but who mentions them always as familiar things, would be the foremost in all
manly diversions. He would "ride the wild mare with the boys,"J and "play at
quoits well," and " change places" at " handy-dandy," || and put out all his strength
in a jump, though he might not expect to win " a lady at leap-frog," IT and run the
"country-base" with "striplings,"** and be a " very good bowler." ft It was not
in solitude only that he acquired his wisdom. He knew
" All qualities, with a learned spirit,
Of human dealings," J J
* " Much Ado about Nothing," Act in., Scene I.
f " The Treatyses perteynyng to Hawkynge, Huntynge, and Fisshynge with an Angle." 1496.
t " Henry IV.," Act II. Scene IV. Ibid. || " Lear," Act. IV., Scene vi.
*![ "Henry V.," Act v., Scene n. ** " Cymbeline," Act v., Scene IV.
tf " Love's Labour 's Lost," Act v., Scene n. Jt " Othello," Act in., Scene ill.
130 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
through his intercourse with his fellows, and not by meditating upon abstractions.
The meditation was to apply the experience and raise it into philosophy.
About a mile from the little town of Bidford, on the road to Stratford, was, some
twenty years ago, an ancient crab-tree well known to the country round as Shakspere's
Crab-tree. The tradition which associates it with the name of Shakspere is, like
many other traditions regarding the poet, an attempt to embody the general notion
that his social qualities were as remarkable as his genius. In an age when excess of
joviality was by some considered almost a virtue, the genial fancy of the dwellers at
Stratford may have been pleased to confer upon this crab-tree the honour of shelter-
ing Shakspere from the dews of night, on an occasion when his merrymakings had
disqualified him for returning homeward, and he had laid down to sleep under its
spreading branches. It is scarcely necessary to enter into an examination of this
apocryphal story. But as the crab-tree is associated with Shakspere, it may fitly be
made the scene of some of his youthful exercises. He may "cleave the pin" and
strike the quintain in the neighbourhood of the crab-tree, as well as sleep heavily
beneath its shade. We shall diminish no honest enthusiasm by changing the
association. Indeed, although the crab-tree was long ago known by the name of
Shakspere's Crab-tree, the tradition that he was amongst a party who had accepted
a challenge from the Bidford topers to try which could drink hardest, and there
bivouacked after the debauch, is difficult to be traced further than the hearsay
evidence of Mr. Samuel Ireland. In the same way, the merry folks of Stratford will
tell you to this day that the Falcon inn in that town was the scene of Shakspere's
nightly potations, after he had retired from London to his native home ; and they
will show you the -shovel-board at which he delighted to play. Harmless traditions,
ye are yet baseless ! The Falcon was not an inn at all in Shakspere's time, but a
goodly private dwelling.
About the year 1580 the ancient practice of archery had revived in England.
The use of the famous English long-bow had been superseded in war by the
arquebuss ; but their old diversion of butt-shooting would not readily be abandoned
by the bold yeomanry, delighting as they still did in stories of their countrymen's
prowess, familiar to them in chronicle and ballad. The "Toxophilus" of Eoger
Ascham was a book well fitted to be amongst the favourites of our Shakspere ; and
he would think with that fine old schoolmaster that the book and the bow might
well go together.* He might have heard that a wealthy yeoman of Middlesex, John
Lyon, who had founded the grammar-school at Harrow, had instituted a prize for
archery amongst the scholars. Had not the fame, too, gone forth through the
country of the worthy " Show and Shooting by the Duke of Shoreditch, and his
Associates the Worshipful Citizens of London," t and of "The Friendly and Frank
Fellowship of Prince Arthur's Knights in and about the City of London " 1 % There
were men of Stratford who within a year or two had seen the solemn processions of
these companies of archers, and their feats in Hogsden Fields ; where the wealthy
citizens and their ladies sat in their tents most gorgeously dressed, and the winners
of the prizes were brought out of the field by torchlight, with drum and trumpet,
and volleys of shot, mounted upon great geldings sumptuously trapped with cloths
of silver and gold. Had he not himself talked with an ancient squire, who, in the
* " "Would to God that all men did bring up their sons, like my worshipful master Sir Henry
Wingefield, in the book and the bow." ASCHAM.
f This is the title of a tract published in 1583 ; but the author says that these mock solemnities
had been " greatly revived, and within these five years set forward, at the great cost and charges of
sundry chief citizens."
