IT was on a bright, warm August morning that I started in the carrier’s stage for Stratford-on-Avon. The road is one of the best and pleasantest in England, passing, as it does, through several Villages and a country fertile, well wooded and highly cultivated. By this way it is next to certain Shakespeare himself travelled, as people have done for centuries, to London. As in his day, so now, the noble spire of Tredington church is a landmark for many a long mile, and the Stour wanders between the willows and through the fields by the road-side. There was -a pleasant look of old-time life in the cottages and inns, at the latter of which the coach stopped to receive messages and passengers, and where the trimly-dressed hostess, full of sunshiny smiles and well-satisfied authority, or the wide-awake hostler or boy-of-all-work, gave the ” Good-morning!” and sought for customers. To some of the travellers it was evidently a thirsty day, and, as the temperance movement has not to any great extent affected this part of the world, huge potions of bright, foaming ale were consumed at every stopping-place. The driver was happy and obliging, ready at all times to have a chat or to give information ; three or four of the passengers were merry, and enlivened the journey with odd rhymes, humorous stories and witty repartees. One old fellow, full of fun and beer, puzzled a boy who went riding awkwardly by on a horse by asking him “if he would not be safer riding inside.” The lad stopped to scratch his head and to think. In the meadows the haymakers were busily at work; here and there the forge-fire gleamed out of the dark shop, and the anvil ceased to ring as the leathernaproned smith, holding the hot horseshoe in his pincers, stopped to look at us ; the birds darted out of the hedges at the crack of the whip or the bark of the dog; carriages, horsemen and pedestrians passed us looking cheery and bright as the day itself; and, now out in the open road, now under the cool green shade of overhanging trees, we rolled over our ten miles, feeling that, after all, there were some pleasures connected with stage-travelling which railways cannot give.
The sun was high toward noon when we entered the remarkably clean and pretty town on the Avon. What a delightful out-of-the-world place it is ! And what strangely-sweet emotions fill one’s soul as one remembers that this quiet, contented burgh, with its beautiful surroundings, prosperous-looking people and antique spirit brooding over all, was once the home of him whose glory is the glory of humanity and whose thought permeates the world ! Here he was born ; here he loved and lived; here he died. Stratford is all Shakespeare, and the town appears calmly conscious of the fact. It may have an older history, running back, as it does, beyond the days of the socalled Saxon Heptarchy, full of interest, and possibly of romance, but ill else is forgot-ten in the one mighty thought of Shakespeare. Even as the sun at its rising dims the stars whose brilliancy made the night-sky splendid, so this man, full of most marvellous power, outshines all who lived before him. Doubtless the place always had attractions, but
” Fairer seems the ancient borough, And its sunshine seems more fair, That he once has trod its pavement, That he once has breathed its air.”
Beyond the town and across the meadows, some twenty minutes’ walk, is Shottery, the village-home of Ann Hathaway. There is no difficulty in recognizing the cottage, the pictures of it being very like. It is at the far side of the little village, its end to the lane-like road and its front largely hidden with honeysuckles and roses. It is of the dark timber framing filled up with bricks and plaster commonly looked upon as Elizabethan or I might almost say Shakesperean with deep gables and roof thatched with straw and dotted with moss and lichen. A gate opens into the garden, and a narrow pathway partly paved with irregular pieces of stone and brick and running up two or three uneven steps leads therefrom to the strange-looking old door. The clumsy wooden latches, lifted with a string, the end of which is put through a hole and hangs outside, are still there. Nor are the oak pegs with which the frame-work of the simple structure was fastened together cut off. The appearance of the place, unchanged as it is for the most part, gives a fair idea of the houses of the well-to-do villagers three centuries since. Odd and unpretentious, it has, nevertheless, an air of homely comfort about it a simplicity and a restfulness in which suggestions of happy, uneventful country life come to the mind as tenderly and sweetly as the matin-chimes murmur in the still summer air.
