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present church is new ; but it stands upon the same spot as the ancient church : its associations are the same. We glide by Charlcote. The house has been

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enlarged; its antique features somewhat improved: but it is essentially the same as the Charlcote of Shakspere. We pass its sunny lawns, and are soon amidst the unchanging features of nature. We are between deep wooded banks. Even the deer, who swim from shore to shore where the river is wide and open, are prevented invading these quiet deeps. The old turrets rising amidst the trees alone tell us that human habitation is at hand. A little onward, and we lose all trace of that culture which is ever changing the face of nature. There is a high bank called Old Town, where perhaps men and women, with their joys and sorrows, once abided. It is colonized by rabbits. The elder-tree drops its white blossoms luxuriantly over their brown burrows. The golden cups of the yellow water-lilies lie brilliantly beneath on their green couches. The reed-sparrow and the willow-wren sing their small songs around us : a stately heron flaps his heavy wing above. The tranquillity of the place is almost solemn; and a broad cloud deepens the solemnity, by throwing for a while the whole scene into shadow. We drop down the current. Nothing can be more interesting than the constant variety which this beautiful river here exhibits. Now it passes under a high bank clothed with wood ; now a hill waving with corn gently rises from the water's edge. Sometimes a flat meadow | presents its grassy margin to the current which threatens to inundate it upon the slightest rise ; sometimes long lines of willow or alder shut out the land, and throw

their deep shadows over the placid stream. Islands of sedge here and there render the channel unnavigable, except to the smallest boat. A willow thrusting its trunk over the stream reminds us of Ophelia :

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook,

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream."*

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A gust of wind raises the underside of the leaves to view, and we then perceive the exquisite correctness of the epithet “hoar.” Hawthorns, here and there, grow upon the water's edge ; and the dog-rose spots the green bank with its faint red. That deformity, the pollard-willow, is not so frequent as in most rivers ; but the unlopped trees wear their feathery branches, as graceful as ostrich-plumes. The gust which sings through that long colonnade of willows is blowing up a rain-storm. The wood-pigeons, who have been feeding on the banks, wing their way homewards. The old fisherman is hurrying down the current to the shelter of his cottage. He invites us to partake that shelter. His family are busy at their trade of basketmaking; and the humble roof, with its cheerful fire, is a welcome retreat out of the driving rain. It is a long as well as furious rain. We open the volume of Shakspere's own poems; and we bethink us what of these he may have composed, or partly shadowed out, wandering on this river-side, or drifting under its green banks, when his happy and genial nature instinctively shaped itself into song, as the expression of his sympathy with the beautiful world around him.

“The first heir of my invention.”—This may be literally true of the “Venus and Adonis,” but it does not imply that the young poet had not been a diligent cultivator of fragınentary verse long before he had attempted so sustained a composition as this most original and remarkable poem. We must carry back our minds to the published poetry of 1593, when the “Venus and Adonis” appeared, fully to understand the originality of this production. Spenser had indeed then arisen to claim the highest rank in his own proper walk. Six books of “The Faery Queen” had been

*"Hamlet,” Act 1v., Scene vil.

