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- Citation and Examination of William Shakspeare - 1/29 -

Transcribed from the 1891 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email



"It was an ancestor of my husband who BROUGHT OUT the famous Shakspeare."

These words were really spoken, and were repeated in conversation as most ridiculous. Certainly such was very far from the lady's intention; and who knows to what extent they are true?

The frolic of Shakspeare in deer-stealing was the cause of his Hegira; and his connection with players in London was the cause of his writing plays. Had he remained in his native town, his ambition had never been excited by the applause of the intellectual, the popular, and the powerful, which, after all, was hardly sufficient to excite it. He wrote from the same motive as he acted,--to earn his daily bread. He felt his own powers; but he cared little for making them felt by others more than served his wants.

The malignant may doubt, or pretend to doubt, the authenticity of the Examination here published. Let us, who are not malignant, be cautious of adding anything to the noisome mass of incredulity that surrounds us; let us avoid the crying sin of our age, in which the "Memoirs of a Parish Clerk," edited as they were by a pious and learned dignitary of the Established Church, are questioned in regard to their genuineness; and even the privileges of Parliament are inadequate to cover from the foulest imputation--the imputation of having exercised his inventive faculties--the elegant and accomplished editor of Eugene Aram's apprehension, trial, and defence.

Indeed, there is little of real history, excepting in romances. Some of these are strictly true to nature; while histories in general give a distorted view of her, and rarely a faithful record either of momentous or of common events.

Examinations taken from the mouth are surely the most trustworthy. Whoever doubts it may be convinced by Ephraim Barnett.

The Editor is confident he can give no offence to any person who may happen to bear the name of Lucy. The family of Sir Thomas became extinct nearly half a century ago, and the estates descended to the Rev. Mr. John Hammond, of Jesus College, in Oxford, a respectable Welsh curate, between whom and him there existed at his birth eighteen prior claimants. He took the name of Lucy.

The reader will form to himself, from this "Examination of Shakspeare," more favourable opinion of Sir Thomas than is left upon his mind by the dramatist in the character of Justice Shallow. The knight, indeed, is here exhibited in all his pride of birth and station, in all his pride of theologian and poet; he is led by the nose, while he believes that nobody can move him, and shows some other weaknesses, which the least attentive observer will discover; but he is not without a little kindness at the bottom of the heart,- -a heart too contracted to hold much, or to let what it holds ebulliate very freely. But, upon the whole, we neither can utterly hate nor utterly despise him. Ungainly as he is. -

Circum praecordia ludit.

The author of the "Imaginary Conversations" seems, in his "Boccacio and Petrarca," to have taken his idea of Sir Magnus from this manuscript. He, however, has adapted that character to the times; and in Sir Magnus the coward rises to the courageous, the unskilful in arms becomes the skilful, and war is to him a teacher of humanity. With much superstition, theology never molests him; scholarship and poetry are no affairs of his. He doubts of himself and others, and is as suspicious in his ignorance as Sir Thomas is confident.

With these wide diversities, there are family features, such as are likely to display themselves in different times and circumstances, and some so generically prevalent as never to lie quite dormant in the breed. In both of them there is parsimony, there is arrogance, there is contempt of inferiors, there is abject awe of power, there is irresolution, there is imbecility. But Sir Magnus has no knowledge, and no respect for it. Sir Thomas would almost go thirty miles, even to Oxford, to see a fine specimen of it, although, like most of those who call themselves the godly, he entertains the most undoubting belief that he is competent to correct the errors of the wisest and most practised theologian.


A part only of the many deficiencies which the reader will discover in this book is attributable to the Editor. These, however, it is his duty to account for, and he will do it as briefly as he can.

The fac-similes (as printers' boys call them, meaning specimens) of the handwriting of nearly all the persons introduced, might perhaps have been procured had sufficient time been allowed for another journey into Warwickshire. That of Shakspeare is known already in the signature to his will, but deformed by sickness; that of Sir Thomas Lucy is extant at the bottom of a commitment of a female vagrant, for having a sucking child in her arms on the public road; that of Silas Gough is affixed to the register of births and marriages, during several years, in the parishes of Hampton Lucy and Charlecote, and certifies one death,--Euseby Treen's; surmised, at least, to be his by the letters "E. T." cut on a bench seven inches thick, under an old pollard-oak outside the park paling of Charlecote, toward the northeast. For this discovery the Editor is indebted to a most respectable, intelligent farmer in the adjoining parish of Wasperton, in which parish Treen's elder brother lies buried. The worthy farmer is unwilling to accept the large portion of fame justly due to him for the services he has thus rendered to literature in elucidating the history of Shakspeare and his times. In possession of another agricultural gentleman there was recently a very curious piece of iron, believed by many celebrated antiquaries to have constituted a part of a knight's breast-plate. It was purchased for two hundred pounds by the trustees of the British Museum, among whom, the reader will be grieved to hear, it produced dissension and coldness; several of them being of opinion that it was merely a gorget, while others were inclined to the belief that it was the forepart of a horse-shoe. The Committee of Taste and the Heads of the Archaeological Society were consulted. These learned, dispassionate, and benevolent men had the satisfaction of conciliating the parties at variance,--each having yielded somewhat and every member signing, and affixing his seal to the signature, that, if indeed it be the forepart of a horse-shoe, it was probably Ismael's,--there being a curved indentation along it, resembling the first letter of his name, and there being no certainty or record that he died in France, or was left in that country by Sir Magnus.

The Editor is unable to render adequate thanks to the Rev. Stephen Turnover for the gratification he received in his curious library by a sight of Joseph Carnaby's name at full length, in red ink, coming from a trumpet in the mouth of an angel. This invaluable document is upon an engraving in a frontispiece to the New Testament. But since unhappily he could procure no signature of Hannah Hathaway, nor of her mother, and only a questionable one of Mr. John Shakspeare, the poet's father,--there being two, in two very different hands,--both he and the publisher were of opinion that the graphical part of the volume would be justly censured as extremely incomplete, and that what we could give would only raise inextinguishable regret for that which we could not. On this reflection all have been omitted.

The Editor is unwilling to affix any mark of disapprobation on the very clever engraver who undertook the sorrel mare; but as in the memorable words of that ingenious gentleman from Ireland whose polished and elaborate epigrams raised him justly to the rank of prime minister, -

"White was not SO VERY white," -

in like manner it appeared to nearly all the artists he consulted that the sorrel mare was not SO SORREL in print.

There is another and a graver reason why the Editor was induced to reject the contribution of his friend the engraver; and this is, a neglect of the late improvements in his art, he having, unadvisedly or thoughtlessly, drawn in the old-fashioned manner lines at the two sides and at the top and bottom of his print, confining it to such limits as paintings are confined in by their frames. Our spirited engravers, it is well-known, disdain this thraldom, and not only give unbounded space to their scenery, but also melt their figures in the air,--so advantageously, that, for the most part, they approach the condition of cherubs. This is the true aerial perspective, so little understood heretofore. Trees, castles, rivers, volcanoes, oceans, float together in absolute vacancy; the solid earth is represented, what we know it actually is, buoyant as a bubble, so that no wonder if every horse is endued with all the privileges of Pegasus, save and except our sorrel. Malicious carpers, insensible or invidious of England's glory, deny her in this beautiful practice the merit of invention, assigning it to the Chinese in their tea-cups and saucers; but if not absolutely new and ours, it must be acknowledged that we have greatly improved and extended the invention.

Citation and Examination of William Shakspeare - 1/29

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