페이지 이미지

into pewter, and wooden spoons into silver or tin. He then describes the altered. splendour of the substantial farmer: "A fair garnish of pewter on his cupboard, with so much more in odd vessels going about the house; three or four featherbeds; so many coverlids and carpets of tapestry; a silver salt, a bowl for wine, and a dozen of spoons to furnish up the suit." Robert Arden had certainly not a mansion filled with needless articles for use or ornament. In the inventory of his goods taken after his death we find table-boards, forms, cushions, benches, and one cupboard in his hall; there are painted cloths in the hall and in the chamber; seven pair of sheets, five board-cloths, and three towels; there is one feather-bed and two mattresses, with sundry coverlets, and articles called canvasses, three bolsters, and one pillow. The kitchen boasts four pans, four pots, four candlesticks, a basin, a chafing-dish, two cauldrons, a frying-pan, and a gridiron. And yet this is the grandson of a groom of a king's bedchamber, an office filled by the noble and the rich, and who, in the somewhat elevated station of a gentleman of worship, would probably possess as many conveniences and comforts as a rude state of society could command. There was plenty outdoors -oxen, bullocks, kine, weaning calves, swine, bees, poultry, wheat in the barns, barley, oats, hay, peas, wood in the yard, horses, colts, carts, ploughs. Robert Arden had lived through unquiet times, when there was little accumulation, and men thought rather of safety than of indulgence: the days of security were at hand. Then came the luxuries that Harrison looks upon with much astonishment and some little heartburning.

And so in the winter of 1556 was Mary Arden left without the guidance of a father, under this somewhat naked roof-tree, now become her own. Her sister Alice was to occupy another property in Wilmecote with her mother, provided the widow would so consent; and she did consent. Mary Arden lived in a peaceful hamlet; but there were some strange things around her, incomprehensible things to a very young woman. When she went to the church of Aston Cantlow, she now heard the mass sung, and saw the beads bidden ; whereas a few years before there was another form of worship within those walls. She learnt, perhaps, of mutual persecutions and intolerance, of neighbour warring against neighbour, of child opposed to father, of wife to husband. She might have beheld these evils. The rich religious houses of her county and vicinity had been suppressed, their property scattered, their chapels and fair chambers desecrated, their very walls demolished. The new power was trying to restore them, but, even if it could have brought back the old riches, the old reverence was passed away. In that solitude she probably mused upon many things with an anxious heart. The wealthier Ardens of Kingsbury and Hampton, of Rotley and Rodburne and Park Hall, were her good cousins; but bad roads and bad times perhaps kept them separate. And so she lived a somewhat lonely life, till a young yeoman of Stratford, who had probably some acquaintance with her father, came to sit oftener and oftener upon those wooden benches in the old hall-a substantial yeoman, a burgess of the corporation in 1557 or 1558; and then in due season, perhaps in the very year when Romanism was lighting its last fires in England, and a queen was dying with "Calais" written on her heart, Mary

Arden and John Shakspere were standing before the altar of the parish church of Aston Cantlow, and the house and lands of Asbies became administered by one who took possession "by the right of the said Mary," who thenceforward abided for half a century in the good town of Stratford.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][subsumed]
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]


A PLEASANT place is this quiet town of Stratford-a place of ancient traffic, the name having been originally occasioned from the ford or passage over the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley in Arden towards London." * England was not always a country of bridges: rivers asserted their own natural rights, and were not bestrid by domineering man. If the people of Henley in Arden would travel towards London, the Avon might invite or oppose their passage at his own good will; and, indeed, the river so often swelled into a rapid and dangerous stream, that the honest folk of the one bank might be content to hold somewhat less intercourse with their neighbours on the other than Englishmen now hold with the antipodes. But the days of improvement were sure to arrive. There were charters for markets, and charters for fairs, obtained from King Richard and King John; and in process of time Stratford rejoiced in a wooden bridge, though without a causey, and exposed to constant damage by flood. And then an alderman of London,-in