The old lady who lives there, a descendant of the Hathaways, was very genial and communicative in showing me around. The house inside is pretty much the same as of old the ample and comfortable kitchen-room, with its chimney-place, in which are the old bacon cupboards, as it was when Willie Shakespeare courted sweet Mistress Ann. Here, possibly in this old chair or on that rude settle, he sat and told her the story of his love. These very walls, this antique panelled wainscoting, these low darkened beams of the ceiling and these stones of the floor, could they but speak, would repeat the assurances and the vows of the ardent youth. With some such lines as these he wooed :
Would ye be taught, ye feathered throng, With love’s sweet notes to grace your song, To pierce the heart with thrilling lay, Listen to mine Ann Hathaway. She bath a way to sing so clear Phoebus might wond’ring stop to hear; To melt the sad, make blithe the gay, And Nature charm, Ann bath a way, She hath a will, She bath a way, To breathe delight, Ann Hathaway.
“When Envy’s breath and ranc’rous tooth Do soil and bite fair worth and truth, And merit to distress betray, To soothe the heart, Ann hath a way; She hath a way to chase despair, To heal all grief, to cure all care, Turn foulest night to fairest day, Thou know’st, fond heart, Ann bath a way. She hath a will, She hath a way, To make grief bliss, Ann Hathaway.”
Some have held that the married life of these two was not happy, but the most reliable evidence goes the other way. Undoubtedly, Shakespeare found in Ann Hathaway a good and loving wife, and she found in him a true and noble-hearted husband. If in his will he left her only his second-best bed, it was probably because ample provision had been otherwise made for her. At any rate, the tradition runs that she earnestly desired to be laid in the same grave with him. It does not follow, however, because he was the poet of the world, that his sweethearting was more romantic, soul-absorbing, beautiful, than that of other men. It may have been utterly prosaic and commonplace: such, indeed, is the reaction frequently found in the realities of the life of one of rare imaginative powers; but, somehow or other, as you walk about this old cottage, you feel that it was not that. The full, deep eyes of the man indicate a warmth and depth of soul, a force which would gather the very sweetness of roses into a sweeping wind of irresistible passion. And Ann ? What was she ? Great geniuses make sad mistakes, but one does not like to think of the master-reader of human character doing so in this respect. Doubtless she was a comely village-maiden not a sylph such as Miranda or a glowing beauty such as Juliet, but a true, home-like Warwickshire damsel, even such a one as sweet Mistress Page.
Well, here in the venerable cottage she was wooed and won by Stratford Will. There is no reason to doubt the tradition that this is the very house, though, when one has carefully examined all the evidence in its sup-port, it is not so absolutely convincing as one would like it to be. The feeling, however, is not confined to Ann Hathaway’s cottage : it comes up again in no less a place than the room in which the poet is said to have been born. Such scepticism is wicked, perhaps unreasonable, but it underlies most of the traditional testimony, nevertheless.
In a room up stairs the best bedroom of the Hathaways is an old carved bedstead probably of Elizabethan age ; there are also several chests and a stool of the same period. The pleasant old lady already mentioned showed me a sheet woven and made three hundred years ago, when by such work the maids of the family earned their title of” spinster.” It is neatly spun and has a line of inserted embroidery up the middle. The flooring, the walls and the beams of the house are unaltered ; the queer little staircase, the diamond-paned dormers, the small low-ceiled rooms, the rude latches to the heavy, worm-eaten doors, the veritable old furniture and the wide fireplace with its cosey corners have an interest delightful and absorbing. Judging from the house, the Hathaways were plain and fairly well-to-do people. In front of the cottage is the old well, which tradition says is as it was in Shakespeare’s days when, perhaps, Master Will drew a bucket to save Mistress Ann the labor. From the little garden my agreeable guide gathered me a small posy of flowers not, I presume, the lineal descendants of the flowers Ann Hathaway tended, if she tended any, but surely such as she and her Will saw and plucked as they rambled arm in arm through. the lanes and the gardens of this sweet village. There are still the flowers and the herbs which were popular in the olden time rue, thyme, lavender, marigold, rose mary and celandine and in the orchard, full of knolls and hollows, are apples, pears, cherries and plums. From the seat near the cottage door much the same scene now presents itself as the lovers beheld long, long ago the hills of Ilmington to the south in their woodland glory, the spire of Stratford church peeping up over the elm trees, and here and there ancient cottages with their sun-browned thatched roofs ; a gentle land where life peacefully flows through time undisturbed by the ambitions of mighty cities like, indeed, unto the silvery Avon as it restfully meanders amid the bright green meadows. The walk across the fields to Stratford is very pleasant. I could get no certain information as to the age of this footpath, but for long after the poet’s time the Shottery people continued to attend Stratford church, and there was naturally constant communication between the village and the town.
