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exactions in his mind. The Registers were at first imperfectly kept; but the regulation of 1538 was strictly enforced in the first year of Elizabeth; and then the Register of the Parish of Stratford-upon-Avon commences, that is, in 1558.
Every such record of human life is a solemn document. Birth, Marriage, Death !
in these time-preserved pages. And after a few years what is the interest, even to their own descendants, of these brief annals ? The last entry is too frequently the most interesting ; for the question is, Did they leave property? Is some legal verification of their possession of property necessary ?
“No further seek their merits to disclose." But there are entries in this Register-book of Stratford that are interesting to us—to all Englishmen—to universal mankind. We have all received a precious legacy from one whose progress from the cradle to the grave is here recorded—a bequest large enough for us all, and for all who will come after us. Pause we on the one entry of that book which most concerns the human race :
William, the son of John Shakspere, baptized on the 26th April, 1564.* And when born ? The want of such information is a defect in all parish-registers. Baptism so immediately followed birth in those times, when infancy was surrounded with greater dangers than in our own days of improved medical science, that we may believe that William Shakspere first saw the light only a day or two previous to this legal record of his existence. There is no direct evidence that he was born on the 23rd of April according to the common belief. But there was probably a tradition to that effect, for some years ago the Rev. Joseph Greene, a master of the grammar-school at Stratford, in an extract which he made from the Register of Shakspere's baptism, wrote in the margin, “Born on the 23rd.” We turn back to the first year of the registry, 1558, and we find the baptism of Joan, daughter to John Shakspere, on the 15th of September. Again, in 1562, on the 2nd of December, Margaret, daughter to John Shakspere, is baptized. In the entry of burials in 1563 we find, under date of April 30, that Margaret closed a short life in five months. The elder daughter Joan also died young. We look forward, and in 1566 find the birth of a son, after William, registered :-Gilbert, son of John Shakspere, was baptized on the 13th of October of that year. In 1569 there is the registry of the baptism of Joan, daughter of John Shakspere, on the 15th of April. Thus, the registry of a second Joan leaves no reasonable doubt that the first died, and that a favourite name was preserved in the family. In 1571 Anne is baptized ; she died in 1579. In 1573-4 another son was baptized,- Richard, son of Master (Magister) John Shakspere, on the 11th of
* The date of the year, and the word April, occur three lines above the entry—the baptism being the fourth registered in that month. The register of Stratford is a tall narrow book, of considerable thickness, the leaves formed of very fine vellum. But this book is only a transcript, attested by the vicar and four church wardens, on every page of the registers from 1668 to 1600. The above is therefore not a fac-simile of the original entry.
March. The last entry, which determines the extent of John Shaksperes family, is that of Edmund, son of Master John Shakspere, baptized on the 3rd of May, 1580. Here, then, we find that two sisters of William were removed by death, probably before his birth. In two years and a half another son, Gilbert, came to be his playmate; and when he was five years old that most precious gift to a loving boy was granted, a sister, who grew up with him, and survived him. Another sister was born when he had reached seven years; and as he was growing into youthful strength, a boy of fifteen, his last sister died and then his youngest brother was born. William, Gilbert, Joan, Richard, Edmund, constituted the whole of the family who survived the period of infancy. Rowe, we have already seen, mentions the large family of John Shakspere, “ten children in all.” Malone has established very satisfactorily the origin of this error into which Rowe has fallen. In later years there was another John Shakspere in Stratford. In the books of the corporation the name of John Shakspere, shoemaker, can be traced in 1580 ; in the register in 1584 we find him married to Margery Roberts, who died in 1587; he is, without doubt, married a second time, for in 1589, 1590, and 1591, Ursula, Humphrey, and Philip, are born. It is unquestionable that these are not the children of the father of William Shakspere, for they are entered in the register as the daughter, or sons, of John Shakspere, without the style which our John Shakspere always bore after 1569 -“ Magister." There can be no doubt that the mother of all the children of Master John Shakspere was Mary Arden ; for in proceedings in Chancery in 1697, which we shall notice hereafter, it is set forth that John Shakspere and his wife Mary, in the 20th Elizabeth, 1577, mortgaged her inheritance of Asbies. Nor can there be a doubt that the children born before 1569, when he is styled John Shakspere, without the honourable addition of Master, were also her children. The history of the family up to the period of William Shakspere's manhood is as clear as can reasonably be expected.
