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"Under an oak, whose antique root peeps out
and doubt not that there was the place to which
"A poor sequester'd stag,
There may we still see
"A careless herd, Full of the pasture,"
leaping gaily along, or crossing the river at their own will in search of fresh fields and low branches whereon to browse.
The village of Charlcote is now one of the prettiest objects. Whatever is new about it—and most of the cottages are new—looks like a restoration of what was old. The same character prevails in the neighbouring village of Hampton Lucy; and it may not be too much to assume that the memory of him who walked in these pleasant places in his younger days, long before the sound of his greatness had gone forth to the ends of the earth, has led to the desire to preserve here something of the architectural character of the age in which he lived. There are a few old houses still left in Charlcote; but the more important have probably been swept away.
In the ' Two Gentlemen of Verona/ which we hold to be one of Shakspere's very early plays, he has denoted some of the characteristics of the Avon of his boyhood:
"The current, that with gentle murmur glides,
Very lovely is this Avon for some miles above Stratford; a poet's river in its beauty and its peacefulness. It is disturbed with no sound of traffic; it holds its course unvexed by man through broad meadows and wooded acclivities, which for generations seem to have been dedicated to solitude. All the great natural features of the river must have suffered little change since the time of Shakspere. Inundations in some places may have widened the channel; osier islands may have grown up where there was once a broad stream. But we here look upon the same scenery upon which he looked, as truly as we gaze upon the same blue sky, and see its image in the same glassy water.
The Avon necessarily derives its chief interest from its associations with Shakspere. His contemporaries connected his fame with his native river:—
"Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were,
So wrote Jonson in his manly lines, "To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakspere, and what he hath left us." After him came Davenant, with a pretty conceit that the river had lost its beauty when the great poet no longer dwelt upon its banks :—
"Beware, delighted poets, when you sing,
The banks of Avon; for each flow'r,
Each tree, whose thick and spreading growth hath made
Unwilling now to grow,
Which from his last rage flow.
The piteous river wept itself away
That, reach the map, and look
Will find a shallow brook." *
Joseph Warton describes fair Fancy discovering the infant Shakspere "on the winding Avon's willowed banks." Thomas Warton has painted the scenery of the Avon and its associations with a bright pencil:—
"Avon, thy rural views, thy pastures wild,
The well-known lines of Gray are among bis happiest efforts:—
"Far from the sun and summer gale,
These quotations sufficiently show that the presiding genius of the Avon is Shakspere. But even without this paramount association, the river, although little visited, abounds with picturesque scenery and interesting objects.
Shottery, the prettiest of hamlets, is scarcely a mile from Stratford. Here, in all probability, dwelt one who was to have an important influence upon the destiny of the boy-poet. We cannot say, absolutely, that Anne Hathaway, the future wife of William Shakspere, was of Shottery; but the prettiest of
* In Remembrance of Master William Shakspere. Ode.
maidens (for the veracious antiquarian boldly says there is a tradition that she was eminently beautiful) would have fitly dwelt in the pleasantest of hamlets. Shakspere's marriage bond, which was discovered a few years since, has set at rest all doubt as to the name and residence of his wife. She is there described as Anne Hathwey, of Stratford, in the diocese of Worcester, maiden. Rowe, in his 'Life,' says:— "Upon his leaving school he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; and in order to settle in the world, after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." At the hamlet of Shottery, which is in the parish of Stratford, the Hathaways had been settled forty years before the period of Shakspere's marriage; for in the Warwickshire Surveys, in the time of Philip and Mary, it is recited that John Hathaway held property at Shottery. by copy of court-roll, dated 20th of April, 34th of Henry VIII. (1543).* The Hathaway of Shakspere's time was named Richard; and the intimacy between him and John Shakspere is shown by a precept in an action against Richard Hathaway, dated 1579, in which John Shakspere is his bondman. Before the discovery of the marriage-bond Malone had found a confirmation of the traditional account that the maiden name of Shakspere's wife was Hathaway; for Lady Barnard, the grand-daughter of Shakspere, makes bequests in her will to the children of Thomas Hathaway, "her kinsman." But Malone doubts whether there were not other Hathaways than those of Shottery, residents in the town of Stratford, and not in the hamlet included in the parish. This is possible. But, on the other hand, the description in the marriagebond of Anne Hathaway, as of Stratford, is no proof that she was not of Shottery; for such a document would necessarily have regard only to the parish of the person described. Tradition, always valuable when it is not opposed to evidence, has associated for many years the cottage of the Hathaways at Shottery with the wife of Shakspere. Garrick purchased relics out of it at the time of the Stratford Jubilee; Samuel Ireland afterwards carried off what was called Shakspere's courting-chair; and there is still in the house a very ancient carved bedstead, which has been handed down from descendant to descendant as an heirloom. The house was, no doubt, once adequate to form a comfortable residence for a substantial and even wealthy yeoman. It is still a pretty cottage, embosomed by trees, and surrounded by pleasant pastures : and here the young poet might have surrendered his prudence to his affections:—
"Ab in the sweetest buda The eating canker dwells, so eating love Inhabits in the finest wits of all."t
■ The Shottery property, which was called Hewland, remained with the decendants of the Hathaways till 1838. Amongtt the laudable ob;ects proposed by the Shakspcrian Club was the purchase and preservation of this property.
