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and they look down upon the little town with its gabled roofs; and they pass the old church, whose tower gives forth a lusty peal; and the hostel at the bridge receives them; and there is the cordial welcome, the outstretched hand and the full cup.
But nearer home Whitsuntide has its sports also. Had not Stratford its “Lord of Whitsuntide ?” Might not the boy behold at this season innocence wearing a face of freedom like his own Perdita ?
“Come take your flowers :
Would there not be in some cheerful mansion a simple attempt at dramatic representation, such as his Julia has described in her assumed character of a page
For Theseus' perjury and unjust flight.”+
“It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves, and holy-ales." I The elements of poetry would be around him ; the dramatic spirit of the people would be struggling to give utterance to its thoughts, and even then he might cherish the desire to lend it a voice.
The sheep-shearing—that, too, is dramatic. Drayton, the countryman of our poet, has described the shepherd-king :
“But, Muse, return to tell how there the shepherd-king,
Some roundelays do sing,—the rest the burden bear."S The vale of Evesham is the scene of Drayton's sheep-shearing. But higher up the Avon there are rich pastures; and shallow bays of the clear river, where the washing may be accomplished. Such a bay, so used, is there near the pretty village of Alveston, about two miles above Stratford. One of the most delicious scenes of the “ Winter's Tale” is that of the sheep-shearing, in which we have the more poetical shepherd-queen. There is a minuteness of circumstance amidst the exquisite poetry of this scene which shows that it must have been founded upon actual observation, and in all likelihood upon the keen and prying observation of a boy
* * Winter's Tale,” Act Iv., Scene III.
I “Pericles,” Act 1.
f “Two Gentlemen of Verona," Act iv., Scene III.
§ “Polyolbion," Song xiv.
occupied and interested with such details. Surely his father's pastures and his father's homestead might have supplied all these circumstances. His father's man might be the messenger to the town, and reckon upon “counters" the cost of the sheep-shearing feast. “Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice”—and then he asks, “ What will this sister of mine do with rice ?” In Bohemia, the clown might, with dramatic propriety, not know the use of rice at a sheep-shearing ; but a Warwickshire swain would have the flavour of cheese-cakes in his mouth at the first mention of rice and currants. Cheese-cakes and warden-pies were the sheepshearing delicacies. How absolutely true is the following picture :
“Fie, daughter ! when my old wife liv'd, upon
This day she was both pantler, butler, cook ;
This is the literal painting of a Teniers ; but the same hand could unite the unri-
“Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn;
And draw her home with music," * had seen the Hock-Cart of the old harvest-home. It was the same that Paul Hentzner saw at Windsor in 1598: “ As we were returning to our inn we happened to meet some country-people celebrating their Harvest-home. Their last load of corn they crown with flowers, having besides an image richly dressed, by which perhapst hey would signify Ceres. This they keep moving about, while men and women, men and maid-servants, riding through the streets in the cart, shout as loud as they can till they arrive at the barn." In the reign of James I., Moresin, another foreigner, saw a figure made of corn drawn home in a cart, with men and women singing to the pipe and the drum. And then Puritanism arose, to tell us that all such expressions of the heart were pagan and superstitious, relics of Popery, abominations of the Evil One. Robert Herrick, full of the old poetical feeling, sang the glories of the Hock-Cart in the time of Charles I. : but a severe religion, and therefore an unwise one, denounced all such festivals as the causes of debauchery ; and so the debauchery alone remained with us. The music and the dancing were banished, but the strong drinks were left. Herrick tells us that the ceremonies of the Hock-Cart were performed “with great devotion.” Assuredly they were. Devotion is that which knocks the worldly shackles off the spirit ; strikes a spark out of our hard and dry natures ; enforces the money-getter for a moment to forego his gain, and the penniless labourer to forget his hunger-satisfying toil. Devotion is that which brings the tear into the eye and makes the heart throb against the bosom, in silent forests where the doe gazes fearlessly upon the unaccustomed form of man, by rocks overhanging the sea, in the gorge of the mountains, in the cloister of the cathedral when the organ-peal comes and goes like the breath of flowers, in the crowded city when joyous multitudes shout by one impulse. Devotion lived
* “Merchant of Venice," Act v., Scene 1.
amidst old ceremonials derived from a long antiquity ; it waited upon the seasons ; it hallowed the seed-time and the harvest, and made the frosts cheerful. And thus it grew into Religion. The feeling became a principle. But the formalists came, and required men to be devout without imagination; to have faith, rejecting tradition and authority, and all the genial impulses of love and reverence associated with the visible world, the practical poetry of life, which is akin to faith. And so we are what we are, and not what God would have us to be.
