Infomotions, Inc.Stratford-On-Avon / Irving, Washington

Author: Irving, Washington
Title: Stratford-On-Avon
Publisher: Eris Etext Project
Tag(s): shakspeare; stratford; avon; charlecot; lucy; shallow; falstaff; bard; sexton; deer; thomas; park; tomb; knight; bosom; american literature
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 7,252 words (really short) Grade range: 14-17 (college) Readability score: 47 (average)
Identifier: irving-stratford-590
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                                THE SKETCH BOOK


                              by Washington Irving

     Thou soft-flowing Avon, by thy silver stream

     Of things more than mortal sweet Shakspeare would dream;

     The fairies by moonlight dance round his green bed,

     For hallow'd the turf is which pillow'd his head.


  TO a homeless man, who has no spot on this wide world which he can
truly call his own, there is a momentary feeling of something like
independence and territorial consequence, when, after a weary day's
travel, he kicks off his boots, thrusts his feet into slippers, and
stretches himself before an inn fire. Let the world without go as it
may; let kingdoms rise or fall, so long as he has the wherewithal to
pay his bill, he is, for the time being, the very monarch of all he
surveys. The arm-chair is his throne, the poker his sceptre, and the
little parlor, some twelve feet square, his undisputed empire. It is a
morsel of certainty, snatched from the midst of the uncertainties of
life; it is a sunny moment gleaming out kindly on a cloudy day: and he
who has advanced some way on the pilgrimage of existence, knows the
importance of husbanding even morsels and moments of enjoyment. "Shall
I not take mine ease in mine inn?" thought I, as I gave the fire a
stir, lolled back in my elbow-chair, and cast a complacent look
about the little parlor of the Red Horse, at Stratford-on-Avon.

  The words of sweet Shakspeare were just passing through my mind as
the clock struck midnight from the tower of the church in which he
lies buried. There was a gentle tap at the door, and a pretty
chambermaid, putting in her smiling face, inquired, with a
hesitating air, whether I had rung. I understood it as a modest hint
that it was time to retire. My dream of absolute dominion was at an
end; so abdicating my throne, like a prudent potentate, to avoid being
deposed, and putting the Stratford Guide-Book under my arm, as a
pillow companion, I went to bed, and dreamt all night of Shakspeare,
the jubilee, and David Garrick.

  The next morning was one of those quickening mornings which we
sometimes have in early spring; for it was about the middle of
March. The chills of a long winter had suddenly given way; the north
wind had spent its last gasp; and a mild air came stealing from the
west, breathing the breath of life into nature, and wooing every bud
and flower to burst forth into fragrance and beauty.

  I had come to Stratford on a poetical pilgrimage. My first visit was
to the house where Shakspeare was born, and where, according to
tradition, he was brought up to his father's craft of wool-combing. It
is a small, mean-looking edifice of wood and plaster, a true
nestling-place of genius, which seems to delight in hatching its
offspring in by-corners. The walls of its squalid chambers are covered
with names and inscriptions in every language, by pilgrims of all
nations, ranks, and conditions, from the prince to the peasant; and
present a simple, but striking instance of the spontaneous and
universal homage of mankind to the great poet of nature.

  The house is shown by a garrulous old lady, in a frosty red face,
lighted up by a cold blue anxious eye, and garnished with artificial
locks of flaxen hair, curling from under an exceedingly dirty cap. She
was peculiarly assiduous in exhibiting the relics with which this,
like all other celebrated shrines, abounds. There was the shattered
stock of the very matchlock with which Shakspeare shot the deer, on
his poaching exploits. There, too, was his tobacco-box; which proves
that he was a rival smoker of Sir Walter Raleigh: the sword also
with which he played Hamlet; and the identical lantern with which
Friar Laurence discovered Romeo and Juliet at the tomb! There was an
ample supply also of Shakspeare's mulberry-tree, which seems to have
as extraordinary powers of self-multiplication as the wood of the true
cross; of which there is enough extant to build a ship of the line.

  The most favorite object of curiosity, however, is Shakspeare's
chair. It stands in the chimney nook of a small gloomy chamber, just
behind what was his father's shop. Here he may many a time have sat
when a boy, watching the slowly revolving spit with all the longing of
an urchin; or of an evening, listening to the cronies and gossips of
Stratford, dealing forth church-yard tales and legendary anecdotes
of the troublesome times of England. In this chair it is the custom of
every one that visits the house to sit: whether this be done with
the hope of imbibing any of the inspiration of the bard I am at a loss
to say, I merely mention the fact; and mine hostess privately
assured me, that, though built of solid oak, such was the fervent zeal
of devotees, that the chair had to be new-bottomed at least once in
three years. It is worthy of notice also, in the history of this
extraordinary chair, that it partakes something of the volatile nature
of the Santa Casa of Loretto, or the flying chair of the Arabian
enchanter; for though sold some few years since to a northern
princess, yet, strange to tell, it has found its way back again to the
old chimney corner.

