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A non-fiction by Elbert Hubbard

William Shakespeare

Title:     William Shakespeare
Author: Elbert Hubbard [More Titles by Hubbard]

It is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many
simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed
the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my
often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

--As You Like It

I have on several occasions been to the Shakespeare country, approaching it from different directions, but each time I am set down at Leamington. Perhaps this is by some Act of Parliament--I really do not know; anyway, I have ceased to kick against the pricks and now meekly accept my fate.

Leamington seems largely under subjection to that triumvirate of despots--the Butler, the Coachman and the Gardener. You hear the jingle of keys, the flick of the whip and the rattle of the lawnmower; and a cold, secret fear takes possession of you--a sort of half-frenzied impulse to flee, before smug modernity takes you captive and whisks you off to play tiddledywinks or to dance the racquet.

But the tram is at the door--the outside fare is a penny, inside it's two--and we are soon safe, for we have reached the point where the Leam and the Avon meet.

Warwick is worth our while. For here we see scenes such as Shakespeare saw, and our delight is in the things that his eyes beheld.

At the foot of Mill Street are the ruins of the old Gothic bridge that leads off to Banbury. Oft have I ridden to Banbury Cross on my mother's foot, and when I saw that sign and pointing finger I felt like leaving all and flying thence. Just beyond the bridge, settled snugly in a forest of waving branches, we see storied old Warwick Castle, with Caesar's Tower lifting itself from the mass of green.

All about are quaint old houses and shops, with red-tiled roofs, and little windows, with diamond panes, hung on hinges, where maidens fair have looked down on brave men in coats of mail. These narrow, stony streets have rung with the clang and echo of hurrying hoofs; the tramp of Royalist and Parliamentarian, horse and foot, drum and banner; the stir of princely visits, of mail-coach, market, assize and kingly court. Colbrand, armed with giant club; Sir Guy; Richard Neville, kingmaker, and his barbaric train, all trod these streets, watered their horses in this river, camped on yonder bank, or huddled in this castle yard. And again they came back when Will Shakespeare, a youth from Stratford, eight miles away, came here and waved his magic wand.

Warwick Castle is probably in better condition now than it was in the Sixteenth Century. But practically it is the same. It is the only castle in England where the portcullis is lowered at ten o'clock every night and raised in the morning (if the coast happens to be clear) to tap of drum.

It costs a shilling to visit the castle. A fine old soldier in spotless uniform, with waxed white moustache and dangling sword, conducts the visitors. He imparts full two shillings' worth of facts as we go, all with a fierce roll of r's, as becomes a man of war.

The long line of battlements, the massive buttresses, the angular entrance cut through solid rock, crooked, abrupt, with places where fighting men can lie in ambush, all is as Shakespeare knew it.

There are the cedars of Lebanon, brought by Crusaders from the East, and the screaming peacocks in the paved courtway: and in the Great Hall are to be seen the sword and accouterments of the fabled Guy, the mace of the "Kingmaker," the helmet of Cromwell, and the armor of Lord Brooke, killed at Litchfield.

And that Shakespeare saw these things there is no doubt. But he saw them as a countryman who came on certain fete-days, and stared with open mouth. We know this, because he has covered all with the glamour of his rich, boyish imagination that failed to perceive the cruel mockery of such selfish pageantry. Had his view been from the inside he would not have made his kings noble nor his princes generous; for the stress of strife would have stilled his laughter, and from his brain the dazzling pictures would have fled. Yet his fancies serve us better than the facts.

Shakespeare shows us many castles, but they are always different views of Warwick or Kenilworth. When he pictures Macbeth's castle he has Warwick in his inward eye:

"This castle hath a pleasant seat: the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.
This guest of Summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his loved mansionry, that the heaven's breath
Smells wooingly here: no jutty, frieze,
Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle;
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed,
The air is delicate."

Five miles from Warwick (ten, if you believe the cab-drivers) are the ruins of Kenilworth Castle.