On reentering the town I passed along the chestnut walk and soon found myself at the old grammar-school. This was founded in 1482, and is a plain building of two stories, the lower of which was the guild-hall, where the citizens met in council and where plays were sometimes performed, and the upper the schoolroom. It is easy to picture Shakespeare wending his way to this fount of learning, plodding over his lessons as with slow steps he approached and ascended its stairs, and then listening, as boys everywhere listen, with more or less attention to the instruction given by the prodigiously-learned school-master ; but such a picture depends solely upon imagination. It may not be autobiographically for Shakespeare may have been a ready and an industrious scholar but the melancholy Jacques speaks of
“The whining schoolboy, with his satchel, And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school;”
and it may have been the recollection of his pedagogue, his Sir Hugh Evans, that led the poet to say of Malvolio, ” He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map, with the augmentation of the Indies.” I have no doubt the wool-stapler’s son went here to school ; I have also no doubt the Stratford people have been generous in their discovery of traditions, and have made leaps at conclusions possible only to intellectual acrobats. These old, overhanging, black-beamed houses, however, have an interest apart from Shakespeare : they Speak of that grand old world in which lived he and many of the noblest and the mightiest of England’s sons.
Joining the grammar-school is the chapel of the guild of the Holy Cross, “a right goodly Chapell,” as Leland describes it, dating from the time of Henry but looking very worn and much older. The iconoclasts of the Reformation and of the Puritan ages did not leave it untouched; some of its images were destroyed and its mural paintings were whitewashed over. Among the latter was a remarkably fine picture of the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury and a series upon the history, and especially the invention and the exaltation, of the holy cross. The antique porch with its quaint gargoyles attracts attention. On the left-hand outside corner of this doorway is the singularly grotesque head of a man with his fingers in the corners of his mouth, stretching it open as schoolboys sometimes do, so that the water may spout through. A few years, and age and weather will have entirely obliterated this bit of odd humor. The building is in the Decorated style, and in its fine old tower is said to be one of the sweetest bells ever made by man. This bell uttered its ” swede and perfect sownde” not only for divine service, but also to gather the members of the guild. As everybody knows, the guilds were the friendly societies of the Middle Ages, and their usefulness as bonds of social and commercial unity and their care for the poor and the needy made them popular among the people. In this place not only the grammar-school, but also a row of ancient alms-houses, testifies to the benefit and the charity of the local guild. However, Henry VIII. confiscated their property throughout the kingdom and appropriated their wealth to distribute among his friends and to his own purposes. A crueler or a more ungodly act of vandalism was never perpetrated in the name of religion.
Across the street is the ” New Place where Shakespeare lived in his latter days, and where he died. Here we may picture the poet, beloved and laurel-crowned, resting in his- quiet home-life amidst congenial surroundings and visited by cherished friends and acquaintances. The eventide of his life, so uncertain are its details, seems filled with the calm, misty glory which dims and yet makes radiant the objects upon which it falls. The house was in Shakespeare’s time one of the most important and largest in the town. It had an orchard and a garden stretching down to the Avon. Now a few pieces of the foundation alone remain ; the rest was pulled down in the last century by an amiable clergyman, but the true reason therefor is wrapped in mystery. The garden is beautifully kept the garden in which the poet walked and entertained his friends, and through the trees of which he saw the walls and the tower of the guild chapel. Sit down within the tree-shade on one of these rustic benches or, better still, on the green-sodded bank itself and think of him who once trod this very ground and whose flowers once grew in this very soil. Here rare Ben Jonson may have walked arm in arm with him, perchance across such another velvety lawn as that one, and here were told stories and came to life creations which shall for ever hold man spellbound. In the darkening twilight, when the sweet chanting of the evensong from the neighboring chapel lingers in the summer air as in days of yore, and the sky is bright with sprinkled splendor, this is the spot to realize the force of Lorenzo’s lines:
“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here we will sit and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears : soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony. Sit, Jessica; look how the floor of heaven Is thick-inlaid with patines of bright gold: There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; Such harmony is in immortal souls ; But whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
A great many tourists were here at the same time as myself, looking with great reverence upon these remains of the man all men adore. I only hope that they, and others such as they, will think kindly of the pilgrims who in mediaeval times frequented sacred shrines. This modern age regards the visit to the town of Shakespeare as the right thing, and the reverent pilgrimage to his grave and the gazing upon his relics as highly commendable; it looks back upon the journey to the tomb of Edward the Confessor or to that of Thomas à Becket as rank superstition.
