty entertainments to the rich and noble, but it included the cherishing of the poor, and the welcome of tenants and dependents. The Squire's Hall was not, like the Baron's Castle, filled with a crowd of prodigal retainers, who devoured his substance, and kept him as a stranger amongst those who naturally looked up to him for protection. Yet was the Squire a man of great worship and authority. He was a justice of the peace; the terror of all depredators ; the first to be appealed to in all matters of litigation. “The halls of the justice of the peace were dreadful to behold; the screen was garnished with corslets, and helmets gaping with open mouths, with coats of mail, lances, pikes, halberds, brown bills, bucklers.”* The Justice had these weapons ready to arm his followers upon any sudden emergency ; but, proud of his ancestry, his fighting-gear was not altogether modern. The “old worshipful gentleman who had a great estate” is described
“ With an old ball, hung about with pikes, guns, and bows,
With old swords, and bucklers, that had borne many shrewd blows." + There was the broad oak-table in the hall, and the arm-chair large enough for a throne. Upon ordinary occasions the Justice would sit in his library, a large oaken room with a few cumbrous books, of which the only novelty was the last collection of the Statutes. The book upon which our knight bestowed much of his attention would be the famous book of John Fox: “Acts and Monuments of these latter and perillous Dayes, touching Matters of the Church, wherein are comprehended and described the great Persecutions, and horrible Troubles, that have been wrought and practised by the Romishe Prelates.” This book was next to his Bible. He hated * Aubrey.
| “The Old and Young Courtier.”
Popery, as he was bound to do according to law; and he somewhat dreaded the inroads of Popery in the shape of Church ceremonials. He was not quite clear that the good man to whom he had presented the living of Charlcote was perfectly right in maintaining the honour and propriety of the surplice ; but he did not altogether think that it was the “ mark of abomination."* He reprobated the persecution of certain ministers “ for omitting small portions or some ceremony prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer.”+ Those ministers were of the new opinions which men began to call puritanical. The good knight's visits to Stratford may be occasionally traced in the Chamberlain's accounts, especially upon solemn occasions, when he went thither with “my Lady and Mr. Sheriff,” and left behind him such pleasant memorials as “paid at the Swan for a quart of sack and a quartern of sugar, burned for Sir Thomas Lucy.” I The “sack and sugar” would, we think, indispose him to go along with the violent denouncers of old festivals ; and those who deprecated hunting and hawking would be in his mind little better than fools. He had his falconer and his huntsman ; and he had his blandest mien when he rode out of his gates with his hounds about him, and graciously saluted the yeomen who rode with him to find a hare in Fulbrooke.
* See Hooker's “Ecclesiastical Polity,” Book v.
† When in Parliament, in 1584, Sir Thomas Lucy presented a petition against the interference of ecclesiastical courts in such matters, wherein these words are used.
Chamberlain's Accounts-Halliwell, p. 101.
THERE is a book with which William Shakspere would unquestionably be familiar, the delightful “Scholemaster” of Roger Ascham, first printed in 1570, which would sufficiently encourage him, if encouragement were wanting, in the common pursuit of serious study and manly exercises. “I do not mean," says this fine genial old scholar, " by all this my talk, that young gentlemen should always be poring on a | book, and, by using good studies, should lose honest pleasure and haunt no good pastime; I mean nothing less ; for it is well known that I both like and love, and have always and do yet still use, all exercises and pastimes that be fit for my nature and ability. And beside natural disposition, in judgment also, I was never either stoic in doctrine, or Anabaptist in religion, to mislike a merry, pleasant, and playful nature, if no outrage be committed against law, measure, and good order. ..... Therefore to ride comely; to run fair at the tilt or ring; to play at all weapons ; to shoot fair in bow or surely in gun ; to vault lustily ; to run ; to leap ; to wrestle ; to swim ; to dance comely; to sing, and play of instruments cunningly; to hawk; to hunt; to play at tennis; and all pastimes generally which be joined with labour, used in open place, and in the daylight, containing either some fit exercise for war, or some pleasant pastime for peace, be not only comely and decent, but also very necessary for a courtly gentleman to use."
To “ride comely," to "shoot fairly in bow, or surely in gun," "to hawk, to hunt,” were pastimes in which William Shakspere would heartily engage. His plays abound with the most exact descriptions of matters connected with field-sports. In these exercises, “in open place and in the daylight,” would he meet his neighbours; and we may assume that those social qualities which won for him the love of the wisest and the wittiest in his mature years, would be prominent in the frankness and fearlessness of youth. Learned men had despised hunting and hawking—had railed against these sports. Surely Sir Thomas More, he would think, never had hawk on fist, or chased the destructive vermin whose furs he wore, when he wrote, “What delight can there be, and not rather displeasure, in hearing the barking and howling of dogs ?"* Erasmus, too, was a secluded scholar. Ascham appreciated these things, because he liked, and loved, and used them. With his “stone-bow” in hand would the boy go forth in search of quail or partridge. It was a difficult weapon-a random shot might hit a man "in the eye,”+ but it was not so easy when the small bullet flew from the string to bring down the blackbird from the bush. There is abundant game in Fulbrooke. Ever since the attainder of John Dudley it had been disparked ; granted by the Crown to a favourite, and again seized upon. A lovely woodland scene was this, in the days when Elizabeth took into her own hands the property which her sister had granted to Sir Henry Englefield, now a proscribed wanderer. The boy-sportsman is on Daisy Hill with his “birdingbow;" but the birds are for a while unheeded. He stops to gaze upon that glorious view of Warwick which is here unfolded. There, bright in the sunshine, at the distance of four or five miles, are the noble towers of the Beauchamps; and there is the lofty church beneath whose roof their pride and their ambition lielow. Behind him is his own Stratford, with its humbler spire. All around is laund and bush,-a spot which might have furnished the scene of the Keepers in Henry VI.:
"1 Keep. Under this thick-grown brake we'll shroud ourselves ;
2 Keep. I'll stay above the hill, so both may shoot.
1 Keep. That cannot be ; the noise of thy cross-bow
a spot to which many a fair dame had been led by gallant forester, with bow bent, and “quarrel" fitted :
“ Prin. Then, forester, my friend, where is the bush
For. Here by, upon the edge of yonder coppice;
With the timid deer even the cross-bow scares the herd with its noise. But it was retained in “birding" long after the general use of fire-arms, that the covey might not be scattered. Its silent power of destruction was its principal merit.
But as boyhood is thrown off there are nobler pastimes for William Shakspere than those of gun and cross-bow. Like Gaston de Foix “ he loved hounds, of all
* "Utopia,” book ii., chap. 7. 7 “0, for a stone-bow ! to hit him in the eye.”—Twelfth Night. “ Henry VI.," Part III., Act 111., Scene 1. § “Love's Labour's Lost," Act iv. Scene I.