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Sir William Davenant was born in 1606. Aubrey repeats thie story just quoted, and, as might be expected, adds some rather significant embellishments, to the effect that Shake speare was believed to be the father of Sir William, and that Sir William encouraged this belief, as preferring the credit of such a descent to that of an humbler but honest pedigree. Oldys gives the tale with yet other variations, thus : “ If tradition may be trusted, Shakespeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journeys to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, Mr. John Davenant, afterwards mayor of that city, a grave melancholy man; who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shakespeare's pleasant company. Their son, young Will Davenant, afterwards Sir William, was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakespeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival he would fly from school to see him. One day, an old townsman, observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his God-father, Shakespeare. There's a good boy, said the other ; but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain. This story Mr. Pope told me at the Earl of Oxford's table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Shakespeare's monument then newly erected in Westminster Abbey; and he quoted Mr. Betterton the player for his authority. I answered, that I thought such a story might have enriched the variety of those choice fruits of observations he has presented us in his preface to the edition he had published of our Poet's works. He replied, there might be in the garden of mankind such plants as would seem to pride themselves more in a regular pro duction of their own native fruits, than in having the repute of bearing a richer kind by grafting; and this was the reason he omitted it.”
Warton, also, tells us " it was always a constant tradition in Oxford, that Shakespeare was the father of Davenant the poet." Nevertheless, we do not attach any credit to the story. The anecdote is often met with, under different names, in old jest-books ; and the probability is, that in this case the beauty and sprightliness of the mother, the gravity and discreetness of the father, and the pleasure they both took in the Poet's conversation, caused them to be fixed upon for giving the tale a “local habitation and a name." 3
Hitherto, thr: Poet has been overtaken in business transactions rather oftener than in poetical. His latter years furnish about the usual proportion of similar notices. The Stratford records show that in March, 1610, he instituted a legal process against John Addenbrook for the recovery of a small debt. Return being made that Addenbrook was not to be found within the borough, Shakespeare, in June following, proceeded against Thomas Horneby, who had become bail for him, and it is to be hoped he got his money.
We have seen that in May, 1602, Shakespeare purchased of the Combes a hundred and seven acres of arable land in Old Stratford. In the spring of 1611 a fine was levied on this property, and it thereby appears that twenty acres of pasture had been added to the original purchase. At what time the addition was made, is nowhere stated. The fine states the purchase money as £100, which Halliwell thinks to be a mere legal fiction.
This seems a proper occasion for noticing an extempore epitaph which the Poet is alleged to have made on John Combe. Rowe states the occasion of these satirical verses, and also gives a copy of them, as they had come down to him by tradition. As the whole may be seen in our Introduction,
3 A boy, whose mother was noted to be one not overloden with honesty, went to seeke his godfather, and, enquiring for him, quoth one to him, who is thy godfather? The boy replied, his name is goodman Digland the gardiner. Oh, said the man, if he be thy godfather, he is at the next alehouse ; but I feare thou takest God's name in vain. - Taylor's Workes, 1630.
