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cuniary legacy, but the fee-simple of a valuable property at Wilmecote, the latter, which was known as Asbies, consisting of a house with nearly sixty acres of land. An estimate of these advantages, viewed relatively to his own position, would no doubt have given John Shakespeare the reputation among his neighbors of having married an opulent heiress, his now comparative affluence investing him with no small degree of local importance. His official career at once commenced by his election in 1557 as one of the ale-tasters, an officer appointed for the supervision of malt liquors and bread. About the same time he was received into the Corporation, taking the lowest rank, as was usual with new comers, that of a burgess; and in the September of the following year, 1558, he was appointed one of the four petty constables by a vote of the jury of the Court Leet. He was re-elected to that quaternion on October 6, 1559, for another year, and on the same day he was chosen one of the affeerors appointed to determine the fines for those offenses which were punishable arbitrarily, and for which no express penalties were prescribed by statute. This latter office he again filled in 1561, when he was elected one of the Chamberlains of the borough, an office that he held for two years, delivering his second account to the Corporation in the first month of 1564.
The ostensible business followed by John Shakespeare was that of a glover, but after his marriage he speculated largely in wool purchased from the neighboring farmers, and occasionally also dealt in corn and other articles. In those days, especially in small provincial towns, the concentration of several trades into the hands of one person was very usual, and, in many cases, no matter how numerous and complicated were the intermediate processes, the
producer of the raw material was frequently its manufacturer. Thus a glover might, and sometimes did, rear the sheep that furnished him with meat, skins, wool, and leather. Whether John Shakespeare so conducted his business is unknown, but it is certain that in addition to his trade in gloves, which also, as was usual, included the sale of divers articles made of leather, he entered into a variety of other speculations.
In Henley Street, in what was for those days an unusually large and commodious residence for a provincial tradesman, and upon or almost immediately before April 22, 1564, but most probably on that Saturday, the eldest son of John and Mary Shakespeare, he who was afterwards to be the national poet of England, was born. An apartment on the first floor of that house is shown to this day, through unvarying tradition, as the birth-room of the great dramatist, who was baptized on the following Wednesday, April 26, receiving the Christian name of William. He was then, and continued to be for more than two years, an only child, two girls, daughters of the same parents, who were born previously, having died in their infancy.
The house in which Shakespeare was born must have been erected in the first half of the sixteenth century, but the alterations that it has since undergone have effaced much of its original character. Inhabited at various periods by tradesmen of different occupations, it could not possibly have endured through the long course of upwards of three centuries without having been subjected to numerous repairs and modifications. The general form and arrangement of the tenement that was purchased in 1556 may yet, however, be distinctly traced, and many of the old timbers, as well as pieces of the ancient rough
stone-work, still remain. There are also portions of the chimneys, the fire-place surroundings and the stone basement-floor, that have been untouched; but most, if not all, of the lighter wood-work belongs to a more recent period. It may be confidently asserted that there is only one room in the entire building which has not been greatly changed since the days of the poet's boyhood. This is the antique cellar under the sitting-room, from which it is approached by a diminutive flight of steps. It is a very small apartment, measuring only nine by ten feet, but near "that small most greatly liv'd this star of England.”
In the July of this year of the poet's birth, 1564, a violent plague, intensified no doubt by sanitary neglect, broke out in the town, but the family in Henley Street providentially escaped its ravages.
John Shakespeare contributed on this occasion fairly, at least, if not liberally, both towards the relief of the poor and of those who were attacked by the epidemic.
In March, 1565, John Shakespeare, with the assistance of his former colleague in the same office, made up the accounts of the Chamberlains of the borough for the year ending at the previous Michaelmas. Neither of these worthies could even write their own names, but nearly all tradesmen then reckoned with counters, the results on important occasions being entered by professional scriven
The poet's father seems to have been an adept in the former kind of work, for in February, 1566, having been elected an alderman in the previous summer, he individually superintended the making up of the accounts of the Chamberlains for the preceding official year, at which time he was paid over three pounds, equivalent to more than thirty of present money, that had been owing to him for some
time by the Corporation. In the month of October, 1566, another son, who was christened Gilbert on the thirteenth, was born, the poet being then nearly two and a half years old. This Gilbert, who was educated at the Free School, in after life entered into business in London as a haberdasher, returning, however, in the early part of the following century, to his native town, where he is found, in 1602, completing an important legal transaction with which he was entrusted by the great dramatist. His Christian name was probably derived from that of one of his father's neighbors, Gilbert Bradley, who was a glover in Henley Street, residing near the Birth-Place and on the same side
of the way.
In September, 1567, Robert Perrot, a brewer, John Shakespeare, and Ralph Cawdrey, a butcher, were nominated for the office of the High Bailiff, or, as that dignitary was subsequently called, the Mayor. The last-named candidate was the one who was elected. It is upon this occasion that the poet's father is alluded to for the first time in the local records as "Mr. Shakspeyr.” He had been previously therein mentioned either as John Shakespeare, or briefly as Shakespeare, and the addition of the title was in those days no small indication of an advance in social position. There is, indeed, no doubt that, during the early years of Shakespeare's boyhood, his father was one of the leading men in Stratford-on-Avon. On September 4, 1568, John Shakespeare,—“Mr. John Shakysper," as he is called in that day's record,—was chosen High Bailiff, attaining thus the most distinguished official position in the town after an active connection with its affairs during the preceding eleven years. The poet had entered his fifth year in the previous month of April, the family in Henley Street now consisting of his parents, his brother Gilbert, who was very nearly two years old, and himself.
The new religious system was now firmly established at Stratford. Although the churchwardens' accounts are not preserved, and the materials for the local ecclesiastical history are exceedingly scanty, there are entries in the town archives respecting the Guild Chapel which leave no doubt on the subject. The rood-loft is mentioned as having been taken down in the year of the poet's birth, 1564, a number of the images in the building having been previously “defaced,” that is to say, at some time between Michaelmas, 1562, and Michaelmas, 1563, John Shakespeare himself having been on the latter occasion one of the chamberlains through whom the expenses of the mutilation were defrayed. Under these circumstances there can be little if any doubt that, at the time of his accession to an office that legally involved the responsibility of taking the oath of supremacy, he had outwardly conformed to the Protestant rule, and there is certainly as little that he was one of the many of those holding a similar position in the Catholic stronghold of Warwickshire who were secretly attached to the old religion. If this had not been the case, it is impossible to believe, no matter how plausible were the explanations that were offered, that his name could, at a subsequent period and after the great penal legislation of 1581, have been included in more than one list of suspected recusants. For this he has been termed an unconscientious hypocrite, but he shared his dissimulation with myriads of his countrymen, and it is altogether unfair to place an enforced in the same category with a spontaneous insincerity. Some anyhow will be found to say a kind word in