In Fifteen Hundred Seventy-five, when Shakespeare was eleven years of age, Queen Elizabeth came to Kenilworth. Whether her ticket was by way of Leamington I do not know. But she remained from July Ninth to July Twenty-seventh, and there were great doings 'most every day, to which the yeomanry were oft invited. John Shakespeare was a worthy citizen of Warwickshire, and it is very probable that he received an invitation, and that he drove over with Mary Arden, his wife, sitting on the front seat holding the baby, and all the other seven children sitting on the straw behind. And we may be sure that the eldest boy in that brood never forgot the day. In fact, in "Midsummer Night's Dream" he has called on his memory for certain features of the show. Elizabeth was forty-one years old then, but apparently very attractive and glib of tongue. No doubt Kenilworth was stupendous in its magnificence, and it will pay you to take down from its shelf Sir Walter's novel and read about it. But today it is all a crumbling heap; ivy, rooks and daws hold the place in fee, each pushing hard for sole possession.

It is eight miles from Warwick to Stratford by the direct road, but ten by the river. I have walked both routes and consider the latter the shorter.

Two miles down the river is Barford, and a mile farther is Wasperton, with its quaint old stone church. It is a good place to rest: for nothing is so soothing as a cool church where the dim light streams through colored windows, and out of sight somewhere an organ softly plays. Soon after leaving the church a rustic swain hailed me and asked for a match. The pipe and the Virginia weed--they mean amity the world over. If I had questions to ask, now was the time! So I asked, and Rusticus informed me that Hampton Lucy was only a mile beyond and that Shakespeare never stole deer at all; so I hope we shall hear no more of that libelous accusation.

"But did Shakespeare run away?" I demanded.

"Ave coorse he deed, sir; 'most all good men 'ave roon away sometime!"

And come to think of it Rusticus is right.

Most great men have at some time departed hastily without leaving orders where to forward their mail. Indeed, it seems necessary that a man should have "run away" at least once, in order afterward to attain eminence. Moses, Lot, Tarquin, Pericles, Demosthenes, Saint Paul, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Voltaire, Goldsmith, Hugo--but the list is too long to give.

But just suppose that Shakespeare had not run away! And to whom do we owe it that he did leave--Justice Shallow or Ann Hathaway, or both? I should say to Ann first and His Honor second. I think if Shakespeare could write an article for "The Ladies' Home Journal" on "Women Who Have Helped Me," and tell the whole truth (as no man ever will in print), he would put Ann Hathaway first.

He signed a bond when eighteen years old agreeing to marry her; she was twenty-six. No record is found of the marriage. But we should think of her gratefully, for no doubt it was she who started the lad off for London.

That's the way I expressed it to my new-found friend, and he agreed with me, so we shook hands and parted.

Charlcote is as fair as a dream of Paradise. The winding Avon, full to its banks, strays lazily through rich fields and across green meadows, past the bright red-brick pile of Charlcote Mansion. The river-bank is lined with rushes, and in one place I saw the prongs of antlers shaking the elders. I sent a shrill whistle and a stick that way, and out ran four fine deer that loped gracefully across the turf. The sight brought my poacher instincts to the surface, but I bottled them, and trudged on until I came to the little church that stands at the entrance to the park.

All mansions, castles and prisons in England have chapels or churches attached. And this is well, for in the good old days it seemed wise to keep in close communication with the other world. For often, on short notice, the proud scion of royalty was compelled hastily to pack a ghostly valise and his him hence with his battered soul; or if he did not go himself he compelled others to do so, and who but a brute would kill a man without benefit of the clergy! So each estate hired its priests by the year, just as men with a taste for litigation hold attorneys in constant retainer.

In Charlcote Church is a memorial to Sir Thomas Lucy; and there is a glowing epitaph that quite upsets any of those taunting and defaming allusions in "The Merry Wives." At the foot of the monument is a line to the effect that the inscription thereon was written by the only one in possession of the facts, Sir Thomas himself.

