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the day of gladness arrives—a joy which even the great eye of the natural world was to make manifest. Surely there was something exquisitely beautiful in the old custom of going forth into the fields before the sun had risen on Easter-day, to see him mounting over the hills with a tremulous motion, as if it were an animate thing bounding in sympathy with the redeemed of mankind. The young poet might have joined his simple neighbours on this cheerful morning, and yet have thought with Sir Thomas Browne, “ We shall not, I hope, disparage the - Resurrection of our Redeemer if we say that the sun doth not dance on Easter-day,” But one of the most glorious images of one of his early plays has given life and movement to the sun :
“Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain's tops. Saw he not the sun dance-heard he not the expression of the undoubting belief that the sun danced-as he went forth into Stratford meadows in the early twilight of Easter-day?
On the road to Henley-in-Arden, about two or three hundred yards from the house in Henley Street where John Shakspere once dwelt, there stood, when this Biography was first written, a very ancient boundary-tree-an elm which is recorded in a Presentment of the Perambulation of the boundaries of the Borough of Stratford, on the 7th of April, 1591, as “ The Elme at the Dovehouse-Close end."* The boundary from that elm in the Henley road continued in another direction to "the two elms in Evesham highway.” Such are the boundaries of the borough at this day. At a period, then, when it was usual for the boys of Grammar Schools to attend the annual perambulations in Rogation-week of the clergy, the magistrates and public officers, and the inhabitants, of parishes and towns,t would William Shakspere be found, in gleeful companionship, under this old boundary elm. There would be assembled the parish priest and the schoolmaster, the bailiff and the churchwardens. Banners would wave, poles crowned with garlands would be carried by old and young. Under each Gospel-tree, of which this Dovehouse-Close Elm would be one, a passage from Scripture would be read, a collect recited, a psalm sung. With more pomp at the same season might the Doge of Venice espouse the Sea in testimony of the perpetual domination of the Republic, but not with more heartfelt joy than these the people of Stratford traced the boundaries of their little sway. The Reformation left us these parochial processions. In the 7th year of Elizabeth (1565) the form of devotion for the “Rogation days of Procession” was prescribed, “ without addition of any superstitious ceremonies heretofore used ;” and it was subsequently ordered that the curate on such occasions “shall admonish the people to give thanks to God in the beholding of God's benefits,” and enforce the scriptural denouncements against those who removed their neighbours' landmarks. Beautifully has Walton described how Hooker encouraged these annual ceremonials :“He would by no means omit the customary time of procession, persuading all, both rich and poor, if they desired the preservation of love and their parish rights and liberties, to accompany him in his perambulation; and most did so ; in which perambulation he would usually express more pleasant discourse than at other times, and would then always drop some loving and facetious observations, to be remembered against the next year, especially by the boys and young people ; still inclining them, and all his present parishioners, to meekness and mutual kindnesses and love, because love thinks not evil, but covers a multitude of infirmities.” And so, perhaps, listening to the gentle words of some venerable Hooker of his time, would the young Shakspere walk the bounds of his native parish. One day would not suffice
* The original is in the possession of R. Wheler, Esq., of Stratford.
to visit its numerous Gospel-trees. Hours would be spent in reconciling differences amongst the cultivators of the common-fields ; in largesses to the poor ; in merrymaking at convenient halting-places. A wide parish is this of Stratford, including eleven villages and hamlets. A district of beautiful and varied scenery is this parish -hill and valley, wood and water. Following the Avon upon the north bank, against the stream, for some two miles, the processionists would walk through low and fertile meadows, unenclosed pastures then in all likelihood. A little brook falls into the river, coming down from the marshy uplands of Ingon, where, in spite of modern improvement, the frequent bog attests the accuracy of Dugdale's description" Inge signifyeth in our old English a meadow or low ground.” The brook is traced upwards into the hills of Welcombe; and then for nearly three miles from Welcombe Greenhill the boundary lies along a wooded ridge, opening prospects of surpassing beauty. There may the distant spires of Coventry be seen peeping above the intermediate hills, and the nearer towers of Warwick lying cradled in their surrounding woods. In another direction a cloud-like spot in the extreme distance is the far-famed Wrekin ; and turning to the north-west are the noble hills of Malvern, with their well-defined outlines. The Cotswolds lock-in the landscape on another side ; while in the middle distance the bold Bredon-hill looks down upon the vale of Evesham. All around is a country of unrivalled fertility, with now and then a plain of considerable extent ; but more commonly a succession of undulating hills, some wood-crowned, but all cultivated. At the northern extremity of this high land, which principally belongs to the estate of Clopton, and which was doubtless a fark in early times, we have a panoramic view of the valley in which Stratford lies, with its hamlets of Bishopton, Little Wilmecote, Shottery, and Drayton. As the marvellous boy of the Stratford grammar-school looked upon that plain, how Ettle could he have foreseen the course of his future life! For twenty years of his manhood he was to have no constant dwelling-place in that his native town ; but it was to be the home of his affections. He would be gathering fame and opulence in an almost untrodden path, of which his young ambition could shape no definite image ; but in the prime of his life he was to bring his wealth to his own Stratford, and become the proprietor and the contented cultivator of some of the loved fields that he now saw mapped out at his feet. Then, a little while, and an early tomb under that gray tower--a tomb so to be honoured in all ages to come,
“That kings for such a tomb would wish to die." For some six miles the boundary runs from north to south, partly through land which was formerly barren, and still known as Drayton Bushes and Drayton Wild Moor. Here,
“Far from her nest the lapwing cries away.”* The green bank of the Avon is again reached at the western extremity of the boundary, and the pretty hamlet of Luddington, with its cottages and old trees standing high above the river sedges, is included. The Avon is crossed where the Stour unites with it ; and the boundary extends considerably to the south-east, returning to the town over Clopton's Bridge.
