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and less Greek”; and " rare Ben ” must certainly have known the truth of the matter. Indeed, it is plain his learning must have been little enough, however obtained ; and in this, all the traditions concur. Precisely how his time was employed, during these nine years after leaving the grammar-school, of course we cannot certainly know; but there is no intimation in anything that has come down to us, that he was at all given to books, or to studies of any kind. The employments in which it would seem to be almost certain he must have been engaged, the circumstances which surrounded him, and the few details of his life which have been preserved, would all go to exclude the hypothesis of his having given any considerable attention to letters or studies, in this period. There is no written composition of his in existence, belonging to this time, and no proof that there ever was any, except a mere tradition of a lampoon upon Sir Thomas Lucy, of which no scrap has been authentically preserved. The verses which later traditions have attributed to him, whether as fragments of this supposed lampoon, or as epitaphs and epigrams written towards the close of his career, are, as any one may see, but miserable doggerel at best, and might have been written by the sorriest poetaster. With Halliwell and other critics, though immaterial to our purpose, we may safely reject them all as having no reliable basis of authenticity, and as necessarily implying, on the supposition of such basis, a deterioration of power for which no one has assigned a sufficient reason.' The critic who would find a trace of the great poet in these performances, should remember Bacon's caution to the interpreter of nature : “ If the sow with her snout should happen to imprint the letter A upon the ground, wouldst thou, therefore, imagine she could write out a whole tragedy as one letter?” 2
1 Halliwell, 270.
2 Interp. of Nat., Works, by Montagu, (London), XV., 101; Temporis Partus Mas., Works, by Spedding, Ellis, and Heath, (Boston), VII., 30.
§ 2. EMPLOYMENTS. That his first employment, on coming to London, was that of a link-boy, holding horses at the door of the theatre, as some traditions represent, would seem to be very questionable ; but that it was not in any capacity above that of a mere “servitor,” or under-actor, his most careful biographers seem to admit as highly probable, if not quite certain. The first certain knowledge that we have of him in London, however, is of the date of 1592, when there seems to have been a distinct allusion to his name in Greene's “Groatsworth of Wit," in which, apparently speaking for himself and other writers for the stage against the actors, “ those Anticks garnisht in our colours,” Greene says : “ Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygres heart, wrapt in a players hyde, supposes hee is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you ; and beeing an absolute Johannes factotum, is, in his owne conceyt, the only Shake-scene in a countrey."? From this it may be inferred that he was beginning to have some kind of reputation as an author of plays, and, in 1593-4, the “ Venus and Adonis” and the “ Rape of Lucrece” are dedicated to the Earl of Southampton under his name. From this time forward a few scattered notices of him have been gathered up from contemporary records and documents relating to purchases of lands, his money dealings with his neighbors, and ordinary business transactions; but, abating all merely mythical traditions of uncertain origin, and the impudent forgeries of these later times, no further authentic reference to his position in the theatre occurs until 1598, when his name is mentioned by Meres as the reputed author of several of these plays, and two of them are printed with his name as author on the title-page, in that year. That he was one of the inhabitants of Southwark,
1 See Halliwell's Life, 144.
dwelling near the Bear Garden in 1596, seems to rest upon very questionable authority; but, in 1597, he had purchased New Place, in Stratford-on-Avon, where his family continued to reside until his death. In 1598, we find him lending money to his neighbors, and performing his part on the stage ; and in 1599, he had succeeded in obtaining for his father the grant of a coat of arms from the Herald's College, which descended to himself in 1601. And in 1604, when the perfected “ Hamlet” had been produced, he had become a leading manager and sharer in the Globe and Blackfriars, and his name stood second only in the list of patentees, “ His Majesty's Servants.” From this date until 1613, the personal notices that remain to us exhibit him as being always very attentive to matters of business, rapidly growing in estate, purchasing farms, houses, and tythes in Stratford, bringing suits for small sums against various persons for malt delivered, money loaned, and the like, carrying on agricultural pursuits and other kinds of traffic, with “a good grip o' the siller," and executing business commissions in London for his Stratford neighbors, while we are to suppose he was, at the same time, producing such plays as the “ Hamlet,” the “Macbeth,” the “ Othello,” the “ Lear,” and the “ Julius Cæsar”; whence it might certainly be concluded, that he had an excellent capacity for business in addition to his other arts and superhuman gifts ; but there is nowhere the slightest note or trace of his literary occupations.
He had now acquired a brilliant reputation and an ample estate. It seems probable that he quit acting upon the stage about the year 1608, and that, in 1610, he finally retired from any active participation in the affairs of the theatre, though he may have still continued to receive for a time his share of the income as one of the largest proprietors; but how long, it is not certainly known. It would seem probable, however, that he had parted with his interest in the theatres sometime before the 30th of June, 1613,
when the Globe theatre was destroyed by fire. It is known that as late as March, 1613, he made the purchase of a house in the Blackfriars; and this is the last transaction in which he is positively ascertained to have been concerned in London. After this date, we hear of him only at Stratford-on-Avon, attending to business and the ordinary affairs of life, leisurely enjoying the social intercourse of his neighbors and his family, until his death in 1616. Indeed, throughout his life (as his most zealous biographer is obliged to confess), “the best evidence we can produce exhibits him as paying more regard to his social affairs than to his profession.” 1 And so, it would seem to be true; as some still think, that, in the words of Pope,
“Shakespeare, whom you and every playhouse-bill
$ 3. MANUSCRIPTS. No original manuscript of any play, or poem, letter, or other prose composition, in the handwriting of William Shakespeare, has ever been discovered: none is known to have been preserved within the reach of the remotest definite tradition. It does not appear by any direct proof that the original manuscript of any one of the plays or poems was ever seen, even in his own time, in his own handwriting, under such circumstances as to afford any conclusive evidence, however probable, that he was the original author. " I remember,” says Ben Jonson, “ the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted out line." We have only to suppose for a moment that the manuscripts may have been copied by him from some unknown complete and finished originals, which were kept a secret from the world, and this wonder of the players would be
1 Halliwell, 194.
at once explained. Meres, in 1598, speaks of "his sugred sonnets among his private friends," as if they had been circulated in manuscript; but even this does not exclude the possibility of another having been the author, in the same way, though in itself highly improbable at first view. That he was universally reputed to be the author of these works, in his own time, not merely by the public in general, but by contemporary writers, his fellows of the theatre, the printers and publishers, and some great personages, and that the fact was never publicly questioned, in that age, nor indeed until a very recent date, must be admitted, though 'some evidence may be adduced herein, tending to show that the contrary was known, or at least strongly suspected, by some few persons at that day. It enough here to remark, that this reputation alone is not absolutely conclusive of the question. No more is that other very pregnant circumstance, the fact that the “ Venus and Adonis ” and the “Rape of Lucrece ” were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton under the name of William Shakespeare ; for it is clearly possible, however improbable at first view, that even this may have been arranged and designed as a cover for the real author. In short, there is no positive and direct evidence in any contemporary record, fact, circumstance, or event, relating to Shakespeare, which is in itself of such a nature that it must be accepted in his favor as conclusive of the question of this authorship. He makes no mention of his manuscripts, or literary property, in his will; nor is there a trace of evidence that they ever came into the possession of his executors, or of any member of his family. But for this there may have been the less occasion, if we assume that the manuscript copies had all been sold to the theatre, and that not a single duplicate copy had ever been retained in his own possession. It might be possible, indeed, that some of them may have been burn: with the Globe theatre in 1613: when the Fortune was burnt, in 1621, we know the play-books were all lost. It is