Several epitaphs in the churchyard are worthy of space in your commonplace book, but the lines on the slab to John Gibbs and wife struck me as having the true ring:

"Farewell, proud, vain, false, treacherous world,
We have seen enough of thee:
We value not what thou canst say of we."

When the Charlcote Mansion was built, there was a housewarming, and Good Queen Bess (who was not so awful good) came in great state; so we see that she had various calling acquaintances in these parts. But we have no proof that she ever knew that any such person as W. Shakespeare lived. However, she came to Charlcote and dined on venison, and what a pity it is that she and Shakespeare did not meet in London afterward and talk it over!

Some hasty individual has put forth a statement to the effect that poets can only be bred in a mountainous country, where they could lift up their eyes to the hills. Rock and ravine, beetling crag, singing cascade, and the heights where the lightning plays and the mists hover are certainly good timber for poetry--after you have caught your poet--but Nature eludes all formula. Again, it is the human interest that adds vitality to art--they reckon ill to leave man out.

Drayton before Shakespeare's time called Warwick "the heart of England," and the heart of England it is today--rich, luxuriant, slow. The great colonies of rabbits that I saw at Charlcote seemed too fat to frolic, save more than to play a trick or two on the hounds that blinked in the sun. Down toward Stratford there are flat islands covered with sedge, long rows of weeping-willows, low hazel, hawthorn, and places where "Green Grow the Rushes, O." Then, if the farmer leaves a spot untilled, the dogrose pre-empts the place and showers its petals on the vagrant winds. Meadowsweet, forget-me-nots and wild geranium snuggle themselves below the boughs of the sturdy yews.

The first glimpse we get of Stratford is the spire of Holy Trinity; then comes the tower of the new Memorial Theater, which, by the way, is exactly like the city hall at Dead Horse, Colorado.

Stratford is just another village of Niagara Falls. The same shops, the same guides, the same hackmen--all are there, save poor Lo, with his beadwork and sassafras. In fact, a "cabby" just outside of New Place offered to take me to the Whirlpool and the Canada side for a dollar. At least, this is what I thought he said. Of course, it is barely possible that I was daydreaming, but I think the facts are that it was he who dozed, and waking suddenly as I passed gave me the wrong cue.

There is a Macbeth livery-stable, a Falstaff bakery, and all the shops and stores keep Othello this and Hamlet that. I saw briarwood pipes with Shakespeare's face carved on the bowl, all for one-and-six; feather fans with advice to the players printed across the folds; the "Seven Ages" on handkerchiefs; and souvenir-spoons galore, all warranted Gorham's best.

The visitor at the birthplace is given a cheerful little lecture on the various relics and curiosities as they are shown. The young ladies who perform this office are clever women with pleasant voices and big, starched, white aprons. I was at Stratford four days and went just four times to the old curiosity-shop. Each day the same bright British damsel conducted me through, and told her tale, but it was always with animation, and a certain sweet satisfaction in her mission and starched apron that was very charming.

No man can tell the same story over and over without soon reaching a point where he betrays his weariness, and then he flavors the whole with a dash of contempt; but a good woman, heaven bless her! is ever eager to please. Each time when we came to that document certified to by

"Judith X Shakespeare,"

I was told that it was very probable that Judith could write, but that she affixed her name thus in merry jest.

John Shakespeare could not write, we have no reason to suppose that Ann Hathaway could, and this little explanation about the daughter is so very good that it deserves to rank with that other pleasant subterfuge, "The age of miracles is past"; or that bit of jolly claptrap concerning the sacred baboons that are seen about certain temples in India: "They can talk," explain the priests, "but being wise they never do."

Judith married Thomas Quiney. The only letter addressed to Shakespeare that can be found is one from the happy father of Thomas, Mr. Richard Quiney, wherein he asks for a loan of thirty pounds. Whether he was accommodated we can not say; and if he was, did he pay it back, is a question that has caused much hot debate. But it is worthy of note that, although considerable doubt as to authenticity has smooched the other Shakespearian relics, yet the fact of the poet having been "struck" for a loan by Richard Quiney stands out in a solemn way as the one undisputed thing in the master's career. Little did Mr. Quiney think, when he wrote that letter, that he was writing for the ages. Philanthropists have won all by giving money, but who save Quiney has reaped immortality by asking for it!

