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some secret fellow-feeling, seems to sanction the notion, when he makes one of his characters call the great dramatist a "halting fellow." The notion is founded on expressions in the 37th and 89th Sonnets, which some have supposed literal, while others believe them to be merely poetically true. At all events, his lameness was not so entire as to disqualify him from manly exercises, such as riding. It is curious to think of the three most popular writers in the English language— Shakspeare, Scott, and Byron-being lame, while Milton was blind, Pope deformed, and Collins and Cowper deranged, and would almost induce us to believe that in bodily and mental infirmity, there is a certain spur or stimulus which combines with, and powerfully encourages the stirrings of, ambition, and the aspirations of genius. Byron, pointing to his forehead, said, "This, perhaps, sets me above my fellow-men, but that,' looking to his foot, "sets me far, far below them." But, in reality, his greatness lay in his foot as well as in his head. The consciousness of his deformity stung him into mental activity; and if it added to his misery, it added also to his power. The effect of a similar feeling on the far larger and more genial spirit of Shakspeare would probably be less irritating, but quite as exciting.
A silly attempt was made in the last century, by the fabrication of a MS., stated to be from the pen of John Shakspeare, to palm on the public the belief that Shakspeare's father was a Catholic, and that the poet, consequently, was brought up in that persuasion. This, however, has been shown conclusively to be false. John Shakspeare, in 1568, when the poet was four years old, was the chief magistrate of Stratford; and no chief magistrate at that period could have been a Papist. Every magistrate had to take the oath of supremacy on pain of severe punishment. A good deal has been said on the religion of Shakspeare; but here, too, considerable uncertainty prevails. In his last will he professes, and no doubt sincerely, his belief in God, and his trust in the merits of Christ; but what his special notions on religious subjects were, we have difficulty in discovering. The religious allusions in his plays are few, and are all adapted to the parti
cular characters from whose lips they come. Cæsar and Antony talk like heathens. Isabella, in "Measure for Measure," speaks like a Christian. Cardinal Wolsey is a Catholic. Prospero is a philosopher. None of his plays come down past the era of the Reformation, and he has, consequently, no Protestant heroes. That he was a very devout man we have no idea, but the spirit of his plays is far too wide and far too human for one who had been nurtured in the contracted and withering atmosphere of the Popish Church.
That Shakspeare, the son of the chief magistrate of Stratford, was sent to the grammar school, seems probable in the highest degree. There was then a free grammar school in the town, taught by Thomas Hunt, curate of the neighbouring village of Luddington; and to it Shakspeare, about 1571, seems to have repaired. Hunt was succeeded, a few years after, by one Thomas Jenkins. How long Shakspeare continued at this school, is known to none; how he profited there, is known to the whole world. Yet what rubbish has been talked about the "learning of Shakspeare!" That he was as good a scholar as if he had been trained at Eton and Oxford in the nineteenth century, is contended for by nobody. But that, as Johnson always said, " he had Latin enough to grammatise his English;" that he had read enough at first hand to enable him to enter into the spirit of the classical ages, as well as to prepare him to profit by the reading of translations; that, in proportion to his day, he was a better scholar than Byron, and incomparably better than Burns-are conclusions to which a careful perusal of his works should bring all. How fine and true all his classical allusions!—that, for instance, in the "Midsummer Night's Dream," beginning—
"I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete we bay'd the bear," &c.
He and John Keats, a far inferior scholar to Shakspeare, have alone caught the true poetry of the Pagan mythus. Ben Jonson, indeed, said of Shakspeare, that he had little Latin, and less Greek; but Ben, though a real poet, was
pedantically and conceitedly scholastic; and we take his judgment on Shakspeare's learning as we do Parr's contempt for Mackintosh's Greek, cum grano salis. Parr used to say, that, were Sir James called up unexpectedly to conjugate Tionμi, he would blush and tremble; and so probably might Shakspeare have been puzzled had Jonson examined him on the aorist of TUTTO, and might have even broken down on the passive of the verb-on which Burns was somewhat strongAmo, to love; but no Parr, or Jonson, or Porson, of them all, ever could have created a character so true to the Roman type, so classical in costume, language, and bearing, as Coriolanus. Greek and Latin to pedants are mere stilts; to poets like Shakspeare, they are sharp spears.