J The title of a tract by Richard Mulcaster : 1581.
CHAP. VIII.] SPORTS. 131
elder days, at "Mile End Green " had played "Sir Dagonet at Arthur's Show" ? *
And did he not know " old Double," who was now dead ? " He drew a good bow ;
and dead ! he shot a fine shoot : * * * Dead ! he would have clapped i' the
clout at twelve score ; and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and fourteen and
a half, that it would have done a man's heart good to see." t Welcome to him,
then, would be the invitation of the young men of Bidford for a day of archery ;
for they received as a truth the maxim of Ascham, " That still, according to the
old wont of England, youth should use it for the most honest pastime in peace."
The butts are erected in the open fields after we cross the Ichnield way on the
Stratford road. It is an elevated spot, which looks down upon the long pastures
which skirt the Avon. These are not the ancient butts of the town, made and kept
up according to the statute of Henry VIII. ; nor do the young men compel their
fathers, according to the same statute, to provide each of them with " a bow and
two shafts," until they are of the age of seventeen ; but each is willing to obey the
statute, having " a bow and four arrows continually for himself." Their butts are
mounds of turf, on which is fixed a small piece of circular paper with a pin in the
centre. The young poet probably thought of Robin Hood's more picturesque
" On every syde a rose garlonde,
They shot under the lyne.
' Whoso faylcth of the rose garlonde,' sayd Robin,
His takyll he shall tyne.' "
At the crab-tree are the young archers to meet at the hour of eight :
" Hold, or cut bowstrings." J
The costume of Chaucer's squire's yeoman would be emulated by some of the
" He was cladde in cote and hode of grene ;
A shefe of peacock arwes bright and kene
Under his belt he bare ful thriftily.
Wei coude he dresse his takel yemanly :
His arwes drouped not with fetheres lowe.
And in his hond he bare a mighty bowe.
Upon his arme he bare a gaie bracer."
The lots are cast ; three archers on either side. The marker takes his place, to
" cry aim." Away flies the first arrow " gone " it is over the butt ; a second
" short ; " a third " wide ; " a fourth " hits the white," " Let him be clapped on
the shoulder and called Adam ;" a fifth "handles his bow like a crow-keeper." ||
Lastly comes a youth from Stratford, and he is within an inch of " cleaving the pin."
There is a maiden gazing on the sport ; she whispers a word in his ear, and " then
the very pin of his heart" is "cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft." IT He
recovers his self-possession, whilst he receives his arrow from the marker, humming
" The blinded boy, that shoots so trim,
From heaven down did hie ;
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lie." **
* " Henry IV.," Part II., Act HI., Scene n. f I^d.
I " Midsummer-Night's Dream," Act I., Scene n. " Much Ado about Nothing," Act r.
|| " Lear." ^[ " Romeo and Juliet," Act n. Scene iv.
** Ballad of "King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid."
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
[The Crab Tree.]
After repeated contests the match is decided. But there is now to be a trial of
greater skill, requiring the strong arm and the accurate eye the old English practice
which won the day at Agincourt. The archers go up into the hills : he who has
drawn the first lot suddenly stops ; there is a bush upon the rising ground before
him, from which hangs some rag, or weasel-skin, or dead crow ; away flies the arrow,
and the fellows of the archer each shoot from the same spot. This was the roving
of the more ancient archery, where the mark was sometimes on high, and sometimes
on the ground, and always at variable distances. Over hill and dale go the young
men onward in the excitement of their exercise, so lauded by Richard Mulcaster,
first Master of Merchant Tailors' School : "And whereas hunting on foot is much
praised, what moving of the body hath the foot-hunter in hills and dales which the
roving archer hath not in variety of grounds 1 Is his natural heat more stirred
than the archer's is 1 Is his appetite better than the archer's ? " * This natural
premonition sends the party homeward to their noon-tide dinner at the Grange.
