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Were an issue tried before me as Chief Justice at the Warwick assizes, " whether William Shakespeare, late of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman, ever was clerk in an attorney's office in Stratford-upon-Avon aforesaid,” I should hold that there is evidence to go to the jury in support of the affirmative, but I should add that the evidence is very far from being conclusive, and I should tell the twelve gentlemen in the box that it is a case entirely for their decision,—without venturing even to hint to them, for their guidance, any opinion of my own. Should they unanimously agree in a verdict either in the affirmative or negative, I do not think that the court, sitting in banco, could properly set it aside and grant a new trial. But the probability is (particularly if the trial were by a special jury of Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries) that, after they had been some hours in deliberation, I should receive a message from them—“there is no chance of our agreeing, and therefore we wish to be discharged;" that having sent for them into court, and read them a lecture on the duty imposed upon them by law of being unanimous, I should be obliged to order them to be locked up for the night; that having sat up all night without eating or drinking, and “ without fire, candle-light excepted,” * they would come into court
* These are the words of the oath administered to the bailiff into whose custody the jurymen are delivered. I had lately to deter
next morning pale and ghastly, still saying “we cannot agree," and that, according to the rigour of the law, I ought to order them to be again locked up as before till the close of the assizes, and then sentence them to be put into a cart, to accompany me in my progress towards the next assize town, and to be shot into a ditch on the confines of the county of Warwick.
Yet in the hope of giving the gentlemen of the jury a chance of escaping these horrors, to which, according to the existing state of the law, they would be exposed, and desiring, without departing from my impartiality, to assist them in coming to a just conclusion, I should not hesitate to state, with some earnestness, that there has been a great deal of misrepresentation and delusion as to Shakespeare's opportunities when a youth of acquiring knowledge, and as to the knowledge he had acquired. From a love of the incredible, and a wish to make what he afterwards accomplished actually miraculous, a band of critics have conspired to lower the condition of his father, and to represent the son, when approaching man's estate, as still almost wholly illiterate. We have been
mine whether gas-lamps could be considered “candle-light.” In favorem vitæ, I ventured to rule in the affirmative ; and, the night being very cold, to order that the lamps should be liberally supplied with gas, so that, directly administering light according to law, they might, contrary to law, incidentally administer heat.
told that his father was a butcher in a small provincial town; that “ pleasant Willy” was bred to his father's business; that the only early indication of genius which he betrayed was his habit, while killing a calf, eloquently to harangue the bystanders; that he continued in this occupation till he was obliged to fly the country for theft; that arriving in London a destitute stranger, he at first supported himself by receiving pence for holding gentlemen's horses at the theatre; that he then contrived to scrape an acquaintance with some of the actors, and being first employed as prompter, although he had hardly learned to read, he was allowed to play some very inferior parts himself;—and that without any further training he produced · Richard III.,' Othello,' • Macbeth,' and 'King Lear.' But, whether Shakespeare ever had any juridical education or not, I think it is established beyond all doubt that his father was of a respectable family, had some real property by descent, married a coheiress of an ancient house, received a grant of armorial bearings from the Heralds with a recognition of his lineage, was for many years an Alderman of Stratford, and, after being intrusted by the Corporation to manage their finances as Chamberlain, served the office of Chief Magistrate of the town. There are entries in the Corporation books supposed to indicate that at one period of his life he was involved in pecuniary difficulties ; but this did not detract from his gentility, as is proved by the
subsequent confirmation of his armorial bearings, with a slight alteration in his quarterings,—and he seems still to have lived respectably in Stratford or the neighbourhood.* That he was, as has been recently asserted, a glover, or that he ever sold wool or butcher's meat, is not proved by anything like satisfactory evidence ;and, at any rate, according to the usages of society in those times, occasional dealings whereby the owner of land disposed of part of the produce of it by retail were reckoned quite consistent with the position of a squire. At this day, and in our own country, gentlemen not unfrequently sell their own hay, corn, and cattle, and on the Continent the high nobility are well
* I am aware of your suggestion in your "Life of Shakespeare,' that the first grant of arms to the father was at a subsequent time, when the son, although he had acquired both popularity and property, was, on account of his profession (then supposed to be unfit for a gentleman), not qualified to bear arms. But the “ Confirmation" in 1596 recites that a patent had been before granted by Clarencieux Cooke to John Shakespeare, when chief magistrate of Stratford, and, as a ground for the Confirmation, that this original patent had been sent to the Heralds' Office when Sir William Dethick was Garter King-at-Arms. Against this positive evidence we lawyers should consider the negative evidence, that, upon search, an entry of the first grant is not found, to be of no avail : and there could be no object in forging the first grant, as an original grant in 1596 would have been equally beneficial both to father and son.
pleased to sell by the bottle the produce of their vineyards.
It is said that the worthy Alderman could not write his own name. But the fac simile of the document formerly relied upon to establish this [an order, dated 29th Sept., 7 Eliz., for John Wheeler to take upon himself the office of Bailiff, signed by nineteen aldermen and burgesses] appears to me to prove the contrary, for the name of John Shaeksper is subscribed in a strong, clear hand, and the mark, supposed to be his, evidently belongs to the name of Thomas Dyrun in the line below.* You tell us, in your latest edition, of the production of two new documents before the Shakespeare Society, dated respectively 3rd and 9th Dec., 11 Eliz., which, it is said, if John Shakespeare could have written, would have been signed by him,—whereas they only bear his mark. But in my own experience I have known many instances of documents bearing a mark as the signature of persons who could write well, and this was probably much more common in illiterate ages, when documents were generally authenticated by a seal. Even if it were demonstrated that John Shakespeare had not been “so well brought up that
* See that most elaborate and entertaining book, Knight's Life of Shakspere,' 1st ed., p. 16.