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“ When the return was made in January that John Shakspere had no goods on which distraint could be made, there can be little doubt of the fact that he was keeping himself out of the way
of the service of a process; and on March 29, when mention is made of his producing a writ of habeas corpus, we can conclude with tolerable certainty that he was in custody, or imprisoned for debt." HALLIWELL-PAILLIPPS's Life of William Shakespeare (1848), page 47.
It is certain, then, that whatever education William Shakspere acquired during his boyhood and youth must have been acquired in the Free-School of his native village. To be sure, no record of his attendance there is extant, but the same may be said of every other event of his life from the date of his baptism, April 26, 1564, to that of his application for a marriage license, November 27, 1582. That is to say, for this entire period of eighteen years and seven months, the life of the reputed poet is to us an absolute blank. We have not even a tradition concerning his youth that can be traced back to a point of time nearer to it than one hundred and twentyfive years, nearer to it than the times of the great-great-grandchildren of his contemporaries. How much any tradition can be worth, handed down through four generations of people few of whom could read or write, we leave our readers to judge. Among these traditions, however, is one stated by Rowe in 1709, to which general credence has been given, namely:
“His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, 't is true, for some time at a free-school, where 't is probable he acquir'd the little Latin he was master of; but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forc'd his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language. Upon his leaving school, he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father propos'd to him."
Pupils were admitted into this Free-School, which combined the functions of primary and grammar, at the age of seven. Of the kind of instruction given there in Shakspere's time we have no direct knowledge. The school was so small in numbers and in every way so insignificant, probably with not more than ten or twelve pupils on its rolls at any one time, that it can hardly be said to have had a regular curriculum. We must therefore examine it by reflected light; that is, by comparison with other rural grammar-schools in England, which were contemporary with it and concerning which something is known. We may also judge of it by the kind and degree of education possessed by the community at large in which it was located. Under the first of these two heads Professor Baynes's Essays, originally published in 'Fraser's Magazine' and now presented to us in book form under the title of 'Shakespeare Studies,must have attention. The apparent thoroughness and fidelity to truth with which Professor Baynes did his work have made a distinct impression upon scholars throughout the world. It is with no little pain, therefore, that we feel compelled to challenge the current estimate of his worth, and to take issue with him on nearly every important point in his treatment of this subject. Indeed, we need not travel beyond the authorities quoted by the essayist himself to show the singular falsity of his conclusions. These authorities are two in number, namely:
Brinsley's Ludus Literarius (1612);
Hoole's New Discovery of the Old Art of Teaching School (1659).
Brinsley wrote of the grammar-school at Ashby; Hoole, of the grammar-school at Rotherham. The two agree that in their respective schools (of which they were head-masters) the courses in the Latin Language and Latin Literature were very thorough, comprising the works of Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, Cæsar, Tacitus, Juvenal, Terence, Horace, Seneca, Cato, and Plautus. It is on Hoole's book, though published nearly one
hundred years after Shakspere's school-time, however, that Professor Baynes lays his chief stress, on the ground that the school at Rotherham and the school at Stratford-upon-Avon were similar in their character, and that what was true of the one may safely be assumed to have been true of the other. He rests his entire argument on this alleged similarity. We quote from him as follows:
“The grammar-school of Rotherham is of special interest from its close resemblance in history and general features to the grammarschool of Stratford-upon-Avon. ... What these lines [of instruction in them] were, we know perfectly well in the case of Rotherham, as Hoole gives in detail the forms into which the school was divided, and the books that were used in each up to the time when he became head-master. And the schools of Rotherham and Stratford being alike in their general character, we may conclude with tolerable certainty that what was true of the one in this respect would also be true of the other." - Shakespeare Studies, 158, 161.