But as they pass along the low meadows they send up many a " flight," with shout
and laughter. An arrow is sometimes lost. But there is one who in after-years
recollected his boyish practice under such mishaps :
" In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft
I shot his fellow of the self-same flight
The self-same way, with more advised watch
To find the other forth ; and by adventuring both,
I oft found both : I urge this childhood proof,
Because what follows is pure innocence.
* "Positions:" 1581.
CHAP. VIII,] SPORTS. 133
I owe you much ; and, like a wilful youth,
That which I owe is lost : but, if you please
To shoot another arrow that self way
Which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt,
As I will watch the aim, or to find both,
Or bring your latter hazard back again,
And thankfully rest debtor for the first." *
Gervase Markham, in his excellent " English Housewife," describes " a humble
feast or an ordinary proportion which any good man may keep in his family for the
entertainment of his true and worthy friend." We doubt if so luxurious a provision
was made in our yeoman's house of the Grange ; for Markham's "humble feast"
consisted of three courses, the first of which comprised sixteen " dishes of meat that
are of substance." Harrison, writing about forty years earlier, makes the yeoman
contented with somewhat less abundance : " If they happen to stumble upon a piece
of venison, and a cup of wine or very strong beer or ale (which latter they com-
monly provide against their appointed days), they think their cheer so great, and
themselves to have fared so well, as the Lord Mayor of London." t But, whatever
was the plainness or the delicacy of their dishes, there is no doubt of the hearty
welcome which awaited all those who had claims to hospitality : " If the friends of
the wealthier sort come to their houses from far, they are commonly so welcome till
they depart as upon the first day of their coming." i Again : "Both the artificer
and the husbandman are sufficiently liberal and very friendly at their tables ; and
when they meet they are so merry without malice, and plain without inward Italian
or French craft or subtility, that it would do a man good to be in company among
Shakspere has himself painted, in one of his early plays, the friendly intercourse
between the yeomen and their better educated neighbours. To the table where
even Goodman Dull was welcome, the schoolmaster gives an invitation to the parson :
" I do dine to-day at the father's of a certain pupil of mine ; where if, before repast,
it shall please you to gratify the table with a grace, I will, on my privilege I have
with the parents of the aforesaid child or pupil, undertake your ben venuto"\\ And
it was at this table that the schoolmaster won for himself this great praise : " Your
reasons at dinner have been sharp and sententious, pleasant without scurrility, witty
without affection, audacious without impudency, learned without opinion, and strange
without heresy." IF England was at that day not cursed with class and coterie
society. The distinctions of rank were sufficiently well defined to enable men to
mix freely, as long as they conducted themselves decorously. The barriers of modern
society belong to an age of pretension.
There are other .sports to be played, and other triumphs to be achieved, before
the day closes. In the meadow, at some little distance from the butts, is fixed a
machine of singular construction. It is the Quintain. Horsemen are beginning to
assemble around it, and are waiting the arrival of the guests from the Grange, who
are merry in " an arbour" of mine host's " orchard." But the youths are for more
stirring matters ; and their horses are ready. To the inexperienced eye the machine
which has been erected in the field
" That which here stands up,
Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block." **
It is the wooden figure of a Saracen, sword in hand, grinning hideously upon the
assailants who confront him. The horsemen form a lane on either side, whilst one,
* " The Merchant of Venice," Act I., Scene I.
f " Description of England," 1586, p. 170. % Ibid., p. 168. Ibid.
|| " Love's Labour 's Lost," Act IV., Scene n. ^f Ibid., Act v., Scene I.
