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tempted to wonder that they should have learned no better lesson from the teaching of a poet who was magnanimity itself.
When we feel regret at the meagreness of the fact-matter to be gathered respecting Shakespeare's life, we must remember what he himself says in bequeathing us his book :-"My spirit is thine, the better part of me.” We must accept this “better part of him” as his best and truest relic. He lives to us still, and for ever, in his works. To know that he was born in that sweet English village; that he went to the metropolis, and earned his fame unto all time, as well as a fortune enabling him to purchase a house and garden in his own native place; that he had the sense and taste to retire thither; that he lived there in the respect and esteem of his neighbours; that his honoured remains lie enshrined in the quiet village church on the banks of his own river Avon, with its silver stream and green trees, holy, bland-shining, and tranquil, as his own spirit, -seems fully enough to know of one of the greatest as well as simplest of God's human beings. After reading all that research has collected respecting his career, we feel that the doubt existing in every particular leaves us unsatisfied, and that on the whole we scarce want these vague records. On the other hand,-every, the minutest particular relative to him being precious, - men have been content to catch at even apocryphal anecdotes, such as the deer-stealing, the horse-holding, the thousand pounds given by the Earl of Southampton to the poet, &c., rather than possess no traces of Shakespeare's existence upon earth. With zealous care have these scattered accounts and dubious circumstances been accumulated, sisted and garnered by venerating editors, and embodied in such biographical form as their scanty nature would allow; while we are compelled to, appease our craving to know more by again reflecting that we have the better part of him—his spirit-his genius—his intellect—his own immortal book.
But, indeed, we possess much, fitly considered, in the few ascertained facts of Shakespeare's life ;* they suffice to show
• Collected into a chronological table, and subjoined, for the convenience of referring, at a glance, to either or all of them in corroboration of these remarks upon Shakespeare's career. This table has been chiefly compiled from the
us that he attained a degree of literary renown and social repute rarely achieved by a man of his station at that period; and, moreover, they serve to manifest that he was precisely the being whom circumstances happily combined to mould as well as to produce. He was no less made a genius than born a genius, by the events that providentially succeeded to his original creation. His birth was propitious; (he was born on the 23d April, St George's day,—the patron saint of England ;) it was of good parentage—“good” in the widest sense of the large-embracing word; it took place in a lovely, quiet village, where pure air, simple habits, free exercise, nurtured the infant frame. His breeding was propitious; country-bred, so long as out-door sports and childish pursuits were best for boyish need, and for cultivating innocent affections and home associations,-town-bred, when youthful manhood demanded more active sphere for mental as well as moral energies. We see him, with the vision lent us by these few recorded facts, together with what traces may be gathered from his own writings,-fidgeting at his mother's knee, like the little Mamillius beside Hermione, with his child's restlessness and eager eyes upturned towards her face, telling one of those wondrous Winter's tales that bewitched his young imagination even then; and which, in his after-telling, became unfading summer stories for mankind : or led by Mary Shakespeare's hand-as little (namesake) William, by Mistress Page's—to school, where Sir Hugh Evans, in the living prototype shape of Thomas Jenkins, (master of the Stratford Grammar-school, stood to question him of those “articles" which“ be thus declined,” &c., and which, in their faulty repetition, with subsequent, yet hardly more guilty lapse, brought forth the Jonsonian Aing at the “little Latin and less Greek.”
There are three years in Shakespeare's life, 1579, 1580, and 1581, when he was a youth of fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years of age, which admit of the possibility that he was a student at one of the universities,—more probably Oxford,
—and subsequently at one of the Inns of Court. The arguments in favour of this supposition are, his classical knowledge “Life” by Mr Payne Collier-altogether the best biography of the poet that has · been produced.
and tastes, his mythological colouring and allusions, more particularly as evinced in his earlier written plays, where they appear with just so much tincture of scholarly mannerism as might be supposed to mark the productions of a young collegian fresh from the learned haunts where he had “walked gowned." The “Two Gentlemen of Verona," with its prodigality of young-man friendship,—the “Comedy of Errors,” with its Plautus plot and origin, — the “Love's Labour's Lost,” with its revelry in pedantic affectations and gentlemanly gallantries,—seem to be the very plays for first essays in student-authorship. The “Venus and Adonis "-professedly “the first heir of his invention”—and the “Lucrece," bear palpable tokens of college elegance and predilection, both in story and in treatment. The air of niceness and stiffness almost peculiar to the schools invest these efforts of his youthful genius with almost unmistakable signs of having been written by a schoolman. Then, his familiar acquaintance with college terms and usages, makes for the conclusion that he had enjoyed the privileges of a university education. The arguments against it are, that no record has yet been found to exist at either Oxford or Cambridge of such being the case; whereas, had they ever numbered such a member among their body, the fact could hardly have failed to be well known; and another point that militates against the assumption is, that John Shakespeare's circumstances during those three years were less prosperous, and therefore the sum requisite for sending his son to college, and maintaining him there, was not likely to have been at command. Still William Shakespeare may have been a scholar upon the foundation,-a sizer, or servitor,
-in which case, his collegiateship would have been no expense
he is at Oxford still, is he not?