Shottery, the prettiest of hamlets, is scarcely a mile from Stratford. Here, in all probability dwelt one who in a few years was to have an important influence upon the destiny of the boy-poet. A Court Roll of the 34th Henry VIII. (1543) shows us that John Hathaway then resided at Shottery; and the substantial house which the Hathaways possessed, now divided into several cottages, remained with their descendants till the very recent period of 1838. There were Hathaways, also, living
* “Comedy of Errors."
in the town of Stratford, contemporaries of John Shakspere. We cannot say, absolutely, that Anne Hathaway, the future wife of William Shakspere, was of Shottery; but the prettiest of maidens (for the veracious antiquarian Oldys says there is a tradition that she was eminently beautiful) would have fitly dwelt in the pleasantest of hamlets. Pass the back of the cottage in which the Hathaways lived, and enter that beautiful meadow which rises into a gentle eminence commanding the hamlet at several points. Throw down the hedges, and there is here the fittest of localities for the May-games. An impatient group is gathered under the shade of the old elms, for the morning sun casts his slanting beams dazzlingly across that green. There is the distant sound of tabor and bagpipe :
“Hark, hark! I hear the dancing,
That they are not far hence us tells.” * Frorn out of the leafy Arden are they bringing in the May-pole. The oxen move slowly with the ponderous wain : they are garlanded, but not for the sacrifice. Around the spoil of the forest are the pipers and the dancers—maidens in blue kirtles, and foresters in green tunics. Amidst the shouts of young and old, childhood leaping and clapping its hands, is the May-pole raised. But there are great personages forthcoming—not so great, however, as in more ancient times. There are Robin Hood and Little John, in their grass-green tunics ; but their bows and their sheaves of arrows are more for show than use. Maid Marian is there ; but she is a mockery—a smooth-faced youth in a watchet-coloured tunic, with flowers and coronets, and a mincing gait, but not the shepherdess who
“With garlands gay
Was made the lady of the May.” | There is farce amidst the pastoral. The age of unrealities has already in part arrived. Even amongst country-folks there is burlesque. There is personation, with a laugh at the things that are represented. The Hobby-horse and the Dragon, however, produce their shouts of merriment. But the hearty Morris-dancers soon spread a spirit of genial mirth amidst all the spectators. The clownish Maid Marian will now
“Caper upright like a wild Morisco :"I Friar Tuck sneaks away from his ancient companions to join hands with some undisguised maiden ; the Hobby-horse gets rid of his pasteboard and his foot-cloth; and the Dragon quietly deposits his neck and tail for another season. Something like the genial chorus of “Summer's Last Will and Testament” is rung out :
“Trip and go, heave and ho,
So merrily trip and go." The early-rising moon still sees the villagers on that green of Shottery. The piper leans against the May-pole ; the featliest of dancers still swim to his music :
“So have I seen
Themselves around him." * Weelkes's “ Madrigals," 1600. Nicholas Breton. "Henry VI.," Part II.
§ Browne's “ Britannia's Pastorals,” Book ii. Second Song.
The same beautiful writer-one of the last of our golden age of poetry—has I described the parting gifts bestowed upon the “merry youngsters" by
“The lady of the May
Eight villages in the neighbourhood of Stratford have been characterized in wellknown lines by some old resident who had the talent of rhyme. It is remarkable how familiar all the country-people are to this day with these lines, and how invariably they ascribe them to Shakspere :
“ Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hilborough, hungry Grafton,
Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford.”
* Browne's “ Britannia's Pastorals," Book ii. Fourth Song.
Sulky, stubborn, in dudgeon.
so we must place the scene of a Whitsun-Ale at Bidford. Aubrey has given a sensible account of such a festivity :-“ There were no rates for the poor in my grandfather's days; but for Kingston St. Michael (no small parish) the Church-Ale of Whitsuntide did the business. In every parish is, or was, a church-house, to which belonged spits, crocks, &c., utensils for dressing provision. Here the housekeepers met and were merry, and gave their charity. The young people were there, too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c., the ancients sitting gravely by and looking on. All things were civil, and without scandal.”* The puritan Stubbs took a more severe view of the matter than Aubrey's grandfather “In certain towns where drunken Bacchus bears sway, against Christmas and Easter, Whitsuntide, or some other time, the church wardens of every parish, with the consent of the whole parish, provide half a score or twenty quarters of malt, whereof some they buy of the church-stock, and some is given them of the parishioners themselves, every one conferring somewhat, according to his ability; which malt, being made into very strong ale or beer, is set to sale, either in the church or some other place assigned to that purpose. Then, when this is set abroach, well is he that can get the soonest to it, and spend the most at it.”+ Carew, the historian of Cornwall, (1602), says, “ The neighbour parishes at those times lovingly visit one another, and this way frankly spend their money together.” Thus lovingly might John Shakspere and his friends, on a Whit-Monday morning, have ridden by the pleasant road to Bidford—now from some little eminence beholding their Avon flowing amidst a low meadow on one side and a wood-crowned steep on the other, turning a mill-wheel, rushing over a dam—now carefully wending their way
through the rough road under the hill, or galloping over the free downs, glad to escape from rut and quagmire. And then the Icknield Street I is crossed, *“Miscellanies."
† “ Anatomy of Abuses,” 1585. The Roman way which runs near Bidford.