Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The hospitality of our ancestors was founded upon their sympathies with each other's joys and sorrows. The festivals of the church, the celebrations of sheepshearing and harvest-home, the Mayings, were occasions of general gladness. But upon the marriage of a son or of a daughter, at the christening of a child, the humblest assembled their neighbours to partake of their particular rejoicing. So was it also with their sorrows. Death visited a family, and its neighbours came to mourn. To be absent from the house of mourning would have seemed as if there were not a fellowship in sorrow as well as in joy. Christian neighbours in those times looked upon each other as members of the same family. Their intimacy was

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

much more constant and complete than in days that are thought more refined. Privacy was not looked upon as a desirable thing. The latch of every door was lifted without knocking, and the dance in the hall was arranged the instant some young taborer struck a note ; or the gossip's bowl was passed around the winter fire-side, to jest and song :

And then the whole quire hold their hips and loffe,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there." *

Young men married early. In the middle ranks there was little outfit required to begin housekeeping. A few articles of useful furniture satisfied their simple tastes ; and we doubt not there was as much happiness seated on the wooden bench as now on the silken ottoman, and as light hearts tripped over the green rushes as over the Persian carpet. A silver bowl or two, a few spoons, constituted the display of the more ambitious ; but for use the treen platter was at once clean and substantial, though the pewter dish sometimes graced a solemn merry-making. Employment, especially agricultural, was easily obtained by the industrious ; and the sons of the yeomen, whose ambition did not drive them into the towns to pursue commerce, or to the universities to try for the prizes of professions, walked humbly and contentedly in the same road as their fathers had walked before them. They tilled a little land with indifferent skill, and their herds and flocks gave food and raiment to their household. Surrounded by the cordial intimacies of the class to which he belonged, it is not difficult to understand how William Shakspere married early; and the very circumstance of his so marrying is tolerably clear evidence of the course of life in which he was brought up.

Shakspere's marriage-bond, which was discovered a few years since, has set at rest all doubt as to the name and residence of his wife. She is there described as Anne Hathaway, of Stratford, in the diocese of Worcester, maiden. Rowe, in his “Life,” says,—“ Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him ; and in order to settle in the world, after a. family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford.” At the hamlet of Shottery, which is in the parish of Stratford, the Hathaways had been settled forty years before the period of Shakspere's marriage ; for in the Warwickshire Surveys, in the time of Philip and Mary, it is recited that John Hathaway held property at Shottery, by copy of Court-roll, dated 20th of April, 34th of Henry VIII., (1545). The Hathaway of Shakspere's time was named Richard; and the intimacy between him and John Shakspere is shown by a precept in an action against Richard Hathaway, dated 1566, in which John Shakspere is his bondman. Before the discovery of the marriage-bond, Malone had found a confirmation of the traditional account that the maiden name of Shakspere's wife was Hathaway; for Lady Barnard, the grand-daughter of Shakspere, makes bequests in her will to the children of Thomas Hathaway, “her kinsman.” But Malone doubts whether there were not other Hathaways than those of Shottery, residents in the town of Stratford, and not in the hamlet included in the parish. This is possible. But, on the other hand, the description in the marriage-bond of Anne Hathaway, as of Stratford, is no proof that she was not of Shottery; for such a document would necessarily have regard only to the parish of the persons described.

* "A Midsummer-Night's Dream,” Act II., Scene 1.

+ The Shottery property, which was called Hewland, remained with the descendants of the Hathaways till 1838. Amongst the laudable objects of the Shakspere Club of Stratford was the purchase and preservation of this property. That has been abandoned for want of means.

Tradition, always valuable when it is not opposed to evidence, has associated for many years the cottage of the Hathaways at Shottery with the wife of Shakspere. Garrick purchased relics out of it at the time of the Stratford Jubilee ; Samuel Ireland afterwards carried off what was called Shakspere's courting-chair ; and there is still in the house a very ancient carved bedstead, which has been handed down from descendant to descendant as an heirloom. The house was no doubt once adequate to form a comfortable residence for a substantial and even wealthy yeoman. It is still a pretty cottage, embosomed by trees, and surrounded by pleasant pastures ; and here the young poet might have surrendered his prudence to his affections :

“As in the sweetest buds The eating canker dwells, so eating love Inhabits in the finest wits of all."*

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

The very early marriage of the young man, with one more than seven years his elder, has been supposed to have been a rash and passionate proceeding. Upon the face of it, it appears an act that might at least be reproved in the words which follow those we have just quoted :

“As the most forward bud
Is eaten by the canker ere it blow,
Even so by love the young and tender wit
Is turn’d to folly ; blasting in the bud,
Losing his verdure even in the prime,

And all the fair effects of future hopes." This is the common consequence of precocious marriages ; but we are not therefore to conclude that “the young and tender wit” of our Shakspere was “turned to folly”—that his “forward bud” was “ eaten by the canker”-that “his verdure”

* “Two Gentlemen of Verona," Act I, Scene I.

was lost “

even in the prime,” by his marriage with Anne Hathaway before he was nineteen. The influence which this marriage must have had upon his destinies was no doubt considerable ; but it is too much to assume, as it has been assumed, that it was an unhappy influence. All that we really know of Shakspere's family life warrants the contrary supposition. We believe, to go no farther at present, that the marriage of Shakspere was one of affection; that there was no disparity in the worldly condition of himself and the object of his choice ; that it was with the consent of friends; that there were no circumstances connected with it which indicate that it was either forced or clandestine, or urged on by an artful woman to cover her approhended loss of character.

