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Ten in the hundred the devil allows,
Hoh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John O'Combe ! He was wont to go to his native country once a year. I think I have been told that he left 2 or 300 li. per annum, there or thereabout to a sister. I have heard Sir Wm. D'avenant and Mr. Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best comedian we have now) say, that he had a most prodigious wit (v. his epitaph in Dugdale's Warw.), and did admire his natural parts beyond all other dramatical writers. He (Ben Jonson's Underwood) was wont to say that he never blotted out a line in his life; said Ben Jonson, ‘I wish he had blotted out a thousand.' His comedies will remain wit as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum : now our present writers reflect so much upon particular persons and coxcombities, that twenty years hence they will not be understood.
Though, as Ben Jonson says of him, that he had but little Latin and less Greek, he understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country. From Mr.
Beeston." It would be well if longer biographies contained as large a proportion that may not be gainsaid: Aubrey
some of the neighbours” as his most direct informants, and evidently exercised neither industry nor criticism in his inquiry; but later investigation must approve his information at least to this, not inconsiderable extent:
Shakespeare was born at Stratford, his father ranked with the tradesmen of the town, and his own prospects were therefore not more elevated. Genius for poetry, however, and at least a passion for acting, carried him, viva ous and perhaps unsettled, to the stage. He arrived in London quite a young man, and was not unsuccessful as an actor, but at once commenced writing plays, and, making great advances beyond existing dramas, became very popular. He was of comely person, social temperament, lively and engaging in wit and manners,—very observant of mankind, and sometimes not indisposed to transfer an original from nature to the stage direct; the companion of Ben Jonson and contemporary of John Combe, a man of capital at Stratford. He preserved his attachment to his native town to the
last, and left considerable property, which, however, passed into the female line. He wrote with fluency, and eschewed laborious correction. He had sufficient knowledge of Latin to give countenance to at least the report, that in youth he had been a schoolmaster in the country."
Aubrey's informant, Mr. Beeston, quoted for the last fact, if so it were, was probably Christopher Beeston, who was a theatrical apprentice to Augustine Phillips in Shakespeare's company, and continued on the stage till the civil wars. (See Collier's Lives of Actors.)
In 1690, or thereabouts, an Archdeacon of Lichfield was found, Mr. Richard Davies, whose manuscripts, in college keeping, furnish this memorandum.—" Shakespeare.—He was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits; particularly from Sir Lucy, who had him oft whipt and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made him fly his native country, to his great advancement: But his revenge was so great, that he is his justice Clodo pate ; and calls him a great man, and that, in allusion to his name, bore three lowses rampant for his arms.”
Even this garbage contains something that may not be cast aside, and is the earliest authentic hint preserved of the satirical reference of Justice Shallow to Sir Thos. Lucy, whatever was the provocation.
On April 10, 1693, a Mr. Dowdall addressed a small treatise in the form of a letter to Mr. Edward Southwell, describing several places in Warwickshire, among them Stratford, where he culls the inscriptions on Shakespeare's monument, and adds this note (“ Halliwell's Life,” p. 87):
Near the wall where his monument is erected lieth a plain freestone, underncath which his body is buried, with this epitaph, made by himself a little before his death :
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
And curst be he that moves my bones. The clerk that showed me this church is above eighty years old; he says that this Shakespeare was formerly in this town bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he run from his master to Lon
don, and there was received into the playhouse as a servitor, and by this means had an opportunity to be what he afterwards proved. He was the best of his family, but the male line is extinguished: not one, for fear of the curse abovesaid, dare touch his gravestone, though his wife and daughters did earnestly desire to be laid in the same grave with him.”