William Shakspere has been carried to the baptismal font in that fine old church of Stratford. The “thick-pleached alley” that leads through the churchyard to
the porch is putting forth its buds and leaves.* The chestnut hangs its white blossoms over the grassy mounds of that resting-place. All is joyous in the spring sunshine. Kind neighbours are smiling upon the happy father ; maidens and matrons snatch a kiss of the sleeping boy. There is “a spirit of life in everything” on this 26th of April, 1564. Summer comes, but it brings not joy to Stratford. There is wailing in her streets and woe in her houses. The deathregister tells a fearful history. From the 30th June to the 31st December, two hundred and thirty-eight inhabitants, a sixth of the population, are carried to the grave. The plague is in the fated town; the doors are marked with the red cross, and the terrible inscription, “ Lord, have mercy upon us." It is the same epidemic which ravaged Europe in that year; which in the previous year had desolated London, and still continued there ; of which sad time Stow pithily says—“The poor citizens of London were this year plagued with a threefold plague, pestilence, scarcity of money, and dearth of victuals; the misery whereof were too long here to write : no doubt the poor remember it; the rich by flight into the countries made shift for themselves.” Scarcity of money and dearth of victuals are the harbingers and the ministers of pestilence. Despair gathers up itself to die. Labour goes not forth to its accustomed duties. Shops are closed. The market-cross hears no hum of trade. The harvest lies almost ungathered in the fields. At last the destroying angel has gone on his way. The labourers are thinned ; there is more demand for labour ; “victuals” are not more abundant, but there are fewer left to share the earth’s bounty. Then the adult rush into marriage. A year of pestilence is followed by a year of weddings ;* and such a “strange eventful history” does the Stratford register tell. The Charnel-house—a melancholy-looking appendage to the chancel of Stratford Church, (now removed.) had
(Stratford Church.] It is supposed that such a green avenue was an old appendage to the church, the present trees having taken the place of more ancient ones.
† See “ Malthus on Population," book ii., chap. 12.
then its heaps of unhonoured bones fearfully disturbed : but soon the old tower heard again the wedding-peal. The red cross was probably not on the door of John Shakspere's dwelling. “Fortunately for mankind,” says Malone,“ it did not reach the house where the infant Shakspere lay; for not one of that name appears on the dead list. A poetical enthusiast will find no difficulty in believing that, like Horace, he reposed secure and fearless in the midst of contagion and death, protected by the Muses to whom his future life was to be devoted :
sacra Lauroque, collatâque myrto,
Non sine diis animosus infans.' There were more real dangers around Shakspere than could be averted by the sacred laurel and the myrtle—something more fearful than the serpent and the bear of the Roman poet.* He, by whom
"Spirits are not finely touch'd
But to fine issues," may be said, without offence, to have guarded this unconscious child. William Shakspere was to be an instrument, and a great one, in the intellectual advancement of mankind. The guards that He placed around that threshold of Stratford, as secondary ministers, were cleanliness, abundance, free air, parental watchfulness. The “non sine diis"—the “protected by the Muses,”—rightly considered, must mean the same guardianship. Each is a recognition of something higher than accident and mere physical laws.
The parish of Stratford, then, was unquestionably the birth-place of William Shakspere. But in what part of Stratford dwelt his parents in the year 1564 ? It was ten years after this that his father became the purchaser of two freehold houses in Henley Street-houses which still exist-houses which the people of England have agreed to preserve as a precious relic of their greatest brother. William Shakspere, then, might have been born at either of his father's copyhold houses, in Greenhill Street, or in Henley Street ; he might have been born at Ingon; or his father might have occupied one of the two freehold houses in Henley Street at the time of the birth of his eldest son. Tradition says, that William Shakspere was born in one of these houses ; tradition points out the very room in which he was born.
Whether Shakspere were born here, or not, there can be little doubt that this property was the home of his boyhood. It was purchased by John Shakspere, from Edmund Hall and Emma his wife, for forty pounds. In a copy of the chirograph of the fine levied on this occasion (which is now in the possession of Mr. Wheler, of Stratford) the property is described as two messuages, two gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances. This document does not define the situation of the property, beyond its being in Stratford-upon-Avon ; but in the deed of sale of another property in 1591, that property is described as situate between the houses of Robert Johnson and John Shakspere ; and in 1597 John Shakspere himself sells a “toft, or parcel of land,” in Henley Street, to the purchaser of the property in 1591. The properties can be traced, and leave no doubt of this house in Henley Street being the residence of John Shakspere. He retained the property during his life ; and it descended, as his heir-at-law, to his son William. In the last testament of the poet is this bequest to his “ sister Joan :"-_“I do will and devise unto her the house, with the appurtenances, in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of twelve-pence.” His sister Joan, whose name by mar
* Hor. lib. iii., car. iv.