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more recent date is even briefer in his summing-up of the facts: "That he lived, and that he died, and that he was 'a little lower than the angels'-these make up pretty nearly the amount of our undisputed report". Having spoken of the perplexity which we are likely to feel on finding the materials for the biography of a transcendent writer so meagre and so few, De Quincey goes on to solve the difficulty by an elaborate argument intended to prove that the parliamentary war and the local feuds engendered by it extinguished those traditions and memorials of Shakespeare which, he says, must have been abundant up to that era. In truth there is no great cause for wonder or perplexity. More is known of Shakespeare's life than Steevens and De Quincey allege. More is known of Shakespeare's life than of the lives of many of his dramatic contemporaries. Far less has been ascertained respecting the life of Marlowe, whose fame stood so high in Elizabethan days, and whose personality was undoubtedly a striking one. Far less has been ascertained respecting the life of Webster or the life of Ford, although these dramatists flourished at a later time, and one of them was a gentleman of position. The materials for John Fletcher's biography are of the scantiest kind; it is not certain whether he went to Cambridge; it is not certain whether he lived and died unmarried; from 1593 to 1607 his history is a complete blank. Yet Fletcher was highly honoured by his contemporaries; he survived till the opening of the reign of Charles I.; his father was the Bishop of London. The Elizabethan age was not an age of literary biography; a playwright,
unless, like Ben Jonson, he were distinguished for his scholarship and classical learning, was hardly thought of as a man of letters. Our wonder as regards Shakespeare should be, not that we know so little, but that we know so much. Our acquaintance with the facts of his outward history-partly founded on tradition, partly on documents-is due to the zeal of lovers of the great dramatist, from the actor Betterton to the latest and most indefatigable of investigators, Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps. We cannot hope that much additional light will ever be gained. The facts which we possess are enough to assure us that the greatest of poets conducted his material life, after, perhaps, some errors of his ardent youth, wisely and well to a prosperous issue. They are enough to prove his good sense and discreet dealing in worldly affairs.
§3. Richard Shakespeare, the poet's grandfather, was a Warwickshire farmer, renting land at Snitterfield, a village some three or four miles from Stratford-on-Avon. His son John, evidently a man of some enterprise and energy, settled at Stratford about 1551, and did business in Henley Street as a fellmonger and glover. According to Aubrey he was a butcher, and it may be that he slaughtered the beasts whose skins he converted into gauntlets and leggings; according to Rowe he was a considerable dealer in wool, and it is certain that he had transactions in corn and in timber. In 1557
he greatly improved his position by his marriage with Mary, the youngest and the favourite daughter of Robert Arden, a wealthy farmer, lately deceased, of the neighbouring hamlet of Wilmecote. That
these Ardens were connected with an ancient family of gentlefolk of that name has been asserted, and may be true, but the statement cannot be proved. Mary Arden inherited from her father an estate of some sixty acres, known as Asbies, at Wilmecote, together with the reversion to part of a larger property at Snitterfield, on which Snitterfield property her father-in-law, Richard Shakespeare, held land as a tenant. From this date John Shakespeare became a person of some importance at Stratford, and he rose year by year in the esteem of his fellowtownsmen. Appointed at first by the corporation one of the officers whose duty it was to supervise malt liquors and bread, he became in 1561 a chamberlain of the borough, in 1565 an alderman, and in 1568 he was elected to the most important official position in the town, that of high bailiff. It is true that he could not write even his name, but the accomplishment of penmanship was rare among the members of the corporation. He was certainly a successful man of business and a skilful accountant.
§4. In the house in Henley Street towards the close of April, 1564, was born William Shakespeare, the eldest son of his parents. Two daughters, who died in infancy, had been born before him. On April the 26th the child was baptized; a tradition of the last century, that Shakespeare died upon his birthday, would favour the popular opinion that he was born on April 23rd; but his monument states that he died in his fifty-third year. Attention was called by De Quincey to the fact that Shakespeare's only grandchild, Elizabeth Hall, was married to Thomas
Nash on April 22nd, and he suggested that the day may have been chosen as the anniversary of her grandfather's birthday. The matter remains doubtful. April the 23rd, Old Style, corresponds with our present May 5th.
Stratford-on-Avon, in which Shakespeare spent his youth and to which he gladly returned in his elder years, was a town of gable-roofed, timber or timber-and-plaster houses, containing some fourteen or fifteen hundred inhabitants. Its chief buildings were the noble church hard by the river, and the Guildhall where on occasions travelling companies of actors would present their plays. Around it in Warwickshire, "the heart of England", lay the perfection of rural landscape: in the Feldon division such pasture-lands, with a wealth of wild flowers, as Shakespeare has described in A Winter's Tale; and in the Arden division the perfection of forest scenery, such woodland glades and streams as he has imagined in the French Arden of As You Like It. During the Wars of the Roses the county was divided against itself; Coventry was Lancastrian, Warwick, for a time, Yorkist. The battle of Bosworth Field was fought near its north-eastern border. Traditions of the stirring events of those times must have lived on to Shakespeare's day, and created in his imagination a sympathy with the great historical figures of that period which he has repre>sented with such life and force in his historical dramas.
That Shakespeare was sent to the Free School at Stratford is stated by his first biographer, Rowe, and we may reasonably assume that such was the
fact. Some knowledge of reading and writing was required at entrance; the usual age of pupils when admitted was seven. When duly drilled in the Latin accidence (of which we have an amusing Shakespearian reminiscence in Sir Hugh Evans' examination of William Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor), the boy began to construe from the Sententiæ Pueriles, and, if he remained long enough at school, advanced as far as Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, and the Eclogues of Mantuanus. Much has been written on the subject of Shakespeare's learning. From Ben Jonson's scholarly point of view he may be said to have had "small Latin and less Greek". Perhaps the Greek was nothing or next to nothing; but Aubrey was probably not wrong when he stated on the authority of a Mr. Beeston that Shakespeare "understode Latine pretty well". In later years he seems to have acquired a little knowledge of French, and possibly a little knowledge of Italian.
§ 5. At what age Shakespeare was withdrawn from school we cannot tell. But we know that when he was thirteen years old his father was no longer a 2 prosperous man, and that the fortunes of his house continued for a considerable time to decline. While John Shakespeare's means were first waxing and then rapidly waning, his family had increased in numbers. His son Gilbert, who afterwards became a haberdasher in London and who lived certainly to 1609, was born in 1566; Joan, who was married to William Hart, and whose name appears in the great dramatist's will, was born 1569; Anne, born in 1571, died in her eighth year; Richard, born in March 1573-74, lived to manhood, dying at Stratford