  I am always of easy faith in such matters, and am ever willing to be
deceived, where the deceit is pleasant and costs nothing. I am
therefore a ready believer in relics, legends, and local anecdotes
of goblins and great men; and would advise all travellers who travel
for their gratification to be the same. What is it to us, whether
these stories be true or false, so long as we can persuade ourselves
into the belief of them, and enjoy all the charm of the reality? There
is nothing like resolute good-humored credulity in these matters;
and on this occasion I went even so far as willingly to believe the
claims of mine hostess to a lineal descent from the poet, when,
luckily, for my faith, she put into my hands a play of her own
composition, which set all belief in her consanguinity at defiance.

  From the birth-place of Shakspeare a few paces brought me to his
grave. He lies buried in the chancel of the parish church, a large and
venerable pile, mouldering with age, but richly ornamented. It
stands on the banks of the Avon, on an embowered point, and
separated by adjoining gardens from the suburbs of the town. Its
situation is quiet and retired: the river runs murmuring at the foot
of the churchyard, and the elms which grow upon its banks droop
their branches into its clear bosom. An avenue of limes, the boughs of
which are curiously interlaced, so as to form in summer an arched
way of foliage, leads up from the gate of the yard to the church
porch. The graves are overgrown with grass; the gray tombstones,
some of them nearly sunk into the earth, are half covered with moss,
which has likewise tinted the reverend old building. Small birds
have built their nests among the cornices and fissures of the walls,
and keep up a continual flutter and chirping; and rooks are sailing
and cawing about its lofty gray spire.

  In the course of my rambles I met with the gray-headed sexton,
Edmonds, and accompanied him home to get the key of the church. He had
lived in Stratford, man and boy, for eighty years, and seemed still to
consider himself a vigorous man, with the trivial exception that he
had nearly lost the use of his legs for a few years past. His dwelling
was a cottage, looking out upon the Avon and its bordering meadows;
and was a picture of that neatness, order, and comfort, which
pervade the humblest dwellings in this country. A low whitewashed
room, with a stone floor carefully scrubbed, served for parlor,
kitchen, and hall. Rows of pewter and earthen dishes glittered along
the dresser. On an old oaken table, well rubbed and polished, lay
the family Bible and prayer-book, and the drawer contained the
family library, composed of about half a score of well-thumbed
volumes. An ancient clock, that important article of cottage
furniture, ticked on the opposite side of the room; with a bright
warming-pan hanging on one side of it, and the old man's
horn-handled Sunday cane on the other. The fireplace, as usual, was
wide and deep enough to admit a gossip knot within its jambs. In one
corner sat the old man's granddaughter sewing, a pretty blue-eyed
girl,- and in the opposite corner was a superannuated crony, whom he
addressed by the name of John Ange, and who, I found, had been his
companion from childhood. They had played together in infancy; they
had worked together in manhood; they were now tottering about and
gossiping away the evening of life; and in a short time they will
probably be buried together in the neighboring church-yard. It is
not often that we see two streams of existence running thus evenly and
tranquilly side by side; it is only in such quiet "bosom scenes" of
life that they are to be met with.

  I had hoped to gather some traditionary anecdotes of the bard from
these ancient chroniclers; but they had nothing new to impart. The
long interval during which Shakspeare's writings lay in comparative
neglect has spread its shadow over his history; and it is his good
or evil lot that scarcely any thing remains to his biographers but a
scanty handful of conjectures.

  The sexton and his companion had been employed as carpenters on
the preparations for the celebrated Stratford jubilee, and they
remembered Garrick, the prime mover of the fete, who superintended the
arrangements, and, who, according to the sexton, was "a short punch
man, very lively and bustling." John Ange had assisted also in cutting
down Shakspeare's mulberry tree, of which he had a morsel in his
pocket for sale; no doubt a sovereign quickener of literary

  I was grieved to hear these two worthy wights speak very dubiously
of the eloquent dame who shows the Shakspeare house. John Ange shook
his head when I mentioned her valuable collection of relics,
particularly her remains of the mulberry tree; and the old sexton even
expressed a doubt as to Shakspeare having been born in her house. I
soon discovered that he looked upon her mansion with an evil eye, as a
rival to the poet's tomb; the latter having comparatively but few
visitors. Thus it is that historians differ at the very outset, and
mere pebbles make the stream of truth diverge into different
channels even at the fountain head.