Rotherham was a famous intellectual centre. It possessed not only a grammar-school, but also a college. The enlight
a ened archbishop, who in 1500 endowed these institutions, giving them an income of £2,000 (equivalent now to £24,000 or $120,000) per annum, also founded Lincoln College at Oxford, and secured in it special fellowships for such students as might enroll themselves there from Rotherham. The consequence was that young men flocked to Rotherham from all the surrounding country to avail themselves of these exceptional advantages. Some of the most eminent men of England were in their younger days pupils in the town, particularly in the grammar-school. The place thus early became, in the words of a local historian, a “renowned seat of learning, with the prestige of a glorious past,” - the Andover or Harrow of the sixteenth century. To compare it with Stratford-upon-Avon, in the manner and for the purpose indicated by Baynes, is manifestly unjustifiable.
The inhabitants of Stratford-upon-Avon, numbering twelve or fifteen hundred in the time of Shakspere, were grossly
illiterate. There were few or no books in the community, because there were few or no people who were able to read them. Halliwell-Phillipps, who devoted thirty years of his life to the records of Stratford and vicinity, estimates the whole number of books then owned in the town "exclusive of bibles, Church Services, Psalters and educational manuals at no more than two or three dozen, if so many;" Richard Grant White puts it at a half-dozen only, outside of the school and the church. The books in the school were chained to the desks. In 1565, when William Shakspere was one year old, the aldermen and burgesses of the town had occasion to execute a public document which is still extant; six only of the nineteen signers could write their names; the others, thirteen out of nineteen, made marks. These, of course, were picked men, among whom the ratio of literacy must have been more favorable than it was in the community at large. It is probable that the entire number of persons then living in Stratford who could read and write did not exceed fifty. In the life of David Garrick, who visited the town in 1769, the inhabitants are called “ bumpkins” and “ boors,” and the town itself the “most dirty, unseemly, ill-paved and wretched-looking in all Britain." This was Garrick's own characterization of it. Any school, supported by such a community, must have been of the rudest and most elementary character. Walter Roche was the master for the two years, 1570-72; he spelled the name of the reputed poet's father, John Shaxbere. Roger Ascham tells us, writing under date of 1571, when William Shakspere was seven years old and is supposed to have been just entering the Stratford School, that the teaching in such
1 "The poet somehow or other,” says Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps," was taught to read and write, the necessary preliminaries to admission into the Free School. There were few persons at that time at Stratford-on-Avon capable of initiating him even into these preparatory accomplishments." -- Outlines, i. 38.
2 No evidence exists that William Shakspere ever attended any school a day in his life. The nearest approach to it is in the statement, made by Rowe in 1709 (after a lapse of more than four generations), that Shakspere
schools throughout England at that time, outside of college towns, was “mere babblement and motions.” He is our best authority on this subject.
The date of Shakspere's departure for London can be fixed within narrow limits. He was married in Stratford in 1582, had a child born to him there in 1583, and two children (twins) in 1585. On the other hand, he was lampooned in London as a masquerading dramatist,“ who could not write true English without the aid of clerks of parish churches,” by Robert Greene in 1587. It is practically certain, therefore, that in the latter part of 1585 or the early part of 1586 Shakspere left his home in Stratford “all but destitute,” as Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps says, “ of polished accomplishments," went to London, and at once secured some sort of position there in theatrical circles. But he could not have written • Hamlet,' for that play, according to Thomas Nash, was op the boards in London, and probably in Cambridge also, in 1586; he could not have written the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' for that play was acted before the Queen in January, 1585; nor could he have written Titus Andronicus, or 'Pericles,' or the Troublesome Reign of King John,' or the
Famous Victories of Henry V.,' or 'King Leir and his Three Daughters,' all of which antedated the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' and were as replete with scientific, legal, and classical lore as any that were produced in the author's maturity.
We close this branch of our subject with a citation from the Commentaries of Gervinus, an author whom Professor Stapfer pronounces to be the ablest of all writers on Shakespeare, and whose book Dr. Furnivall, Founder and Director of
was withdrawn from school at an early age to assist his father in business. Dowdall visited Stratford in 1693, and in a letter to a friend wrote that Shakspere was formerly in this town apprenticed to a butcher, but that he ran away from his master to London." Dowdall's authority for this assertion was the parish clerk at Stratford, who, being then an old man, must have been acquainted with many of Shakspere's contemporaries and had trustworthy information on the subject. The clerk added, as a summary of Shakspere's character and achievements, “He was the best of his family."