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Shakspere: Personal Recollections
BIRTH. SCHOOL DAYS. SHOWS.
"One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin."
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE was born on the 23d of April, 1564, at the town of Stratford, on the river Avon, Warwickshire County, England; and died in the same town on the 23d of April, 1616, exactly fifty-two years of age, the date of his birth being the date of his death, a remarkable coincidence of spiritual assimilation.
For several centuries, his ancestors served their king and crown in war and peace; and were noted in their day and age as country "gentlemen," a term much more significant then than now, when even dressed up "dandy" frauds may lay claim to this much-abused title.
The grandfather of Shakspere fought on Bosworth Field with King Henry the Seventh, and was rewarded for his military service, leaving to his son John, the father of the "Divine" William, influence enough to secure the position of a country squire and made him bailiff and mayor of the town of Stratford.
John Shakspere, in addition to his judicial duties, dabbled in trade as a wool dealer and glove maker, and when he lost influence and office he resorted to the business of a butcher to secure bread, meat and shelter for his large family.
He married the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a very beautiful girl of Wilmcote, a small village three miles from Stratford. When Arden died, Mary, his favorite daughter, was bequeathed thirty-six dollars, and a small farm of fifty acres, near the town of Snitterfield. Good inheritance for that age.
The Arden family were strict Roman Catholics; and Edward Arden, high sheriff of Warwickshire, was executed in 1583, for plotting against her majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Those were lively days, when the followers of the Pope and King Henry the Eighth, banished, burned and hung presumptive heretics for opinion's sake! The lechery and greed of King Hal was the primary cause of his separation from papal authority, augmenting the Reformation by licentious royalty.
John Shakspere and Mary, his good wife, did not seem to have much of an education, for in signing deeds of conveyance, they only made their mark like thousands of the yeomanry of England.
Shakspere was a very common name in Warwickshire and the surrounding counties, and while the "Divine" William glorified the whole race, there were others of his name who fought for king and crown.
John Shakspere had ten children, with the affectionate assistance of Mary Arden. Seven daughters and three boys, William being the third
child and the most active and robust. Several of the flock died, thereby reducing the trials and expenses of the household; the "old man" seeming to be one of those ancient "Mulberry Sellers," that was forever making "millions" in his mind, and chasing gold bags at the west end of rainbows!
For many years he persistently applied to the College of Heralds for a "coat of arms;" and finally in the year of 1599, a picture of a "shield" with a "spear" and "falcon," rampant, was awarded to the Shakspere family, all through the growing influence of the actor and author William, who had become famous and wealthy. John Shakspere did not enjoy the glory of his "coat of arms" very long, for we find that he died in September, 1601, and was buried on the 8th of that month, at the old church in Stratford, and his brave old wife, the mother of William Shakspere, followed him to the tomb on the 9th of September, 1608.
I first met Will Shakspere on the 23d of April, 1571, at the old log and board schoolhouse at the head of Henley street, Stratford, on the river Avon. It was a bright, sunny day, and Mr. Walter Roche, the Latin master, was the autocrat of the scholastic institution, afterwards succeeded by Thomas Hunt.
Will Shakspere and myself happened to be born on the same day, and our first entrance at the temple of knowledge marked exactly the seventh milestone of our fleeting years.
Will was a very lusty, rollicking boy and was as full of innocent mischief as a pomegranate is of seeds. He was handsome and bright, wearing a thick suit of auburn curls, that rippled over his shoulders like a waterfall in the sunshine. His
eyes were very large, a light hazel hue, that glinted into blue when his soul was stirred by passion. His forehead was broad and high, even as a boy, rounding off into that "dome of thought" that in later years, when a six-foot specimen of splendid manhood caused him to conjure up such a universal group of immortal characters.
His nose was long and high, but symmetrical, and his distended nostrils, when excited at play, would remind you of a Kentucky racehorse in motion. His voice was sonorous and musical, and when stirred by passion or pleasure it rose and fell like the sound of waves upon a stormy or summer sea. His lips were red and full, marked by Nature, with the "bow of beauty," and when his luminous countenance was flushed with celestial light, he shot the arrows of love-lit glances around the schoolroom and fairly magnetized the boys, and particularly the girls, with the radiant influence of his unconscious genius.
Will was a constant source of anxiety and wonder to the teacher, who often marked him as the scapegoat to carry off the surface sins of sneaking and cowardly pupils. Corporal punishment was part of school discipline, and William and myself got our share of the rule and rod.
Through all the centuries, in youth and age, private and public, the scapegoat has been the real hero in all troubles and misfortunes. He seems to be a necessary mortal, but while persecution relentlessly pursues him, he almost invariably triumphs over his enemies, and when even devoted to the prison, the stake or the scaffold, as a martyr, he triumphs over the grave and is mon