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| published two or three years. But, rejoicing as Shakspere must have done in “The Faery Queen,” in his own poems we cannot trace the slightest imitation of that wonderful performance ; and it is especially remarkable how steadily he resists the temptation to imitate the archaisms which Spenser's popularity must have rendered fashionable. If we go back eight or ten years, and suppose, which we have fairly a right to do, that Shakspere was a writer of verse before he was twenty, the absence of any recent models upon which he could found a style will be almost as remarkable, in the case of his narrative compositions, as in that of his dramas. In William Webbe's “ Discourse of English Poetrie," published in 1586, Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, and Skelton are the old poets whom he commends. His immediate predecessors, or contemporaries, are—“Master George Gascoigne, a witty gentleman, and the very chief of our late rhymers,” Surrey, Vaux, Norton, Bristow, Edwards, Tusser, Churchyard, Hunnis, Heywood, Hill, the Earl of Oxford (who “ may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent” among “noble lords and gentlemen in her Majesty's court, which in the rare devices of poetry have been and yet are most excellent skilful"); Phaer, Twyne, Golding, Googe, and Fleming, the translators ; Whetstone, Munday. The eminence of Spenser, even before the publication of “The Faery Queen,” is thus acknowledged :-“This place have I purposely reserved for one, who, if not only, yet in my judgment principally, deserveth the title of the rightest English poet that ever I read : that is, the author of "The Shepherd's Calendar.'” George Puttenham, whose “ Arte of English Poesie” was published in 1589, though probably written somewhat earlier, mentions with commendation among the later sort—“For eclogue and pastoral poesy, Sir Philip Sidney and Master Challenner, and that other gentleman who wrate the late 'Shepherd's Calendar.' För ditty and amorous ode I find Sir Walter Raleigh's vein most lofty, insolent, and passionate. Master Edward Dyer for elegy most sweet, solemn, and of high conceit. Gascoigne for a good metre and for a plentiful vein." The expression—“that other gentleman who wrate the late 'Shepherd's Calendar'"-would fix the date of this passage of Puttenham almost immediately subsequent to the publication of Spenser's poem in 1579, the author being still unknown. Shakspere, then, had very few examples amongst his contemporaries, even of the first and most obvious excellence of the “Venus and Adonis”-“the perfect sweetness of the versification.”* To continue the thought of the same critic, this power of versification was “evidently original, and not the result of an easily imitable mechanism.” But at the same time, he could not have attained the perfection displayed in the “ Venus and Adonis" without a long and habitual practice, which could alone have bestowed the mechanical facility. It is not difficult to trace in that poem itself portions which might have been written as the desultory exercises of a young poet, and afterwards worked up so as to be imbedded in the narrative. Such is the description of the steed ; such of the harehunt. Upon the principle upon which we regard the Sonnets, that they are fragmentary compositions, arbitrarily strung together, there can be no difficulty in assigning several of these, and especially those which are addressed to a mistress, to that period of the poet's life of which his own recollection would naturally suggest the second stage in his “Seven Ages.” “The lover sighing like furnace," would have poured himself out in juvenile conceits, such as characterize the Sonnets numbered 135, 136, 143; or in playful tokens of affection, such as the 128th, the 130th, the 145th; or in complaining stanzas, “a woeful ballad," such as the 131st and 132nd. The little poems of “The Passionate Pilgrim” which can properly be ascribed to Shakspere have the decided character of early fragments. The beautiful elegiac stanzas of “Love's Labour's Lost” have the same stamp upon them; as well as similar passages in “The Comedy of Errors." The noble scene of the death of Talbot and his son, forming the 5th, 6th, and 7th scenes of the 4th act of "Henry VI.,” Part I., are so different in the structure of their versification from the other portions of the play that we may fairly regard them as forming a considerable part of some separate poem, and that perhaps not originally dramatic. “The period,” says Malone, “at which Shakspeare began to write for the stage will, I fear, never be precisely ascertained.”+ Probably not. But, in the absence of this precise information, it is a far more reasonable theory that he was educating himself in dramatic as well as poetical composition generally at an early period of his life, when such a mind could not have existed without strong poetical aspirations, than the prevailing belief that the first publication of the “Venus and Adonis," and his production of an original drama, were nearly contemporaneous. This theory assumes that his poetical capacity was suddenly developed, very nearly in its perfection, at the mature age of twenty-eight, in the midst of the laborious occupation of an actor, who had no claim for reward amongst his fellows but as an actor. We, on the contrary, consider that we adopt not only a more reasonable view, but one which is supported by all existing evidence, external and internal, when we regard his native fields as Shakspere's poetical school. Believing that, in the necessary leisure of a country life,encumbered as we think with no cares of wool-stapling or glove-making, neither educating youth at the charge-house like his own Holofernes, nor even collecting his knowledge of legal terms at an attorney's desk, but a free and happy agriculturist,—the young Shakspere not exactly “lisped in numbers,” but cherished and cultivated the faculty when “the numbers came;" we yield ourselves up to the poetical notion, because it is at the same time the more rational and consistent

* Coleridge : “ Biographia Literaria.”

† Posthumous “ Life,” p. 167.

CHAP. IX.]

SOLITARY HOURS.

149

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one, that the genius of verse cherished her young favourite on these “willow'd banks ;" —

“Here, as with honey gather'd from the rock,

She fed the little prattler, and with songs
Oft sooth'd his wondering ears; with deep delight
On her soft lap he sat, and caught the sounds."

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