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could throw a light on the history of his private life, or literary career; that, when the attempt was made, it should have been so imperfectly executed by the very ingenious and elegant dramatist who undertook the task; and that for a period of eighty years ? afterwards, during which this "god of our idolatry” ranked as high among us as any poet ever did in any country, all the editors of his works, and each successive English biographer, should have been contented with Mr. Rowe's meagre and imperfect narrative; are circumstances which cannot be contemplated without astonishment.
The information which I have been able to collect on this subject, even at this late day, however inadequate to my wishes, having far exceeded my most sanguine expectation, the perusal of the following pages, while it will ascertain the numerous errors and inaccuracies which have been so long and so patiently endured, and transmitted from book to book, will, I trust, at the same time, show, in some small degree, what may be done in biographical researches, even at a remote period, by a diligent and ardent spirit of inquiry: it must, however, necessarily be accompanied with a deep, though unavailing regret, that the same ardour did not animate those who lived nearer our author's time, whose inquiries could not fail to have been rewarded with a superior degree of success. The negligence and inattention of our English writers, after the Restoration, to the history of the celebrated men who preceded them, can never be mentioned
? In 1790, the present writer endeavoured, in some degree, to supply the defects of Mr. Rowe's short narrative, by adding to it copious annotations.
without surprise and indignation. If Suetonius and Plutarch had been equally incurious, some of the most valuable remains of the ancient world would have been lost to posterity.
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was the son of John Shakspeare, by Mary, the youngest daughter of Robert Arden", of Wilmecote 4, in the county of Warwick, Esquire, and Agnes Webb, his wife.
3 This family is of great antiquity in the county of Warwick. The woodland part of that county was anciently called Arderne, whence they derived their name. “ I learned at Warwike (says Leland), that the most part of the shire of Warwike that lyeth as Avon river descendeth, on the right hand or ripe of it, is in Arden (for soe is [the] ancient name of that part of the shire); and the ground in Arden is much enclosed, plentifull of grasse, but not of corne. The other parte of Warwikeshire that lyeth on the left hand or ripe of Avon river, much to the south, is for the most part champion, somewhat barren of wood, but plentifull of corne.” Itin. vol. iv. p. 2, fol. 166, a. So also Camden : “ Woodland trans Avonem ad septentriones expanditur spatio multo majori, tota nemoribus infessa, nec tamen sine pascuis, arvis, et variis ferri venis. Hæc, ut hodie Woodland, id est, regio sylvestris, ita etiam Ardern antiquiori nomine olim dicebatur, verum eadem plane, ut existimo, significatione. Ardern enim priscis Britannis et Gallis sylvam significasse videtur, cum in Gallia sylvam maximam Ardern, oppidum in Flandria juxta alteram sylvam Ardenburg, et celebratam illam Angliæ sylvam truncato vocabulo Den nominari videamus. Ex hâc Turkillus de Ardern, qui hic floruit magno honore sub Henrico primo [A. D. 1100], nomen assumpsit, et propago ejus admodum clara longe per Angliam succedentibus annis est diffusa.” Britan. p. 501, edit. 1600.
The original name, Arderne, was in process of time softened into Arden, anterior, as it should seem, to the forest of Den being
The name of Shakspeare, or Shake-speare, for so, without doubt, it was originally written, were we to
thus denominated. Our ancestors were always extremely fond of abbreviations (vocabula truncata), and seem to have had a peculiar aversion to the letter r, which they very frequently omitted, by placing a line or stroke over the word as a mark of the abbreviation. Arderne being generally thus written [Ardene], the was at length wholly omitted in writing and speaking. The successive representatives of the family of Arden, however, according to the capricious modes of ancient spelling, were by no means uniform in writing their names : some exhibiting it in one way, some in another. In Leland's time, the name, we find, had acquired the softer sound which we now give it: indeed, a century before, if Fuller is correct, Robert Arden (not Ardern), Esq. of Bromwick, was returned in the list of the gentry of this county by the commissioners appointed for that purpose in the twelfth year of King Henry VI. A. D. 1433.
Many other names have undergone a similar change. Thus the name of Nangle, in process of time became Nagle ; Grenville, became Greville ; the word Nursery, became Nurs'ey, &c. ;
4 Usually pronounced Wincot. So, Mr. William Clapton, in his will, made May 9, 1521, devises Clapton and Wyncote to his executors till they shall have received 200 marks, as a marriage portion for Elizabeth his daughter.
