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long after he had mounted into an actor himself within the theatre, the name of Shakspeare's boys. That he became “an actor at one of the playhouses, and did act exceedingly well,” Aubrey tells us. He is supposed to have acted Old Knowell in Ben Jonson's “Every Man in his Humour ;” and Oldys tells us that a relative of Shakspeare, then in advanced age, but who in his youth had been in the habit of visiting London for the purpose of seeing him act in some of his own plays, told Mr. Jones of Tarbeck, that " he had a faint recollection of having once seen him act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein, being to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so weak and drooping, and unable to walk, that he was forced to be supported, and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated amongst some company who were eating, and one of them sang a song." This is supposed to have been in the character of Adam, in “As you like it ;” and hence it has been inferred, in connexion with his acting the Ghost in Hamlet, and Old Knowell, that he took chiefly old or elderly characters.
Every glimpse of this extraordinary man, who, however much he might have been acknowledged and estimated in his own day, certainly lived long before his time, is deeply interesting. That he was estimated highly we know from Jonson himself :
* Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
That so did take Eliza and our James.” When the two monarchs under whom Shakspeare lived admired and patronized him, we may be sure that Shakspeare's great merits were perceived, and that vividly, though the age had not that intellectual expansion which could enable it to rise above its premdices against a player, and comprehend that Shakspeare's dramas were not merely the most wonderful dramas, but the most wonderful expositions of human life and nature that had ever appeared. People were too busy enjoying the splendid scenes presented to them by this great genius, to note down for the gratification of posterity the daily doings, connexions, and whereabouts of the man with whom they were so familiar. He grew rich, bowever, by their flocking to his theatre, and disappeared from amongst them.
lo this theatre of Blackfriars he rose to great popularity both as an actor and drarnatic author, and became a proprietor. It was under the management of Richard Burbage, who was also a sharebolder in the Globe Theatre at Bankside. To the theatre at Banyside, Shakspeare also transferred himself, and there he became, in 1003, the lessee. There he seems to have continued about ten stars, or till 1613; having, however, so early as 1597, purchased one of the best houses in his native town of Stratford, repaired and improved it, and that so much, that he named it New Place. To this, as his proper home, he yearly retired when the theatrical sason closed; and having made a comfortable fortune, when the theatre was burnt down in 1613 retired from public life altogether.
Bankside is a spot of interest, because Shakspeare lived there many years during the time he was in London. It is that portion of Southwark lying on the river-side between the bridges of Blackfriars and Southwark. This ground was then wholly devoted to public amusements, such as they were. It was a place of public gardens, playhouses, and worse places. Paris garden was one of the most famous resorts of the metropolis. There were the bear-gardens, where Elizabeth, her nobles and ladies, used to go and solace themselves with that elegant sport, bear-baiting. There also was the Globe Theatre, of which Shakspeare became licensed proprietor, and near which he lived. The theatre was an octagon wooden building, which has been made familiar by many engravings of it. In Henry the Fifth, Shakspeare alludes to its shape and material :
"Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wouden ( the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt!” It was not much to be wondered at that this wooden globe should get consumed with fire, which it did, as I have already stated, in 1613. Shakspeare's play of Henry VIII. was acting, a crowded and brilliant company was present, and amongst the rest Ben Jonson, as we learn from his Consecration of Vulcan, when in the very first act, where, according to the stage directions, “drums and trumpets, chambers discharged,” cannons were fired, the ignited wadding flew into the thatch of the building, and the whole place was soon in flames. Sir Henry Wotton thus describes the scene in a letter to his nephew. “Now to let matters of state sleep, I will entertain you at present with what happened this week at the Bankside. The king's players had a new play, called All is True, representing some principal pieces from the reign of Henry VIII, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order with their Georges and garters, the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like; sufficient, in truth, within a while, to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now, King Henry making a mask at Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where, being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly and ran round like a train, consuming within an hour, the whole house to the very ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle ale."
Fires seem to have menaced Shakspeare on all sides, and he had narrow escapes. As there is no mention of his name in the accounts of the Globe Theatre in 1613, nor any in his will, it is pretty clear that he had retired from the proprietorship of the Globe before, and escaped that loss ; but in the very year after it was burned down,
there was a dreadful fire in Stratford, which consumed a good part of the town, and put his own house into extreme danger.
These were the scenes where Shakspeare acted, for which he wrote his dramas, and where, like a careful and thriving man as he was, he made & fortune before he was forty, calculated to be equal to 1,000l. a-year at present. He had a brother, also, on the stage at the same time with himself, who died in 1607, and was buried in St. Saviour's Church, Southwark, where his name is entered in the parish register as “ Edmund Shakspeare, a player."
