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past. No one could tell him who made these intrenchments, or for what purpose they were made. Certainly they were produced by the hand of man ; but were they for defence or for religious ceremonial ? Was the lofty mound, itself probably artificial, which looked down upon them, a fort or a temple ? Man, who would know everything and explain everything, assuredly knows little, when he cannot demand of the past an answer to such inquiries. But does he know much more of things which are nearer to his own days? Is the annalist to be trusted when he undertakes not only to describe the actions and to repeat the words, but to explain the thoughts and the motives which prompted the deeds that to a certain extent fixed the destiny of an age? There was a truth, however, which was to be found amidst all the mistakes and contradictions of the annalists—the great poetical truth, that the devices of men are insufficient to establish any permanent command over events ; that crime would be followed by retribution ; that evil passions would become their own tormentors; that injustice could not be successful to the end ; that, although dimly seen and unwillingly acknowledged, the great presiding Power of the world | could make evil work for good, and advance the general happiness out of the particular misery. This was the mode, we believe, in which that thoughtful youth read the Chronicles of his country, whether brief or elaborate. Looking at them by the strong light of local association, there would be local tradition at hand to enforce that universal belief in the justice of God's providence which is in itself alone one
of the many proofs of that justice. It is this religious aspect of human affairs which that young man cultivated when he cherished the poetical aspect. His books have taught him to study history through the medium of poetry. “The Mirror for
Magistrates” is a truer book for him than Fabyan's “ Chronicle.” He can understand the beauty and the power of his beloved Froissart, who described with incomparable clearness the events which he saw with his own eyes. To do this as Froissart has done it, requires a gift of imagination as well as of faithfulness ; of that imagination which, grouping and concentrating things apparently discordant, produces the highest faithfulness, because it sees and exhibits all the facts. But the prosaic digest of what others had seen and written about, disproportionate in its estimate of the importance of events, dwelling little upon the influences of individual character, picturing everything in the same monotonous light, and of the same height and breadth ; this, which was called history, was to him a tedious fable. He stands by the side of the tomb of King John at Worcester. There, with little monumental pomp, lies the faithless King, poisoned, as he has read, by a monk. The poetical aspect of that man's history lies within a narrow compass. He was intriguing, treacherous, bloody, an oppressor of his people, a persecutor of the unprotected. His life is one of contest and misery; he loses his foreign possessions; his own land is invaded. But he stands up against foreign domination, and that a priestly domination. According to the tradition, he falls by private murder, as a consequence, not of his crimes, but of his resistance to external oppression. The prosaic view of this man's history separates the two things, his crimes and their retribution. The poetical view connects them. Arthur is avenged when the poisoned king, hated and unlamented, finds a resting-place from his own passions and their consequences in the earth beneath the paving-stones of the cathedral of Worcester. But there was a tear even for that man's grave, when his last sufferings were shadowed out in the young poet's mind :
“ Poison'd,-ill fare :-dead, forsook, cast off :
When the dramatic power was working, as we have no doubt it was working early in the mind of William Shakspere, he would look at history to see how events might be brought together, not in the exact order of time, but in the more natural order of cause and effect. Events would be made prominent, not according to their absolute political importance, but as they were the result of high passions and fearful contests of opinion. The epic of history is a different thing from the dramatic. In the epic the consequences of an event, perhaps the remote consequences, may be more important than the event itself ; may be foreseen before the event comes ; may be fully delineated after the event has happened. In the drama the importance of an action must be understood in the action itself ; the hero must be great in the instant time, and not in the possible future. It is easy to understand, therefore, how the matured Shakspere attempted not to work upon many of the local associations which must have been vividly present to his youthful fancy. The great events connected with certain localities were not capable of sustaining a dramatic development. There was no event, for example, more important in its consequences than the Battle of Evesham. The battle-field must have been perfectly familiar to the young Shakspere. About two miles and a half from Evesham is an elevated point, near the village of Twyford, where the Alcester road is crossed by another track. The Avon is not more than a mile distant on either hand; for, flowing from Offenham to Evesham, a distance of about three miles, it encircles that town, returning in a
*"King John,” Act v., Scene vii.