  We approached the church through the avenue of limes, and entered by
a Gothic porch, highly ornamented, with carved doors of massive oak.
The interior is spacious, and the architecture and embellishments
superior to those of most country churches. There are several
ancient monuments of nobility and gentry, over some of which hang
funeral escutcheons, and banners dropping piecemeal from the walls.
The tomb of Shakspeare is in the chancel. The place is solemn and
sepulchral. Tall elms wave before the pointed windows, and the Avon,
which runs at a short distance from the walls, keeps up a low
perpetual murmur. A flat stone marks the spot where the bard is
buried. There are four lines inscribed on it, said to have been
written by himself, and which have in them something extremely
awful. If they are indeed his own, they show that solicitude about the
quiet of the grave, which seems natural to fine sensibilities and
thoughtful minds.

           Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare

           To dig the dust enclosed here.

           Blessed be he that spares these stones,

           And curst be he that moves my bones.

  Just over the grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of
Shakspeare, put up shortly after his death, and considered as a
resemblance. The aspect is pleasant and serene, with a finely-arched
forehead; and I thought I could read in it clear indications of that
cheerful, social disposition, by which he was as much characterized
among his contemporaries as by the vastness of his genius. The
inscription mentions his age at the time of his decease- fifty-three
years; an untimely death for the world: for what fruit might not
have been expected from the golden autumn of such a mind, sheltered as
it was from the stormy vicissitudes of life, and flourishing in the
sunshine of popular and royal favor.

  The inscription on the tombstone has not been without its effect. It
has prevented the removal of his remains from the bosom of his
native place to Westminster Abbey, which was at one time contemplated.
A few years since also, as some laborers were digging to make an
adjoining vault, the earth caved in, so as to leave a vacant space
almost like an arch, through which one might have reached into his
grave. No one, however, presumed to meddle with his remains so awfully
guarded by a malediction; and lest any of the idle or the curious,
or any collector of relics, should be tempted to commit
depredations, the old sexton kept watch over the place for two days,
until the vault was finished and the aperture closed again. He told me
that he had made bold to look in at the hole, but could see neither
coffin nor bones; nothing but dust. It was something, I thought, to
have seen the dust of Shakspeare.

  Next to this grave are those of his wife, his favorite daughter,
Mrs. Hall, and others of his family. On a tomb close by, also, is a
full-length effigy of his old friend John Combe of usurious memory; on
whom he is said to have written a ludicrous epitaph. There are other
monuments around, but the mind refuses to dwell on any thing that is
not connected with Shakspeare. His idea pervades the place; the
whole pile seems but as his mausoleum. The feelings, no longer checked
and thwarted by doubt, here indulge in perfect confidence: other
traces of him may be false or dubious, but here is palpable evidence
and absolute certainty. As I trod the sounding pavement, there was
something intense and thrilling in the idea, that, in very truth,
the remains of Shakspeare were mouldering beneath my feet. It was a
long time before I could prevail upon myself to leave the place; and
as I passed through the church-yard, I plucked a branch from one of
the yew trees, the only relic that I have brought from Stratford.

  I had now visited the usual objects of a pilgrim's devotion, but I
had a desire to see the old family seat of the Lucys, at Charlecot,
and to ramble through the park where Shakspeare, in company with
some of the roysterers of Stratford, committed his youthful offence of
deer-stealing. In this harebrained exploit we are told that he was
taken prisoner, and carried to the keeper's lodge, where he remained
all night in doleful captivity. When brought into the presence of
Sir Thomas Lucy, his treatment must have been galling and humiliating;
for it so wrought upon his spirit as to produce a rough pasquinade,
which was affixed to the park gate at Charlecot.*

  * The following is the only stanza extant of this lampoon:-

         A parliament member, a justice of peace,

         At home a poor scarecrow, at London an asse,

         If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it,

         Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befall it.

           He thinks himself great;

           Yet an asse in his state,

         We allow by his ears but with asses to mate,

         If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,

         Then sing lowsie Lucy whatever befall it.

