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neighbourhood of the new coat. The “dozen white luces” could not leap in the same atmosphere in which the “ spear in bend” presumed to dwell. We can understand the ridicule of the old coat in the second copy of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” without connecting it with the absurd story of the prosecution for deerstealing by the elder Sir Thomas Lucy. The ballad attributed to Shakspere is clearly a modern forgery, founded upon the passage in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” If the ridicule of the “old coat” had been intended to mark Shakspere's sense of early injuries, it would have appeared in the first copy of that play, when the feeling which prompted the satire was strong, because the offence was recent. It finds a place in the enlarged copy of that comedy, produced, there can be little doubt, at a period when some one had prompted an attack upon the validity of the armorial honours which were granted to his father ; attacking himself, in all likelihood, in the insolent spirit of an aristocratic provinciality. The revenge is enduring; the subject of the revenge is forgotten. The antiquarian microscope has discovered that, in 1602, Sir Thomas Lucy (not the same who punished Shakspere “for stealing his deer,” because he died in 1600*) sent Sir Thomas Egerton the present of a buck, on the very occasion when the “Othello” of Shakspere was presented before Queen Elizabeth at Harefield. Whatever might be the comparative honours of William Shakspere and the Knight of Charlcote at the beginning of the seventeenth century, this fact furnishes a precise estimate of their relative importance for all future times. Posterity has settled the debate between the new coat and the old coat by a very summary arbitrement.
With the exception of this piece of ridicule in “ The Merry Wives of Windsor," we know not of a single personality which can be alleged against Shakspere, in an age when his dramatic contemporaries, especially, bespattered their rivals and their enemies as fiercely as any modern paragraph writer. But vulgar opinion, which is too apt most easily to recognise the power of talent in its ability to inflict pain— which would scarcely appreciate the sentiment,
“O, it is excellent
has assigned to Shakspere a performance which has the quality, extraordinary as regards himself, of possessing scurrility without wit. It is something lower in the moral scale even than the fabricated ballad upon Sir Thomas Lucy; for it exhibits a wanton and unprovoked outrage upon an unoffending neighbour, in the hour of convivial intercourse. Rowe tells the story as if he thought he were doing honour to the genius of the man whose good qualities he is at the same moment recording : “The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be— in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish ; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story still remembered in that country that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare, in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him, and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was
* See “Egerton Papers,” published by the Camden Society, p. 350, in which this fact is overlooked.
dead, he desired it might be done immediately, upon which Shakspeare gave him these four lines :
. Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd ;
But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.” Certainly this is an extraordinary illustration of Shakspere's “pleasurable wit and good nature”—of those qualities which won for him the name of the “gentle Shakspere ;” which made Jonson, stern enough to most men, proclaim—“He was honest, and of an open and free nature,” and that his “mind and manners” were reflected in his “well-turned and true-filed lines." John-a-Combe never forgave the sharpness of the satire! And yet he bequeathed by his last will “To Mr. William Shakspere, five pounds.” Aubrey tells the story with a difference:
“ One time, as he was at the tavern at Stratford-upon-Avon, one Combes, an old rich usurer, was to be buryed, he makes there this extemporary epitaph ;” and then he gives the lines with a variation, in which “vows” rhymes to “allows," instead of " sav'd” to “ingrav’d.”
Of course, following out this second story, the family of John Combe resented the insult to the memory of their parent, who died in 1614 ; and yet an intimacy subsisted between them even till the death of Shakspere, for in his own will he bequeaths to the son of the usurer a remarkable token of personal regard, the badge of a gentleman :-“To Mr. Thomas Combe my sword.” The whole story is a fabrication. Ten in the hundred was the old name of opprobrium for one who lent money. To receive interest at all was called usury. “ That ten in the hundred was gone to the devil,” was an old joke, that shaped itself into epigrams long before the death of John Combe ; and in the “Remains of Richard Brathwaite," printed in 1618, we have the very epitaph assigned to Shakspere, with a third set of variations, given as
a notable production of this voluminous writer : “Upon one John Combe, of Stratford-upon-Avon, a notable usurer, fastened upon a Tombe that he had caused to be built in his Lifetime.” The lie direct is given by the will of John Combe to this third version of the lines against him ; for it directs that a convenient tomb shall be erected one year after his decease. John Combe was the neighbour and without doubt the friend of Shakspere. His house was within a short distance of New Place, being upon the site of the ancient College, and constructed in part out of the offices of that monastic establishment.* It was of John Combe and his brother that Shakspere made a large purchase of land in 1602. The better tradition survived the memory of Rowe’s and Aubrey's epitaph ; and before the mansion was pulled down, the people of Stratford delighted to look upon the Hall where John Combe had listened to the “ very ready and pleasant smooth wit” t of his friend “the immortal Shakspere,” as the good folks of Stratford always term their poet. It was here that the neighbours would talk of “ pippins ” of their “own graffing,"—of a fine “dish of leathercoats,”—“ how a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford Fair ?”—“ how a score of ewes now?” The poet had brought with him from London a few of the
* This fine old building, we regret to say, was taken down in 1799.
new mulberry plants. There was one at New Place, and one at the College. Which throve best ? Should they ever raise silk-worms upon the leaves, and give a new manufacture to Stratford ? The King was sanguine about the success of his mulberrytree project, for he procured plants from France, and dispersed them through the kingdom ; but they doubted.* The poet planted his mulberry-tree for the ornament of his “curious knotted garden ;” little dreaming that his very fame in future times should accelerate its fall.