[ocr errors][merged small]

days when the very rich were not slow to do magnificent things for public benefit, and did less for their own vain pride and luxury,-built a stone bridge over the Avon, which has borne the name of Clopton's Bridge even from the days of Henry VII. until this day. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous at Stratford; and such were, in every case, the centres of civilisation and prosperity. The parish church was a collegiate one, with a chantry of five priests; and there was an ancient guild and chapel of the Holy Cross, partly a religious and partly a civil institution. A grammar-school was connected with the guild; and the municipal government of the town was settled in a corporation by charter of Edward VI., and the grammar-school especially maintained. Here then was a liberal accumulation, such as belongs only to an old country, to make a succession of thriving communities at Stratford ; and they did thrive, according to the notion of thrift in those days. But we are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and heiress of Arden from the old hall of Wilmecote he placed her in some substantial mansion in his corporate town, ornamental as well as solid in its architecture, spacious, convenient, fitted up with taste, if not with splendour. Stratford had, in all likelihood, no such houses to offer; it was a town of wooden houses, a scattered town,-no doubt with gardens separating the low and irregular tenements, sleeping ditches intersecting the properties, and stagnant pools exhaling in the road. Even in the reigns of Elizabeth and James the town was nearly destroyed by fire; and as late as 1618 the privy council represented to the corporation of Stratford that great and lamentable loss had "happened to that town by casualty of fire, which, of late years, hath been very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cottages, stacks of straw, furzes, and such-like combustible stuff, which are suffered to be erected and made confusedly in most of the principal parts of the town without restraint."* If such were the case when the family of William Shakspere occupied the best house in Stratford, a house in which Queen Henrietta Maria resided for three weeks, when the Royalist army held that part of the country in triumph,—it is not unreasonable to suppose that sixty years earlier the greater number of houses in Stratford must have been mean timber buildings, thatched cottages run up of combustible stuff; and that the house in Henley Street which John Shakspere occupied and purchased, and which his son inherited and bequeathed to his sister for her life, must have been an important house,—a house fit for a man of substance, a house of some space and comfort, compared with those of the majority of the surrounding population.

That population of the corporate town of Stratford, containing within itself rich endowments and all the framework of civil superiority, would appear insignificant in a modern census. The average annual number of baptisms in 1564 was fifty-five; of burials in the same year forty-two: these numbers, upon received principles of calculation, would give us a total population of about one thousand four hundred. In a certificate of charities, &c., in the thirty-seventh year of Henry VIII., the number of "houselyng people" in

[ocr errors][merged small]

Stratford is stated to be fifteen hundred. This population was furnished with all the machinery by which Englishmen, even in very early times, managed their own local affairs, and thus obtained that aptitude for practical good government which equally rejects the tyranny of the one or of the many. The corporation in the time of John Shakspere consisted of fourteen aldermen and fourteen burgesses, one of the aldermen being annually elected to the office of bailiff. The bailiff held a court of record every fortnight, for the trial of all causes within the jurisdiction of the borough in which the debt and damages did not amount to thirty pounds. There was a court-leet also, which appointed its ale-tasters, who presided over the just measure and wholesome quality of beer, that necessary of life in ancient times; and which court-leet chose also, annually, four affeerors, who had the power in their hands of summary punishment for offences for which no penalty was prescribed by statute. The constable was the great police officer, and he was a man of importance, for the burgesses of the corporation invariably served the office. John Shakspere appears from the records of Stratford to have gone through the whole regular course of municipal duty. In 1556 he was on the jury of the court-leet; in 1557, an ale-taster; in 1558, a burgess; in 1559, a constable; in 1560, an affeeror; in 1561, a chamberlain; in 1565, an alderman; and in 1568, high bailiff of the borough, the chief magistrate. Two centuries and a half produce little change in those institutions which are founded in the ancient habits of a people.

"Him in our body-corporate we chose,

And, once among us, he above us rose;
Stepping from post to post he reach'd the chair,
And there he now reposes-that's the mayor."

So wrote Crabbe in the reign of George III.

There have been endless theories, old and new, affirmations, contradictions, as to the worldly calling of John Shakspere. There are ancient registers in Stratford, minutes of the Common Hall, proceedings of the Court-leet, pleas of the Court of Record, writs, which have been hunted over with unwearied diligence, and yet they tell us nothing, or next to nothing, of John Shakspere. When he was elected an alderman in 1565, we can trace out the occupations of his brother aldermen, and readily come to the conclusion that the municipal authority of Stratford was vested, as we may naturally suppose it to have been, in the hands of substantial tradesmen, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocers, victuallers, mercers, woollen-drapers.* Prying into the secrets of time, we are enabled to form some notion of the literary acquirements of this worshipful body. On rare, very rare occasions, the aldermen and burgesses constituting the town council affixed their signatures, for greater solemnity, to some order of the court; and on the 29th of September, in the seventh of Elizabeth, upon an order that John Wheler should take the office of bailiff, we have nineteen names subscribed, aldermen and burgesses. There is something in this document which suggests a motive higher than mere curiosity for calling up

* See Malone's Life of Shakspeare,' Boswell's Malone, vol. ii., p. 77.

« 이전계속 »