t 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' Act i. Scene I.
The very early marriage of the young man, with one more than seven years his elder, has been supposed to have been a rash and passionate proceeding. Upon the face of it, it appears an act that might at least be reproved in the words which follow those we have just quoted :—
"As the most forward bud
This is the common consequence of precocious marriages; but we are not therefore to conclude that " the young and tender wit" of our Shakspere was " turned to folly"—that " his forward bud" was "eaten by the canker"—that "his verdure" was lost "even in the prime" by his marriage with Anne Hathaway before he was nineteen. The influence which this marriage must have had upon his destinies was no doubt considerable; but it is too much to assume, as it has been assumed, that it was an unhappy influence. All that we really know of Shakspere's family life warrants the contrary supposition.
Stratford and its neighbourhood are not less associated with the Shakspere of middle and later life. He left Stratford, as we believe, about 1585 or 1580. If he were absent alone during a portion of the year from his native place, his family probably lived under the roof of his father and mother. His visits to them would not necessarily be of rare occurrence, and of short duration. The latter part of the summer and autumn seem to have been at his disposal as far as theatrical performances were concerned, during the first seven or eight years of his career. In 1597 he bought "all that capital messuage or tenement in Stratford, called the New Place." In 1602 he made a large addition to his property at Stratford, by the purchase of a hundred and seventy acres of arable land, and also a house in Stratford, situated in Walker-street. In 1603 he purchased another messuage in Stratford, Barne's gardens and orchards. In 1605 he accomplished a large purchase of the moiety of the lease of the great and small tithes of Stratford. There could be no doubt from these circumstances, and from documents that show that he dealt in corn, that he was a cultivator of his own land in his native place. At what period he entirely gave up his profession of an actor it is difficult to say. We believe it was earlier in the seventeenth century than is commonly imagined. There can be no doubt that for several years previous to his death, he had returned, wealthy and honoured, to the bosom of those who were dearest to him—his wife and daughters, his mother, his sisters and brothers. The companions of his boyhood are all around him. They have been useful members of society in their native place. He has constantly kept up his intercourse with them. They have looked to him for assistance in their difficulties. He is come to be one of them, to dwell wholly amongst them, to take a deeper Interest in their pleasures and in their cares, to receive their sympathy. He is co;ne to walk amidst his own fields, to till them, to sell their produce. His labour will be his recreation. In the activity of his body will the energy of his intellect find its support and rest. A pleasanter residence than Stratford, independent of all the early associations which ei deared it to the heart of Shakspere, would have been difficult to find as a poet's resting-place. It was a town, as most old English towns were, of houses amidst gardens. Built of timber, it had been repeatedly devastated by fires. In 1594 and 1595 a vast number of houses had been thus destroyed; but they were probably small tenements and hovels. New houses arose of a better order; and one still exists, bearing the date on its front of 1596, which indicates something of the picturesque beauty of an old English country town. Shakspere's own house was no doubt one of those quaint buildings which were pulled down in the last generation, to set up four walls of plain brick, with equi-distant holes called doors and windows. His garden was a spacious one. The Avon washed its banks; and within its enclosures it had its sunny terraces and green lawns, its pleached alleys and honeysuckle bowers. If the poet walked forth, a few steps brought him into the country: near the pretty hamlet of Shottery, by his own grounds of Bishopton, then part of the great common field of Stratford. Not far from the ancient chapel of Bishopton, of which Dugdale has preserved a representation, and the walls of which still remain, would he watch the operation of seed-time and harvest. If he passed the church and the mill, he was in the pleasant meadows that skirted the Avon on the pathway to Ludington. If he desired to cross the river, he might now do so without going round by the great bridge; for in 1599, soon after he bought New Place, the pretty foot bridge was erected, which still bears that date. His walks and his farm labours were his recreation. We believe that his higher labours continued till the end.
