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not aware that since his days any addition has been made of more interest and real importance, as bearing on Shakspere's personal character, than that due to the sagacity of Mr Charles Knight, who has shown conclusively that so far from meaning to pass a slight on Ann Hathaway, by leaving her in his will his second-best bed," the donation was in reality a proof and index of Shakspere's affection for the wife of his youth. A discovery like this, small as it is, is worth any quantity of Aubrey and Ward's loose gossipings or Mr Payne Collier's suspicious documents, and one only regrets that Mr Knight should have so far destroyed the merit of his discovery by joining the mob of literary men in inventing for the poet a perfectly fanciful biography. That biography is lost now-lost for ever. We shall not, in all human probability, learn one genuine iota more regarding Shakspere than is already before the public; no farther light on the subject has any chance of rising on us from contemporary history or tittle-tattle diaries. The book of Shakspere's actual existence, insignificant as it is, seems as good as closed till doomsday. Why then waste time in hunting after the irrecoverable?' We have lost all the leaves of the book except a very few; but we may perchance still do much towards the reproduction of the man as shown in his writings. We may not know how he figured as an actor-how he loved or how he hated—what he ate or drank—whether or not his wife and family lived with him in London-whether he beat Ben Jonson in argument or was beaten by him—these and such-like matters there was, alas ! no Boswell to record, and utter oblivion lies over them all-an oblivion which pursued the facts of the poet's life even to the very latest moments of his existence, for, strangely enough, his son-in-law, Dr John Hall, who in alí probability attended him in his last illness, and who left behind various observations on medical cases which had come under his own experience, preserved no memorandum of the causes which deprived the world of his illustrious relative. The man Shakspere, however, not as he lived but as he wrote and as he thought, is a subject still within our cognisance. Of his outer existence we know nothing, nor can we know; of his inner life, as we have endeavoured to show in previous pages, it is our humble opinion that this is yet to a great extent an undiscovered country, to be traversed with some profit by the proper kind of wayfarer-one with large insight and industry, who has given his days and nights to the study of the maps prepared for him, only

skeletonised although these are. The hypotheses regarding the occupations supposed to have been engaged in by Shakspere at different periods of his life must of course be all rejected. One will have it that he aided his father as a butcher, and has even described the style in which he gave the quietus to a doomed calf; another believes him to have been a schoolmaster; a third that he had been bred a lawyer; a fourth that he was at one time a soldier; a fifth that he had been at sea, and had there been taught his knowledge of sailor-craft; and so on, one and all of these and similar speculations being only idle fancies of the brain, although at the same time testimonies to the surpassing range of Shakspere's practical knowledge of affairs.* We have sometimes wondered that the fanciful biographers did not start another theory-namely, that Shakspere had at one period of his life been a preacher, since, beyond all cavil, his acquaintance with the Scriptures and with the doctrines of the Christian religion is quite equal to his knowledge of everything else alluded to in his works, and is such as to put to the blush the ordinary lay intelligence even of the present day.

One circumstance, however, in connection with Shakspere's life can scarcely be passed over. The greatest dramatist the world has ever seen did not of course produce his works without previous study and preparation, nor did his genius remain unstimulated by favouring influences. Some of these influences appear to have surrounded the poet from his very childhood. Stage plays, as we learn, were greatly in vogue in Stratford.

It is on record that a company of players were performing there in 1569, when Shakspere was five years of age; the players were again in Stratford in 1575, in 1576, twice in 1577, twice in 1579, in 1580, twice in 1581, in 1582 and 1583, and three times in 1584. At this latter date Shakspere had reached his twentieth year, and was on the point of departure for the scene of his future triumphs in London, so that for at least nine years of the most impressible portion of his youth he was, if only at intervals, receiving that kind of education which of all others was best fitted to foster and to strengthen his special dramatic faculties. He may not, as some suppose, have had his budding imagination excited by the gorgeous pageantries of Kenilworth on the occasion of the Earl of Leicester's entertainment to Queen Elizabeth at that place, but no reasonable doubt can exist that, in company with his father, who was in a good position in Stratford during the greater number of the years mentioned, the youthful Shakspere frequently enjoyed the inestimable privilege of witnessing the performance of the early dramas, which, rude as they were, and to us of a later age worthless and unmeaning, yet afforded to Shakspere some essential food for his grand shaping imagination, and supplied some semblance of models on which to exercise his astonishing intellect.

* The wildest of all the hypotheses regarding the man is that started some years since by an American writer, and elaborately urged in England by a Mr W. H. Smith in a “ Letter to Lord Ellesmere"-namely, that the dramas were not the production of Shakspere at all, but that they emanated from the fertile brain of Lord Bacon! This theory is on the face of it impossible and ridiculous. It is overset in twenty ways, and in none more directly than by the late Lord Campbell, who remarks as follows of the great philosopher in his “ Life of Lord Bacon :"-"He wrote some religious tracts, and he employed himself in a metrical translation into English of some of the Psalms of David-showing by this effort, it must be confessed, nore piety than poetry. His ear had not been formed, nor his fancy fed, by a perusal of the divine productions of Surrey, Wyat, Spenser, and Shakspere, or he could not have produced rhymes so rugged, and terms of expression so mean. Few poets deal in finer imagery than is to be found in the writings of Bacon; but if his prose is sometimes poetical, his poetry is always prosaic."