It is twenty years since I made my first visit to the poet’s birthplace, in Henley street, but my interest in that sacred spot has grown with time and is as fresh as ever. What a centre of the world’s homage ! What multitudes have entered this old cottage! The eye no longer rests upon the ancient Tudor tenements of the neighborhood with their dark timbers, gables, jutting windows and signboards, nor upon the undrained and badly-paved streets where pigs wallowed in the mire and fowl scratched among the garbage; but this house re-mains to link us with the past and with this same Shakespeare. I suppose he sat on that seat in the great roomy fireplace, looked out of this oddly-glazed window and played on this floor. Any way, this was the scene of his childhood–a dark old place, but no doubt very comfortable in bygone days. Up stairs is the room in which the poet was born. Does any one doubt its being the very room? The world believes it implicitly, yet the minor facts of Christianity rest upon a foundation which is as eternal rock compared with the evidence for this tradition. It is, however, highly probable that the tradition is correct : who could reasonably question, if it occurred in this house, that the birth would be arranged for in the best bedroom ? The walls and the ceiling are covered with autographs an evidence of the intense interest the world has in this small chamber. There are also some names scratched on the windowpanes. This way of immortalizing one’s self is now denied the public : visitors are required to write their names and their residences in a book prepared for that purpose. There are a few odd pieces of furniture in the room, but there is no proof that they have any connection with Shakespeare. When the bare unsightly walls were covered with arras, the place presented a more comfortable appearance than it now does. Other rooms, heavy beamed, low roofed and dimly lighted, suggest pleasant visions of the simple Stratford family. An old desk, massive and cumbersome, is shown ; it is said to be the one’ Shakespeare used in the grammar-school. It is interesting for that tradition, and he may have sat at it in common with other scholars; but it is even more interesting as affording an illustration of the universality of schoolboy nature through all the ages. It is whittled and carved in true style, covered with initials and de-vices even such as would become our youth of toady. The portrait in the iron safe up stairs is said to be genuine. Many others are shown in the museum, each different in some respects from the others, and yet all noticeably agreeing in the high, wide forehead and the full, clear eye. In this same museum an adjoining cottage opening into the kitchen-room of Shakespeare’s house are preserved the early editions of the poet’s works, books illustrating them . and his life, documents.
in some way connected with him, and many other relies, some of them very full of interest. The tradition of the Bidford drinking-bout and the crab-tree slumber is carefully preserved by pictures, etc. The very chair from the ” Falcon Inn,” in that village, in which Shakespeare sat at his revels, is shown. It is old enough to have served for that purpose, but, unfortunately, there is little certainty of the truth of the legend. This Bidford was famous in those days for its company of ale-soaked topers, and, as drinking-matches were then common, one Whitmonday so runs the story some Stratford men, Will Shakespeare among the number, went to that place to test its nut-brown ale and to challenge its boast of the championship of England. The ” topers ” were away on a match at Evesham at the time, and only the ” sippers” remained to defend the renown of their village. The Stratford men soon found that they were no match for their opponents, and, being anxious to get home while they had some strength and skill left, beat a hasty re-treat. When half a mile on the way, they were quite overcome, and were obliged to lie down under a crab tree by the roadside, where they slept till next morning. Some would then have returned to the attack, but the youthful Will had had enough of “drunken Bidford.” There may be some allusion to such drinking-matches in the resolve of Slender: “I’ll ne’er be drunk whilst I live again, but in honest, civil, godly company, for this trick ; if I be drunk, I’ll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves.” The story, though long believed by Stratfordians and not altogether improbable, is, most likely, a fabrication–alas! in spite of the fact that the crab tree kept its place till the winter of 1824. As one wanders about the house so fragrant with associations of deepest interest one feels that the strangest thing of all is that of a man so great as was this man we really know so little.
