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made no sustained nor scholarly effort to collect exhaustively even the oral tradition; still less did he consult with thoroughness official records or references to Shakespeare's literary achievements in the books of his contemporaries. Such labour as that was to be undertaken later, when the practice of biography had assimilated more scientific method. Rowe preferred the straw of vague rhapsody to the brick of solid fact.
Nevertheless Rowe's memoir laid the foundations on which his successors built. It set ringing the bell which called together that mass of information drawn from every source-manuscript archives, printed books, oral tradition-which now far exceeds what is accessible in the case of any poet contemporary with Shakespeare. Some links in the chain of Shakespeare's career are still missing, and we must wait for the future to disclose them. But, though the clues at present are in some places faint, the trail never altogether eludes the patient investigator. The ascertained facts are already numerous enough to define beyond risk of intelligent doubt the direction that Shakespeare's career followed. Its general outline is, as we have seen, fully established by one source of knowledge alone one out of many-by the oral tradition which survives from the seventeenth century.
It may be justifiable to cherish regret for the loss of Shakespeare's autograph papers and of his familiar correspondence. But the absence of such documentary material can excite scepticism of the received tradition only in those who are ignorant of the fate that invariably befell the original manuscripts and correspondence of Elizabethan and
PRESENT STATE OF KNOWLEDGE
Jacobean poets and dramatists. Save for a few fragments of small literary moment, no play of the era in its writer's autograph escaped early destruction by fire or dustbin. No machinery then ensured, no custom then encouraged, the due preservation of the autographs of men distinguished for poetic genius. Provision was made in the public record offices or in private muniment-rooms for the protection of the official papers and correspondence of men in public life, and of manuscript memorials affecting the property and domestic history of great county families. But even in the case of men of the sixteenth or seventeenth century in official life who, as often happened, devoted their leisure to literature, the autographs of their literary compositions have for the most part perished, and there usually only remain in the official depositories remnants of their writings about matters of official routine.
Not all those depositories, it is to be admitted, have yet been fully explored, and in some of them a more thorough search than has yet been undertaken may be expected to throw new light on Shakespeare's biography. Meanwhile, instead of mourning helplessly over the lack of material for a knowledge of Shakespeare's life, it becomes us to estimate aright what we have at our command, to study it closely in the light of the literary history of the epoch, and, while neglecting no opportunity of bettering our information, to recognise frankly the activity of the destroying agencies which have been at work from the outset. Then we shall wonder, not why we know so little, but why we know so much.
PEPYS AND SHAKESPEARE 1
In his capacity of playgoer, as indeed in almost every other capacity, Pepys presents himself to readers of his naïve diary as the incarnation, or the microcosm, of the average man. No other writer has pictured with the same lifelike precision and simplicity the average playgoer's sensations of pleasure or pain. Of the play and its performers Pepys records exactly what he thinks or feels. He usually takes a more lively interest in the acting and in the scenic and musical accessories than in the drama's literary quality. Subtlety is at any rate absent from his criticism. He is either bored or amused. The piece is either the best or the worst that he ever witnessed. His epithets are of the bluntest and are without modulation. Wiser than more professional dramatic critics, he avoids labouring at reasons for his emphatic judgments.
Always true to his rôle of the average man, Pepys suffers his mind to be swayed by barely relevant accidents. His thought is rarely free from official
1 A paper read at the sixth meeting of the Samuel Pepys Club, on Thursday, November 30, 1905, and printed in the Fortnightly Review for January, 1906.
PEPYS AS PLAYGOER
or domestic business, and the heaviness or lightness of his personal cares commonly colours his playhouse impressions. His praises and his censures of a piece often reflect, too, the physical comforts or discomforts which attach to his seat in the theatre. He is peculiarly sensitive to petty annoyances-to the agony of sitting in a draught, or to the irritation caused by frivolous talk in his near neighbourhood while a serious play is in progress. On one occasion, when he sought to practise a praiseworthy economy by taking a back seat in the shilling gallery his evening's enjoyment was well-nigh spoiled by finding the gaze of four clerks in his office steadily directed upon him from more expensive seats down below. On another occasion, when in the pit with his wife and her waiting-woman, he was overcome by a sense of shame as he realised how shabbily his companions were dressed, in comparison with the smartly-attired ladies round about them.
Everyone knows how susceptible Pepys was in all situations of life to female charms. It was inevitable that his wits should often wander from the dramatic theme and its scenic presentation to the features of some woman on the stage or in the auditory. An actress's pretty face or graceful figure many times diverted his attention from her professional incompetence. It is doubtful if there were any affront which Pepys would not pardon in a pretty woman. Once when he was in the pit, this curious experience befell him. "I sitting behind in a dark place," he writes, "a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me; but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all." The volatile diarist studied
much besides the drama when he spent his afternoon or evening at the play.
Never was there a more indefatigable playgoer than Pepys. Yet his enthusiasm for the theatre was, to his mind, a failing which required most careful watching. He feared that the passion might do injury to his purse, might distract him from serious business, might lead him into temptation of the flesh. He had a little of the Puritan's dread of the playhouse. He was constantly taking vows to curb his love of plays, which "mightily troubled his mind." He was frequently resolving to abstain from the theatre for four or five months at a stretch, and then to go only in the company of his wife. During these periods of abstinence he was in the habit of reading over his vows every Sunday. But, in spite of all his well-meaning efforts, his resolution was constantly breaking down. On one occasion he perjured himself so thoroughly as to witness two plays in one day, once in the afternoon and again in the evening. On this riotous outbreak he makes the characteristic comment: "Sad to think of the spending so much money, and of venturing the breach of my vow." But he goes on to thank God that he had the grace to feel sorry for the misdeed, at the same time as he lamented that "his nature was so content to follow the pleasure still." Pepys compounded with his conscience for such breaches of his oath by all manner of casuistry. He excused himself for going, contrary to his vow, to the new theatre in Drury Lane, because it was not built when his vow was framed. Finally, he stipulated with himself that he would only go to the theatre once a fortnight; but if he went oftener he