It would be exceedingly instructive were we able to ascertain with any exactness what Shakspere thought regarding some of the questions of his day-of witchcraft, for example. His silence regarding such small matters as tobacco and forks, both newly sprung into use in his time, has been made matter of surprise. Things like these, however, cannot be held as of any special consequence, and the man who scarcely ever made the remotest allusion to any passing event-certainly not to the plague, nor to the Great Armada which threatened his country's liberties, nor to Bacon's infamous treatment of Essex-could not be expected to notice the veriest trifles of habit and custom.

We have seen that to some extent Shakspere's peculiar religious opinions do not appear, or appear only amidst the haze of scepticism. That he was of a large, tolerant, and merciful disposition, can be abundantly shown, and possibly, from the dark root of doubt, as occasionally happens, sprung in his case the beautiful flower of charity. There is a soul of goodness in things evil.” Obviously, as we read the references, he would have scorned all persecution for conscience sake. He was a lover of peace and of all benign and gracious influences. War, simply as war, he cannot conceal his detestation of, the long record of the historical plays being almost one continual wail from widows and children and helpless women, to whose woes and sorrows Shakspere lends his own fervent and sublime expression. The crowning glories of the reign of Elizabeth, under which his life was mainly spent, are represented (“ Henry VIII.") as consisting in the triumphs of peace and of religion, and the inculcation of high moral principles :

In her days, every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine, what he plants ; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours.
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,

And by those claim their greatness, not by blood. When we come to other subjects, however, we must confess to being more easily baffled; and should the question be asked as to the views of Shakspere on the supernatural element in human affairs as embodied in ghosts and witchcraft, we should suspect the critical acumen of any one who would profess to give a perfectly satisfactory answer. Yet there appear to be some indications of his belief in the world of spirits and of witchcraft. Hamlet wishes to impress Horatio with the opinion that mere philosophy does not comprehend or explain all things. And Lafont ( All's Well that Ends Well," with reference to Helena's cure of the King, is not sure but it may be miraculous

They say, miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence it is, that we make trifles of terrors--ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. And whence come the ghosts and apparitions of Macbeth, Richard III., and Cymbeline? Are these beings introduced simply for effect—to act on the imagination of the spectator

-without reference to their creator's belief in the possibility of such appearances; or did the Great Magician not rather share in the common opinion of his age

that Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth

Both when we sleep and when we wake? As to belief in witchcraft, it is equally difficult to pronounce. Marjory Jordan (“ Henry VI.”) is only a vulgar imposter, but the witches in “ Macbeth” are to some extent endowed with supernatural powers. On the whole, with all his superior enlightenment, we incline to the opinion that Shakspere had not been able entirely to rise above the superstitious notions of his time on the subject of witchcraft, ghost-appearances, and the general influences of the supernatural. Bacon's mighty intellect did not protect him from the belief in such influences, and it would be rash to credit Shakspere with the possession of superior intelligence to Bacon, or-shall we say?-superior scepticism.

On some of the other special opinions held by Shakspere it may be possible, from an examination of his works, to speak more decisively. Let us select the subject of physiognomy for a slight passing inquiry. Did he believe that the face was really to be held as a true and proper index of the mind ? As one of the closest observers of human nature that ever lived, his judgment on a point like this should be worthy of note. His references to the subject are numerous, but they are not unvarying in tone; and we are impelled to the conclusion that while as a young man he attached great importance to facial expression as indicative of the mind, he wavered in his ideas as he progressed in knowledge, and at last threw aside his early observations as useless. The passages are at the least curious in themselves, and seem not a little noteworthy.

In the poem, “ The Rape of Lucrece," the second of Shakspere's acknowledged works, we have an express approval of physiognomy :

In Ajax and Ulysses, O what art
Of physiognomy might one behold!
The face of either cipher'd either's heart;
Their face their manners most expressly told.
In Ajax' eyes blunt rage and vigour rollid ;
But the mild glance that shy Ulysses lent,

Show'd deep regard and smiling government. And in the play of “ Pericles,” which Dryden believed to have been the first dramatic effort of Shakspere—as we think it certainly was amongst the first-the hero of the piece says to Marina :

Falseness cannot come from thee, for thou look'st
Modest as justice, and thou seem'st a palace

For the crown'd truth to dwell in.*
Marina gives utterance to a like sentiment regarding

You are well favoured, and your looks foreshow

You have a gentle heart.
And Leonato (" Much Ado about Nothing")-

Which is the villain ?
Let me see his eyes,
That when I meet another man like him

I may avoid him.
Hamlet avers of his father that he possessed


* A parallel passage to this occurs in the “ Tempest," where Miranda says of Ferdinand" There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.” Juliet uses a like simile, only reversing its expression, when she hears of Romeo having killed Tybalt:

0, that deceit should dwell in such a gorgeous palace.'


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