From Henley street to the parish church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity and retaining its ancient collegiate privileges, is a walk of ten minutes. A noble lime-tree avenue leads up from the gateway to the principal porch. Some portions of the sacred edifice are Early English and Decorated, but the best parts are Perpendicular. The clerestory of the nave is remarkably well lighted with Decorated windows unusually large and close together. In the north aisle was once a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in the south, one to St. Thomas of Canterbury. Now in the former are several altar-tombs, mostly of the Clop-ton family and having upon them some well-executed recumbent effigies. The chancel was built in the latter part of the fifteenth century by Dr. Thomas Balsall, dean of Stratford, and is a perfect and beautiful specimen of Perpendicular work. There, inside the altar-rails, is the grave of the poet. Not long since it was outside, but the constant press of visitors began to wear away the stone, and so the rails were moved forward to a lower step. What can I say of this sacred spot that others have not said ? Here is something tangible of Shakespeare something that brings home to you the fact of his existence. In his marvellous work you overlook the fact of his personality : the creator is forgotten for the nonce in the loveliness and the might of the creation; but as you look upon this plain slab with its oft-repeated inscription you realize the very truth of him who is primus inter pares the prince through all the ages, outshining even the pure glory of Homer and Dante. Sweet Will ! grand as thou art in thine unapproachable splendor, thy majesty greater than that of the kings whom thou hast made to live in thy wondrous lines, how dear thou art to the hearts of all men ! No ; none shall touch thy sacred dust : thou shalt sleep in peace till
” The dreadful trumpet sound the general doom.”
Is not the fact that Shakespeare is here buried a sufficient refutation of the story invented by some one that he died a papist ? Over his open grave was read the office of the Church of England an act which would not have been done or been allowed by either Anglicans or Latins had he been a member of the Roman obedience. In that age of bitter Protestantism neither his position nor his talents would have overcome the scruples of his townsmen-intensely Puritanical as they were and led them to honor him as they did.
In one of the graveyards of Fredericksburg, Va,, there is a relic to which we may here direct attention. It is a slab of red sandstone, on which may be deciphered these words
Here lies the body of EDWARD HELDON, Practitioner in Physics and Chirurgery. Born in Bedfordshire, England, in the year of our Lord one of the pall bearers of William Shakespeare of the Avon. After a brief illness his spirit ascended in the year of our Lord 1618-aged 76.
On the one side of the poet’s grave lies his wife, once sweet mistress Ann, and on the other side his favorite daughter, Susanna, wife of John Hall. His daughter Judith is’ also buried there. Other graves and tombs are close by beside the altar a monument to Shakespeare’s friend, John Combe, and on the south side of the sanctuary one, much defaced, to the builder of this part of the church. On the wall over the west end of the latter monument is the famous bust of Shakespeare. This was erected perhaps earlier, but certainly within seven years of his death, and, as it is generally admitted to have been worked from a cast of his features, it is the only known trustworthy representation of him. Here may be seen his fine, full, round face, towering brow, light-hazel, large-orbed eyes, auburn hair and beard, expressive lips and well-set chin. The signs of genius are there, if they have ever been expressed in the countenance of man. The scarlet doublet and the black sleeveless gown in which he is clad bring him before us as he was when on high-days and holidays he walked along the streets of London and of Stratford.
The timber roof of the chancel is fine ; at the ends of the beams are well-carved figures holding armorial shields on their breasts. At the corbels on which these beams rest are also sculptured figures in stone which join the smaller figures at the end of the mouldings over the window arches. The three figures in a row, recurring several times, have a singular effect. The great Perpendicular window in the east, resplendent with the glory of stained glass, and the American window, in like manner glorious, are very good ; and the doorway on the north side, near the altar-rails, once leading, I believe, to a great charnel-house long since pulled down, has at the terminations of its arch-moulding or, rather, had, for they are nearly obliterated carvings of St. Christopher and the Annunciation. The niches and the miserere seats are deserving of notice ; also the old carved pews. In the south transept is the font in which Shakespeare was baptized, also an altar-tomb dating about 1593, with an inscription in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English. It is needless to record the several inscriptions relating to the poet, but the following is a copy of that belonging to this tomb
“Heare borne, heare lived, heare died, and buried heare, Lieth Richarde Hil, thrise bailif of this borrow; Too matrones of good fame he married in Godes feare, And now releast in joi, he reasts from worldie sorrow.