• So strong was our impression that Shakespeare must have been a student at Oxford, and afterwards kept terms at one of the Inns of Court, that we besought some friends to interest themselves in the prosecution of inquiries tending to produce evidence on this point; but hitherto research has proved unavailing. The Reverend N. J. Halpin entertained a similar persuasion respecting Shakespeare's having been a collegian; supporting it by a quotation from a tract entitled “Polimanteia;" wherein England addresses “her three Daughters, Cambridge, Oxford, Inns of Court,” &c., and which contains a marginal mention of Shakespeare, as if he were among those of their offspring to be proudly enumerated. Were the fact to be established that he had been a law-student, sufficient clue would be obtained to the marvellous intimacy which Shakespeare has manifested with legal terms, his frequent adoption of them in illustration, and his curiously technical knowledge of their form and force; thereby giving rise to the belief that he had at one time served in an office as an attorney's clerk. Several attempts have been made to substantiate this belief; which probably originated with a supposed sneering allusion to Shakespeare in a contemporary assertion by Thomas Nash, that “ Hamlet” was written by a person who had followed “the trade of noverint," meaning a scrivener or lawyer's clerk, and borne out by other appearances of evidence. The Thomas Greene, who acted as clerk of the corporation in Shakespeare's native town, and was sent up to London on parliamentary business by them in 1614, was apparently son to an attorney of Stratford-upon-Avon, whose burial is recorded in the parish register there, thus :
—“ Thomas Greene, alias Shakespeare, March 6, 1590.” Thomas Greene, the younger, emissary from Stratford, who wrote the note in 1614, mentions his townsman in these words :
_“My cosen Shakespeare comyng yesterday, I went to see him, how he did.” What was the relationship between the Greenes and the Poet, which gave the father a right to his registered “alias," and authorized the son in using the title “cousin,” is unknown; it may have been a mere nominal kinship, some playful "adoptious" cousinship, denoting the intimate terms of friendship which united the two families in a closeness like that of consanguinity; but it serves to show Shakespeare's near connection with professional lawyers, . which alone would suffice to account for his legal know
ledge. With such faculties as his, an occasional hour in Greene's office, conversing gaily,-idly, it might seem, with his young “cousin ” on what mainly interested the attorney aspirant, would endow him with a degree of proficiency that would demand of another long and studious application. Nevertheless, it is by no means impossible that he may have pursued the legal profession with a view to emolument, in the same way that he may have been assistant-master, or usher, at the grammar-school, as a means of gaining a livelihood, when it became absolutely necessary that he should earn something towards his own support. Aubrey's manuscript, in the Ashmolean Museum, states that, “ in his younger years Shakespeare had been a schoolmaster in the country;" and if so, it was in all probability at the period when his father's diminished income, together with his own youthful act of independence in taking a wife, rendered some source of gain absolutely indispensable.
Shakespeare's early marriage,- he was but eighteen,-in all its circumstances, affords a signal proof of his poetic and ardent temperament. There exists a tradition that Anne Hathaway was very beautiful ;-however that may be, she was assuredly so in his eyes. She was in the full bloom of womanhood,-five-and-twenty,—the very period of ripened charms and developed character to win a lad's devoted admiration. From the uniformly noble way in which Shakespeare drew the wifely character, we may feel certain of the esteem as well as affection with which his own wife had inspired him; and the advantage in generosity which he has always assigned to women over men when drawing them in their mutual relations with regard to love, gives us excellent warrant for supposing that he had had reason to know this truth respecting her sex from the mother of his children. The very slenderness of what is known concerning her is one tacit but significant proof of the worth of Shakespeare's wife, and of the integrity of the feeling which bound him to her,—for those women of whom least is heard, are ofttimes the best of their sex,-while the Poet's silence respecting his affection, witnesses its wealth, by his own lines
“ That love is merchandiz’d, whose rich esteeming
The owner's tongue doth publish everywhere."