The inscription over Shakespeare's grave is an offer of reward if you do, and a threat of punishment if you don't, all in choice doggerel. Why did he not learn at the feet of Sir Thomas Lucy and write his own epitaph?

But I rather guess I know why his grave was not marked with his name. He was a play-actor, and the church people would have been outraged at the thought of burying a "strolling player" in that sacred chancel. But his son-in-law, Doctor John Hall, honored the great man and was bound he should have a worthy resting-place; so at midnight, with the help of a few trusted friends, he dug the grave and lowered the dust of England's greatest son.

Then they hastily replaced the stones, and over the grave they placed the slab that they had brought:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here,
Blest be the man who spares these stones,
And cursed be he who moves my bones."

A threat from a ghost! Ah, no one dare molest that grave--besides they didn't know who was buried there--neither are we quite sure. Long years after the interment, some one set a bust of the poet, and a tablet, on the wall over against the grave.

Under certain circumstances, if occasion demands, I might muster a sublime conceit; but considering the fact that ten thousand Americans visit Stratford every year, and all write descriptions of the place, I dare not in the face of Baedeker do it. Further than that, in every library there are Washington Irving, Hawthorne, and William Winter's three lacrimose but charming volumes.

And I am glad to remember that the Columbus who discovered Stratford and gave it to the people was an American: I am proud to think that Americans have written so charmingly of Shakespeare: I am proud to know that at Stratford no man besides the master is as honored as Irving, and while I can not restrain a blush for our English cousins, I am proud that over half the visitors at the birthplace are Americans, and prouder still am I to remember that they all write letters to the newspapers at home about Stratford-on-Avon.

* * * * *

In England poets are relegated to a "Corner." The earth and the fulness thereof belongs to the men who can kill; on this rock have the English State and Church been built.

As the tourist approaches the city of London for the first time, there are four monuments that probably will attract his attention. They lift themselves out of the fog and smoke and soot, and seem to struggle toward the blue.

One of these monuments is to commemorate a calamity--the conflagration of Sixteen Hundred Sixty-six--and the others are in honor of deeds of war.

The finest memorial in Saint Paul's is to a certain eminent Irishman, Arthur Wellesley. The mines and quarries of earth have been called on for their richest contributions; and talent and skill have given their all to produce this enduring work of beauty, that tells posterity of the mighty acts of this mighty man. The rare richness and lavish beauty of the Wellington mausoleum are only surpassed by a certain tomb in France.

As an exploiter, the Corsican overdid the thing a bit--so the world arose and put him down; but safely dead, his shade can boast a grave so sumptuous that Englishmen in Paris refuse to look upon it.

But England need not be ashamed. Her land is spiked with glistening monuments to greatness gone. And on these monuments one often gets the epitomized life of the man whose dust lies below.

On the carved marble to Lord Cornwallis I read that, "He defeated the Americans with great slaughter." And so, wherever in England I see a beautiful monument, I know that probably the inscription will tell how "he defeated" somebody. And one grows to the belief that, while woman's glory is her hair, man's glory is to defeat some one. And if he can "defeat with great slaughter" his monument is twice as high as if he had only visited on his brother man a plain undoing.

In truth, I am told by a friend who has a bias for statistics, that all monuments above fifty feet high in England are to the honor of men who have defeated other men "with great slaughter." The only exceptions to this rule are the Albert Memorial--which is a tribute of wifely affection rather than a public testimonial, so therefore need not be considered here--and a monument to a worthy brewer who died and left three hundred thousand pounds to charity. I mentioned this fact to my friend, but he unhorsed me by declaring that modesty forbade carving truth on monuments, yet it was a fact that the brewer, too, had brought defeat to vast numbers and had, like Saul, slaughtered his thousands.