** " As You Like It," Act I., Scene in.
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
the boldest of challengers, couches his spear and rides violently at the enemy, who
appears to stand firm upon his wooden post. The spear strikes the Saracen just on
the left shoulder ; but the wooden man receives not his wound with patience, for
by the action of the blow he swings round upon his pivot, and hits the horseman a
formidable thump with his extended sword before the horse has cleared the range
of the misbeliever's weapon. Then one chorus of laughter greets the unfortunate
rider as he comes dolefully back to the rear. Another and another fail. At last
the quintain is struck right in the centre, and the victory is won. The Saracen
conquered, a flat board is set up upon the pivot, with a sand-bag at one end, such
as Stow has described : " I have seen a quintain set up on Cornhill, by Leadenhall,
where the attendants of the lords of merry disports have run and made great
pastime ; for he that hit not the board end of the quintain was laughed to scorn ;
and he that hit it full, if he rode not the faster, had a sound blow upon his neck
with a bag full of sand hanged on the other end."* The merry guests of the Grange
enjoy the sport as heartily as Master Laneham, who saw the quintain at Kenil worth :
" The speciality of the sport was to see how some of his slackness had a good
bob with the bag ; and some for his haste to topple downright, and come tumbling
to the post : some striving so much at the first setting out, that it seemed a question
between the man and the beast, whether the course should be made a horseback or
a foot : and, put forth with the spurs, then would run his race by us among the
thickest of the throng, that down came they together hand over head. * * * By
my troth, Master Martin, 't was a goodly pastime." And now they go to supper,
" What time the labour'd ox
In his loose traces from the furrow came." f
" Survey of London.'
f Milton : " Comus.'
[Hampton Lucy : from Road near Alveston.")
THE poet who has described a man of savage wildness, cherishing " unshaped, half-
human thoughts" in his wanderings among vales and streams, green wood and
hollow dell, has said that nature ne'er could find the way into his heart :
" A primrose by a river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more."
These are lines at which some of the worldly-wise and clever have been wont to
laugh ; but they contain a deep and universal truth. Without some association,
the most beautiful objects in nature have no charm ; with association, the commonest
acquire a value. The very humblest power of observation is necessarily dependent
upon some higher power of the mind. Those who observe differ from those who do
not observe, in the possession of acquired knowledge, or original reflection, which is
to guide the observation. The observer who sees accurately, who knows what others
have observed, and who applies this knowledge only to the humble purpose of adding
a new flower or insect to his collection, we call a naturalist. But there are natu-
ralists, worthy of the name, who, without bringing any very high powers of mind to
their observation of nature, still show, not only by the minuteness and accuracy of
136 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
their eye, but by their genial love and admiration of the works of the Creator, that
with them nature has found the way into the heart. Such was White of Selborne.
We delight to hear him describe the mouse's nest which he found suspended in the
head of a thistle ; or how a gentleman had two milk-white rooks in one nest : we
partake in his happiness when he writes of what was to him an event : " This
morning I saw the golden-crowned wren whose crown glitters like burnished gold ;"
and we half suspect that the good old gentleman had the spirit of poetry in him
when he says of the goat-sucker, " This bird is most punctual in beginning its song
exactly at the close of day ; so exactly that I have known it strike up more than
once or twice just at the report of the Portsmouth evening gun." He wrote verses ;
but they are not so poetical as his prose. A naturalist endowed with higher powers
of association has taught us how philosophy looks upon the common aspects of the
outer world. Davy was a scientific observer. He shows us the reason of the fami-
liar prognostications of the weather the coppery sunset, the halo round the moon,
the rainbow at night, the flight of the swallow. Even omens have a touch of science
in them ; and there is a philosophical difference in the luck of seeing one magpie
or two. But there is an observer of nature who looks upon all animate and inani-
mate existence with a higher power of association even than these. It is the poetical
naturalist. Of this rare class our Shakspere is decidedly the head. Let us endeavour
to understand what his knowledge of external nature was, how it was applied, and
how it was acquired.
Some one is reported to have said that he could affirm from the evidence of his
" Seasons" that Thomson was an early riser. Thomson, it is well known, duly slept
tiU noon. Bearing in mind this practical rebuke of what is held to be internal
evidence, we still shall not hesitate to affirm our strong conviction that the Shak-
spere of the country was an early riser. Thomson, professedly a descriptive poet,
assuredly described many things that he never saw. He looked at nature Very often
with the eyes of others. To our mind his celebrated description of morning offers
not the slightest proof that he ever saw the sun rise.* In this description we have
the meek-eyed morn, the dappled east, brown night, young day, the dripping rock, the
misty mountain : the hare limps from the field ; the wild deer trip from the glade ;
music awakes in woodland hymns ; the shepherd drives his flock from the fold ; the
sluggard sleeps :
" But yonder comes the powerful king of day,
Rejoicing in the east ! The lessening cloud,
The kindling azure, and the mountain's brow,
Illum'd with fluid gold, his near approach
Betoken glad. Lo, now apparent all,
Aslant the dew-bright earth and colour'd air,
He looks in boundless majesty abroad.
