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[THE English language, which has produced and nourished with its milk the greatest of modern poets, the only one who can be compared to the classical poets of antiquity, (who does not see that I am speaking of Shakespeare?) may of good right be called a universal language.
English ... has always needed, and still needs, more powerful securities and bulwarks against incessant revolution than other languages of less heterogeneous composition. The three great literary monuments, the English Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton, fixed the syntax of the sacred and the secular dialects in the forms which they had already taken, and perpetuated so much of the vocabulary as entered into their composition.
Their great poets have been more powerful than any other secular influence in first making, and then keeping, the Englishman and the American what they are, what for hundreds of years they have been, what, God willing, for thousands they shall be, the pioneer race in the march of man towards the highest summits of worthy human achievement.
We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
ENGLISH OF SHAKESPEARE,
I. SHAKESPEARE'S PERSONAL HISTORY.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born at
Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, in April, 1564. His baptism is recorded in the parish register as having taken place on Wednesday the 26th, and the inscription on his tomb makes him to have been in his fifty-third year when he died, on the 23d of April, 1616; his birthday, therefore, cannot have been later than the 23d. It was more probably some days earlier. It is commonly assumed, nevertheless, to have been the 23d, which, besides being also the day of his death, is the day dedicated to St. George the Martyr, the patron saint of England.
His father was John Shakespeare; his mother, Mary Arderne, or Arden. The Ardens were among the oldest of the county gentry; many of the Shakespeares also, who were numerous in Warwickshire, were of good condition. The name in provincial speech was probably sounded Shackspeare or Shacksper; but even in the poet's own day its more
refined or literary pronunciation seems to have been the same that now prevails." It was certainly recognized as a combination of the two words Shake and Spear. His own spelling of it, however, in a few instances in which that, our only known fragment of his handwriting, has come down to us, is Shakspere.
John Shakespeare appears to have followed the business of a glover, including, no doubt, the making of gloves as well as the selling of them. He seems to have fallen latterly into decayed circumstances; but in his better days it is evident that he ranked with the first class of the burgesses of his town. He was for many years an alderman, and twice filled the office of High Bailiff, or chief magistrate. He was also, though perhaps never very wealthy, but rather always a struggling man, possessed of some houses in Stratford, as well as of a small freehold estate acquired by his marriage; and his connection with the Arden family would itself bring him consideration. His marriage probably took place in 1557. He lived till 1602, and his wife till 1608. Of eight children, four sons and four daughters, William was the third, but the eldest son.
Shakespeare's father, like the generality of persons of his station in life of that day, appears to have been unable to write his name; all his signature in the books of the corporation is his cross, or mark; but there can be no doubt that the son had a grammar-school education. He was in all probability sent to the free-school of his native town. After he left school it has been thought that he may have spent some time in an attorney's office. But in 1582, when he was only eighteen, he married; his wife, Anne Hathaway, of Shottery, in the neighborhood
of Stratford, was about eight years older than himself; children soon followed, — first a daughter, then twins, a son and daughter; and this involvement may be conjectured to have been what drove him to London, in the necessity of finding some way of supporting his family which required no apprenticeship. He became first an actor, then a writer for the stage. Already by the year 1589 he had worked his way up to be one of the proprietors of the Blackfriars Theatre.* But he seems always to have continued to look upon Stratford as his home; there he left his wife and children; he is said to have made a point of revisiting his native town once a year; and thither, after he had, by the unceasing activity of many years, secured a competency, he returned to spend the evening of his days in quiet. So that we may say he resorted to London, after all, only as the sailor goes to sea, always intending to come back. He appears to have finally retired to Stratford, about the year 1612, and settled there on a property which he had purchased some years previous: his wife still lived, and also his two daughters, of whom the elder, Susanna, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, in 1607; the younger, Judith, to Mr. Thomas Quiney, in February, 1616. But he had lost his only son, who was named Hamnet, in 1596, when the boy was in his twelfth year. Shakespeare died at Stratford, as already mentioned, on the 23d of April, 1616; and he lies interred in the parish church there.
His wife survived till August, 1623. Both his
* [But the genuineness of the document upon which this statement is based has been disputed by the highest paleographic authority in England. See White's Shakespeare, vol. i. p. lvii., foot-note; pp. lxiii. foll.]
daughters had families; Susanna, a daughter, who was twice married ; Judith, three sons; but no descendant of the great poet now exists. The last was. probably Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Hall, who became the wife first of Thomas Nash, Esq., secondly of Sir John Barnard, and died without issue by either husband in February, 1670. Nor is it known that there are any descendants even of his father remaining, although one of his brothers and also one of his sisters are ascertained to have been married, and to have had issue.
II. SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS.
The first work of Shakespeare's which was printed with his name was his poem
entitled Venus and Adonis, in stanzas consisting each of an alternately rhyming quatrain followed by a couplet. It appeared in 1593, with a Dedication to the Earl of Southampton, in which the author styles it the first heir of his invention. This was followed in 1594 by The Rape of Lucrece, in stanzas of seven lines, one rhyming to the fourth being here inserted before the closing couplet; it is also dedicated to Lord Southampton, to whom the author expresses the most unlimited obligation. “What I have done,”
" is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours." The Venus and Adonis was thrice reprinted in Shakespeare's lifetime; the Lucrece, five or six times.
His other works, besides his Plays, are The Passionate Pilgrim, a small collection of poems, first printed in 1599; and his Sonnets, 154 in number, with the poem entitled A Lover's Complaint (in the same stanza as the Lucrece), which appeared