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The sage's wisdom is his own-the wand
“I do opine, Master Francis,” continued our illustrious dramatist, with a look of kindness towards his young companion, who had been listening with delighted attention to Master Shakspeare's faultless delivery of his lines,—“I do opine that there is much admirable matter in these words; and the same opinion holds good towards other passages in your play, of similar excellence; which plainly prove to me that there is no lack of promise in you. But be not too hasty; pluck not the fruit before it be ripe, else they who may chance to taste it will make wry mouths. If you would take the advice of one willing to do you all manner of good offices” —
“If I do not, I should be the most unworthy varlet that lives,” exclaimed Master Francis warmly. -“You will wait awhile before you offer any composition to the public eye,” said Master Shakspeare, ailecting not to notice the interruption he had received, yet being much pleased thereat. “You are young-your knowledge of the world, therefore, must be scanty; and although I do perceive in your writings a comprehensive acquaintance with books, he who writeth tragedies should possess an equal knowledge of men ; therefore I do advise you, for some years to come, to study mankind, if you entertain any desire of taking your stand among our English dramatists. Moreover, you have as yet acquired no information as to the business of the stage-a matter of vast moment towards the success of even the best play. This you can only inform yourself of by noting what others have done. The most effective way for you to do this is to come to us at the play-house, where you shall have free ingress and egress upon every fitting occasion: and I will forward your interest in all that my poor skill or influence can effect.”
The tone of kindness with which these last sentences were delivered, seemed to have a most powerful effect upon the listener; indeed it had gone direct to his heart, and he sat for some seconds perfectly unable to utter a syllable.
“Is there anything more I can do for you?” enquired Master Shakspeare, regarding the changing colour and modest demeanour of his visitor with increasing interest. “Though I seek not to make a boast of it, I have some powerful friends, to whom, peradventure, my recommendation would do good service, if ventured in behalf of one of your excellent parts and disposition.”
“Oh, Master Shakspeare !” murmured the youth, looking up to him with eyes made humid by his grateful emotions, “I would I had language to thank you; but my heart is too full.”
“Nay, nay, worthy Master Francis,” said the other, encouragingly, “If you love me you must not think of that. He who looks for thanks deserveth them not. Such a one am not I. I will acknowledge I feel a regard for you, and would wish to be your friend; and if you will entrust me with your confidence, rest assured it shall not be abused. Tell me, is your way of life agreeable to you ??
“ Indeed it is not,” replied his visitor, with a melancholy expression of countenance that completely attested the truth of the avowal. “But why should I take advantage of the goodness of your disposition? or why trouble you with my complaints? I have already taken up too much of your valuable time.” Then he added, as he rose from his chair to depart, “I thank you very heartily for your kindness, which, in all times to come, shall be the most delightful of my remembrances; and if it please you to give me my papers, I would gratefully take my leave.”
“We part not thus," said Master Shakspeare, quickly, as he rose from his seat, and taking hold of Master Francis his shoulders, did affectionately push him back into his chair; then sitting carelessly on the edge of the table adjoining, with one hand of his visitor kindly pressed in his own, and with a most benevolently smiling countenance he proceeded. “We part not thus. Sit you down Master Francis-sit you down: and let not the modesty of your disposition be a stumbling block to the advancement of your fortunes. The world hath not used you well, or I mistake countenances hugely. Let me try to make amends for the unkindness of others. I have both the inclination and the power to serve; and it seemeth to me that I should do myself credit by any service I could render. Let me be your friend, Master Francis. I assure you, on the honour of a Christian gentleman, and a humble follower of the Muses, that you will do me a great wrong if you allow me not the satisfaction of befriending you."
"Indeed, Master Shakspeare, you are too good,” exclaimed his visitor, warmly returning the pressure of the hand he had received. 6 I know not what to sav—I lack words—I am quite overpowered.”
"What a wittol am I, and one shamefully neglectful of the duties of hospitality!” said Master Shakspeare, suddenly, as he sprung from the table and, proceeding to a cupboard in a recess of the chamber, did presently return, bringing a flask and two drinking horns.
“I would you would excuse me, worthy Master Shakspeare,” said the youth, modestly, as soon as he observed the movement of his host.
“Excuse me no excuses,” replied the other, with a smile, as he made room on the little table, and poured out the wine into the vessels. “What! shall it be said that Will Shakspeare denied a brother poet a draught of the fountain from which he hath so often drawn inspiration ? Tell it not at the Mermaid. A cup of this excellent sherris will warm both our hearts.”
“You have made my heart warm enough as it is,” observed Master Francis, still hesitating to take the proffered cup.
"Tush, man!” replied Master Shakspeare, hospitably forcing the cup into his guest's almost reluctant hand, “ will you not drink to my health ?”
“Ah, that will I, with all true earnestness,” exclaimed the other, as he immediately raised the wine to his lips.
“And I most heartily wish, as all England must wish, that your life be long preserved to delight and enrich this island with your right excellent labours.”
“Thank you, worthy Master Francis, thank you,” said his host, shaking his companion cordially by the hand; “it is gratifying to be praised at all, but to be praised by those who can appreciate, is the most exquisite of flattery. And now let me pledge you to our better acquaintance,” added he, as he poured out a brimming cup for himself, “and may success attend you equal to your deserts,—which be of no common order.”
“You are too liberal in your commendation-indeed you are,” observed the youth, as a slight blush appeared upon his-countenance.
"Not a whit man, not a whit,” replied his host, as he finished his draught. “There can be no harm in praising a modest man; for if the desert be not equal to the praise, he will not rest till he make it šo. But your cup is emply.”
“Nay, good Master Shakspeare," exclaimed the other, as he noticed his host refilling the cup—“if it please you, no more.”
