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rude dialogue of such an historic play as “The Famous Victories,”* not altogether without delight, and laughed most heartily at the extemporal pleasantness of the witty clown, a vivid though an imperfect notion of the excellence that might be attained by working up such common materials upon a principle of art must have been developed in his mind. If Sidney's noble defence of his beloved Poesy had then been published, he would, we think, have found in it a reflection of his own opinions as to the “bad education” of the drama. “All their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion : so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained.” The objection here is scarcely so much to the mingling kings and clowns, when “the matter so carrieth,” as to the thrusting in “the clown by head and shoulders.” Upon a right principle of art the familiar and the heroic might be advantageously blended. In this play of “The Famous Victories,” the Prince was not only prosaic, but altogether brutalized, so that the transition from the ruffian to the hero was distasteful and unnatural. But surround the same Prince with companions whose profligacy was in some sort balanced and counteracted by their intellectual energy, their wit, their genial mirthfulness ; make the Prince a gentleman in the midst of his most wanton levity; and the transition to the hero is not merely probable, it is graceful in itself, it satisfies expectation. But the young poet is yet without models, and he will remain so. He has to work out his own theory of art ; but that theory must be gradually and experimentally formed. He has the love of country living in his soul as a presiding principle. There are in his country's annals many stories such as this of Henry V. that might be brought upon the stage to raise "heroes from the grave of oblivion,” for glorious example to "these degenerate days." But in those annals are also to be found fit subjects for “the high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue ; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours; that, with stirring the affections of admiration and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations gilded roofs are builded.”+ As the young poet left the Town Hall of Stratford he would forget Tarleton and his tricks; he would think that an English historical play was yet to be written ; perhaps, as the ambitious thought crossed his mind to undertake such a task, the noble lines of Sackville would be present to his memory :
And sorrowing I to see the summer flowers,
* "Studies," p. 19.
† Sidney. “Defence of Poesy.”
The earliest, and the most permanent, of poetical associations are those which are impressed upon the mind by localities which have a deep historical interest. It would be difficult to find a district possessing more striking remains of a past time than the neighbourhood in which William Shakspere spent his youth. The poetical feeling which the battle-fields, and castles, and monastic ruins of mid England would excite in him, may be reasonably considered to have derived an intensity through the real history of these celebrated spots being vague, and for the most part traditional. The age of local historians had not yet arrived. The monuments of the past were indeed themselves much more fresh and perfect than in the subsequent days, when every tomb inscription was copied, and every mouldering document set forth. But in the year 1580, if William Shakspere desired to know, for example, with some precision, the history which belonged to those noble towers of Warwick upon which he had often gazed with a delight that scarcely required to be based upon knowledge, he would look in vain for any guide to his inquiries. Some old people might tell him that they remembered their fathers to have spoken of one John Rous, the son of Geffrey Rous of Warwick, who, having diligently studied at Oxford, and obtained a reputation for uncommon learning, rejected all ambitious thoughts, shut himself up with his books in the solitude of Guy's Cliff, and was engaged to the last in writing the Chronicles of his country, and especially the history of his native County and its famous Earls : and there, in the quiet of that pleasant place, performing his daily offices of devotion as a chantry priest in the little chapel, did John Rous live a life of happy industry till 1491. But the world in general derived little advantage from his labours. Another came after him, commissioned by royal authority to search into all the archives of the kingdom, and to rescue from damp and dust all ancient manuscripts, civil and ecclesiastical. The commission of Leland was well performed ; but his " Itinerary” was also to be of little use to his own generation. William Shakspere knew not what Leland had written about Warwickshire ; how the enthusiastic and half-poetical antiquary had described, in elegant Latinity, the beauties of woodland and river ; and had even given the characteristics of such a place as Guy's Cliff in a few happy words, that would still be an accurate description of its natural features, even after the lapse of three centuries. Caves hewn in the living rock, a thick overshadowing wood, sparkling springs, flowery meadows, mossy grottos, the river rolling over the stones with a gentle noise, solitude and the quiet most friendly to the Muses,—these are the enduring features of the place as painted by the fine old topographer. But his manuscripts were as sealed to the young Shakspere as those of John Rous. Yet if the future Poet sustained some disadvantage by living before the days of antiquarian minuteness, he could still dwell in the past, and people it