” Heare lieth entomb’d the corps of Richarde Hil, A woollen draper beeing in his time; Whose virtues live, whose fame dooth flourish stil, Though hee desolvèd be to dust and slime. A mirror he, and paterne mai be made For such as shall suckcead him in that trade ; He did not used to sweare, to glose, eather faigne, His brother to defraude in barganinge; Hee woold not strive to get excessive gaine In any cloath or other kind of thinge ; His servant, S. I. this trueth can testifie, A witness that beheld it with mi eie.”
Dugdale preserved the following copy of verses ‘in-scribed on the tombstone of Susanna Hall, but afterward obliterated to make room for the record of a certain Richard Watts:
” Heere lyeth ye body of Svsanna wIfe to Iohn Hall gent: ye daughter of William Shakespeare, gent : Shee deceased ye ijth of iuly A°. 1649, aged 66.
Witty above her sexe, but that’s not all, Wise to salvation was good Mistris Hall. Something of Shakespeare was in that, but this Wholy of him with whom she’s now in busse. Then, Passenger, hast ne’re a teare, To weepe with her that wept with all? That wept, yet set her seife to chere Them up with comforts cordiali. Her love shall live, her mercy spread, When thou ha’st ner’e a teare to shed.”
The external appearance of the church in grace and dignity well becomes the mausoleum of Shakespeare. It is cruciform, the battlemented tower, surmounted by a modern spire, rising from the intersection of the nave and choir and the two transepts. Outside the chancel, at the heads of the buttresses and along the panelled and embattled parapet, are many grotesque figures toads, dragonflies, fish, etc. Such representations of natural objects on the outside are not uncommon in churches of this and of earlier periods. Sometimes they are grotesque, sometimes fairly accurate representations birds, beasts, reptiles and fishes. Possibly the intention of the old artists in putting these figures outside was to indicate that the animal creation was external to the realm and object of grace. They are rarely never in a grotesque form or otherwise than as symbols of some virtue or personage placed inside the building, and yet, on the other hand, designs of flowers seem to have no restrictions : if anything, they predominate in the interior. Flowers, however, in themselves so beautiful, are the fittest and the sweetest symbols of that which is heavenly and divine. They are fragments of glory cast-off bits of celestial material which ere they fell to earth were touched by the sweeping robes of angels, and thus received a beauty and a hue, alas ! such as can only be evanescent in a world such as ours.
The sweet Avon flows gently by this noble house of God, and the meadows beyond look lovely in their summer dress. In the churchyard are many old tombstones. The orthography of one on the south side of the church struck me as peculiar. The inscription is to the memory of two women who died in the spring of 1699, aged, respectively, eighty-seven and thirty-seven years. Whereabouts they are buried I do not know, for the stone has been removed from its original position to serve as a sort of curbstone where it now is. This desecration, so suggestive of an unsympathetic spirit and deserving of every condemnation, is not uncommon in the old English churchyards, though it is possibly confined to the utilitarians of some few generations since. My transcription is carefully exact: with the exception of the k in Stroks,” which is a capital, it is precisely as it is engraved on the stone.
“Death creeps Abought on hard And Steals Abroad on Seen Hur darts are Suding and hur arous Keen Hur Stroks are deadly come they soon or late When being Strock Repentance is to Late Death is A minute ful of Suden Sorrow Then Live to day as thou mayest dy to morow.”
Curious ways of giving dates also attract attention. Of a woman it is said she died ” in the 40 Second year of her age.” Sometimes the old gravestone-cutters chipped out the tens first and then the units ; thus, for 34 we find 304.
There is a right of way through the churchyard, and the walk by the Avon is exceedingly pleasant. On a stone near that walk is the name ” Davidona,” unique in my experience and not mentioned by Miss Charlotte Yonge. There is an old stone seat I fancy it was once a tomb where visitors may sit in the shade of the trees and look upon the river and the fields beyond. How softly the warm beams fall through the leafy branches and play like bright-robed seraphs amongst the graves and on the cool, tiny wavelets ! There are a few trees farther down to suggest the willow-shaded stream of Ophelia; the fish leap to the fly in the sunshine and merry ripples play around the boats with young men and women rowing hither and thither. Such a restful summer scene as this Shakespeare must have looked upon ; nay, he undoubtedly wandered up and down that gentle river, peering into its banks for the holes of otter and of rat, seeking to catch pike or perch or trout, perhaps going over love’s sweet story to his dear Ann of Shottery, and perhaps dreaming out some of those creations which must be the wonder of the world till the end of time. It is all Shakespeare. The green grass, the willow and the lime trees, the sunshine, the glittering water, the noble church, the fields so fresh and living, the birds that flit from bough to pinnacle and from wall to tree, everything speaks of him. If elsewhere nature is the expression, the robe, of Deity, here nature is filled with the spirit of the man to whom God gave a supreme, magnificent and unique gift. Who visiting this consecrated place does not for ever after read Shakespeare with the greatest interest and the fullest appreciation?