“But it does not please me, Master Francis,” said his companion, jocosely.
“I am not used to drinking of wine of a morning, and it may chance get in my head.”
“No vessel can be the worse for containing good wine, Master Francis. So you must e'en drink another cup."
"I thank you, but I would rather not,” said Master Francis falteringly, as the vessel was handed to him.
“What, hesitate to drink the queen's health ?” exclaimed Master Shakspeare in seeming astonishment. “Why, how now ? Surely loyalty hath gone out of the land, if the guest of one of her majesty's poor players refuse to join him in drinking the health of Queen Elizabeth.”
"I thought not of that;” remarked the other, quietly taking the wine, “I will join you gladly.", Thereupon, with much sincerity of heart, these two did drink to the queen's majesty. “But I must be going, or my uncle will be angered with me; and he is a man of a most ungracious humour,” said Master Francis.
“A murrain on him!” cried Master Shakspeare. “And, if I may make so free as to ask, who is he?”
“He is Gregory Vellum, the scrivener, of St Mary Axe," replied the youth; "and though report say that he abounds in riches, one would suppose that he hath not suflicient to furnish a beggar's wallet."
“Have you no farther living ?” asked his host.
“It is uncertain,” responded Master Francis more seriously. “My mother's was a private marriage with a gentleman much above her in station, and as he said it would injure him in the estimation of his family if his union became known, she kept his quality a secret from all who knew her. He went to the wars a short time before she gave birth to me, and has never since been heard of; and my poor mother died in childbed, without leaving any other memorial of her husband than this miniature, which I always carry about with me.”
Master Shakspeare silently examined the trinket, which was in a gold frame, that the youth wore round his neck. On one side was the likeness of a very lovely woman; the other had contained another miniature, mayhap, of a cavalier; but it was now empty.
“The initials E.V., on one side the frame, are for my mother Eleanor Vellum,” continued the youth, “and the F. H., on the empty frame, are doubtless the initials of my father; of which one must be Francis, for so she always called him, as I have heard, and therefore by that name have I been christened; but what the other standeth for I know not, and perchance may never know till the day of judgment.”
“Be of good heart, Master Francis,” said his companion, encouragingly, “peradventure the secret may be discovered sooner than you look for. But what says your uncle?-knoweth he nothing ?”
“Sometimes I am apt to think that he knows more than he is inclined to tell,” replied Master Francis; “ for in his unguarded moments, he hath dropped some mysterious hints which savour a little of the purpose. But he is so continually upbraiding me for the troubles and the charges I put him to-he so stints me in all sorts of necessaries, and so begrudges me the little pleasure I enjoy-that he hath made my life a daily burthen, and I should be right glad to get from under his roof, to labour in any capacity for which I may be properly qualified.”
“That shall not be long first, or my name be not Will Shakspeare,” exclaimed his host, as he poured out another cup of wine for his guest.
“Nay, good Master Shakspeare,” cried the youth, rising up and taking his hat, as he noticed the brimming vessel proceeding towards him, “prythee let me go; I have drunk most bountifully, I thank you.”
“One more cup, and it shall be the last.” “Indeed I would rather not.”
“Now, look at this!” exclaimed Master Shakspeare, in apparent wonder. “Here is a youth of some eighteen years or so, who confesses that he hath met with no fair damsel with soul-enkindling eyes and roseate cheeks, whose health he deems worthy of being drunk in a bumper of sherris.”
“I said not that, Master Shakspeare," replied his young companion, hastily, as the colour mounted to his cheek—" Believe me, I said not that.”
“I believe you most heartily,” said his host with a laugh, as he noticed the youth's increasing confusion. “I see conviction in your complexion. Her health, Master Francis.”
“Well, I suppose I must,” observed his guest, as if anxious to be quickly relieved from his embarrassment. “I thank you kindly. She is a right noble creature, and I should be the basest wretch alive were I to refuse to drink her health-considering- " Here the young poet stopped suddenly; his complexion acquired a warmer glow; and a shadow of deep melancholy overspread his features.
“Hath she no name, Master Francis ?” enquired the other earnestly, and, if the truth must be told, somewhat mischievously.
“Indeed.she hath,” he replied. “It is a good name-a name of excellent credit- - "
“I doubt it not,” observed Master Shakspeare, with more than his usual gravity ; “but to the point, man. Dost hesitate to tell it? Take my word for it, you are paying her no compliment if you do.”
“Her name is Joanna,” said the youth in a voice scarcely audible, and trying unsuccessfully to hide his confusion.
“Then drink I your Joanna's health in a brimming cup, and with a most heartfelt wish that she may be worthy of you, and that you may be happy with her.”
Master Francis said nothing, but hastened to drink the wine that had been placed in his hand.
“And now, Master Francis, here is your tragedy,” said his companion, as he gave him the manuscript, with a benevolent countenance and a cordial shake of the hand; “and henceforth consider me your friend, for I wish to prove myself such. Something shall be done for you, rest assured; and that very shortly. Good day, Master Francis, good day,” he continued, as he kindly led his visitor to the door, and opened it for him.
Master Francis could only look his thanks, and then threading the narrow staircase of the house, made the best of his way to St Mary, Axe.
My heart allows
And do not fear
I have a tear
A beauty ripe as harvest,
“FRANCIS! FRANCIS!” screamed out a little old man, meanly apparelled, as he stumped about with his stick in a gloomy room, that appeared from its deficiency in all furniture, save a desk with a tall stool, and several papers and parchments tied up and placed on shelves about the fire-place, that it was an office. 16 Francis ! Francis, I say! A murrain on thee for a lazy varlet! thou art sure to give me the slip as soon as my back is turned. Francis !” he shouted again, and then muttered to himself, “ a wasteful, idle, good-for-naught, that