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MEMOIR OF SHAKESPEARE.
BY THE REV. ALEXANDER DYCE.
"He was not of an age, but for all time."
"ALL that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakespeare, is-that he was born at Stratford upon Avon-married and had children there went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays-returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried.” 1 Such is the remark of the most acute of his commentators; and I have quoted it here, as a sort of apology to the reader for the imperfections of the present essay.
It appears, that John Shakespeare, the father of our poet, could not boast a descent from ancestors of gentle blood, though his family had been long established in the county of Warwick. The place of his birth is doubtful; but not long
1 Note by George Steevens on Shakespeare's xciiid Sonnet. [2 It is probable that John Shakespeare was the son of a Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield, (a town three miles from
after the year 1550, we find him settled as a tradesman in Stratford upon Avon. Concerning the nature of his vocation biographers disagree. The memoranda of Aubrey declare that he was a butcher; according to Rowe, he "was a considerable dealer in wool;" and Malone has adduced a contemporary document, which renders it probable that he followed the profession of a glover.
Stratford,) who was tenant of a house and land belonging to Robert Arden. Collier, p. Ixii., Halliwell, p. 8. The earliest notice of the Shakespeare family at Stratford is of the date April 29, 1552.]
3 William Shakespeare's father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy. he exercised his father's trade; but when he killed a calfe, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech!" M. S. Aubrey. Mus Ashmol. Oxon.
Rowe tells us, that he received from Betterton, the actor, the chief part of the materials for our poet's Life; "his veneration for the memory of Shakespeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather up what remains he could of a name for which he had so great a veneration."
Malone, at one time, thought the assertions of Aubrey and Rowe by no means inconsistent: "Dr. Farmer," says he, "has illustrated a passage in Hamlet from information derived from a person who was at once a woolman and butcher, and, I believe, few occupations can be named which are more naturally connected with each other." Shak., by Reed, iii. 214. ed. 1813. But he afterwards discovered the following entry in a very old manuscript, containing an account of the proceedings in the bailiff's court, which he considered decisive as to the occupation of our poet's father:
[Stretford, ss. Cur. Philippi et Mariæ, Dei gratia regis et
That he was a person of estimable character, may be concluded, as well from his having attained the highest municipal dignities of the town, as from his having formed a matrimonial connection with a woman whose rank in life was much superior to his own. About 1557, he married Mary, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilmecote, her portion being a small estate in land called Asbies, and the sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings, and fourpence. The family of Arden was of great antiquity in Warwickshire, and several of its members had held
reginæ Angliæ, Hispaniarum, &c., secundo et tercio, ibidem tent. die Marcurii, videlicet xvij die Junii, anno prædicto, [June 17, 1556,] coram Johanne Burbage ballivo, &c. Thomas Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. queritur versus Johannem Shakys pere de Stretford in com. Warwici glover in placito quod reddat ci octo libras, &c.]
4 On April 30, 1556, and September 30, 1558, he was one of the jury of the court leet. On August 12, 1556, he was summoned on a jury in a civil action. In June 1557, he was one of the ale-tasters. On October 6, 1559, and again in May, 1561, he was made an affeeror. Either on Michaelmas day 1557, or early in 1558, he was chosen burgess. In 1558, and the next year, he served as constable. In September, 1561, he was elected one of the chamberlains, and filled the office for the two succeeding years. On July 4, 1565, he was chosen alderman. From Michaelmas, 1568, to Michaelmas, 1569, he served as high-bailiff, and on September 5, 1571, he was elected chief alderman for the ensuing year.
5 From a comparison of the wills of her parents, it appears that she was the youngest of at least four daughters. [She was the youngest of at least seven. Collier, p. lxiii.]