« PreviousContinue »
students in Saint John's colledge in Cambridge: Printed at London in 4to. 1606."
Giving a character of Shakspeare, the author says:
" Who loves Adonis' love, or Lucre's rape,
That industrious antiquary, Mr. William Oldys, one of the writers of the Biographia Britannica, in his manuscript collections for a life of Shakspeare, says, “ There was a very aged gentleman in the neighbourhood of Stratford, who had not only heard from several old people in that town, of Shakspeare's transgression, but could remember the first stanza of the bitter ballad, which, repeating to one of his acquaintance, he preserved it in writing, and here it is neither better nor worse, but faithfully transcribed from the copy which his relation very courteously communicated
“ A parliamente member, a justice of peace,
He thinks himself greate,
Yet an asse in his state;
Mr. Steevens observes upon these doggrel lines, that, “contemptible as this performance must now appear, at the time when it was written it might have had sufficient power to irritate a vain, weak, and vindictive magistrate; especially as it was affixed to several of his park gates, and consequently published among his neighbours. It may be remarked, likewise, that the jingle on which it turns occurs in the first scene of the Merry Wives of Windsor.”
Now with all due deference to this worthy commentator, and making every allowance that ought to be made to Shakspeare's youth, we cannot but think that the knight has been unjustly treated. To rob him of his property, and then to libel him in a ballad, well adapted to render him ridiculous among the common people, was enough to exereise the patience of any man; and it is wrong to charge a man with being 'weak and vindictive' for prosecuting one who had so little sense of his fault, as to add insult to injury.
According to Mr. Capell, this ballad came originally from Mr. Thomas Jones, who lived at Tarbick, a village in Worcestersbire, about eighteen miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, and died in 1703, aged upwards of ninety. He remembered to have heard from several old people at Stratford, the story of Shakspeare's robbing Sir Thomas Lucy's park, and their account of it agreed with Mr. Rowe's, with this addition that, the ballad written against Sir Thomas Lucy, by
Shakspeare, was stuck upon his park gate, which exasperated the knight to apply to a lawyer at Warwick, to proceed against him. Mr. Jones put down in writing the first stanza of this ballad, which was all he remembered of it."
Mr. Malone has this additional account: In a manuscript history of the stage, full of forgeries and falsehoods of various kinds, (written I suspect, by William Chetwood, the prompter,) sometime between April, 1727, and October, 1730, is the following passage, to which the reader may give as much credit as he thinks fit:
“ Here we shall observe, that the learned Mr. Joshua Barnes, late Greek professor of the University of Cambridge, baiting about forty years ago, at an inn in Stratford, and hearing an old woman singing part of the above-said sung, such was his respect for Mr. Shakspeare's genius, that he gave her a new gown for the two following stanzas in it, and could she have said it all, he would, (as he often said in company, when any thing has casually arose about him) have given her ten guineas :
“ Sir Thomas was too covetous
To covet so much deer ;
Most plainly did appear.
Had not his worship one deer left
What then? be bad a wife
Should last him during life."
It is time to quit the deer-stealing story, and Shakspeare's ballads, which, perhaps, the candid reader will think reflect no great lustre upon his memory, notwithstanding the enthusiastic reverence of honest Joshua Barnes.
In the reign of Elizabeth, coaches being very uncommon, and liired ones not at all in use, those persons who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback on any distant bu. siness or diversion. Many came thus to the playhouse, and when Shakspeare flew to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the theatre and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready again for them after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man, as he alighted, called for Will Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hands than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, and say, I am Shakspeare's boy, Sir. In time Shakspeare found higher employment; but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters retained the appellation of Shakspeare's boys. This story, which Mr. Steevens endeavours to
discredit, has a tolerable genealogy for its legitimacy. Pope had it from Rowe, who obtained it from Betterton the player, and he was told it by Sir William Davenant, who was well acquainted with Shakspeare. In Oldys's Collections is the following story :
“If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn, or tavern, in Oxford, in his journeys to and from Stratford. 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 nian, who, as well as his wife used much to delight in Shakspeare'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 Shakspeare, 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 such heat and hurry. He answered, “ to see his Godfather Shakspeare." " There's a good boy,” said the other, “but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain.”
From the servile employment of holding horses at the play-house door, Shakspeare rose to the character of an actor, but of his merits as a performer little is known. Tradition relates that he pever went beyond the Ghost in his own Ham