It need not be repeated here. It seems but right, however, to add Aubrey's version of the matter, which, as the reader may see, differs a good deal from Rowe's, and differs for the worse: “One time, as Shakespeare was at the tavern at Stratford, one Combes, an old rich usurer, was to be buried, he makes there this extemporary epitaph :
Ten in the hundred the devil allows,
Ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my Jobn a Combe!'” Here, again, it appears that an old poor conceit has been fathered on the Poet; Mr. Halliwell having shown that the sorry stuff recorded by Aubrey and Rowe is often found, under slightly-varied forms, in epigrammatical collections of that time. Still the account given by Aubrey and Rowe is probably so far right, that Shakespeare did make some verses on Combe, though not those ascribed to him. For in 1634 three men, who describe themselves as “a captain, a lieutenant, and an ancient, all three of the military company in Norwich," took a journey through that part of England, and made notes of what they saw: the manuscript is preserved in the Lansdown collection; and among the things “ worth observing” which they saw at Stratford, are mentioned “ a neat monument of that famous English poet, Mr. William Shakespeare, who was born here; and one of an old gentleman, a bachelor, Mr. Combe, upon whose name the said Poet did merrily fan up some witty and facetious verses which time would not give us leave to sack up.” We have cause to regret their lack of time; though not so much that toe verses which Shakespeare did “fan up” might have been rescued from loss, as that his name might have l.een rescued from those which he did not. Mr. Hunter is probably right in supposing that the Poet's verses on the old gentleman's "name" were “in the punning style of the times, allusive to the double sense of the word Combe, as the name of a person, and also of a certain measure of corn." It is proper to add, that tradition has run divers variations on the matter of the Combe epitaph, which are too stupid to be worth copying, even if they were true. ACcording to one of these variations, the Poet wrote a second epitaph on John Combe, after his death, in which he tried to make amends for the scurrility of the first. Another variation makes him to have written an epitaph also on Thomas Combe, and this still more scurrilous than the former.
Thomas Combe was the nephew of John; and it is worth noting that in both cases the satire is said to have stung the men so severely that they never forgave it. So that the whole scandal is sufficiently disposed of by the fact that John Combe, at his death, in 1614, left a legacy of £5 “ to Mr. William Shakespeare;” and that when the latter died he bequeathed to Mr. Thomas Combe his sword ; which shows them to have died, as they had doubtless lived, on friendly terms. As to the rest, John Combe appears by his will, which is printed at length by Halliwell, to have been a very upright and fair man : his wealth was indeed pretty large; but he left to the poor of Stratford £20, to those of Warwick £5, and to those of Alcester £5; besides £100 to be held in trust, and lent out on a small interest, which was also for “the use of the alms folks,” to “ fifteen poor or young tradesmen, occupiers, or handicraftsmen dwelling within the borough of Stratford.” He also made provision for “a convenient tomb, of the value of three-score pounds." The monument still remains, and on it are inscribed his benefactions, which, though well-guarded, as they ought to be, were decidedly handsome, not to say generous. His residence was close by New Place, and there is no cause wł y his name should be coupled with the Poet's but in terms of respect.
About the time we are now upon, the Stratford perple seem to have been a good deal interested in “ a bill in Parliament for the better repair of the highways, and amending divers defects in the statutes already made:” funds were
se collected towards the charge of prosecuting the bill ;” and * Mr. William Shakespeare” is one of the names found in a list of donations for that purpose, dated “Wednesday the 11th of September, 1611."
The probability is that after this time Shakespeare saw but little of the metropolis. Rowe tells us " the latter part of his life was spent, as all men of sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends." Still he was, like other men, not without his vexations. The exact date does not appear, but about the end of 1612 he was involved in a chancery suit respecting the tithes he had bought in 1605. The plaintiffs in the case are described as “ Richard Lane, of Alveston, Esquire, Thomas Greene, of Stratford-upon-Avon, Esquire, and William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman.” It seems that there was a reserved rent on the lease of the tithes, and that, some of the lessees refusing to pay their shares of this rent, a greater proportion than was right fell upon Lane, Greene, and Shake speare; who thereupon filed a bill before Lord Chancellor Ellesniere, that the other lessees might be compelled to due payment. The issue of the suit is not known; but the draft of the bill is valuable as showing the Poet's exact income from the tithes : it was £60 a year.
The last pecuniary transaction of his that has come to light was the purchase of a house with a small piece of ground attached to it, in the neighbourhood of the Blackfriars theatre. The indenture of conveyance, preserved in the archives of the London corporation, describes the property as “ abutting upon a street leading down to Puddle wharf on the east part, right against the King's Majesty's Wardrobe," and the vendor as “ Henry Walker, citizen and minstrel, of London." It is dated March 10th, 1613, and bears the Poet's signature, which shows that he was in London at the time. The purchase-money was £140, of which £80 were paid down, and the premises mortgaged for the remainder, the mortgage to run till the 29th of September