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th 23e statements will be strongly corroborated, if we consult the parish register of Stratford; for it appears on that record, that, merely including his children, there is a succession of baptisms, marriages, and deaths in his family at Stratford, from 1583 to 1616. In addition to this evidence, it may be remarked, that the poet, in a mortgage, dated the 10th of March, 1612-13, is described as William Shakspeare, of Stratford-on-Avon, gentleman; and that by his contemporaries he was frequently styled the sweet swan of Avon ;' designations, which must be considered as implying the family residence of our author. These circumstances induced Mr. Chalmers, after much research, to conclude that Shakspeare • had no fixed residence in the metropolis, nor ever considered London as his home; but had resolved that his wife and family should remain through life at Stratford, though he himself made frequent excursions to London, the scene of his profit, and the theatre of his fame.'
Much controversy has been excited respecting the nature of our author's early employment at the London theatre, to which he appears to have been introduced by Thomas Greene, a celebrated comedian of the day, a native of Stratford, and, probably, a relative of Shakspeare. We are informed by Rowe, • that he was received into the company then in being, at first, in a very mean rank. It has been
related that his first office was that of call-boy, or attendant on the prompter, and that his business was to give notice to the performers when their different entries on the stage were required. We may, however, reasonably conclude that Mr. Rowe only meant to imply that his engagement as an actor was, at first, in the performance of characters of the lowest class, and that his rising talents afterwards recommended him to the personation of a more elevated range of parts. John Aubrey, a student at Oxford, only 26 years after the poet's death, strongly substantiates this view of the case, when he tells us, that being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, he came to London, and was an actor at one of the playhouses, and did act exceedingly well.'
Another tradition, which places him in a still meaner occupation, is said to have been transmitted through the medium of Sir W. Davenant to Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Rowe, and this gentleman to Mr. Pope, by whom, according to Dr. Johnson, it was related in the following terms :
- In the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play; and when Shakspeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that, in a short time, every man, as he alighted, called for Will Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, 'I am Shakspeare's boy, sir.' In time,. Shakspeare found higher employment: but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakspeare's boys.'
The authenticity of this tradition appears very questionable. It should be remembered that the anecdote first appeared in Cibber's Lives of the Poets; and that if it were known to Mr. Rowe, it is evident he thought it so little intitled to credit, that he chose not to risk its insertion in his life of our poet. In short, if we reflect for a moment, that Shakspeare, though he fled from Stratford to avoid the severity of a prosecution, could not be destitute of money or friends, as the necessity for that flight was occasioned by an imprudent ebullition of wit,
and not by any serious delinquency; that the father of his wife was a yeoman both of respectability and property; that his own father, though impoverished, was still in business; and that he had, in all likelihood, a ready admission to the stage through the influence of persons of leading weight in its concerns ; we cannot, without doing the utmost violence to probability, conceive that, under these circumstances, and in the 23rd year of his age, he would submit to the degrading employment of either a horse-holder at the door of a theatre, or of a call-boy within its walls.
That Shakspeare had a perfect knowlege of his art is sufficiently proved by the instructions which are given to the player in Hamlet, and by other passages in his works : it is improbable, however, that he was entrusted with first-rate characters. Mr. Rowe has mentioned as the sole result of his inquiries, that he excelled in representing the Ghost in Hamlet; and if the names of the actors prefixed to •Every Man in his Humor' were arranged in the same order as the persons of the drama, he must have performed the part of Old Knowell in that comedy. A traditionary anecdote relating to our author's dramatic performances, preserved by Mr. Oldys, and communicated to him, as Mr. Malone thinks, by Mr. T. Jones, of Tarbick, imports, (as corrected by the learned commentator) that a relation of Shakspeare, then in advanced age, but who in his youth had been in the habit of visiting Lonoon for the purpose of seeing him act in some of nis own plays, told Mr. Jones, 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 among some company, who were eating, and one of them sang a song. That this part was the character of Adam, in `As You Like It,' there can be no doubt : and hence, perhaps, we may be warranted in the conclusion, that the representation of aged characters was peculiarly his forte.
We now come to that era in the life of Shakspeare when he began to write his immortal dramas, and to develop those powers which have rendered him the delight and wonder of successive ages. At the time that he became in some degree a public character, we naturally expect to find many anecdotes recorded of his literary history: but by a strange fata:ity, thu same want of authentic record, the same absence of all contemporary anecdote, marks every stage of his life. Even the date at which his first play appeared is unknown, and the greatest uncertainty prevails with respect to the chronological order in which the whole series was exhibited or published, of which 14