The place where he was accustomed particularly to resort for social recreation was the Merraaid Tavern, Friday-street, Cheapside. This was the wits' house for a long period. There a club for beaux esprits was established by Sir Walter Raleigh, and here came, in their several days and times, Spenser, Shakspeare, Philip Sidney, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Marlowe, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, Wotton, and ail the brave spirits of those ages. Here Jonson and Shakspeare used to shine out by the brilliancy of their powers, and in their “ wit-combats,” in which Fuller describes Jonson as a Spanish great galleon, and Shakspeare as the English manof-ear. “Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and his invention." Enough has been said of this celebrated club by a variety of writers. There can be no doubt that there wit and merriment abounded to that degree, that, as Beaumont has said in his epistle to Jonson, one of their meetings was enough to make up for all the stupidity of the city for three days past, and supply it for long to come; to make the worst companions right witty, and “ downright fools more wise.” There is as little doubt, however, that with Jonson in the chair, drinking would be as pre-eminent as the wit. The verses which he had inscribed over the door of the Apollo room, at the Devil Tavern, another of their resorts, are, spite of all vindications by ingenious pens, too indicative of that.
** Welcome, all who lead or follow,
To the oracle of Apollo;
There is not any reason to believe that Shakspeare, lover of wit and jollity as he was, was a practical upholder of this pernicious doctrine. He may often make his characters speak in this manner, but personally he retired as soon as he could from this bacchanal life to his own quiet hearth at Stratford ; and if we are to believe his sonnets addressed to his wife, and they possess the tone of a deep and real sentiment,--he seriously rued the orgies in which he had participated.
“Oh, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmfull deeds,
Even that your pity is enough to cure me." We cannot read these and many other portions of his sonnets, we cannot see Shakspeare retiring every year, and, as soon as able, altogether from the bacchanalian and dissipated habits of the literary men of the day, to the peaceful place of his birth, and the purity of his wedded home, without respecting his moral character as much as we admire his genius. The praises and the practice of drunkenness by literary men, and poets especially, have entailed infinite mischief on themselves and on their followers. What woes and degradations are connected with the history of brilliant men about town, which have tended to stamp the general literary character with the brand of improvidence and disrespect ;-jails, deaths, picking out of gutters, sponging-houses, and domestic misery,-how thickly do all these rise on our view as we look back through the history of men of genius, the direct result of the absurd rant about drinking and debauch! With what a beautiful purity do the names of the greatest geniuses of all rise above these details, like the calm spires of churches through the fogs and smokes of London ! How cheering is it to see the number of these grow with the growth of years! Shakspeare, Spenser, Sidney, Milton, Cowper, Scott, Wordsworth, Southey, Shelley,—have all been sober and domestic men ; and the sanction which they have given by their practice to the proprieties of life, will confer on all future ages blessings as ample as the public truths of their teaching. The Mermaid Tavern, like the other haunts of Shakspeare, has disappeared. It was swept away by the fire. If any traces of his haunts remain, they must be in the houses of the great, where he was accustomed to visit, as those of the Lords Southampton, Leicester, Pembroke, Montgomery, and others. These are, however, now all either gone or so cut up and metamorphosed, that it were vain to look for them as abodes hallowed by the footsteps of Shakspeare. If it be true that he was
commanded to read his play of Falstaff in love-the Merry Wives of Windsor-to Queen Elizabeth, it would probably be at Whitehall or St. James's, for Somerset-House was comparatively little occupied by her.
The very places in London more particularly illustrated by his genius have too much followed the fate of those in which he lived. It is true, the Tower, Westminster Palace, and some other of those public buildings and old localities where the scenes of his national dramas are laid, still remain, spite of time and change; and the sites of others, though now covered with wildernesses of fresh houses, may be identified. But the Boar's Head in East Cheap is annihilated ; it, too, fell in the great fire, and the modern improvements thereabout, the erection of New London Bridge, and the cutting of King William-street, have swept away nearly all remaining marks of the neighbourhood. It is supposed that the present statue of William IV. stands not very far from the spot where Hal revelled and Sir John swaggered and drank sack.
Over London, and many a spot in and about it, as well as over & thousand later towns, forests, and mountains, of this and other countries, wherever civilised man has played his part, will the genius of Shakspeare cast an undying glory; but to see the actual traces of his existence, we must resort to the place of his nativity and his death. There still stand the house and the room in which he was born : there stands the house in which he wooed his Ann Hathaway, and the old garden in which he walked with her. There stands his tomb, to which the great, and the wise, and the gifted from all regions of the world have made pilgrimage, followed by millions of those who would be thought so, the frivolous and the empty ; but all paying homage, by the force of reason, or the force of fashion, vanity and imitation, to the universal interpreter of humanity. It is well that the slow change of a country town has permitted the spirit of veneration to alight there, and cast its protecting wings over the earthly traces of that existence which diffused itself as a second life through all the realms of intellect.
There is nothing missing of Shakspeare's there but the house which he built, and the mulberry-tree which he planted. The tree was hewn down, the house was pulled down and dispersed piecemeal, by the infamous parson Gastrell ; who thus “ damned himself to eternal fame," more thoroughly than the fool who fired the Temple of Diana. There, only a few miles distant, is the stately hall of Charlecote, whither the youthful poacher of Parnassus was carried before the unlucky knight. There too, and, oh shame! shame to England, shame to the lovers of Shakspeare, shame to those who annually turn Stratford and their club into a regular “Eatanswill,” on pretence of honouring Shakspeare; there, too, live the descendants of the nearest relative of Shakspeare—of his sister Joan-in unnoticed and unmitigated poverty! Several years ago, on my visit to this place, I pointed out this fact; and the disgraceful fact still remains.
The Shakspeare Club have gone down to Stratford, and feasted and