  This flagitious attack upon the dignity of the knight so incensed
him, that he applied to a lawyer at Warwick to put the severity of the
laws in force against the rhyming deer-stalker. Shakspeare did not
wait to brave the united puissance of a knight of the shire and a
country attorney. He forthwith abandoned the pleasant banks of the
Avon and his paternal trade; wandered away to London; became a
hanger-on to the theatres; then an actor; and, finally, wrote for
the stage; and thus, through the persecution of Sir Thomas Lucy,
Stratford lost an indifferent wool-comber, and the world gained an
immortal poet. He retained, however, for a long time, a sense of the
harsh treatment of the Lord of Charlecot, and revenged himself in
his writings; but in the sportive way of a good-natured mind. Sir
Thomas is said to be the original Justice Shallow, and the satire is
slyly fixed upon him by the justice's armorial bearings, which, like
those of the knight, had white luces* in the quarterings.

  * The luce is a pike or jack, and abounds in the Avon about

  Various attempts have been made by his biographers to soften and
explain away this early transgression of the poet; but I look upon
it as one of those thoughtless exploits natural to his situation and
turn of mind. Shakspeare, when young, had doubtless all the wildness
and irregularity of an ardent, undisciplined, and undirected genius.
The poetic temperament has naturally something in it of the
vagabond. When left to itself it runs loosely and wildly, and delights
in every thing eccentric and licentious. It is often a turn-up of a
die, in the gambling freaks of fate, whether a natural genius shall
turn out a great rogue or a great poet; and had not Shakspeare's
mind fortunately taken a literary bias, he might have as daringly
transcended all civil, as he has all dramatic laws.

  I have little doubt that, in early life, when running, like an
unbroken colt, about the neighborhood of Stratford, he was to be found
in the company of all kinds of odd anomalous characters; that he
associated with all the madcaps of the place, and was one of those
unlucky urchins, at mention of whom old men shake their heads, and
predict that they will one day come to the gallows. To him the
poaching in Sir Thomas Lucy's park was doubtless like a foray to a
Scottish knight, and struck his eager, and, as yet untamed,
imagination, as something delightfully adventurous.*

  * A proof of Shakspeare's random habits and associates in his
youthful days may be found in a traditionary anecdote, picked up at
Stratford by the elder Ireland, and mentioned in his "Picturesque
Views on the Avon."

  About seven miles from Stratford lies the thirsty little market town
of Bedford, famous for its ale. Two societies of the village
yeomanry used to meet, under the appellation of the Bedford topers,
and to challenge the lovers of good ale of the neighboring villages to
a contest of drinking. Among others, the people of Stratford were
called out to prove the strength of their heads; and in the number
of the champions was Shakspeare, who, in spite of the proverb that
"they who drink beer will think beer," was as true to his ale as
Falstaff to his sack. The chivalry of Stratford was staggered at the
first onset, and sounded a retreat while they had yet legs to carry
them off the field. They had scarcely marched a mile when, their
legs failing them, they were forced to lie down under a crab-tree,
where they passed the night. It is still standing, and goes by the
name of Shakspeare's tree.

  In the morning his companions awaked the bard, and proposed
returning to Bedford, but he declined, saying he had had enough having
drank with

             Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,

             Haunted Hilbro', Hungry Grafton,

             Drudging Exhall, Papist Wicksford,

             Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bedford.

  "The villages here alluded to," says Ireland, "still bear the
epithets thus given them: the people of Pebworth are still famed for
their skill on the pipe and tabor; Hilborough is now called Haunted
Hilborough; and Grafton is famous for the poverty of its soil."

  The old mansion of Charlecot and its surrounding park still remain
in the possession of the Lucy family, and are peculiarly
interesting, from being connected with this whimsical but eventful
circumstance in the scanty history of the bard. As the house stood but
little more than three miles' distance from Stratford, I resolved to
pay it a pedestrian visit, that I might stroll leisurely through
some of those scenes from which Shakspeare must have derived his
earliest ideas of rural imagery.

  The country was yet naked and leafless; but English scenery is
always verdant, and the sudden change in the temperature of the
weather was surprising in its quickening effects upon the landscape.
It was inspiring and animating to witness this first awakening of
spring; to feel its warm breath stealing over the senses; to see the
moist mellow earth beginning to put forth the green sprout and the
tender blade: and the trees and shrubs, in their reviving tints and
bursting buds, giving the promise of returning foliage and flower. The
cold snow-drop, that little borderer on the skirts of winter, was to
be seen with its chaste white blossoms in the small gardens before the
cottages. The bleating of the new-dropt lambs was faintly heard from
the fields. The sparrow twittered about the thatched eaves and budding
hedges; the robin threw a livelier note into his late querulous wintry
strain; and the lark, springing up from the reeking bosom of the
meadow, towered away into the bright fleecy cloud, pouring forth
torrents of melody. As I watched the little songster, mounting up
higher and higher, until his body was a mere speck on the white
bosom of the cloud, while the ear was still filled with his music,
it called to mind Shakspeare's exquisite little song in Cymbeline:

           Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,

             And Phoebus 'gins arise,

           His steeds to water at those springs,

             On chaliced flowers that lies.

