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jambs. In one corner sat the old man's grand-daughter sewing, a pretty blue-eyed girl, and in the opposite corner was a superannuated crony, whom he addressed by the name of John Ange, and who, I found, had been his companion from childhood. They had played together in infancy; they had worked together in manhood ; they were now tottering about and gossiping away the evening of life ; and in a short time they will probably be buried together in the neighbouring churchyard. It is not often that we see two streams of existence running thus evenly and tranquilly side by side ; it is only in such quiet “ bosom scenes of life that they are to be met with.
I was grieved to hear these two wights speak very dubiously of the eloquent dame who shows the Shakespere house. John Ange shook his head when I mentioned her valuable and inexhaustible collection of relics, particularly her remains of the old 'mulberry-tree; and the old sexton even expressed a doubt as to Shakespere having been born in her house. I soon discovered that he looked upon her mansion with an evil eye, as a rival to the poet's tomb ; the latter having comparatively but few visitors. Thus it is that historians differ at the very outset, and mere pebbles make the stream of truth diverge into different channels even at the fountain head.
THE BIRTHPLACE OF SHAKESPERE.
We approached the church through the avenue of limes and entered by a Gothic porch, highly ornamented, with carved doors of massive oak. The interior is spacious, and the architecture and embellishments superior to those of most country churches. There are several ancient monu ments of nobility and gentry, over some of which hang funeral escutcheons, and banners dropping piecemeal from the walls.
The tomb of Shakspere is in the chancel. The place is solemn and sepulchral. Tall elms wave before the pointed windows, and the Avon, which runs at a short distance from the walls, keeps up a low, perpetual murmur. A flat stone marks the spot where the bard is buried. There are four lines inscribed on it, said to have been written by himself, and which have in them something extremely awful. If they are, indeed, his own, they show that solicitude about the quiet of the grave which seems natural to fine sensibilities and thoughtful minds.
Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
And curst be he that moves my bones. Just over his grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of Shakespere, put up shortly after his death, and considered as a resemblance. The aspect is pleasant and serene, with a finely arched forehead ; and I thought I could read in it clear indications of that cheerful, social disposition, by which he was as much characterised among his contemporaries as by the vastness of his genius. The inscription mentions his age at the time of his decease-fifty-three years : an untimely death for the world ; for what fruit might not have been expected from the golden autumn of such a mind, sheltered as it was from the stormy vicissitudes of life, and flourishing in the sunshine of popular and royal favour?
The inscription on the tombstone has not been without its effect. It has prevented the removal of his remains from the bosom of his native place to Westminster Abbey, which was at one time contemplated. A few years since, also, as some labourers were digging to make an adjoining vault, the earth caved in, so as to leave a vacant space almost like an arch, through which one might have reached into his grave. No one, however, presumed to meddle with his remains so awfully guarded by a malediction, and lest any of the idle or the curious, or any collector of relics, should be tempted to commit depredations, the old sexton kept watch over the place for two days until the vault was finished and the aperture closed again. He told me that he had made bold to look in at the hole, but could see neither coffin nor bones, nothing but dust. It was something, I thought, to have seen the dust of Shakespere.
Next to this grave are those of his wife, his favourite daughter, Mrs. Hall, and others of his family. On a tomb close by, also, is a full-length effigy of his old friend John Combe, of usurious memory, on whom he is said to have written a ludicrous epitaph. There are other monuments around, but the mind refuses to dwell upon anything that is not connected with Shakespere. His idea pervades the place ; the whole pile seems but as his mausoleum. The feelings, no longer checked and thwarted by doubt, here indulge in perfect confidence : other traces of him may be false or dubious, but here is palpable evidence and absolute certainty. As I trod the sounding pavement, there was something intense and thrilling in the idea that, in very truth, the remains of Shakespere were mouldering beneath my feet. It was a long time before I could prevail upon myself to leave the place, and as I passed through the churchyard I plucked a branch from one of the yew-trees, the only relic that I brought from Stratford.
I had now visited the usual objects of a pilgrim's devotion, but I had a desire to see the old family seat of the Lucys, at Charlecot, and to ramble through the park, where Shakespere, in company with some of the roisterers of Stratford, committed his youthful offence of deer-stealing. In this harebrained exploit we are told that he was taken prisoner and carried to the keeper's lodge, where he remained all night in doleful captivity. When brought into the presence of Sir Thomas Lucy, his treatment must have been galling and humiliating ; for it so wrought upon his spirit as to produce a rough pasquinade, which was affixed to the park gate at Charlecot. The following is the only stanza extant of this lampoon :
A parliament member, a justice of peace,
He thinks himself great,
Yet an ass in his state
This flagitious attack upon the dignity of the knight so incensed him that he applied to a lawyer at Warwick to put the severity of the laws in force against the rhyming deer-stalker. Shakespere did not wait to brave the united puissance of a knight of the shire and a country attorney. He forthwith abandoned the pleasant banks of the Avon and his paternal trade ; wandered away to London ; became a hanger-on at the theatres ; then an actor ; and, finally, wrote for the stage ; and thus, through the persecution of Sir Thomas Lucy, Stratford lost an indifferent wool-comber, and the world gained an immortal poet. He retained, however, for a long time a sense of the harsh treatment of the lord of Charlecot, and revenged himself in his writings, but in the sportive way of a good-natured mind.
Sir Thomas is said to be the original of Justice Shallow, and the satire is slyly fixed upon him by the justice's armorial bearings, which, like those of the knight, had white luces in the quarterings.
Various attempts have been made by his biographers to soften and explain away this early transgression of the poet; but I look upon it as one of those thoughtless exploits natural to his situation and turn of mind. Shakespere, when young, had doubtless all the wildness and irregularity of an ardent, undisciplined, and undirected genius. The poetic temperament has naturally something in it of the vagabond. When left to itself it runs loosely and wildly, and delights in everything eccentric and licentious. It is often a turn up of a die in the gambling freaks of fate whether a natural genius shall turn out a great rogue or a great poet; and had not Shakespere's mind fortunately taken a literary bias, he might have as daringly transcended all civil as he has all dramatic laws.
I have little doubt that in early life, when running like an unbroken colt about the neighbourhood of Stratford, he was to be found in the company of all kinds of odd anomalous characters; that he associated with all the madcaps of the place, and was one of those unlucky urchins at mention of whom old men shake their heads, and predict that they will one day come to the gallows. To him the poaching in Sir Thomas Lucy's park was
doubtless like a foray to a Scottish knight, and struck his eager, and as yet untamed, imagination as something delightfully adventurous. The old mansion of Charlecot and
its surrounding park still remain in the possession of the Lucy family, and are peculiarly interesting as being connected with this whimsical but eventful circumstance in the history of the bard.
ODE TO DISAPPOINTMENT.
But I recline
Beneath thy shrine,
Though Fancy flies away
And though the tear
By chance appear,
Come, Disappointment, come!
To turn my eye
What is this passing scene ?