Apart from the places associated with the poet there is nothing of much interest in the town. A few old houses remain very few, considering and one looks with pleasure upon their gabled roofs and the black timbers. The streets are very clean and well kept ; the shops, small and tidy. There is an appearance of prosperity : Shakespeare is evidently to Stratford what Becket was to Canterbury, or, to put it differently, the one. made and the other is making the trade and the life of their respective towns. The constant presence of visitors from many lands gives to the people something of a cosmopolitan polish and politeness; their speech is fairly free from provincialisms, and they have as full and as just an appreciation of the distinction which their town has received by having greatness thrust upon it as they have a bright and attentive disposition toward both business and pleasure. I made several purchases, and in one shop bought a pair of ” Shakespearean ” gloves. The pretty twelve-year-old girl who sold them amused me by blushingly and naively saying, ” Of course, sir, if they don’t fit, we will change them.” She did not understand that in a relic the matter of size is of little consequence.
Four miles from Stratford is Charlecote, once the home of that Sir Thomas Lucy to whom Shakespeare gave an immortality of ridicule as Justice Shallow. The story runs that the poet, having fallen into ill company, made a practice of stealing the knight’s deer, for which offence Sir Thomas naturally sought redress in prosecution. Shakespeare was followed closely and severely, and in the spring of 1585 he resolved to leave his business and family in Stratford and to seek shelter in London. But before he left Warwickshire he wrote a bitter ballad upon Sir Thomas Lucy and nailed it on one of the posts of the park gate. Only one stanza of this ballad has been preserved, and, to say the least, there is little or none of the Shakespearean ring about it :
“A parliament member, a justice of peace, At home a poor scarecrow, at London an asse; If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it, Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befall it. He thinks himself great, Yet an asse in his state, We allowe of his ears but with asset to mate; If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it, Then sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it.”
Passages in the Merry Wives of Windsor are said to contain allusions to the tradition, and to the unfortunate knight so severely lampooned. Possibly there may be some truth in the legend, though it should be remembered that the earliest mention of it is about 1707, that none of Shakespeare’s rivals, who were ready enough to pick flaws in him, ever twitted him with it, that the punishment for deer-stealing was not, as the legend affirms, whipping, but imprisonment and fine, and, lastly, that Sir Thomas Lucy had no deer-park and no deer. Nevertheless Charlecote or Ceorlcote, the home of the husbandman, according to the Saxon is indissolubly connected with the poet, and they who visit Stratford should also go farther and see the ancient village. Well will they be repaid for so doing. Read these sympathetic lines from the pen of Charles Knight : ” There stands, with slight alterations and those in good taste the old mansion as it was reared in the days of Elizabeth. A broad avenue leads to its great gateway, which opens into the court and the principal entrance. We would desire to people that hall with kindly inmates, to imagine the fine old knight perhaps a little too puritanical, indeed, in his latter days living there in peace and happiness with his family ; merry as he ought to have been with his first wife, Jocosa (whose English name, Joyce, soundeth not quite so pleasant), whose epitaph, by her husband, is honorable alike to the deceased and to the survivor. We can picture him planting the second avenue, which leads obliquely across the park from the great gateway to the porch of the parish church. It is an avenue too narrow for carriages, if carriages had then been common; and the knight and his lady walked in stately guise along that grassy pathway, as the Sunday bells summon them to meet their humble neighbors in a place where all are equal. Charlecote is full of rich woodland scenery. The lime-tree avenue may, perhaps, be of a later date than the age of Elizabeth, and one elm has evidently succeeded another, century after century. But there are old gnarled oaks and beeches dotted about the park. Its little knolls and valleys are the same as they were two centuries ago. The same Avon flows beneath the gentle elevation on which the house stands, sparkling in the sunshine as brightly as when that house was first built. There may we still lie
Under an oak, where antique roots peep out Upon the brook that brawls along this wood,’
and doubt not that there was the place to which
‘a poor sequester’d stag, That from the hunter’s aim had ta’en a hurt, Did come to languish.’
