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“ BY THE SEA.”
3: AST night I watched the old year die
A wind swept once across the sky,
The tolling ceased. Then weirdly gay,
An echo from the hollow caves-
These changeful bells, I whispered, sure
O young babe year, that yet shall
grow To work us either weal or woe'Tis strange that men should hail thee so !
( dread, mysterious volume sealedWhat fateful words lie there concealed Not till the end to be revealed
O ship that sails the unknown sea !
THE TRUE STORY OF MRS. .
OLTHOUGH it cannot be denied that the improved
taste and higher moral sense of the more educated classes, both in England and America, have completely
driven the plays of William Shakspere from the stage, yet this advance is unfortunately more than counterbalanced by the enormous increase of cheap editions of his works, daily issuing from a corrupt and venal press; thus bringing the unreflecting populace and guileless youth of both countries again under the power of that brilliant and seductive genius, from which it was hoped they had escaped.
In order still further to ensnare and allure the thoughtless, these cheap editions are too often garnished with biographical notices of the author's life ; described in garish and attractive language ; and the editors of these dangerous works, not content with exalting to the skies a genius only too likely to enchant and enthral the unwary, endeavour to blind the judgment of the unthinking reader by unblushingly repeating as truth the fulsome adulation lavished upon Mr. Shakspere by the boon companions of the tavern wherein he was accustomed to seek oblivion of the dark thoughts by which his soul was haunted, in the wildest excesses of maddening intoxication.
Thus it is upon the authority of his fellow rioters that we are repeatedly told that he was a
“Gentle spirit, from whose pen
"The man whom Nature's self had made
Our pleasant Willy."
“A gentler shepherd nowhere may be found.” Such is the magic of genius even when the life of its possessor is known to have been one of lewd and unhallowed riot, that it is a
fact that this poet's personality, fate, and happiness, have had an interest for the whole civilized world, which we will venture to say was unparalleled. It is within the writer's recollection how, in the obscure mountain town where she spent her early days, the life of William Shakspere had penetrated, and the belief in the gentleness of “fancy's child” was universal.
All this while it does not appear to occur to the thousands of unreflecting readers that they are listening merely to the story of his fellow mummers, and that the one witness whose evidence would be best worth having, has never spoken at all. Nay more, this witness, this unhappy but devoted wife, who was a being possessed of an almost supernatural power of moral divination, and a grasp of the very highest and most comprehensive things, that made her lightest opinions singularly impressive, has been assumed to have been unworthy of her accomplished husband; and the artless Mr. Moore, in his life of the lately-unmasked demon, Lord Byron, thus alludes to this angelic woman :-“By whatever austerity of temper or habits, the poets Dante and Milton may have drawn upon themselves such a fate, it might be expected that the 'gentle Shakspere 'would have stood exempt from the common calamity of his brethren. But amongst the very few facts of his life that have been transmitted to us, there is none more clearly proved than the unhappiness of his marriage.”
It was of this one witness, whose faithful lips were sealed by affection, and of her terrible existence while her husband was rioting in London, shut up in the lonely country home made hideous to her by her knowledge of the dark and guilty secret hidden within its walls, that the poet was evidently thinking when he wrote the awful lines :
“ But that I am forbid
but she remained silent, even to her own parents, whose feelings she magnanimously spared.
The veil which has hitherto covered this dark history may now be withdrawn. The time has come when the truth may be told. All the actors in the scene have long disappeared from the stage of mortal existence, and passed, let us have faith to hope, into a world where they would desire to expiate their faults by instituting-did not the lapse of time unfortunately render all scientific investigation useless- a coroner's inquiest upon the remains which, several centuries
earlier, would have been found beneath a certain crab, and a certain mulberry tree, in the vicinity of Stratford-upon-Avon.
From the height at which he might have been happy as a most successful dramatist, and the husband of an almost divine woman, Mr. Shakspere fell into the depths of secret criminal homicide, assisted, in the later part of his career, by a blood relation ;-discovery must have been utter ruin and expulsion from civilised society.
From henceforth this damning, guilty secret, became the ruling force in his life; holding him with a morbid fascination, yet filling him with remorse and anguish and insane dread of detection. His various friends, seeing that he was wretched, pressed marriage upon him.
In an hour of reckless desperation he proposed to Anne Hathaway. The world knows well that Mr. Shakspere had the gift of expression, and will not be surprised that he wrote a very beautiful letter. It ran thus :
"To the celestial, my soul's idol, the most beautified Anne Hathaway. In her excellent white bosom, these :
Doubt that the stars are fire,
Oh, dear Anne, I am ill at these numbers ; I have not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, oh most best, believe it. Thine ever, most dear lady, while this machine is to him,
The woman who had already learned to love him, fell at once into the snare. Her answer was a frank, outspoken avowal of her love for him ; giving herself to him heart and hand. The treasure of affection he had secured, was like a vision of a lost heaven to a soul in hell. But he could follow his own maxim, he could
“ Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it."
Before the world, therefore, and to his intimates, he was the successful fiancé, conscious all the while of the deadly secret that lay cold at the bottom of his heart.
Not all at once did the full knowledge of the dreadful reality into which she had entered come upon the young wife. She knew vaguely from the wild avowals of the first hours of their marriage, that there was a dreadful secret of guilt; that Mr. Shakspere's soul was torn
Vol. IV., N. S. 1869.
with agonies of remorse. In one of her moonlight walks near the crab-tree, which, from Mr. Shakspere's being so frequently seen near it, tradition,-though unsuspicious of the dreadful truth, -has connected with his name, there came an hour of revelation ; an hour when, in a manner which left no kind of room for doubt, she beheld her husband interring the corpse of one of those unfortunate minor playwrights, whom he had a morbid passion for destroying, after purloining the plots of their inferior dramas, which his genius then rendered immortal,--and saw the full depth of the abyss of infamy which her marriage was expected to cover, and understood that she was expected to be the cloak and the accomplice of this villany. It was to their lonely country house in Warwickshire, that the victims were one by one enticed by him, when he returned there from the wild orgies of his tavern life in London; and there can be no doubt that a dark suspicion of the dreadful truth had flashed across the mind of the unhappy Robert Greene, when he wrote his dying exhortation to his friends, warning them against the “painted monsters ” of whom Shakspere's troop was composed; “yes, trust them not: for there is among them an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide," &c.; and even Dr. Johnson, though he appears to have been too careless or too obtuse to penetrate farther into the mystery, admits that“ he fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution."
The hasty marriage of a youth scarcely nineteen with a woman of twenty-six, is thus explained. He required an accomplice, a cloak; a gentle uncomplaining wife to dwell in retirement in the lonely country house this London roisterer was compelled to maintain at a distance from the scene of his dramatic triumphs.
We have said that the young wife now beheld the full depths of the infamy her marriage was to cover. It was then that he bade her in his own forcible and terrible words :
“look thou down into this den And see a fearful sight of blood and death.
All on a heap like to a slaughtered lamb
this fell devouring receptacle
Look for thy reward
• The reason of the substitution of an elder tree for a crab tree in the drama, is obvious. Even the morbid dwelling on his own crimes which impelled him con