There is every reason to believe that Shakspere was remarkable for manly beauty: -“ He was a handsome well-shaped man,” says Aubrey. According to tradition, he played Adam in “ As You Like It,” and the Ghost in “ Hamlet.” Adam says,

“Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty." Upon his personation of the Ghost, Mr. Campbell has the following judicious remarks: -“ It has been alleged, in proof of his mediocrity, that he enacted the part of his own Ghost, in ‘Hamlet.' But is the Ghost in ‘Hamlet' a very mean character ? No: though its movements are few, they must be awfully graceful ; and the spectral voice, though subdued and half-monotonous, must be solemn and full of feeling. It gives us an imposing idea of Shakspeare's stature and mien to conceive him in this part. The English public, accustomed to see their lofty nobles, their Essexes, and their Raleighs, clad in complete armour, and moving under it with a majestic air, would not have tolerated the actor Shakspeare, unless he had presented an appearance worthy of the buried majesty of Denmark.”* That he performed kingly parts is indicated by these lines, written, in 1611, by John Davies, in a poem inscribed “To our English Terence, Mr. William Shakespeare:"

“Some say, good Will, which I in sport do sing,

Hadst thou not play'd some kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst been a companion for a king,

And been a king among the meaner sort."

The portrait by Martin Droeshout, prefixed to the edition of 1623, when Shakspere would be well remembered by his friends, gives a notion of a man of remarkably fine features, independent of the wonderful development of forehead. The lines accompanying it, which bear the signature B.I. (most likely Ben Jonson), attest the accuracy of the likeness. The bust at Stratford bears the same character. The sculptor was Gerard Johnson. It was probably erected soon after the poet's death; for it is mentioned by Leonard Digges, in his verses upon the publication of Shakspere's collected works by his “pious fellows." All the circumstances of which we have any knowledge imply that Shakspere, at the time of his marriage, was such a person as might well have won the heart of a mistress whom tradition has described as eminently beautiful. Anne Hathaway at this time was of mature beauty. The inscription over her grave in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon states that she died on " the 6th day of August, 1623, being of the age of 67 years." In November 1582, therefore, she would be of the age of twenty-six. This disparity of years between Shakspere and his wife has been, we think, somewhat too much dwelt upon. Malone holds that “such a disproportion of age seldom fails at a subsequent period of life to be productive of unhappiness.” Malone had, no doubt, in his mind the belief that Shakspere left his wife wholly dependent upon her children,-a belief of

* Remarks prefixed to Moxon's edition of the Dramatic Works.

which we had the satisfaction of showing the utter groundlessness. He suggests that in the “Midsummer-Night's Dream” this disproportion is alluded to, and he quotes a speech of Lysander in Act I. Scene 1., of that play, not however giving the comment of Hermia upon it. The lines in the original stand thus :

Lys. Ah me! for aught that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth :
But either it was different in blood ;-

Her. O cross ! too high to be enthralld to low!
Lys. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years ;-
Her. O spite ! too old to be engag'd to young !
Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends ;-
Her. O hell ! to choose love by another's eye;,
Lys. Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it.”

Difference in blood, disparity of years, the choosing of friends, are opposed to sympathy in choice. But was Shakspere's own case such as he would bear in mind in making Hermia exclaim, “O spite ! too old to be engag'd to young ?The passage was in all probability written about ten years after his marriage, when his wife would still be in the prime of womanhood. When Mr. de Quincey, therefore, connects the saying of Parson Evans with Shakspere's early love,—“ I like not when a woman has a great peard,”—he scarcely does justice to his own powers of observation and his book-experience. The history of the most imaginative minds, probably of most men of great ability, would show that in the first loves, and in the early marriages, of this class, the choice has generally fallen upon women older than themselves, and this without any reference to interested motives. But Mr. de Quincey holds that Shakspere, “looking back on this part of his youthful history from his maturest years, breathes forth pathetic counsels against the errors into which his own inexperience had been ensnared. The disparity of years between himself and his wife he notices in a beautiful scene of the “Twelfth Night.'"* In this scene Viola, disguised as a page, a very boy, one of whom it is said —

“For they shall yet belie thy happy years

That say thou art a man,'


is pressed by the Duke to own that his eye “hath stay'd upon some favour.” Viola, who is enamoured of the Duke, punningly replies,—“A little, by your favour;" and being still pressed to describe the “ kind of woman,” she says of the Duke's plexion” and the Duke's "years.” Any one who in the stage representation of the Duke should do otherwise than make him a grave man of thirty-five or forty, a staid and dignified man, would not present Shakspere's whole conception of the character. There would be a difference of twenty years between him and Viola. No wonder, then, that the poet should make the Duke dramatically exclaim, —

Too old, by Heaven! Let still the woman take

An elder than herself; so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart."

And wherefore ?

“For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,

Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are."

* Life of Shakspeare in the “Encyclopædia Britannica."

« PreviousContinue »