It would be something if we could now form an exact notion of the house in which Shakspere lived; of its external appearance, its domestic arrangements. Dugdale, speaking of Sir Hugh Clopton, who built the bridge at Stratford and repaired the chapel, says: "On the north side of this chapel was a fair house, built of brick and timber, by the said Hugh, wherein he lived in his later days, and died." This was nearly a century before Shakspere bought the "fair house," which, in the will of Sir Hugh Clopton, is called the "great house." Theobald says that Shakspere, "having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place." Malone holds that this is an error:—"I find from ancient documents that it was called New Place as early at least as 1565." The great house, having been sold out of the Clopton family, was purchased by Shakspere of William Underhill, Esq. Shakspere by his will left it to his daughter, Mrs. Hall, with remainder to her heirs male, or, in default, to her daughter Elizabeth and her heirs male, or the heirs anale of his daughter Judith. Mrs. Hall died in 1649;
surviving her husband fourteen years. There is little doubt that she occupied the house when Queen Henrietta Maria, in 1643, coming to Stratford in royal state with a large army, resided for three weeks under thi» roof. The property descendea to her daughter Elizabeth, first married to Mr. Thomas Nash, and afterwards to Sir Thomas Barnard. She dying without issue, New Place was sold in 1675, and was ultimately repurchased by the Clopton family. Sir Hugh Clopton, in the middle of the eighteenth century, resided there. The learned knight thoroughly repaired and beautified the place, as the local historians say, and built a modern front to it. This was the first stage of its desecration. After the death of Sir Hugh, in 1751, it was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, in 1753.
The total destruction of New Place in 1757, by its new possessor, is difficult to account for upon any ordinary principles of action. Malone thus relates the story:—" The Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. Every house in that town that is let or valued at more than 40s. a-year is assessed by the overseers, according to its worth and the ability of the occupier, to pay a monthly rate toward the maintenance of the poor. As Mr. Gastrell resided part of the year at Lichfield, he thought he was assessed too highly; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his seivants in his absence, he peevishly declared, that that house should never be assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town. Wishing, as it should seem, to be 'damn'd to everlasting fame,' he had some time before cut down Shakspere's celebrated mulberry-tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the poetic ground on which it stood." The cutting down of the mulberrytree seems to have been regarded as the chief offence in Mr. Gastrell's own generation. His wife was a sister of Johnson's correspondent, Mrs. Aston. After the death of Mr. Gastrell, his widow resided at Lichfield; and in 1776, Boswell, in company with Johnson, dined with the sisters. Boswell on this occasion says— "I was not informed till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrell's husband was the clergyman who, while he lived at Stratford-upon-Avon, with Gothic barbarity cut down Shakspere's mulberry-tree, and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours. His lady, I have reason to believe on the same authority, participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts of our immortal bard deem almost a species of sacrilege." The mulberry-tree was cut down in 1756; was sold for firewood; and the bulk of it was purchased by a Mr. Thomas Sharpe, of Stratford-upon-Avon, clock and watchmaker, who made a solemn affidavit some years afterwards, that out of a sincere veneration for the memory of its celebrated planter he had the greater part of it conveyed to his own premises, and worked it into curious toys and useful articles. The destruction of the mulberry-tree, which the previous possessor of New Place used to show with pride and veneration, enraged the people of Stratford; and Mr. Wheler tells us that he remembers to have heard his father say that, when a boy, he assisted in the revenge of breaking the reverend destroyer's windows. The hostilities were put an end to by the Rev. Mr. Gastrell quitting Stratford in 1757; and, upon the principle of doing what he liked with his own, pulling the house to the ground in which Shakspere and his children had lived and died.
