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All England went in mourning for the handsome cavalier and poet, who lost his life at the siege of Axel, in the Netherlands, while serving as chief of cavalry under his uncle, the Earl of Leicester.
All business closed in honor of the young hero, and the celebrated military organization, the “Ancient and Honorable Artillery," led more than thirty thousand of the "train bands," who followed in the great procession to Saint Paul's Church.
The sacerdotal service began at noon, and Queen Elizabeth rode in a golden car on a dark purple throne to witness the last rites in honor of her court favorite.
The bells of London churches, temples, turrets, and towers rang continually until sundown, filling the air with a universal requiem of grief, while the black clouds hanging over the metropolis shed showers of tears for the untimely loss of a patriot and a poet.
William and myself saw the funeral car from the steps of St. Paul, and as the coffin was carried in on the shoulders of eight stalwart soldiers, dressed in the golden garb of the Horse Battalions, we bowed our heads in holy adoration to the memory and valor of the sonnet-maker-lost in eternal sleep
"Come, sleep, 0 sleep, the certain knot of peace,
How truthful this extract from one of Sidney's sonnets!
He was a synonym of bravery and politeness; for being carried from the field of battle, thirsty and bleeding, he called for a cup of water, and just as he was lifting it to his lips a fatally wounded soldier was being carried by who fixed his longing eyes eagerly on the cup-and instanter, the gay and gallant Sidney delivered the drink to the poor soldier, saying: "Thy necessity is greater than mine!"
Noble self-sacrifice, elemental generosity, imperial nature, sublime and benevolent in thought and act!
On our return to the Devil Tavern for supper we found Manager Burbage, of Blackfriars, awaiting us. He was in great haste and desired William to look over a play that had been submitted by Greene and Lodge, who composed it jointly.
It was a comedy-tragedy, entitled "Looking Glass of London," in three rambling acts, and while Burbage was disposed to take the play and pay for it, he desired that Shakspere should give it such ripping corrections as he thought best.
This was surely showing great confidence in a young actor and author-to criticise the play of acknowledged dramatists who had been the talk of the town.
Shakspere modestly remarked: "I fear, sir, your friends, Lodge and Greene, will not like or tolerate my cutting of their play."
"Care not for their opinion! Do as I say, and have the play ready for staging Monday afternoon at two o'clock."
"Your command is law, and I obey," said the
Bard—and out rushed the bluffing, busy Burbage.
The constant circulation of bohemian customers, day and night about the Devil's Tavern, was not conducive to careful composition of plays, and William and myself moved to modest quarters near Paris Garden, kept by a Miss Maggie Mellow, a blonde maiden of uncertain age.
William continued to perform his theatrical duties diligently, while I was engaged at the printing shop of Field, translating historic, dramatic and poetic works from Latin authors, thus piecing out the price of food, clothes and shelter in the whirlpool of London joy and misery.
During my apprenticeship with Sam Granite, as a marble cutter, I spent my nights with Master Hunt studying the intricate windings of the Latin language, and became proficient in the translation of ancient authors, delving also into the philosophy of Greek roots, with its Attic phrases and Athenian eloquence.
My parents desired me to leave off the trade of stone cutting and prepare for the priesthood, where I could make an easier living, working on the fears, egotism and hopes of mankind.
I was always too blunt to play the velvet philosopher and saint-like character of a sacerdotal vicaro of any church or creed, feeling full well that the so-called divine teacher and pupil know just as much about the "hereafter” as I doand that's nothing! Put not thy faith in wind, variable and inconstant.
So, a life of bohemian hack-work for printers, publishers and theatrical managers seemed best suited to my nature, giving me perfect freedom of thought and a disposition to express my honest opinion to prince or peasant, in home, church or state.
God is God, and Nature is His representative!
While man, vain creature of an hour,
Most of the dramatic writers during the reigns of Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth, James the First, and Charles the Second, were graduates of Oxford, Cambridge or other classical halls of learning. They borrowed their plots and characters from ancient history and endeavored to galvanize them into English subjects, tickling the ears of the groundlings, as well as their royal patrons with Grecian and Roman translations of lofty allegorical and mythological conceptions.
Æschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Homer, with Terence, Tacitus, Virgil, Horace and Ovid, were constantly pillaged for thoughts to piece out the theatrical robes and blank verse eloquence of playwrights who only received for their best accepted works from five to twenty pounds; proprietors and stage managers driving hard bargains with these brilliant, bacchanalian and impecunious bohemians.
The winter and spring of 1587-8 was a busy time for William. In addition to his prompting and casting the various plays for Burbage, he was engaged in collecting his sonnets, putting finishing touches on “Venus and Adonis," as well as composing the “Rape of Lucrece," a Roman epic, based on historic truth.
He had also planned and mapped out the English play of "Henry the Fourth," taken from an old historical play, and was figuring on two comedies—“Midsummer Night's Dream" and the "Merry Wives of Windsor.”
Often when entering his workroom at twelve o'clock at night, or six o'clock in the morning, I found him scratching, cutting, and delving away at his literary bench and oak chest.
He could work at three or four plays alternately, and, from crude plots taken out of ancient history, novels, religious or mythological tableaus, devised his characters and put words in their mouths that burned in the ears of British yeomen, tradesmen, professional sharpers and lords and ladies who crowded the benches and boxes of the Blackfriars.
He reminded me of an expert cabinet-maker, who had piled up in a corner of his shop a variety lot of rough timber, from which he fashioned and manufactured the most exquisite dressers, sofas and bureaus, dovetailing each piece of oak, rosewood or mahogany, with exact workmanship, and then with the silken varnish of his genius, sending his wares out to the rushing world to be admired, and transmitted to posterity, with perfect faith in the endurance of his creations!
In putting the finishing touches on the fifth act of a play he would quickly change to the composition of the first act of another, and, with lightning rapidity embellish the characters in the third act of some comedy, tragedy or history, that constantly occupied his multifarious brain.