           And winking mary-buds begin

             To ope their golden eyes;

           With every thing that pretty bin,

             My lady sweet arise!

  Indeed the whole country about here is poetic ground: every thing is
associated with the idea of Shakspeare. Every old cottage that I
saw, I fancied into some resort of his boyhood, where he had
acquired his intimate knowledge of rustic life and manners, and
heard those legendary tales and wild superstitions which he has
woven like witchcraft into his dramas. For in his time, we are told,
it was a popular amusement in winter evenings "to sit round the
fire, and tell merry tales of errant knights, queens, lovers, lords,
ladies, giants, dwarfs, thieves, cheaters, witches, fairies,
goblins, and friars."*

  * Scot, in his "Discoverie of Witchcraft," enumerates a host of
these fireside fancies. "And they have so fraid us with
bull-beggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs,
pans, faunes, syrens, kit with the can sticke, tritons, centaurs,
dwarfes, giantes, imps, calcars, conjurors, nymphes, changelings,
incubus, Robin-good-fellow, the spoorne, the mare, the man in the oke,
the hell-waine, the fier drake, the puckle, Tom Thombe, hobgoblins,
Tom Tumbler, boneless, and such other bugs, that we were afraid of our
own shadowes."

  My route for a part of the way lay in sight of the Avon, which
made a variety of the most fancy doublings and windings through a wide
and fertile valley; sometimes glittering from among willows, which
fringed its borders; sometimes disappearing among groves, or beneath
green banks; and sometimes rambling out into full view, and making
an azure sweep round a slope of meadow land. This beautiful bosom of
country is called the Vale of the Red Horse. A distant line of
undulating blue hills seems to be its boundary, whilst all the soft
intervening landscape lies in a manner enchained in the silver links
of the Avon.

  After pursuing the road for about three miles, I turned off into a
footpath, which led along the borders of fields, and under hedgerows
to a private gate of the park; there was a stile, however, for the
benefit of the pedestrian; there being a public right of way through
the grounds. I delight in these hospitable estates, in which every one
has a kind of property- at least as far as the footpath is
concerned. It in some measure reconciles a poor man to his lot, and,
what is more, to the better lot of his neighbor, thus to have parks
and pleasure-grounds thrown open for his recreation. He breathes the
pure air as freely, and lolls as luxuriously under the shade, as the
lord of the soil; and if he has not the privilege of calling all
that he sees his own, he has not, at the same time, the trouble of
paying for it, and keeping it in order.

  I now found myself among noble avenues of oaks and elms, whose
vast size bespoke the growth of centuries. The wind sounded solemnly
among their branches, and the rooks cawed from their hereditary
nests in the tree tops. The eye ranged through a long lessening vista,
with nothing to interrupt the view but a distant statue; and a vagrant
deer stalking like a shadow across the opening.

  There is something about these stately old avenues that has the
effect of Gothic architecture, not merely from the pretended
similarity of form, but from their bearing the evidence of long
duration, and of having had their origin in a period of time with
which we associate ideas of romantic grandeur. They betoken also the
long-settled dignity, and proudly-concentrated independence of an
ancient family; and I have heard a worthy but aristocratic old
friend observe, when speaking of the sumptuous palaces of modern
gentry, that "money could do much with stone and mortar, but, thank
Heaven, there was no such thing as suddenly building up an avenue of

  It was from wandering in early life among this rich scenery, and
about the romantic solitudes of the adjoining park of Fullbroke, which
then formed a part of the Lucy estate, that some of Shakspeare's
commentators have supposed he derived his noble forest meditations
of Jaques, and the enchanting woodland pictures in "As You Like It."
It is in lonely wanderings through such scenes, that the mind drinks
deep but quiet draughts of inspiration, and becomes intensely sensible
of the beauty and majesty of nature. The imagination kindles into
reverie and rapture; vague but exquisite images and ideas keep
breaking upon it; and we revel in a mute and almost incommunicable
luxury of thought. It was in some such mood, and perhaps under one
of those very trees before me, which threw their broad shades over the
grassy banks and quivering waters of the Avon, that the poet's fancy
may have sallied forth into that little song which breathes the very
soul of a rural voluptuary:

               Under the green wood tree,

               Who loves to lie with me,

               And tune his merry throat

               Unto the sweet bird's note,

               Come hither, come hither, come hither.