There is no good end to be served in execrating the memory of the man who deprived the world of the pleasure of looking upon the rooms in which the author of some of the greatest productions of human intellect had lived, in the common round of humanity—of treading reverentially upon the spot hallowed by his presence and by his labours. It appears to us that this person intended no insult to the memory of Shakspere; and, indeed, thought nothing of Shakspere in the whole course of his proceedings. He bought a house, and paid for it. He wished to enjoy it in quiet. People with whom he could not sympathize intruded upon him to see the gardens and the house. In the gardens was a noble mulberry-tree. Tradition said it was planted by Shakspere; and the professional enthusiasts of Shakspere, the Garricks and the Macklins, had sat under its shade, during the occupation of one who felt that there was a real honour in the ownership of such a place. The Rev. Mr. Gastrell wanted the house and the gardens to himself. He had that strong notion of the exclusive rights of property which belongs to most Englishmen, and especially to ignorant Englishmen. Mr. Gastrell was an ignorant man, though a clergyman. We have seen his diary, written upon a visit to Scotland three years after the pulling down of New Place. His journey was connected with some electioneering intrigues in the Scotch boroughs. He is a stranger in Scotland, and he goes into some of its most romantic districts. The scenery makes no impression upon him, as may be imagined; but he is scandalized beyond measure when he meets with a bad dinner and a rough lodging. He has just literature enough to know the name of Shakspere; but in passing through Forres and Glamis he has not the slightest association with Shakspere's Macbeth. A Captain Gordon informs his vacant mind upon some abstruse subjects, as to which we have the following record :— "He assures me that the Duncan murdered at Forres was the same person that Shakspere writes of." There scarcely requires any further evidence of the prosaic character of his mind; and if there be some truth in the axiom of Shakspere, that
"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds.
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils,"
we hold, upon the same principle, that the man who speaks in this literal way of the "person that Shakspere writes of," was a fit man to root up Shakspere's mulberry-tree, and pull down his house,
being totally insensible to the feeling that he was doing any injury to any person but himself, and holding that the wood and the stone were his own, to be dealt with at his own good pleasure.
It is a singular fact that no drawings or prints exist of New Place as Shakspere left it, or at any period before the alterations by Sir Hugh Clopton. It is a more singular fact that although Garrick had been there only fourteen years before the destruction, visiting the place with a feeling of veneration that might have led him and others to preserve some memorial of it, there is no trace whatever existing of what New Place was before 1757. The representation of 'New Place' given in some variorum editions of Shakspere, is unquestionably a lorgery. A modern house is now built upon the spot. Part of the site is still a pleasant place of garden and bowling-green.
Pass we to Stratford Church—the last and most solemn association with the name of Shakspere. Wc transcribe a brief description of this honoured pile from the 'Rambles by Rivers' of our friend Mr. James Thome:—" Stratford church is a structure of large size and unusual beauty. The bold free hand of the old English architect is seen to advantage here. It is placed on the banks of the Avon, which is fringed by a few willows, and from the river our church appears of surpassing gracefulness. It has transepts, nave, chancel, and aisles, a fine tower and steeple. The tower, transepts, and some other portions are of the early English style, and very perfect; the remainder belongs to a later period, and is not less graceful. Its windows are some of them full of rich tracery. The approach from the town is by a curious avenue of limetrees. The whole appearance of the pile, with the surrounding objects, is extremely pleasing. Beautiful as is the exterior, the interior is even more so. It has very recently been fully restored, and with very great skill— so great skill, indeed, is displayed, that little is left to desire. All the barbaric refinements and embellishments of the last two centuries have been swept away— would they were in every church in the country—and there is really now a fair restoration of the whole to its original state, with some little concessions, indeed, to modern requirements, but all done in the spirit of its original contrivers. The monuments in the church are many, and, besides, the monument, are interesting. One chapel is entirely filled with those of the Clopton family, and many of them are handsome. On th<: north of the east window is a marble tomb to the memory of John Combe, the friend of Shakspere, and whom he has been charged with libelling in some rhyme that would have disgraced a Thames waterman. The statue of Combe was executed by Gerard Johnson, the sculptor of Shakspere's bust. But all else sinks into insignificance before the monument of Shakspere, rendered, too, so doubly interesting by the likeness of him it has preserved."
