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there in 1550, and occupying a house and land owned by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of our Poet. This appears from a deed executed July 17, 1550, in which Robert Arden conveyed certain lands and tenements in Snitterfield, described as being “now in the tenure of one Richard Shakespeare,” to be held in trust for three daughters after the death of Robert and Agnes Arden."
An entry in a Court Roll, dated April, 1552, ascertains that John Shakespeare was living in Stratford at that time. And an entry in the Bailiff's Court, dated June, 1556, describes him as “John Shakespeare, of Stratford in the county of Warwick, glover.” In 1558, the same John Shakespeare, and four others, one of whom was Francis Burbadge, then at the head of the corporation, were fined four pence each“ for not keeping their gutters clean.”
There is ample proof that at this period his affairs were in a thriving condition. In October, 1556, he became the owner of two copyhold estates, one of them consisting of a house with a garden and a croft attached to it, the other of a house and garden. As these were estates of inheritance, the tenure was nearly equal to freehold; so that he must have been pretty well-to-do in the world at the time. For several years after, his circumstances continued to improve. Before 1558, he became the owner, by marriage, of a farm at Wilmecote, consisting of fifty-six acres, besides two houses and two gardens; moreover, he held, in right of his wife, a considerable share in a property at Snitterfield. Another addition to his property was made in 1575, -- a freehold estate, bought for the sum of £40, and described as consisting of “two houses, two gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances."
Several other particulars have been discovered, which go to ascertain his wealth as compared with that of other Stratford citizens. In 1564, the year of the Poet's birth, a malignant fever, called the plague, invaded Stratford. Its hungriest period was from the last of June to the last of December, during which time it swept off two hundred and thirty-eight persons out of a population of about fourteen hundred. None of the Shakespeare family are found among its victims. Large draughts were made upon the charities of the town on account of this frightful visitation. In August, the citizens held a meeting in the open air, from fear of infection, and various sums were contributed for the relief of the poor. The High-Bailiff gave 3 s. 4 d., the headalderman 2 s. 8 d.; John Shakespeare, being then only a burgess, gave 12 d.; and in the list of burgesses there were but two who gave more.
Other donations were made for the same cause, he bearing a proportionable share in them.
We have seen that in June, 1556, John Shakespeare was termed a glover. In November of the same year he is found bringing an action against one of his neighbours for unjustly detaining a quantity of barley; which naturally infers him to have been more or less engaged in agricultural pursuits. It appears that at a later period agriculture was his main pursuit, if not his only one; for the town records show that in 1564 he was paid three shillings for a piece of timber; and we find him described in 1575 as a "yeoman.” Rowe gives a tradition of his having been “a considerable dealer in wool." It is nowise unlikely that such may have been the case. The modern divisions of labour and trade were then little known and less regarded ; several kinds of business being often carried on together, which are now kept distinct; and we have special proof that gloves and wool were apt to be united as articles of trade.
I must next trace, briefly, the career of John Shakespeare as a public officer in the Stratford corporation. After holding several minor offices, he was in 1558, and again in 1559, chosen one of the four constables. In 1561, he was a second time made one of the four affeerors, whose duty it was to determine the fines for such offences as had no penalties prescribed by statute. The same year, 1561, he was chosen one of the chamberlains of the borough, a very responsible office, which he held two years. Advancing steadily in the public confidence, he became an alderman in 1565; and in 1568 was elected Bailiff, the highest honour the corporation could bestow. He held this office a year. The series of local honours conferred upon him ended with his being chosen head-alderman in 1571; which office also he held a year. The rule being “once an alderman always an alderman,” unless positive action were taken to the contrary, he retained that office till 1586, when, for persevering nonattendance at the meetings, he was deprived of his gown.