                 Here shall he see

                 No enemy,

               But winter and rough weather.

  I had now come in sight of the house. It is a large building of
brick, with stone quoins, and is in the Gothic style of Queen
Elizabeth's day, having been built in the first year of her reign. The
exterior remains very nearly in its original state, and may be
considered a fair specimen of the residence of a wealthy country
gentleman of those days. A great gateway opens from the park into a
kind of courtyard in front of the house, ornamented with a
grassplot, shrubs, and flower-beds. The gateway is in imitation of the
ancient barbican; being a kind of outpost, and flanked by towers;
though evidently for mere ornament, instead of defence. The front of
the house is completely in the old style; with stone-shafted
casements, a great bow window of heavy stone-work, and a portal with
armorial bearings over it, carved in stone. At each corner of the
building is an octagon tower, surmounted by a gilt ball and

  The Avon, which winds through the park, makes a bend just at the
foot of a gently-sloping bank, which sweeps down from the rear of
the house. Large herds of deer were feeding or reposing upon its
borders; and swans were sailing majestically upon its bosom. As I
contemplated the venerable old mansion, I called to mind Falstaff's
encomium on Justice Shallow's abode, and the affected indifference and
real vanity of the latter:

   "Falstaff.  You have a goodly dwelling and a rich.

     Shallow.  Barren, barren, barren; beggars all, beggars all, Sir
John:- marry, good air."

  Whatever may have been the joviality of the old mansion in the
days of Shakspeare, it had now an air of stillness and solitude. The
great iron gateway that opened into the court-yard was locked; there
was no show of servants bustling about the place; the deer gazed
quietly at me as I passed, being no longer harried by the
moss-troopers of Stratford. The only sign of domestic life that I
met with was a white cat, stealing with wary look and stealthy pace
towards the stables, as if on some nefarious expedition. I must not
omit to mention the carcass of a scoundrel crow which I saw
suspended against the barn wall, as it shows that the Lucys still
inherit that lordly abhorrence of poachers, and maintain that rigorous
exercise of territorial power which was so strenuously manifested in
the case of the bard.

  After prowling about for some time, I at length found my way to a
lateral portal, which was the every-day entrance to the mansion. I was
courteously received by a worthy old housekeeper, who, with the
civility and communicativeness of her order, showed me the interior of
the house. The greater part has undergone alterations, and been
adapted to modern tastes and modes of living: there is a fine old
oaken staircase; and the great hall, that noble feature in an
ancient manor-house, still retains much of the appearance it must have
had in the days of Shakspeare. The ceiling is arched and lofty; and at
one end is a gallery in which stands an organ. The weapons and
trophies of the chase, which formerly adorned the hall of a country
gentleman, have made way for family portraits. There is a wide
hospitable fireplace, calculated for an ample old-fashioned wood fire,
formerly the rallying-place of winter festivity. On the opposite
side of the hall is the huge Gothic bow window, with stone shafts,
which looks out upon the court-yard. Here are emblazoned in stained
glass the armorial bearings of the Lucy family for many generations,
some being dated in 1558. I was delighted to observe in the
quarterings the three white luces, by which the character of Sir
Thomas was first identified with that of Justice Shallow. They are
mentioned in the first scene of the Merry Wives of Windsor, where
the Justice is in a rage with Falstaff for having "beaten his men,
killed his deer, and broken into his lodge." The poet had no doubt the
offences of himself and his comrades in mind at the time, and we may
suppose the family pride and vindictive threats of the puissant
Shallow to be a caricature of the pompous indignation of Sir Thomas.

   "Shallow.  Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-Chamber
matter of it; if he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse
Robert Shallow, Esq.

    Slender.  In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram.

    Shallow.  Ay, cousin Slender, and custalorum.

    Slender.  Ay, and ratalorum too, and a gentleman born, master
parson; who writes himself Armigero in any bill, warrant, quittance,
or obligation, Armigero.

    Shallow.  Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three
hundred years.

    Slender.  All his successors gone before him have done't, and
all his ancestors that come after him may; they may give the dozen
white luces in their coat.*****

    Shallow.  The council shall hear it; it is a riot.

    Evans.  It is not meet the council hear of a riot; there is no
fear of Got in a riot; the council, hear you, shall desire to hear the
fear of Got, and not to hear a riot; take your vizaments in that.

    Shallow.  Ha! o' my life, if I were young again, the sword
should end it!"

