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he could write his name," and that “ he had a mark to himself like an honest, plain-dealing man,”-considering that he was born not very long after the wars of the Roses, this deficiency would not weigh much in disproving his wealth or his gentility. Even supposing him to have been a genuine marksman, he was only on a par in this respect with many persons of higher rank, and with several of the most influential of his fellow townsmen. Of the nineteen Aldermen and burgesses who signed the order referred to, only seven subscribe their names with a pen, and the High Bailiff and Senior Alderman are among the marksmen.
Whatever may have been the clownish condition of John Shakespeare, that the “ Divine Williams” (as the French call our great dramatist) received an excellent school education can hardly admit of question or doubt. We certainly know that he wrote a beautiful and business-like hand, which he probably acquired early. There was a free grammar school at Stratford, founded in the reign of Edward IV., and reformed by a charter of Edward VI. This school was supplied by a succession of competent masters to teach Greek and Latin ; and here the sons of all the members of the corporation were entitled to gratuitous instruction, and mixed with the sons of the neighbouring gentry. At such grammar schools, generally speaking, only a smattering of Greek was to be acquired, but the boys were thoroughly
grounded in Latin grammar, and were rendered familiar with the most popular Roman classics. Shakespeare
must have been at this school at least five years. His chi , father's supposed pecuniary difficulties, which are said to
have interrupted his education, did not occur till William had reached the age of 14 or 15, when, accord
ing to the plan of education which was then followed, f bit the sons of tradesmen were put out as apprentices or
clerks, and the sons of the more wealthy went to the university. None of his school compositions are preserved, and we have no authentic account of his progress ; but we know that at these schools boys of industry and genius have become well versed in classical learning. Samuel Johnson said that he acquired little at Oxford beyond what he had brought away with him from Lichfield Grammar School, where he had been taught, like Shakespeare, as the son of a burgess; and many from such schools, without further regular tuition, have distinguished themselves in literature.
It is said that “the boy is the father of the man;". and knowing the man, we may form a notion of the tastes and habits of the boy. Grown to be a man, Shakespeare certainly was most industrious, and showed an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We may therefore fairly infer, that from early infancy he instinctively availed himself of every opportunity of mental culture,
“What time, where lucid Avon stray'd,
To him the mighty mother did unveil
The grand difficulty is to discover, or to conjecture with reasonable probability, how Shakespeare was employed from about 1579, when he most likely left school, till about 1586, when he is supposed to have gone to London. That during this interval he was merely an operative, earning his bread by manual labour, in stitching gloves, sorting wool, or killing calves, no sensible man can possibly imagine. At twenty-three years of age, although he had not become regularly learned as if he had taken the degree of M.A. at Oxford or Cambridge, after disputing in the schools de omni scibili et quolibet ente,—there can be no doubt that, like our Scottish BURNS, his mind must have been richly cultivated, and that he had laid up a vast stock of valuable knowledge and of poetical imagery, gained from books, from social intercourse, and from the survey of nature. Whoever believes that when Shakespeare was first admitted to play a part in the Blackfriars Theatre his mind was as unfurnished as that of the stolid Clown' in the * Winter's Tale,' who called forth a wish from his own father that “there were no age between ten and three and twenty," will readily give credit to all the most extravagant and appalling marvels of mesmerism, clairvoyance, table-turning, and spirit-rapping.
Of Shakespeare's actual occupations during these important years, when his character was formed, there is not a scintilla of contemporary proof; and the vague traditionary evidence which has been resorted to was picked up many years after his death, when the object was to startle the world with things strange and supernatural respecting him.—That his time was engrossed during this interval by labouring as a mechanic, is a supposition which I at once dismiss as absurd.
Aubrey asserts that from leaving school till he left Warwickshire Shakespeare was a schoolmaster. If this could be believed, it would sufficiently accord with the phenomena of Shakespeare's subsequent career, except the familiar, profound, and accurate knowledge he displayed of juridical principles and practice. Being a schoolmaster in the country for some years (as Samuel Johnson certainly was), his mental cultivation would have steadily advanced, and so he might have been prepared for the arena in which he was to appear on his arrival in the metropolis.
Unfortunately, however, the pedagogical theory is not only quite unsupported by evidence, but it is not consistent with established facts. From the registration of the baptism of Shakespeare's children, and other well authenticated circumstances, we know that he continued to dwell in Stratford, or the immediate neighbourhood, till he became a citizen of London: there was no other school in Stratford except the endowed grammar school, where he had been a pupil; of this he certainly never was master, for the unbroken succession of masters from the reign of Edward VI. till the reigri of James I. is on record ; none of the mob who stand out for Shakespeare being quite illiterate will allow that he was qualified to be usher; and there is no trace of there having been any usher employed in this school.
It may likewise be observed that if Shakespeare really had been a schoolmaster, he probably would have had some regard for the “order” to which he belonged. In all his dramas we have three schoolmasters only, and he makes them all exceedingly ridiculous. First we have Holofernes in ‘Love's Labour's Lost,' who is brought on the stage to be laughed at for his pedantry and his bad verses ; then comes the Welshman, Sir Hugh Evans, in the Merry Wives of Windsor,' who, although in holy orders, has not yet learned to speak the English language; and last of all, Pinch, in the Comedy of Errors,' who unites the bad qualities of a pedagogue and a conjuror.
By the process of exhaustion, I now arrive at the only other occupation in which it is well possible to imagine that Shakespeare could be engaged during the period