When I visited the site of the Globe Theater and found thereon a brewery, whose shares are warranted to make the owner rich beyond the dream of avarice, I was depressed. In my boyhood I had supposed that if ever I should reach this spot where Shakespeare's plays were first produced, I should see a beautiful park and a splendid monument; while some white-haired old patriarch would greet me, and give a little lecture to the assembled pilgrims on the great man whose footsteps had made sacred the soil beneath our feet.

But there is no park, and no monument, and no white-haired old poet to give you welcome--only a brewery.

"Ay, mon, but ain't ut a big un?" protested an Englishman who heard my murmurs.

Yes, yes, I must be truthful--it is a big brewery, and there are four big bulldogs in the courtway; and there are big vats, and big workmen in big aprons. And each of these workmen is allowed to drink six quarts of beer each day, without charge, which proves that kindliness is not dead. Then there are big horses that draw the big wagons, and on the corner there is a big taproom where the thirsty are served with big glasses. The founder of this brewery became rich; and if my statistical friend is right, the owners of these mighty vats have defeated mankind with "great slaughter."

We have seen that, although Napoleon, the defeated, has a more gorgeous tomb than Wellington, who defeated him, yet there is consolation in the thought that although England has no monument to Shakespeare he now has the freedom of Elysium; while the present address of the British worthies who have battened and fattened on poor humanity's thirst for strong drink, since Samuel Johnson was executor of Thrale's estate, is unknown.

We have this on the authority of a solid Englishman, who says: "The virtues essential and peculiar to the exalted station of British Worthy debar the unfortunate possessor from entering Paradise. There is not a Lord Chancellor, or Lord Mayor, or Lord of the Chamber, or Master of the Hounds, or Beefeater in Ordinary, or any sort of British bigwig, out of the whole of British Beadledom, upon which the sun never sets, in Elysium. This is the only dignity beyond their reach."

The writer quoted is an honorable man, and I am sure he would not make this assertion if he did not have proof of the fact. So, for the present, I will allow him to go on his own recognizance, believing that he will adduce his documents at the proper time.

But still, should not England have a fitting monument to Shakespeare? He is her one universal citizen. His name is honored in every school or college of earth where books are prized. There is no scholar in any clime who is not his debtor.

He was born in England; he never was out of England; his ashes rest in England. But England's Budget has never been ballasted with a single pound to help preserve inviolate the memory of her one son to whom the world uncovers.

Victor Hugo has said something on this subject which runs about like this:

Why a monument to Shakespeare?

He is his own monument and England is its pedestal. Shakespeare has no need of a pyramid; he has his work.

What can bronze or marble do for him? Malachite and alabaster are of no avail; jasper, serpentine, basalt, porphyry, granite: stones from Paros and marble from Carrara--they are all a waste of pains: genius can do without them.

What is as indestructible as these: "The Tempest," "The Winter's Tale," "Julius Caesar," "Coriolanus"? What monument sublimer than "Lear," sterner than "The Merchant of Venice," more dazzling than "Romeo and Juliet," more amazing than "Richard III"?

What moon could shed about the pile a light more mystic than that of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? What capital, were it even in London, could rumble around it as tumultuously as Macbeth's perturbed soul? What framework of cedar or oak will last as long as "Othello"? What bronze can equal the bronze of "Hamlet"?

No construction of lime, or rock, of iron and of cement is worth the deep breath of genius, which is the respiration of God through man. What edifice can equal thought? Babel is less lofty than Isaiah; Cheops is smaller than Homer; the Colosseum is inferior to Juvenal; the Giralda of Seville is dwarfish by the side of Cervantes; Saint Peter's of Rome does not reach to the ankle of Dante.

What architect has the skill to build a tower so high as the name of Shakespeare? Add anything if you can to mind! Then why a monument to Shakespeare?

I answer, not for the glory of Shakespeare, but for the honor of England!

[The end]
Elbert Hubbard's non-fiction: William Shakespeare