with the beings of his own imagination. The chroniclers who had as yet attempted to collect and systematize the records of their country did not aim at any very great exactness either of time or place. When they dealt with a remote antiquity they were as fabulous as the poets themselves; and it was easy to see that they most assumed the appearance of exactness when they wrote of times which have left not a single monumental record. Very diffuse were they when they had to talk of the days of Brute.Intimately could they decipher the private history of Albanact and Humber
. The fatal passion of Locrine for Elstride was more familiar to them than that of Henry for Rosamond Clifford, or Edward for Elizabeth Woodville. Of the cities and the gates of King Lud they could present a most accurate description. Of King Leir very exact was their narration : how he, the son of Baldud,
was made ruler over the Britons the year of the world 4338 ; was noble of conditions, and guided his land and subjects in great wealth.” Minutely thus does Fabyan, a chronicler whose volume was open to William Shakspere's boyhood, describe how the King, "fallen into impotent age," believed in the professions of his two elder daughters, and divided with them his kingdom, leaving his younger daughter, who really loved him, to be married without dower to the King of France ; and then how his unkind daughters and their husbands“ bereft him the governance of the land,” and he fled to Gallia, “for to be comforted of his daughter Cordeilla, whereof she having knowledge, of natural kindness comforted him.” This in some sort was a story of William Shakspere's locality ; for, according to the Chronicle, Leir “ made the town of Caerleir, now called Leiceter or Leicester ;” and after he was “restored again to his lordship he died, and was buried at his town of Caerleir." The local association may have helped to fix the story in that mind, which in its maturity was to perceive its wondrous poetical capabilities. The early legends of the chroniclers
* " Antra in vivo saxo, nemusculum ibidem opacum, fontes liquidæ et gemmei; prata florida, antra tauscosa, rivi levis et per saxa discursus; necnon solitudo et quies Musis amicissima,”—Leland's MS. “Itinerary,” as quoted by Dugdale.
are not to be despised, even in an age which in many historical things justly requires evidence ; for they were compiled in good faith from the histories which had been compiled before them by the monkish writers, who handed down from generation to generation a narrative which hung together with singular consistency. They were compiled, too, by the later chroniclers, with a zealous patriotism. Fabyan, in his “Prologue,” exclaims, with a poetical spirit which is more commendable even than the poetical form which he adopts,
"Not for any pomp, nor yet for great meed,
This work have I taken on hand to compile,
The famous honour of this fertile isle,
That hath continued, by many a long while,
Lines such as these, homely though they are, were as seeds sown upon a goodly soil, when they were read by William Shakspere. His patriotism was almost instinct.
In the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford there are two remarkable monuments of ancient civilization,—the great roads of the Ichnield-way and the Fossway. Upon these roads, which two centuries and a half ago would present a singular contrast in the strength of their construction to the miry lanes of a later period, would the young Shakspere often walk ; and he would naturally regard these
ways with reverence as well as curiosity, for his chroniclers would tell him that they were the work of the Britons before the invasion of the Romans. Fabyan would tell him, in express words, that they were the work of the Britons; and Camden and Dugdale were not as yet to tell him otherwise. Robert of Gloucester says
* Faire weyes many on ther ben in Englonde ;
Made and ordeined hem with gret fraunchise.” His notion therefore of the people of the days of Lud and Cymbeline would be that they were a powerful and a refined people ; excelling in many of the arts of life ; formidable in courage and military discipline ; enjoying free institutions. When the matured dramatist had to touch upon this period, he would paint the Britons boldly refusing the Roman yoke, but yet partakers of the Roman civilization. The English king who defies Augustus says
“Thy Cæsar knighted me; my youth I spent
Behoves me keep at utterance.' This is an intelligent courage, and not the courage of a king of painted savages. In the depths of the remarkable intrenchments which surround the hill of Welcombe, hearing only the noise of the sheep-bell in the uplands, or the evening chime from the distant church-tower, would William Shakspere think much of the mysterious