And sheds the shining day, that burnish'd plays
On rocks, and hills, and towers, and wandering streams,
High-gleaming from afar."
This is conventional poetry, the reflection of books ; excellent of its kind, but still
not the production of a poet-naturalist. Compare it with Chaucer :
" The besy larke, the messanger of day,
Saleweth in hire song the morwe gray ;
And firy Phebus riseth up so bright,
That all the orient laugheth of the sight,
And with his stremes drieth in the greves
The silver dropes, hanging on the leves." f
* " Summer." Line 43 to 96. f " The Knight's Tale." Line 1493.
CHAP. IX.] SOLITARY HOURS. 137
The sun drying the dewdrops on the leaves is not a book image. The brilliancy,
the freshness, are as true as they are beautiful. Of such stuff are the natural
descriptions of Shakspere always made. He is as minute and accurate as White ;
he is more philosophical than Davy. The carrier in the inn-yard at Rochester
exclaims, " An 't be not four by the day, I '11 be hanged : Charles' wain is over the
new chimney."* Here is the very commonest remark of a common man ; and yet
the principle of ascertaining the time of the night by the position of a star in relation
to a fixed object must have been the result of observation in him who dramatized
the scene. The variation of the quarter in which the sun rises according to the time
of the year may be a trite problem to scientific readers ; but it must have been a
familiar fact to him who, with marvellous art, threw in a dialogue upon the incident,
to diversify and give repose to the pause in a scene of overwhelming interest :
" Decius. Here lies the east : doth not the day break here 1
Cinna. 0, pardon, sir, it doth ; and yon gray lines,
That fret the clouds, are messengers of day.
Casca. You shall confess that you are both deceived.
Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises ;
Which is a great way growing on the south,
Weighing the youthful season of the year.
Some two months hence up higher toward the north
He first presents his fire ; and the high east
Stands, as the Capitol, directly here." f
It was in his native fields that Shakspere had seen morning under every aspect ;
now, " in russet mantle clad ;" now, opening her " golden gates." A mighty battle
is compared to the morning's war :
" When dying clouds contend with growing light."
Perhaps this might have been copied, or imagined ; but the poet throws in a reality,
which leaves no doubt that it had been seen :
" What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,
Can neither call it perfect day, nor night." J
What but actual observation could have told the poet that the thin flakes of ice
which he calls " flaws" are suddenly produced by the coldness of the morning just
before sunrise ? The fact abided in his mind till it shaped itself into a comparison
with the peculiarities in the character of his Prince Henry :
" As humorous as winter, and as sudden
As flaws congealed in the spring of day."
He has painted his own Romeo, when under the influence of a fleeting first love,
stealing " into the covert of the wood,"
" An hour before the worshipp'd sun
Peer'd forth the golden window of the east."
A melancholy and a joyous spirit would equally have tempted the young poet to
* " Henry IV.," Part I., Act II., Scene I.
t "Julius Caesar," Act. IT., Scene I. J " Henry VI.," Part III., Act II., Scene v.
" Romeo and Juliet," Act I., Scene I.
138 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK n.
court the solitudes that were around him. Whether his "affections" were to be
"most busied when most alone ;"* or, objectless,
" Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy ;" f
or intent upon a favourite book ; or yielding to the imagination which " bodies forth
the forms of things unknown," many of the vacant hours of the young man would
be solitary hours in his own fields. Yet, whatever was the pervading train of thought,
he would still be an observer. In the vast storehouse of his mind would all that he
observed be laid up ; not labelled and classified after the fashion of some poetical
manufacturers, but to be called into use at a near or a distant day, by that wonderful
power of assimilation which perceives all the subtile and delicate relations between
the moral and the physical worlds, and thus raises the objects of sense into a com-
panionship with the loftiest things that belong to the fancy and the reason. Who
ever painted with such marvellous power we use the word advisedly the changing
forms of an evening sky, " black vesper's pageants ? "
" Sometime we see a cloud that 's dragonish ;
A vapour, sometime, like a bear, or lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon 't, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air." J
This is noble painting, but it is something higher. When Antony goes on to com-