The sculptor of the monument was Gerard Johnson, whose name we learn from Dugdale's correspondence, published by Mr. Hamper in 1827; and we collect from the verses by Digges, prefixed to the first edition of Shakspere, that it was erected previous to 1623 :—
"Shakspere, at length thy pious fellows give
The fate of this portrait of Shakspere, for we may well
"JVDICIO PtLIVftf, GENIO Scchatem, ARtE Maronkm,
Terra Teoit, Fopvlvs Mxhkt Olympvs Babet.
Stat Passenger, Wht Qoest Thov Bt So rArr,
Far StORk tHAR COSt; SItH ALL tt. HE HAtH WRITT
Leaves Living Art Bvt Paor To Serve His Wit.
Obiit Ano. Doi. 1616. Jctatis 53. Die S3 Ap."
Below the monument, but at a few paces from the
wall, is a flat stone, with the following extraordinary
"good Frend For Jesus Sake Forbears,
In a letter from Warwickshire, in 1693,* the writer,
after describing the monument to Shakspere, and
giving its inscription, says, " Near the wall where this
monument is erected lies the plain freestone underneath
which his body is buried, with this epitaph made by
himself a little before his death." He then gives the
epitaph, and subsequently adds, " Not one for fear of
the curse above-said dare touch his gravestone, though
his wife and daughters did earnestly desire to be laid
• Published from the original manuscript by Mr. Rodd. 1838.
in the same grave with him." This information is given by the tourist upon the authority of the clerk who showed him the church, who " was above eighty years old." Here is unquestionable authority for the existence of this freestone seventy-seven years after the death of Shakspere. We have an earlier authority. In a plate to Dugdale's ' Antiquities of Warwickshire,', first published in 1656, we have a representation of Shakspere's tomb, with the following:—" Neare the wall where this monument is erected, lyeth a plain freestone, underneath which his body is buried, with this epitaph:
"Good trend," Arc.
But it is very remarkable, we think, that this plain freestone does not bear the name of Shakspere—has nothing to establish the fact that the stone originally belonged to his grave. We quite agree with Mr. De Quincey, that this doggrel attributed to Shakspere is "equally below his intellect no less than his scholarship ;" and we hold with him that, "as a sort of sisle viator appeal to future sextons, it is worthy of the gravedigger or the parish-cleik, who was probably its author."
The wife of Shakspere died on the 6th of August, 1623, and was buried on the 8th, according to the register. The gravestone is next to the stone with the doggrel inscription, but nearer to the north wall, upon which Shakspere's monument is placed. The stone has a brass plate with the following inscription :— "heere Lyeth Interred The Bodye Of Anne, Wiff. Of Mr. William Shakspeare, Who Dep'ted This Life The 6th Of Avgvst, 1623, Being Of The Age Of 67 Yeares." Some Latin verses then follow, which are intended to express the deep affection of her daughter, to whom Shakspere bequeathed a life-interest in his real property, and the bulk of his personal. The widow of Shakspere, in all likelihood, resided with this elder daughter. It is possible that they formed one family previous to his death. That daughter died on the 11th of July, 1649, having survived her husband, Dr. Hall, fourteen years. She is described as widow in the register of burials. Ranging with the other stones, but nearer the south wall, is a flat stone now bearing the following inscription :—
"Heere Lyeth Ye Body Of Svsanna, Wife To John Hall, Gent, Ye Davghter Of William ShakSpeare, Gent. She Deceased Ye 11th Of Jvly, Ao. 1649, Aged 66."
On the same stone is an inscription for Richard Watts, who had no relationship to Shakspere or his descendants. Fortunately, Dugdale has preserved an inscription which the masons of Stratford obliterated, to make room for the record of Richard Watts, who has thus attained a distinction to which he had no claim:
"Wlttt Above Hkr Sexe, But That's Not All,
To Weepe With Her Thatwept With All!
Them Up With Comforts Cordiall.