” There we may still see
‘a careless herd, Full of the pasture,’
leaping gayly along or crossing the river at their own will in search of fresh fields and low branches whereon to browse. The village of Charlecote is now one of the prettiest of objects. Whatever is new about it and most of the cottages are new looks like a restoration of what was old. The same character prevails in the neighboring village of Hampton Lucy, and it may not be too much to assume that the memory of him who walked in these pleasant places in his younger days, long before the sounds of his greatness had gone forth to the ends of the earth, has led to the desire to preserve here something of the architectural character of the age in which he lived.”
In Charlecote church is the tomb of Sir Thomas and Lady Lucy. The former died in 1600 a man high in position and worthily esteemed by his neighbors. On the front of the altar-shaped tomb are the figures of Sir Thomas and the Lady Joyce kneeling in prayer. Upon the top they lie in full-length effigy, dressed in the costume of the period, with folded hands, and in the features of the old knight well executed and probably accurate we may discern a nobility of character far greater than a Justice Shallow could. possibly have had. The wife’s virtues are recorded on a black slab at the back of the tomb in the following touching and beautiful inscription:
“Here entombed lyeth the Lady Joyce Lucy, wife of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cherlecote, in the county of Warwick, Knight, Daughter and Heir of Sir Thomas Acton, of Sutton, in the county of Worcester, Esquier, who departed out of this wretched world to her heavenly kingdome the tenth day of February, in the year of our Lord God 1595, of her age LX and three. All the time of her life a true and faithfull servant of her good God, never detected of any crime or vice; in religion most sound; in love to her husband most faithful and true; in friendship most constant; to what was in trust committed to her most secret; in wisdome excelling; in governing of her house, and bringing up of youth in the feare of God that did converse with her, most rare and singular. A great maintainer of hospitality; greatly esteemed of her betters; misliked of none unless of the envious. When all is spoken that can be said, a woman so furnished and garnished with virtue, as not to be bettered, and hardly to be equalled by any. As she lived most virtuously, so she dyed most godly. Set down by him that best did know what hath been written to be true.
A husband who could say so much of his wife could not have been deserving of such obloquy as that heaped upon him by an idle story of a youthful poacher.
And now my day at Stratford began to darken for its close. In the still, warm twilight I set out on my return journey. The drive was full of pleasant thoughts and delightful reminiscences. The stone bridge of fourteen pointed arches over the Avon was built by a Clopton in the reign of Henry VII., and is still good and sound. Just on the other side is an inn named “The Shoulder of Mutton ;” the old sign, battered and broken, retains on it a figure with some resemblance to that joint of meat. The tavern was long since of more importance than it now is. As we pass through the villages on the way we notice the great number of children; at one small place no less than eighteen, all dirty from head to foot, gathered in the road to look at us. As the night-gloom thickens the stars peep out one by one, faint streams of light are cast across the road from cottage candles, bats and owls sweep leisurely by, and the eye grows weary of peering into the darkness. Nature has robed herself for rest.
I ride silently along, half thinking, half dreaming, and, among other things, the old bridge over which we passed reminds me of the story of poor Charlotte Clopton. She was a sweet-looking girl so the authentic legend runs with pale-gold hair combed back from her forehead and falling in wavy ringlets on her neck, and with eyes that ” looked like violets filled with dew.” They who have seen her picture, which is still preserved, say she was full of grace and beauty. When Shakespeare was an infant, a plague broke out in the town and the neighborhood of Stratford, and from it this comely and noble-born maiden sickened, and to all appearance died. With fearful haste they laid her in the vaults of the Clopton chapel in the parish church. In a few days another of the family died; but when they carried him down the gloomy stairs into the vault, by the torchlight they saw Charlotte Clopton, in her grave-clothes, leaning against the wall. They drew nearer ; she was indeed dead, but she had passed away in the agonies of despair and hunger. This fearful event, if it did not suggest, possibly helped the poet to realize, the well-known catastrophe of Romeo and Juliet.