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Here beginneth the Story of
SHAKSPEARE AND HIS FRIENDS.
With mirth'and laughter let old wrinklescome,
I PRYTHEE have patience, courteous reader! the whilst I describe a certain chamber well worthy of most minute delineation--as thou wilt see anon-from its having been the retreat, or closet, or place retired from the public eye, in which the master spirit of his age, and the glory of all times to come, did first develop those right famous qualities from which the world hath received such infinite profit and delight. I will not trouble thee with a vain show of phrases architectural, which crabbed antiquarians do much alfect; for I am not learned in the mystery of stone and timber; but what true heart and simple skill can do with language, will I essay, to give thee an accurate conception of a place that hath so many admirable recommendations to thy attention.
It was a room of no extraordinary dimensions, yet was it not stinted to space. The ceiling was of a moderate height, and the sides of the chamber were of oak, the panels of which were adorned with à goodly shew of delicate tracery, like unto the folds of linen; and round the chimney-piece was a most liberal display of carving, in fruits and foliage. A large vase of living flowers, that filled the chamber with a ravishing sweetness, stood beside the fire-dogs. One broad casement, composed of many little panes let into pieces of lead, looked out upon the river, and the centre part of it being open door, at divers times might be heard the mellow “ye, ho!” of the bargeman working his oar, as he piloted his heavy craft towards the city wharfs; or, mayhap, softened in the distance, the burthen of a popular ballad, sung by a party of merry apprentices going a pleasuring on the water. At one end of the room there rested on the oak floor, a large heavy press of dark walnut-tree wood, ornamented with rude carvings of Adam and Eve, and the tree of knowledge; and opposite, stood an ancient bookcase, the shelves of which supported a number of famous black letter volumes, folios and others, cased in parchment or roan bindings. On several narrow high-backed chairs, of carved oak, might be seen different articles of apparel—a hat on one, a cloak on another, and mayhap, a rapier resting against a third. In one corner were sundry swords and a matchlock, in another, divers pieces of old armour. An empty tankard, and the remains of the morning repast, stood upon a large table in the centre of the chamber; and near the window, before a smaller table covered with papers, and in an antique arm-chair, sat its illustrious occupant.
Although his hose were ungartered, and his doublet had been left unbraced, his right noble countenance and worshipful bearing left not the spectator opportunity to notice the negligence of his attire. His face, which was of a manly age-two years short of thirty-had been most providently fashioned, with a forehead of marvellous capacity-eyes mild, yet lively withal-a mouth impressed with a very amatory eloquence—and a beard of a perfect gravity. Nor were his limbs of a less favourable mould. In fact, he was a man of multitudinous good graces. I would there were more such. Many such there can never be, for admirable as he was in person, he was still more estimable in mind; and the union of these excellencies in a like liberal proportion is of such rarity, that peradventure the example will last out the world.
I am but a sorry limner; but had I the art of Master Holbein, of famous memory, I could not hope, in a portrait, to do him justice; nevertheless, as what the original hath done hath been so singularly well liked, I despair not that posterity will give him proper countenance. However, suffice it to say, he sat writing with a creditable diligence ; ever and anon leaning against his seat, abstractedly as it were; and when he had sufficiently pondered on the matter with which he was in progress, his pen resumed its path along the paper with additional speed. Sometimes he would smile as he wrote, as if tickled with the creations of his own fancy; and once his humour seemed so touched with some palpable conceit, that he cast down the pen, and throwing himself back in his chair, did laugh right heartily. At other times, when he appeared to have written passages of a graver purport, which gave him more than passable satisfaction, took the
paper in his hand, and did read aloud, with a rich voice and a most felicitous expression; and of a verity, never was the air so filled with delectable thoughts. At this time there was heard a knocking at the door. “Come in !” exclaimed he; and thereupon entered one apparelled like a young gallant, with hat and feather of a goodly fashion, a delicate satin doublet, an excellent fine ruff, a cloak worn daintily on the shoulder, and a long rapier fastened to his side: trunks prettily cut and embroidered, with silk hose and ruffled boots.