  Near the window thus emblazoned hung a portrait by Sir Peter Lely,
of one of the Lucy family, a great beauty of the time of Charles the
Second: the old housekeeper shook her head as she pointed to the
picture, and informed me that this lady had been sadly addicted to
cards, and had gambled away a great portion of the family estate,
among which was that part of the park where Shakspeare and his
comrades had killed the deer. The lands thus lost had not been
entirely regained by the family even at the present day. It is but
justice to this recreant dame to confess that she had a surpassingly
fine hand and arm.

  The picture which most attracted my attention was a great painting
over the fireplace, containing likenesses of Sir Thomas Lucy and his
family, who inhabited the hall in the latter part of Shakspeare's
lifetime. I at first thought that it was the vindictive knight
himself, but the housekeeper assured me that it was his son; the
only likeness extant of the former being an effigy upon his tomb in
the church of the neighboring hamlet of Charlecot.* The picture
gives a lively idea of the costume and manners of the time. Sir Thomas
is dressed in ruff and doublet; white shoes with roses in them; and
has a peaked yellow, or, as Master Slender would say, "a
cane-colored beard." His lady is seated on the opposite side of the
picture, in wide ruff and long stomacher, and the children have a most
venerable stiffness and formality of dress. Hounds and spaniels are
mingled in the family group; a hawk is seated on his perch in the
foreground, and one of the children holds a bow;- all intimating the
knight's skill in hunting, hawking, and archery- so indispensable to
an accomplished gentlemen in those days.*(2)

  * This effigy is in white marble, and represents the Knight in
complete armor. Near him lies the effigy of his wife, and on her
tomb is the following inscription; which, if really composed by her
husband, places him quite above the intellectual level of Master

  Here lyeth the Lady Joyce Lucy wife of Sr Thomas Lucy of Charlecot
in ye county of Warwick, Knight, Daughter and heir of Thomas Acton
of Sutton in ye county of Worcester Esquire who departed out of this
wretched world to her heavenly kingdom ye 10 day of February in ye
yeare of our Lord God 1595 and of her age 60 and three. All the time
of her lyfe a true and faythful servant of her good God, never
detected of any cryme or vice. In religion most sounde, in love to her
husband most faythful and true. In friendship most constant; to what
in trust was committed unto her most secret. In wisdom excelling. In
governing of her house, bringing up of youth in ye fear of God that
did converse with her moste rare and singular. A great maintayner of
hospitality. Greatly esteemed of her betters; misliked of none
unless of the envyous. When all is spoken that can be saide a woman so
garnished with virtue as not to be bettered and hardly to be
equalled by any. As shee lived most virtuously so shee died most
Godly. Set downe by him yt best did knowe what hath byn written to
be true.

                                                         Thomas Lucy.

  *(2) Bishop Earle, speaking of the country gentleman of his time,
observes, "his housekeeping is seen much in the different families
of dogs, and serving-men attendant on their kennels; and the
deepness of their throats is the depth of his discourse. A hawk he
esteems the true burden of nobility, and is exceedingly ambitious to
seem delighted with the sport, and have his fist gloved with his
jesses." And Gilpin, in his description of a Mr. Hastings, remarks,
"he kept all sorts of hounds that run buck, fox, hare, otter, and
badger; and had hawks of all kinds both long and short winged. His
great hall was commonly strewed with marrow-bones, and full of hawk
perches, hounds, spaniels, and terriers. On a broad hearth, paved with
brick, lay some of the choicest terriers, hounds, and spaniels."

  I regretted to find that the ancient furniture of the hall had
disappeared; for I had hoped to meet with the stately elbow-chair of
carved oak, in which the country squire of former days was wont to
sway the sceptre of empire over his rural domains; and in which it
might be presumed the redoubted Sir Thomas sat enthroned in awful
state when the recreant Shakspeare was brought before him. As I like
to deck out pictures for my own entertainment, I pleased myself with
the idea that this very hall had been the scene of the unlucky
bard's examination on the morning after his captivity in the lodge.
I fancied to myself the rural potentate, surrounded by his
body-guard of butler, pages, and blue-coated serving-men, with their
badges; while the luckless culprit was brought in, forlorn and
chap-fallen, in the custody of gamekeepers, huntsmen, and whippers-in,
and followed by a rabble rout of country clowns. I fancied bright
faces of curious housemaids peeping from the half-opened doors;
while from the gallery the fair daughters of the knight leaned
gracefully forward, eyeing the youthful prisoner with that pity
"that dwells in womanhood."- Who would have thought that this poor
varlet, thus trembling before the brief authority of a country squire,
and the sport of rustic boors, was soon to become the delight of
princes, the theme of all tongues and ages, the dictator to the
human mind, and was to confer immortality on his oppressor by a
caricature and a lampoon!