After all these marks of public consequence, the reader may be surprised to learn that John Shakespeare, the father of the world's greatest thinker and greatest poet, could not write his name! Such was undoubtedly the fact; and I take pleasure in noting it, as showing, what is too apt to be forgotten in these bookish days, that men may know several things, and may have witty children, without being initiated in the mysteries of pen and ink. In the borough records for 1565 is an order signed by nineteen aldermen and burgesses, calling upon John Wheler to undertake the office of Bailiff. Of these signers thirteen are markmen, and among them are the names of George Whately, then Bailiff, Roger Sadler, head-alderman, and John Shakespeare. So that there was nothing remarkable in his not being able to wield a pen. As Bailiff of Stratford, he was ex officio a justice of the peace; and two warrants are extant, granted by him in December, 1568, for the arrest of John Ball and Richard Walcar on account of debts; both of them bearing witness that “he had a mark to himself, like an honest, plain-dealing man.” Several other cases in point are met with at later periods; some of which show that his wife stood on the same footing with him in this respect. In October, 1579, John and Mary Shakespeare executed a deed and bond for the transfer of their interest in certain property; both of which are subscribed with their several marks, and sealed with their respective seals.
John Shakespeare's good fortune seems to have reached its height about the year 1575, after which time we meet passed the
many clear tokens of his decline. It is not improbable that his affairs may have got embarrassed from his having too many irons in the fire. The registry of the Court of Record, from 1555 to 1595, has a large number of entries respecting him, which show him to have been engaged in a great variety of transactions, and to have had more litigation on his hands than would now be thought either creditable or safe. But, notwithstanding his decline of fortune, we have proofs as late as 1592 that he still retained the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens. From that time forward, his affairs were doubtless taken care of by one who, as we shall see hereafter, was much interested not to let them suffer, and also well able to keep them in good trim. He was buried September 8, 1601; so that, supposing him to have reached his majority when first heard of in 1552, he must have
of threescore and ten. On the maternal side, our Poet's lineage was of a higher rank, and may be traced further back. His mother was MARY ARDEN, a name redolent of old poetry and romance. The family of Arden was among the most ancient in Warwickshire. Their history, as given by Dugdale, spreads over six centuries. Sir John Arden was squire of the body to Henry the Seventh; and he had a nephew, the son of a younger brother, who was page of the bedchamber to the same monarch. These were at that time places of considerable service and responsibility; and both the uncle and the nephew were liberally rewarded by their royal master. By conveyances dated in December, 1519, it appears that Robert Arden then became the owner of houses and land in Snitterfield. Other purchases by him of lands and houses are recorded from time to time. The Poet's maternal grandfather, also named Robert, died in 1556. In his will, dated November 24th, and proved December 17th, of that year, he makes special bequests to his youngest daughter Mary," and also appoints her and another daughter, named Alice, “ full executors of this my last will and testament.” On the whole, it is evident enough that he was a man of good
landed estate. Both he and Richard Shakespeare appear to have been of that honest and substantial old English yeo manry, from whose better-than-royal stock and lineage the great Poet of Nature might most fitly fetch his life and being. Of the Poet's grandmother on either side we know nothing whatever.
Mary Arden was the youngest of seven children, all of them daughters. The exact time of her marriage is uncertain, no registry of it having been found. She was not married at the date of her father's will, November, 1556. Joan, the first-born of John and Mary Shakespeare, was baptized in the parish church of Stratford-on-Avon, September 15, 1558. We have seen that at this time John Shakespeare was well established and thriving in business, and was making good headway in the confidence of the Stratfordians, being one of the constables of the borough. . On the 2d of December, 1562, while he was chamberlain, his second child was christened Margaret. On the 26th of April, 1564, was baptized “ WILLIAM, son of John Shakespeare.” The birth is commonly thought to have taken place on the 23d, it being then the usual custom to present infants at the Font the third day after their birth; but we have no certain information whether it was observed on this august occasion. We have seen that throughout the following Summer the destroyer was busy in Stratford, making fearful spoil of her sons and daughters; but it spared the babe on whose life hung the fate of English literature. Other children were added to the family, to the number of eight, several of them dying in the mean time. On the 28th of September, 1571, soon after the father became head-alderman, a fourth daughter was baptized Anne. Hitherto the parish register has known him only as John Shakespeare: in this case it designates him “ Master Shakespeare.” Whether Master was a token of honour not extended to any thing under an ex-bailiff, does not appear; but in all cases after this the name is written with that significant prefix.