There is little doubt that from this old clerk, directly or indirectly, came Aubrey's assertion that the poet's father was a butcher; and thus we should have not two witnesses to the point, but one speaking by two mouthpieces. Something more than the clerk's word would be required for proof of the authorship of the quoted epitaph, or even that it covered Shakespeare's grave That he was the best of his family, as measured by the standard that clerks use because others do, will be found a probable, indeed established fact: beyond this, it is possible that some truth may be preserved in the term he gives to Shakespeare's first position in the company. Augustine Phillips, who, in 1605, left Shakespeare 30s. in gold, as his “ fellow,” left legacies of money, musical instruments, and apparel to his apprentice, his late apprentice, and to Christopher Beeston, “his servant," who, as we have seen, became an actor, and also master of the king's and queen's young company in 1637. Phillips, however, was a musician as well as a comedian, and it may have been in the first capacity that he took apprentices or servants ; and as it is uncertain whether anyone ever entered on the stage as a comedian's apprentice, it is scarcely worth conjecturing that the clerk had heard that Shakespeare did so.
At last, in 1707, almost a century after the poet's death appeared his Life, by Rowe, prefixed to an edition of his works, and repeated, somewhat abridged, in 1714; he concludes it with a eulogy on the Shakespearian performances of Betterton, who retired from the stage in 1700, at the age of sixty-five, and cites him in these terms as his authority for the biography
" I must own a particular obligation to him for the most considerable part of the passages relating to this Life, which I have bere transmitted to the public; his veneration for the memory of Shakespeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could of a name for which he had so great a veneration."
Accordingly, it proves that this Life contains details that were manifestly derived from the Stratford register, as well as others that could only, at the time, have been learnt from tradition, though documentary evidence has since confirmed several of them. It is not known at what date Betterton visited the place, but it was probably when he was a younger man than when he left the stage. What is there that is uncontested ? Bowman the actor, whose wife had been under the guardianship of Betterton after 1692, is said by Oldys to have been unwilling to allow that his associate had ever made such a journey ; with the result of it before us, we can only interpret this hint as a doubt whether it were made so absolutely on purpose, as Rowe complimentarily affirms, and as it were illiberal not to concede.
Traditions are traceable to this source that Rowe did not insert in the Life, probably because he disbelieved them; one is, that Shakespeare began life by holding horses at the door of the playhouse, and advanced by hiring boys to hold them “under his inspection." time,” it is added, “ Shakespeare found higher employment;
but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare's boys.” Such a practice certainly existed, and there is nothing incredible about the currency of such an appellation for the boys—the predecessors of the clamorous crowd that now, on the same ground in Playhouse-yard, “ the open space to turn carriages in,” attend and contend for the early copies of the “ Times” Newspaper. Granting or assuming this, which would easily be remembered to Betterton's time, we can only say further, that the explanation that is given is not the most likely one, but the one most likely to have been imagined or inferred. This story was related by Pope as communicated to him by Rowe,--for another he referred to Betterton, who, however, is pro
bably guiltless of anything worse than relating a fiction illustrative of the profanity and gracelessness of D'avenant, to whose scandalous conceit Pope himself ascribed it. “If tradition may be trusted, Shakespeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern at Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, Mr. Jno. D'avenant (afterwards mayor of that city), a grave melancholy man, who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shakespeare's pleasant company:" and so the story proceeds to a warning by a townsman to their son, Will. D'avenant, that the boy, in calling Shakespeare godfather, should have a care not to take God's name in vain.
The jest may or may not have been a stock one,that it is found published in 1630, without names of persons, proves nothing; but without condemning Shakespeare on this and other such corrupt evidence, we may reserve for consideration how far a festive nature and temperament may have left a reputation behind him in London that, at least, was not inconsistent with the calumny.
Another anecdote on the authority of D'avenant, and another from the Bowman already mentioned, and with these the direct stream of personal tradition of any
claim to authenticity is drawn dry. This is from the papers of Oldys—“Old Mr. Bowman, the player, reported from Sir William Bishop that some part of Sir John Falstaff's character was drawn from a townsman of Stratford, who either faithlessly broke a contract or spitefully refused to part with some land for a valuable consideration adjoining to Shakespeare's, in or near that town." Sir William had opportunities of knowing much, for his father was born at Bridgetown, near Stratford, and died in 1673, at the age of eighty-eight, and there is some shadow of confirmation for his report.
At the conclusion of the advertisement to Lintot's edi. tion of the Poems, in 1709, it is said :-“That most learned prince and great patron of learning, King James the First,