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"Do not inflate plain things into marvels, but reduce marvels to plain things."


§ 1. EARLY LIFE. The biography of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE may now be considered as in the main settled and fixed for all time. Modern research has explored every forgotten corner in search of new facts; all discoverable archives and dusty repositories of lost books and derelict papers have been ransacked; every known record, monument, and relic, of the age in which he lived, has been thoroughly questioned, even to the last trace and tradition of his name and family; and, failing any further genuine data, the most ingenious and consummate forgeries have been attempted. And if all honest inquiry be not yet exhausted, it has been made sufficiently clear, at least, that but little more can be added hereafter to what is already known of his personal history, and nothing that can be expected materially to change the general scope and character of the latest received account of his life. He is thus delivered down to us as essentially an uneducated man, whether we are to speak of education in the sense of modern times, or of the sixteenth century, or of the ancient schools. True, there have been great self-educated men in all times; as, indeed, who is not, at last, in one sense, a self-educated man? That there is a

vast difference, however, between the learning and philosophy which the same genius will attain to, in a given time, in any age, with the aid of all existing helps, and that which he may reach without such aid, no man needs to be informed. School, or no school, without books and studies, we know that learning is impossible.

Beyond that primary instruction which could be obtained at the free grammar-school of Stratford-on-Avon, in which Latin was taught by one master, nearly three centuries ago, it is pretty certain that William Shakespeare had no learning from public institutions, or from private tuition. His father, John Shakespeare, a glover by trade, sometime wool-stapler and butcher, at different times constable, high bailiff, and alderman of Stratford-on-Avon, and, at last, a gentleman, by grant of a coat-of-arms from the Herald's College, in 1599, at the instance of his son William, when he had attained to prosperity, was no doubt a respectable burgher of that place, but certainly so illiterate that he could not write his own name, and executed written instruments by making his mark; and the same was the case with his mother, notwithstanding that she was descended of an ancient family of goodly estate. From the manner in which the name was written by members of the family in Warwickshire, it is evident that it was usually pronounced Sharper, though it seems to have had no fixed spelling among them, not even with William himself, for his autographic signatures to his will appear to have it both Shakspere and Shakspeare ; but it was printed in his lifetime, and in the Folio of 1623, and passed into the contemporary literature, as Shakespeare ; and so let it remain."

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon, on the 23d day of April, 1564, and according to what is known of his early life, he attended the free grammar-school of that place for some few years and until about the year 1578, when he was taken from school, his assistance being

1 Halliwell's Life of William Shakespeare, London, 1848.

required by his father in his business at home. The occupations in which his father appears to have been engaged, at this time, were those of an ordinary yeoman, including the business of a glover, a wool-stapler, and, as some say, a butcher also; and he was, at the same time, and down to the year 1586, an alderman of the corporation of Stratford. On the 28th day of November, 1582, the son William was married, at the age of eighteen, to Ann Hathaway, some years older than himself, and the daughter of a neighboring farmer. Their eldest daughter, Susanna, was born in May following ; but his latest biographer thinks there must have been some preliminary espousals, in accordance with a frequent custom of the time, as early as the summer of 1582. After this date, his father appears to have fallen into embarrassed circumstances. He was superseded in his office of alderman, in 1586, for non-attendance, and was presented as a recusant, in 1592, “ for not coming to church for feare of process for debt.” There is indubitable evidence that, for several years prior to 1587, different theatrical companies from London occasionally visited Stratfordon-Avon (the native place of some of the actors), in some instances, under the patronage of John Shakespeare and other aldermen; and it is highly probable that the son William would be attracted to their company. There are uncertain traditions also that, during this period, he had been in the habit of drinking beer with the pot-house clubs, hunting coneys for amusement, and poaching on the neighboring deer-parks by way of romance, until he was driven away from Stratford by the persecution of Sir Thomas Lucy; but whether from this cause, or driven by stress of poverty, or merely drawn by the attractions of the theatre, it appears that, about the year 1587, he went up to London, carrying with him but a small stock of learning, and became attached to the theatre in a very humble capacity. Ben Jonson informs us that he had “ but small Latin

1 Halliwell.

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