nearly parallel direction, about the same distance, to Charlbury. The great road, therefore, from Alcester to Evesham continues, after it passes Tywford, through a narrow tongue of land bounded by the Avon, having considerable variety of elevation. Immediately below Twyford is a hollow, now called Battlewell, crossing which the road ascends to the elevated platform of Greenhill. Here, then, was the scene of that celebrated battle which put an end to the terrible conflicts between the Crown and the Nobility, and for a season left the land in peace under the sway of an energetic despotism. The circumstances which preceded that battle, as told in "The Chronicle of Evesham” (which in William Shakspere's time would have been read and remembered by many an old tenant of the Abbey), were singularly interesting. Simon Montfort, the great Earl of Leicester, was waiting at Evesham the arrival of his son's army from Kenilworth ; but Prince Edward had surprised that army, and taken many of its leaders prisoners, and young Montfort durst not leave his stronghold. In that age rumour did not fly quite so quickly as in our days. The Earl of Leicester was ignorant of the events that had happened at Kenilworth. He had made forced marches from Hereford to Worcester, and thence to Evesham. There were solemn masses in the Abbey Church on the 3rd of August, 1265, and the mighty Earl, who had won for himself the name of “Sir Simon the Righteous," felt assured that his son was at hand, and that Heaven would uphold his cause against a perjured Prince. On the morning of the 4th of August the Earl of Leicester sent his barber Nicholas to the top of the Abbey tower, to look for the succour that was coming over the hills from Kenilworth. The barber came down with eager gladness, for he saw, a few miles off, the banner of young Simon de Montfort in advance of a mighty host. And again the Earl sent the barber to the top of
the Abbey tower, and the man hastily descended in fear and sorrow, for the banner of young de Montfort was no more to be seen, but, coming nearer and nearer, were seen the standards of Prince Edward, and of Mortimer, and of Gloucester. Then saw the Farl his imminent peril; and he said, according to one writer, “God have our souls all, our days are all done ;" or, according to another writer, “Our souls God have,
for our bodies be theirs.” But Montfort was not a man to fly. Over the bridge of Evesham he might have led his forces, so as to escape from the perilous position in which he was shut up. He hastily marched northward, with King Henry his prisoner, at two o'clock in the afternoon of that day. Before nightfall the waters of the little valley were blood-red. Thousands were slain between those two hills ; thousands fled, but there was no escape but by the bridge of Evesham, and they perished in the Avon. The old King, turned loose upon a war-horse amidst the terrible conflict, was saved from death at the hands of the victors by crying out, “I am Henry of Winchester.” The massacre of Evesham, where a hundred and eighty barons and knights, in arms for what they called their liberties, were butchered without quarter, was a final measure of royal vengeance. It was a great epic story. It had dramatic points, but it was not essentially dramatic. If Shakspere had chosen the wars of the Barons, instead of the wars of the Roses, for a vast dramatic theme, the fate of Simon de Montfort and his gallant company might have been told so as never to have been forgotten. But he had another tale of civil war to tell ; one more essentially dramatic in the concentration of its events, the rapid changes in its fortunes, the marked characters of its leaders. On the battle-field of Evesham he would indeed meditate upon «The ill success of treason, the fall of hasty climbers, the wretched end of usurpers, the misery of civil dissension, and how just God is evermore in punishing murder.”* But these lessons were to be worked out more emphatically in other histories. Another Warwickshire poet, Drayton, would sing the great Battle of Edward and Leicester.
There is peace awhile in the land. A strong man is on the throne. The first
Edward dies, and, a weak and profligate son succeeding him, there is again misrule and turbulence. Within ten miles of Stratford there was a fearful tragedy enacted in the year 1312. On the little knoll called Blacklow Hill, about a mile from Warwick, might William Shakspere ponder upon the fate of Gaveston. In that
secluded spot all around him would be peacefulness ; the only sound of life about him would be the dashing of the wheel of the old mill at Guy's Cliff. The towers of Warwick would be seen rising above their surrounding trees; and, higher than | all, Guy's Tower. He would have heard that this tower was not so called from the Saxon champion, the Guy of minstrelsy, whose statue, bearing shield and sword, he had often looked upon in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen at Guy's Cliff. The Tower was called after the Guy whose common name—a name of opprobrium fixed on him by Gaveston—was associated with that of his maternal ancestors,—Guy, the Black Dog of Arden. And then the tragedy of Blacklow Hill, as he recollected this, would present itself to his imagination. There is a prisoner standing in the great hall of Warwick Castle. He is unarmed ; he is clad in holiday vestments, but they are soiled and torn ; his face is pale with fear and the fatigue of a night journey. By force has he been hurried some thirty miles across the country from Dedington, Dear Banbury; and amidst the shouts of soldiery and the rude clang of drum and trumpet has he entered the castle of his enemies, where they are sitting upon the dais,—Warwick and Lancaster, and Hereford and Arundel,--and the prisoner stands trembling before them, a monarch's minion, but one whom they have no right to punish. But the sentence is pronounced that he shall die. He sued for mercy to those whom he had called “the black dog ” and “the old hog," but they spurned him. A sad procession is marshalled. The castle gates are opened; the drawbridge is let down. In silence the avengers march to Blacklow Hill, with their prisoner in the midst. He dies by the axe. In a few years his unhappy master falls still more miserably. Here was a story, which in some particulars Shakspere's judgment would have rejected, as unworthy to be dramatized. Another poet would arise, a man of undoubted power, of daring genius, of fiery temperament, who would seize upon the story of Edward II, and his wretched favourite, and produce a drama that should present a striking contrast to the drawling histories of the earlier stage. The subject upon which the “ dead Shepherd " had put forth his strength was not to be touched by his greater rival.*
A reign of power succeeds to one of weakness. Edward III. is upon the throne. William Shakspere is familiar with the great events of this reign ; for the®“ Chronicles” of Froissart, translated by Lord Berners, have more than the charm of the romance-writers; they present realities in colours more brilliant than those of fiction. The clerk of the chamber to Queen Philippa is overflowing with that genial spirit which was to be a great characteristic of Shakspere himself. Froissart looks upon nothing with ipdifference. He enters most heartily into the spirit of every scene into which he is thrown. The luxuries of courts unfit him not for a relish of the charms of nature. The fatigues of camps only prepare him for the enjoyment of banquets and dances. He throws himself into the boisterous sports of the field at one moment, and is proud to produce a virelay of his own composition at another. The early violets and white and red roses are sweet to his sense ; and so is a night draught of claret or Rochelle wine. He can meditate and write as he travels alone upon his palfrey, with his portmanteau, having no follower but his faithful greyhound; he can observe and store up in his memory when he is in the court of David II. of Scotland, or of Gaston de Foix, or in the retinue of the Black Prince. The hero of Froissart is Edward Prince of Wales, the glorious son of a glorious father. William Shakspere was in the presence of local associations connected with
* The notice by Shakspere of Marlowe, in "As You Like It," is one of the few examples we have of any mention by the great poet of his contemporaries. This is a kind notice conveyed in the introduction of a line from Marlowe's “Hero and Leander:"
“Dead Shepherd ! now I find thy saw of might