“Ah, Dick !” said he in the chair laughingly, as he recognised the good humoured features of his visitor, and scrutinising his attire
as he closed the door and was advancing into the room, “ l'faith thou lookest as fine as a snake that hath just cast its skin; and," added he with more emphasis, “art as useful to any good purpose I'll be bound.”
“Will! Will! thou hast a most malignant wit !” cried the other, as he approached his friend with mock gravity, and shook him earnestly by the hand. “ But at thinkest thou of these braveries?”. said he, standing as upright as he might, spreading out his cloak, and readjusting his hat. “I fancied that we, the queen's majesty's poor players, ought to dress as becomes the queen's majesty, and therefore have I robed myself anew. What thinkest thou of the cock of this hat? 'Tis in admirable conceit, is it not ?—and the feather-doth it not hang marvellously well? Doth not this cloak become me infinitely? and the slashing of this doublet, is it not of the most superlative fashion ?"
“In truth, Dick,” remarked his companion, drily, as he pushed back his chair to take a better view of his visitor, “I've seen many a jackdaw cut a finer figure.”
“A plague on thy pestilent jests !” exclaimed the other with assumed indignation.
“But as thou askest for my opinion," he resumed, “I will tell thee. Didst thou wish to attire thyself as becometh the queen's majesty, thou shouldst have had recourse to the queen's majesty's wardrobe : for in honest truth, Dick, I do not think thy present dress would become that illustrious princess in the smallest degree"
“Oh thou pernicious varlet !”
“As for the cock of thy hat, 'tis certainly in admirable conceit, or rather, the conceit is in it, for thy head is in it; and I do not flatter thee when I say there is no lack of conceit there.”
“Perdition seize thy wit !”
“Thy feather doth hang marvellously well-i'faith I doubt much if thou wouldst hang better thyself."
'Enough, enough, Will,” eagerly exclaimed his associate, putting his hands together, as if begging for mercy,“ if thou hast any bowels of compassion spare me.
" And if thou wert half as well slashed as thy doublet,” continued his friend, inattentive to his remonstrance, “I think thou wouldst be in a much more superlative fashion than thou art now.”
“O'my word, Will," said the other, laughing, as he took off his hat and flung himself into a chair, “ thou art all points, like a hedgehog, or like the naughty girl in the story-book, out of thy mouth there cometh nothing but venomous things.”.
“But what mercer art thou attempting to ruin ?" enquired his companion.
“A fig for the mercer—'tis the mercer's daughter I seek !” replied
Attempt to ruin a mercer's daughter!” exclaimed the other, half starting from his chair with affected surprise. “Fie on thee, for a reprobate ! thou art enough to corrupt us all; thou wilt have the whole city up in arms against us, and we shall be obliged to fly from the Bankside to escape the stocks.”
“I meant not that, Will-I am a heathen if I meant that; but thou knowest my failing-I am always after the women. Oh, those exquisite sweet creatures !”
Thou shouldst have more ambition, Dick; precedency is man's natural right in such instances, but if thou art always after the women, thou canst never hope to get before them.”
"Thou hast me again," cried his companion, as he threw himself back in his seat to give vent to his laughter; “I would as soon attempt to parry jests with thee as to eat thistles with a jackass ; so take thy fill, and be hanged to thee. But I tell thee how it is, Will. This mercer's daughter is said to be the richest heiress in the city. I saw her at the Bear Garden with the old hunks her father, whom she ruleth most filially; and observing that she had an eye like Venus”
“Only one, Dick ?” enquired his companion, innocently.
“Two, or I'm a sinner," replied he, "and a bust like Juno; ay, and every grace that all Olympus possessed. In brief, a beauty of such ravishing perfections, that immediately I found her gaze upon me, I felt as many of Cupid's arrows in my heart as there are pins in her huswife, and thereupon fell most continently in love."
“ With her father's strong box, Dick ?" asked the other.