It would be something if we could now form an exact notion of the house in which Shakspere lived ; of its external appearance, its domestic arrangements. Dugdale, speaking of Sir Hugh Clopton, who built the bridge at Stratford and repaired the chapel, says :“On the north side of this chapel was a fair house, built of brick and timber, by the said Hugh, wherein he lived in his later days, and died.” This was nearly a century before Shakspere bought the “fair house,” which, in the will of Sir Hugh Clopton, is called the "great house." Theobald says that Shakspere, “having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place.” Malone holds that this is an error :—“I find from ancient documents that it was called New Place as early at least as 1565.” The great house, having been sold out of the Clopton family, was purchased by Shakspere of William Underhill, Esq. Shakspere by his will left it to his daughter, Mrs. Hall, with remainder to her heirs male, or, in default, to her daughter Elizabeth and her heirs male, or the heirs male of his daughter Judith. Mrs. Hall died in 1649 ; surviving her husband fourteen years. There is little doubt that she occupied the house when Queen Henrietta Maria, in 1643, coming to Stratford in royal state with a large army, resided for three weeks under this roof. The property descended to her daughter Elizabeth, first married to Mr. Thomas Nash, and afterwards to Sir Thomas Barnard. She dying without issue, New Place was sold in 1675, and was ultimately re-purchased by the Clopton family. Sir Hugh Clopton, in the middle of the eighteenth century, resided there. The learned knight thoroughly repaired and beautified the place, as the local historians say, and built a modern front to it. This was the first stage of its desecration. After the death of Sir Hugh, in 1751, it was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, in 1753.
The total destruction of New Place in 1757, by its then possessor, is difficult to account for upon any ordinary principles of action. Malone thus relates the story: “ The Rev. Mr. Gastrell
, a man of large fortune, resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. Every house in that town that is let or valued at more than 408. a-year is assessed by the overseers, according to its worth and the ability of the occupier, to pay a monthly rate toward the maintenance of the poor. As Mr. Gastrell resided part of the year at Lichfield, he thought he was assessed too highly; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his servants in his absence, he peevishly declared, that that house should never be assessed again : and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. Wishing, as it should seem, to be damnd to everlasting fame,' he had some time before cut down Shakspere's celebrated mulberry-tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose . admiration of our great poet led them to visit the poetic ground on which it stood.” The cutting down of the mulberry-tree seems to have been regarded as the chief offence in Mr. Gastrell's own generation. His wife was a sister of Johnson's correspondent, Mrs. Aston. After the death of Mr. Gastrell, his widow resided at Lichfield ; and in 1776, Boswell, in company with Johnson, dined with the sisters.
* See Howes's Continuation of Stow's “ Chronicle," p. 894.
Boswell on this occasion says,—“I was not informed till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrell's husband was the clergyman who, while he lived at Stratford-upon-Avon; with Gothic barbarity cut down Shakspere's mulberry-tree, and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours. His lady, I have reason to believe on the same authority, participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts of our immortal bard deem almost a species of sacrilege.” The mulberry-tree was cut down in 1756 ; was sold for firewood; and the bulk of it was purchased by a Mr. Thomas Sharpe, of Stratford-upon-Avon, clock and watchmaker, who made a solemn affidavit some years afterwards, that out of a sincere veneration for the memory of its celebrated planter he had the greater part of it conveyed to his own premises, and worked it into curious toys and useful articles. The destruction of the mulberry-tree, which the previous possessor of New Place used to show with pride and veneration, enraged the people of Stratford ; and Mr. Wheler tells us that he remembers to have heard his father say that, when a boy, he assisted in the revenge of breaking the reverend destroyer's windows. The hostilities were put an end to by the Rev. Mr. Gastrell quitting Stratford in 1757 ; and, upon the principle of doing what he liked with his own, pulling the house to the ground in which Shakspere and his children had lived and died.
There is no good end to be served in execrating the memory of the man who deprived the world of the pleasure of looking upon the rooms in which the author of some of the greatest productions of human intellect had lived, in the common round of humanity—of treading reverentially upon the spot hallowed by his presence and by his labours. It appears to us that this person intended no insult to the memory of Shakspere ; and, indeed, thought nothing of Shakspere in the whole course of his proceedings. He bought a house, and paid for it. He wished to enjoy it in quiet. People with whom he could not sympathize intruded upon him to see the gardens and the house. In the gardens was a noble mulberry-tree. Tradition said it was planted by Shakspere ; and the professional enthusiasts of Shakspere, the Garricks and the Macklins, had sat under its shade, during thc occupation of one who felt that there was a real honour in the ownership of such a place. The Rev. Mr. Gastrell wanted the house and the gardens to himself. He had that strong notion of the exclusive rights of property which belongs to most Englishmen, and especially to ignorant Englishmen. Mr. Gastrell was an ignorant man, though a clergyman. We have seen his diary, written upon a visit to Scotland three years after the pulling down of New Place. His journey was connected with some electioneering intrigues in the Scotch boroughs. He is a stranger in Scotland, and he goes into some of its most romantic districts. The scenery makes no impression upon him, as may be imagined ; but he is scandalized beyond measure when he meets with a bad dinner and a rough lodging. He has just literature enough to know the name of Shakspere ; but in passing through Forres and Glamis he has not the slightest association with Shakspere’s “Macbeth.” A Captain Gordon informs his vacant mind upon some abstruse subjects, as to which we have the following record :-“He assures me that the Duncan murdered at Forres was the same person that Shakspere writes of.” There scarcely requires any further evidence of the prosaic character of his mind; and if there be some truth in the axiom of Shaks
“ The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
we hold, upon the same principle, that the man who speaks in this literal way of the “person that Shakspere writes of," was a fit man to root up Shakspere's mulberry