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in the poet's birthplace in Henley Street. Ward seems, too, to have known Lady Barnard, Shakespeare's only grandchild and last surviving descendant, who, although she only occasionally visited Stratford after her second marriage in 1649, and her removal to her husband's residence at Abington, near the town of Northampton, retained much property in her native place till her death in 1670. Ward reported from local conversation six important details, viz., that Shakespeare retired to Stratford in his elder days; that he wrote at the most active period of his life two plays a year; that he made so large an income from his dramas that "he spent at the rate of £1000 a year "; that he entertained his literary friends Drayton and Jonson at "a merry meeting" shortly before his death, and that he died of its effects.
Oxford, which was only thirty-six miles distant, supplied the majority of Stratford tourists, who, before Betterton, gathered oral tradition there. Aubrey, the Oxford gossip, roughly noted six local items other than those which are embodied in Ward's diary, or are to be gleaned from Beeston's reminiscences, viz., that Shakespeare had as a lad helped his father in his trade of butcher; that one of the poet's companions in boyhood, who died young, had almost as extraordinary a "natural wit"; that Shakespeare betrayed very early signs of poetic genius; that he paid annual visits to his native place when his career was at its height; that he loved at tavern meetings in the town to chaff John Combe, the richest of his fellow-townsmen, who was accused of usurious practices; and finally, that he died possessed of a substantial fortune.
Until the end of the century, visitors were shown round the church by an aged parish clerk, some of whose gossip about Shakespeare was recorded by one of them in 1693. The old man came thus to supply two further items of information: how Shakespeare ran away in youth, and how he sought service at a playhouse, "and by this meanes had an opportunity to be what he afterwards proved." A different visitor to Stratford next year recorded in an extant letter to a friend yet more scraps of oral tradition. These were to the effect that "the great Shakespear" dreaded the removal of his bones to the charnel-house attached to the church; that he caused his grave to be dug seventeen feet deep; and that he wrote the rude warning against disturbing his bones, which was inscribed on his gravestone, in order to meet the capacity of the "very ignorant sort of people" whose business it was to look after burials.
Betterton gained more precise particulars-the date of baptism and the like-from an examination of the parochial records; but the most valuable piece of oral tradition with which the great actor's research must be credited was the account of Shakespeare's deer-stealing escapade at Charlecote. Another tourist from Oxford privately and independently put that anecdote into writing at the same date, but Rowe, who first gave it to the world in his biography, relied exclusively on Betterton's authority. At a little later period inquiries made at Stratford by a second actor, Bowman, yielded a trifle more. Bowman came to know a very reputable resident at Bridgtown, a hamlet adjoining Stratford, Sir William Bishop, whose family was of old standing there. Sir William was born ten
THE TRADITION OF GRENDON
years after Shakespeare died, and lived close to Stratford till 1700. He told Bowman that a part of Falstaff's character was drawn from a fellowtownsman at Stratford against whom Shakespeare cherished a grudge owing to his obduracy in some business transaction. Bowman repeated the story to Oldys, who put it on record.
Although one could wish the early oral tradition of Stratford to have been more thoroughly reported, such as is extant in writing is sufficient to prove that Shakespeare's literary eminence was well known in his native place during the century that followed his death. In many villages in the neighbourhood of Stratford-at Bidford, at Wilmcote, at Greet, at Dursley-there long persisted like oral tradition of Shakespeare's occasional visits, but these were not written down before the middle of the eighteenth century; and although they are of service as proof of the local dissemination of his fame, they are somewhat less definite than the traditions that suffered earlier record, and need not be particularised here. One light piece of gossip, which was associated with a country parish at some distance from Stratford, can alone be traced back to remote date, and was quickly committed to writing. A trustworthy Oxford don, Josias Howe, fellow and tutor of Trinity, was born early in the seventeenth century at Grendon in Buckinghamshire, where his father was long rector, and he maintained close relations with his birthplace during his life of more than ninety years. Grendon was on the road between Oxford and London. Howe stated that Shakespeare often visited the place in his journey from Stratford, and that he found the original of his character of Dog
berry in the person of a parish constable who lived on there till 1642. Howe was on familiar terms with the man, and he confided his reminiscence to his friend Aubrey, who duly recorded it, although in a somewhat confused shape.
It is with early oral tradition of Shakespeare's personal experience that I am dealing here. It is not my purpose to notice early literary criticism, of which there is abundant supply. It was obviously the free circulation of the fame of Shakespeare's work which stimulated the activity of interest in his private fortunes and led to the chronicling of the oral tradition regarding them. It could easily be shown that, outside the circle of professional poets, dramatists, actors, and fellow-townsmen, Shakespeare's name was, from his first coming into public notice, constantly on the lips of scholars, statesmen, and men of fashion who had any glimmer of literary taste. The Muse of History indeed drops plain hints of the views expressed at the social meetings of the great in the seventeenth century when Shakespeare was under discussion. Before 1643, "all persons of equality that had wit and learning" engaged in a set debate at Eton in the rooms of "the ever-memorable" John Hales, Fellow of the College, on the question of Shakespeare's merits compared with those of classical poets. The judges who presided over "this ingenious assembly" unanimously and without qualification decided in favour of Shakespeare's superiority.
A very eminent representative of the culture and political intelligence of the next generation was
ROWE'S BIOGRAPHY OF 1709
in full sympathy with the verdict of the Eton College tribunal. Lord Clarendon held Shakespeare to be one of the "most illustrious of our nation." Among the many heroes of his admiration, Shakespeare was of the elect few who were "most agreeable to his lordship's general humour." Lord Clarendon was at the pains of securing a portrait of Shakespeare to hang in his house in St. James's. Similarly, the proudest and probably the richest nobleman in political circles at the end of the seventeenth century, the Duke of Somerset, was often heard to speak of his "pleasure in that Greatness of Thought, those natural Images, those Passions finely touch'd, and that beautiful Expression which is everywhere to be met with in Shakespear."
It was to this Duke of Somerset that Rowe appropriately dedicated the first full and formal biography of the poet. That work was designed as a preface to the first critical edition of Shakespeare's plays, which Rowe published in 1709. "Though the works of Mr Shakespear may seem to many not to want a comment," Rowe wrote modestly enough, "yet I fancy some little account of the man himself may not be thought improper to go along with them." Rowe did his work quite as well as the rudimentary state of the biographic art of his day allowed. He was under the complacent impression that his supply of information satisfied all reasonable curiosity. He had placed himself in the hands of Betterton, an investigator at first hand. But the fact remains that Rowe