“With her own sweet sell, thou aggravating varlet. I presently made up to the father, and did enter into very sober discourse, till I found I had got hold of the daughter's ear, and then I pointed out the persons of distinction in the company, and seasoned my conversation with some delicate compliments, all which she did receive in very good fashion, rewarding me with such looks from her soft hazel eyes as warmed my veins like a stoup of canary. The old fellow courteously invited me to his house, and the dear wench did repeat some most enticing words, which sent me to the mercer's in a presently. To please him, I ordered these fallals, and to please her, I wear them. I met her by appointment since then in Paul's Walk, and after that she gave me some delicious interviews alone in her father's dwelling, of which I made right profitable use.
I tell thee, she is ready to melt in my arms."
“A wax doll would do the same, Dick,” drily remarked the other, “if thou wert warm enough.'
"Away with thy pestilent similes !” exclaimed his guest, starting up from his seat, as if in anger; then, resuming his place, continued : —“She shewed me yesterday a sonnet, or some other pernicious mischief of the kind, which had been written in commendation of her beauty-perhaps by some crazy engrosser of parchments. The plague of bad clients be upon him!--and asked me to try what I could do in that way. Now, unless I can produce some such verses -my malediction rest upon Apollo and all his generation !-I feel assured I may spare myself the trouble of venturing within the precincts of her tenement. Thou knowest I could as soon fly as rhyme. I have scratched my head till it ached, and looked up to the ceiling till my neck was as stiff as my ruff ; but if ever I succeeded in making reason of my rhyme, or rhyme of my reason, I'm worse than a jew. So I tell thee what, sweet Will, thou shalt help me in this strait with thine own unparalleled talents, and if I be not grateful, call me a dog."
“Dog, quotha !" cried his guest, in seeming amazement, “art thou not the veriest dog that howls o’nights? What a face hast thou, thou impudent varlet, after having, with thy miserable breath, cursed Apollo and all his generation, to come, cap in hand, to one of the humblest of his followers! Go to, I'll ha' none o'thee! I abandon thee to the fury of the immortal gods."
“Nay, but, sweet Will.”
“Ay, “sweet Will’ thou callest me now; yet a moment since I was likened to a jackass eating thistles. Hast thou no shame? Dost think, because thine own wretched hack will not stir a foot, that thou shalt ride on my Pegasus? I'm an oyster if I let thee.”
“What! not assist thy old friend and comrade ?" asked the other, in the same bantering tone he had used from the first ; “how often have I done thee a good turn that way? Dost remember, in merry Stratford, when we were both boys, yet with an intolerant inclination for the honours of manhood, how often I did lead Sir Thomas Lucy's game keeper in search of imaginary deer-stealers, whilst thou wert courting his niece in the shrubbery?"
“ Hal hal thou hast me there, Dick,” replied his friend, unable to refrain from laughing at the odd associations which came crowding to his memory, thou hast me there of a surety. Ah, Kate ! she was a delectable little gipsey, with a most enticing ankle, and a smile that would thaw a six weeks' frost. But dost forget thine own tricks, old memorandum? Hast forgot when thou wert laying siege to Barbara, the sexton's pretty daughter, behind the church, how I, with a sheet I had stolen for the nonce, and a turnip-lantern and candle, did stalk through the church-yard, to keep the folks from disturbing thee-to the horror of the whole neighbourhood, and the near frightening to death of three ancient spinsters, two drunken ploughboys, and the parish constable?"
“Ha! ha! ha!” shouted the other, with an obstreperous fit of mirth, "'tis as true as life; I'm nothing better than a Turk, if ev'ry word isn't gospel. But," added he gravely, “who could imagine Master William Shakspeare playing the ghost in a country church
• Or Master Richard Burbage playing the lover to a sexton's daughter ?
And thereupon the two worthies did laugh till the tears ran down their cheeks, and for some time every word they added seemed to act as a provocative to their mirth.
“ l'faith, after all's said and done,” observed Master Shakspeare, when he had recovered his gravity, “’twas most exquisite fooling.' “ l'faith it was,” said Master Burbage.
66 But thou wilt let me have the verses ?” he added, as he sauntered up to the table.
“Ay, marry will I, for old acquaintance sake," replied his friend, and immediately did search among his papers, from which he presently selected one. Scrutinising it earnestly, he continued, “Ha! here is a string of idle rhymes that mayhap may suit thy purpose, and thy mereer's daughter also. I think of it indifferently; nay, I