Charles Knight has very ingeniously traced the supposed effect of certain local influences upon the dawning mind of the young Shakspeare. Were there not around him the still waters, the green meadows, and the quiet woods of his own beautiful Avon? Was not the "old historic" town of Warwick near? and Coventry, with Godiva still, to the eye of imagination, riding," clothed on with chastity," through the hushed and holy streets? Was not Kenilworth Castle-destined to live on the page of one only inferior to Shakspeare himself—with its moat, its lake, its memorable revels, when the Queen, bluff Harry's manlike daughter, visited it in 1575, revels which, perhaps, Shakspeare witnessed-close at hand? And were there not the monastic remains of Evesham, leading away the imagination back through long centuries, till
"Lost on the aerial heights of the Crusades ?"
Such influences would now deeply impress every young enthusiastic spirit, but Shakspeare lived in a different age, and probably had more pleasure in mingling with the sports of the village green, dancing round the Maypole, courting under the moonlight shades, or diving in the river, than in the supposed exercises of romantic imagination. He had boundless enthusiasm, but none of what Byron calls "entusymusy;" the source of his feeling lay deep, and perhaps did not spring up at a very early period of his existence. Nature, and such
works of art as were near him, would, during his early life, be silently stamping their images on his mind, but full consciousness of and command over them were to come afterwards. Still we linger as we think of the strange boy-poet, now mixing in the fervid tumult of the village sports, with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; and anon retiring to his solitary walks by the side of the Avon, hearkening to the stream,
"Making music with the enamell'd stones ;'
or watching the "great thief," the sun, surrounding himself at even-tide with skiey hoards of borrowed gold, and the moon in silence
"Her pale fire snatching from the sun;"
or listening to the wild-note of the night-wind, which, sighing amidst the sedges,
"Foretold a tempest and a blustering day;"
or at times when the night-sky was loaded with clouds, and the moon had retired as in fear, hearing horrified the steps of
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy steps,
or it may be now and then a glorious truant, straying in rapt reverie, till
Stood tiptoe on the misty mountain tops;"
and returning, not to sleep, but to plunge into day-dreams more fanciful and more delicious still. If such experience was his, fragments and portions of it may have reappeared in the immortal lines we have now quoted; but our, as well as Charles Knight's, picture of his early days, is one of the thousand-and-one Midsummer Night's Dreams about Shakspeare, the verification of all which is in this earth for ever impossible.
It were of more interest and importance to know when Shakspeare came in contact with the stage, a region to which
he probably looked at first as to a heaven above him, while for a century or two it has looked up to him as to its genius and tutelar god. We are told of pantomimes and other scenical doings in Kenilworth and in Stratford during his boyhood, which may have directed his ambition toward a place which, to the eyes of the young, seems an elevation above common life, as real as that of a mountain over a flat plain, although in reality it is only such an elevation as a cloud exhibits behind a mountain, the shape of which it mimics, transmitting it into aerial statuary, as frail and false as it is beautiful. We suspect, however, that it was not in the country, but only after he reached the metropolis, that the glories, real or apparent, of the stage, produced their full effect on Shakspeare's imagination.
How singular, we may here notice, that on the stage—a place far from sacred, scarcely even respectable—the Author of Nature let down his most gifted and wide-minded child, and that in an atmosphere usually accounted polluted this marvellous spirit had to live, and move, and have his being for so many years! Some have thought that this has, in a measure, consecrated the stage. We wonder, on the other hand, that it did not far more degrade and desecrate Shakspeare. It is a proof of the healthiness of his moral instincts, the soundness of his judgment, and the amazing width of his sympathies, that such a long connexion with such an element produced no permanent injury on Shakspeare's character. And whatever minor evil influences might have lighted on him, soon,
"Like dew-drops, from the lion's mane,
and the strong genial man went on his own way, and did his own work, and returned to his own noble idiosyncrasy.
Every one has heard of Shakspeare's deer-stealing-another of the many myths which have so clustered round his history, that our wonder is that no sceptical person has written "Historic Doubts" as to the existence of Shakspeare. Indeed, the tale of the wild young poet breaking into Charlcote-park, stealing Sir Thomas Lucy's deer, getting prosecuted by the offended