  I was now invited by the butler to walk into the garden, and I
felt inclined to visit the orchard and arbor where the justice treated
Sir John Falstaff and Cousin Silence "to a last year's pippin of his
own grafting, with a dish of caraways;" but I had already spent so
much of the day in my ramblings that I was obliged to give up any
further investigations. When about to take my leave I was gratified by
the civil entreaties of the housekeeper and butler, that I would
take some refreshment: an instance of good old hospitality which, I
grieve to say, we castle-hunters seldom meet with in modern days. I
make no doubt it is a virtue which the present representative of the
Lucys inherits from his ancestors; for Shakspeare, even in his
caricature, makes Justice Shallow importunate in this respect, as
witness his pressing instances to Falstaff.

  "By cock and pye, sir, you shall not away to-night * * * I will
not excuse you; you shall not be excused; excuses shall not be
admitted; there is no excuse shall serve; you shall not be excused * *
* Some pigeons, Davy; a couple of short-legged hens; a joint of
mutton; and any pretty little tiny kickshaws, tell William Cook."

  I now bade a reluctant farewell to the old hall. My mind had
become so completely possessed by the imaginary scenes and
characters connected with it, that I seemed to be actually living
among them. Every thing brought them as it were before my eyes; and as
the door of the dining-room opened, I almost expected to hear the
feeble voice of Master Silence quavering forth his favorite ditty:

          "'Tis merry in hall, when beards wag all,

            And welcome merry shrove-tide!"

  On returning to my inn, I could not but reflect on the singular gift
of the poet; to be able thus to spread the magic of his mind over
the very face of nature; to give to things and places a charm and
character not their own, and to turn this "working-day world" into a
perfect fairy land. He is indeed the true enchanter, whose spell
operates, not upon the senses, but upon the imagination and the heart.
Under the wizard influence of Shakspeare I had been walking all day in
a complete delusion. I had surveyed the landscape through the prism of
poetry, which tinged every object with the hues of the rainbow. I
had been surrounded with fancied beings; with mere airy nothings,
conjured up by poetic power; yet which, to me, had all the charm of
reality. I had heard Jacques soliloquize beneath his oak: had beheld
the fair Rosalind and her companion adventuring through the woodlands;
and, above all, had been once more present in spirit with fat Jack
Falstaff and his contemporaries, from the august Justice Shallow, down
to the gentle Master Slender and the sweet Anne Page. Ten thousand
honors and blessings on the bard who has thus gilded the dull
realities of life with innocent illusions; who has spread exquisite
and unbought pleasures in my chequered path; and beguiled my spirit in
many a lonely hour, with all the cordial and cheerful sympathies of
social life!

  As I crossed the bridge over the Avon on my return, I paused to
contemplate the distant church in which the poet lies buried, and
could not but exult in the malediction, which has kept his ashes
undisturbed in its quiet and hallowed vaults. What honor could his
name have derived from being mingled in dusty companionship with the
epitaphs and escutcheons and venal eulogiums of a titled multitude?
What would a crowded corner in Westminster Abbey have been, compared
with this reverend pile, which seems to stand in beautiful
loneliness as his sole mausoleum! The solicitude about the grave may
be but the offspring of an over-wrought sensibility; but human
nature is made up of foibles and prejudices; and its best and
tenderest affections are mingled with these factitious feelings. He
who has sought renown about the world, and has reaped a full harvest
of worldly favor, will find, after all, that there is no love, no
admiration, no applause, so sweet to the soul as that which springs up
in his native place. It is there that he seeks to be gathered in peace
and honor among his kindred and his early friends. And when the
weary heart and failing head begin to warn him that the evening of
life is drawing on, he turns as fondly as does the infant to the
mother's arms, to sink to sleep in the bosom of the scene of his

  How would it have cheered the spirit of the youthful bard when,
wandering forth in disgrace upon a doubtful world, he cast back a
heavy look upon his paternal home, could he have foreseen that, before
many years, he should return to it covered with renown; that his
name should become the boast and glory of his native place; that his
ashes should be religiously guarded as its most precious treasure; and
that its lessening spire, on which his eyes were fixed in tearful
contemplation, should one day become the beacon, towering amidst the
gentle landscape, to guide the literary pilgrim of every nation to his

                        THE END


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