This village was formerly more considerable than it is at present, having had a church, as appears by the Register of the Guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford. “ Raphe Couper, rector of the church at littell Wilmicote, was admitted into the brotherhood of the Gild, Ano. Dni. 1408, x Henry iiii.” fol. iii. b.
The tithes of this rectory do not appear to have belonged to the Guild of the Holy Cross in the 22d year of Henry VIII. (1530); not being mentioned in the Rent-Roll of the Guild for that year, now among the archives of Stratford; but in the 37th of Henry VIII. according to a survey then made (Dugdale's Antiq. of Warw. p. 485), “ the lands and tenements of the Guild, with the tithes of Wylmyncote, certified to belong thereto, were valued at 501. 23d. ob. per ann.” In a Rent-Roll,
regard etymology, might lead us to suppose that the founder of this family, in the tenth or eleventh century, before surnames became common, had, like Longue-espee, or Longsword, Earl of Salisbury 6, distinguished himself by military achievements, and thence obtained this designation ; but I know not that the history of other families of kindred denomination, of the family of Spearepoint, in Stratford, or of Nicholas Breakspeare, better known by the title of Pope Adrian the Fourth, whose names denote a similar origin, would warrant such an hypothesis. It is, however, a very probable conjecture, and countenanced by a learned antiquary, who was contempo
Ed. VI. , I find the tithes of Wilmecote were then let at 20s. per. ann., and the total revenue of the guild was 491. 188. 8 d.
3 Agnes Webbe was a native of Bearley, a village about three miles from Wilmecote. In the proceedings of a court leet held at Stratford in April, 1558, I find the following entry: “ Raf Cawdrey for making a fray upon Alexander Web of Bereley, he stands amerced siid."
From the will of Mrs. Arden, of which a more particular account will be given hereafter, it appears that she was sister to Alexander Webbe. She survived her husband twenty-four years, as appears from the register of the parish of Aston Cantlow, in which, among the burials, is found—“ 1580 The xxixth daye of Dec. was buried Agnes Arden, wyddow." Christopher Arden was buried there August 8, 1581; and Elizabeth Arden March 29, 1588 : but I know not in what degree of relationship they stood to our poet's grandfather.
6 William, Earl of Salisbury, a natural son of Henry II. by fair Rosamond, if we may believe the metrical romance of Richard Cour de Lion, acquired the title of Longue-espee, in consequence of his gallant exploits at the siege of Messina, under our Richard the First, when he was on his way to the Holy Land.
rary with our author". His townsmen, indeed, appear to have paid no attention to the etymology of his name; but very soon after he became known to the literary world, its heroick and martial sound was recognized and alluded to in some encomiastick verses, of which even our poet had reason to be proud.
Whatever may have been the origin of the name, the family of Shakspeare is of great antiquity in the county of Warwick, and was established long before our poet's time, in the woodland part of it, principally at Rowington and Lapworth"; from which
7 “ Breakspear, Shakspear, and the lyke, have byn surnames imposed upon the first bearers of them, for valour and feates of armes." Verstegan's Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 4to. 1605, p. 294. See also Camden's Remaines, 4to. 1605, p. 111.
Nicolas Breakspeare, as well as our poet, bore arms which have a reference to his name; a broken lance, &c. See his arms accurately described in the Notes on N. Upton's treatise De Militari Studio, p. 46.
8 No information concerning the Shakspeares of Rowington during the fifteenth century, at which period, and probably long before, they flourished there, can be obtained from the register of that parish, the earliest register being lost, and the oldest book now extant commencing in 1639. But other documents fully ascertain what is stated in the text.
“ Will". Wethyford of the parish of Rownton in the county of Warwick,” made his will 31st March, 1564 ; and it was proved at Worcester, on the 25th of Feb. 1574. An inventory of his effects is annexed with the following title :
“ This is the Inventorye of all and singular the goodes and cattel of Willm Wethyford of Rownton, latelye deceased, praysed by Jhon Benett, Richd. Shakspere, Willi. Ley & Thomas Ley, the xiü day of September, 1564.” Bundle of Wills, sub an. 1574, in the Consistory Office at Worcester.
From the will of John Sharpere of Rowington, made the 26th of June, 1574, it appears that he had two sons, and one