We have retained Christmas ; a starveling Christmas ; one day of excessive cating for all ages, and Twelfth-cake for the children. It is something that relations meet on Christmas-day; that for one day in the year the outward shows of rivalry and jealousy are not visible ; that the poor cousin puts on his best coat to taste port with his condescending host of the same name; that the portionless nieces have their annual guinea from their wealthy aunt. But where is the real festive exhilaration of Christmas ; the meeting of all ranks as children of a common father ; the tenant speaking freely in his landlord's hall; the labourers and their families sitting at the same great oak-table ; the Yule Log brought in with shout and song ?
“No night is now with hymn or carol blest." * There are singers of carols even now at a Stratford Christmas. Warwickshire has retained some of its ancient carols. But the singers are wretched chorus-makers, according to the most unmusical style of all the generations from the time of the Commonwealth. There are no “ three-man song-men” amongst them, no “ means and bases ;" there is not even “a Puritan” who "sings psalms to hornpipes." + They have retained such of the carols as will most provoke mockery :
“Rise up, rise up, brother Dives,
And come along with me,
Upon a sarpant's knee.” And then the crowd laugh, and give their halfpennies. But in an age of music we may believe that one young dweller in Stratford gladly woke out of his innocent sleep, after the evening bells had rung him to rest, when in the stillness of the night the psaltery was gently touched before his father's porch, and he heard, one voice under another, these simple and solemn strains :“As Joseph was a-walking
He neither shall be clothed,
In purple nor in pall,
But all in fair linen,
As were babies all.
He neither shall be rock'd
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle
That rocks on the mould." London has perhaps this carol yet, amongst its halfpenny ballads. A man whose real vocation was mistaken in his busy time, for he had a mind attuned to the love of what was beautiful in the past, instead of being enamoured with the ugly disputations of the present, has preserved it; I but it was for another age. It was for the age of William Shakspere. It was for the age when superstition, as we call it, had its poetical faith :
“Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
* "Midsummer Night's Dream."
+“Winter's Tale." # William Hone's " Ancient Mysteries," p. 92.
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.” *
“So have I heard, and do in part believe it.” Such a night was a preparation for a “happy Christmas ;"—the prayers of an earnest Church, the Anthem, the Hymn, the Homily. The cross of Stratford was garnished with the holly, the ivy, and the bay. Hospitality was in every house ; but the hall of the great landlord of the parish was a scene of rare conviviality. The frost or the snow will not deter the principal friends and tenants from the welcome of Clopton. There is the old house, nestled in the woods, looking down upon the little town. Its chimneys are reeking ; there is bustle in the offices; the sound of the trumpeters and the pipers is heard through the open door of the great entrance; the steward marshals the guests ; the tables are fast filling. Then advance, courteously, the master and the mistress of the feast. The Boar's head is brought in with due solemnity; the wine-cup goes round; and perhaps the Saxon shout of Waes-hael and Drink-hael may still be shouted. The Lord of Misrule and the Mummers from Stratford are at the porch. Very sparing are the cues required for the enactment of this short drama. A speech to the esquire, closed with a merry jest; something about ancestry and good Sir Hugh; the loud laugh; the song and the chorus,—and the Lord of Misrule is now master of the feast.
Was William Shakspere at Kenilworth in that summer of 1575, when the great Dudley entertained Elizabeth with a splendour which annalists have delighted to record, and upon which one of our own days has bestowed a fame more imperishable than that of any annals ? Percy, speaking of the old Coventry Hock-play, says, “ Whatever this old play or storial show was at the time it was exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, it had probably our young Shakspere for a spectator, who was then in his twelfth year, and doubtless attended with all the inhabitants of the surrounding country at these 'princely pleasures of Kenilworth,' whence Stratford is only a few miles distant.”* The preparations for this celebrated entertainment were on so magnificent a scale, the purveyings must have been so enormous, the posts so unintermitting, that there had needed not the flourishings of paragraphs (for the age of paragraphs was not as yet) to have roused the curiosity of all mid-England. Elizabeth had visited Kenilworth on two previous occasions,-in 1565, and in 1572.
Whether the boy Shakspere was at Kenilworth in 1575, when Robert Dudley welcomed his sovereign with a more than regal magnificence, is not necessary to be affirmed or denied. It is tolerably clear that the exquisite speech of Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is associated with some of the poetical devices which he might have there beheld, or have heard described :
“ Obe. My gentle Puck, come hither : Thou remember’st
* “Oa the Origin of the English Stage : ”—Reliques, vol. i.