Page images

Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench.* Lord Campbell, indeed, addressing himself to Mr. John Payne Collier, says, (p. 21,) that this is a notion "first suggested by Chalmers, and since countenanced by Malone, yourself, and others." An assertion this which savors little of legal accuracy. For Chalmers, so far from being the first to suggest that Shakespeare passed his adolescent years in an attorney's office, was the first to sneer at Malone for bringing forward that conjecture.† Malone, in his first edition of Shakespeare's works, published in 1790, has this passage, in the course of a discussion of the period when "Hamlet" was produced:

[ocr errors]

"The comprehensive mind of our poet embraced almost every object of Nature, every trade, every art, the manners of every description of men, and the general language of almost every profession: but his knowledge of legal terms is not such as might be acquired by the casual observation of even his allcomprehending mind; it has the appearance of technical skill; and he is so fond of displaying it, on all occasions, that I suspect he was early initiated in at least the forms of law, and was employed, while he remained at Stratford, in the office of some country attorney, who was at the same time a petty conveyancer, and perhaps, also, the seneschal of some manor court."-Vol. I. Part I. p. 307.

To this, Chalmers, some years after, (1797,) in his "Apology for the Believers in the Shakespeare Papers which were exhibited in Norfolk Street," (some contemptible forgeries, by a young scapegrace named William Ireland, which should not have deceived an English scholar of six months' standing,) made the following reply:

"Mr. Malone places the aspiring poet'in the office of some country attorney, or the seneschal of some manor court'; and for this violation of probability he produces many * Shakespeare a Lawyer. By William L. Rushton. 16mo. pp. 50. London: 1858.

Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements Considered. By John Lord Campbell, LL. D., F. R. S. E. 12mo. pp. 117. London: 1859.

† Into the trap so innocently set the London Atheneum thus plunges headlong:- "Chalmers, we believe, first put Shakespeare in an attorney's office. Malone accepted the hint."


passages from his dramas to evince Shakespeare's technical skill in the forms of law. But was it not the practice of the times, for other makers, like the bees tolling from every flower the virtuous sweets, to gather from the thistles of the law the sweetest honey? Does not Spenser gather many a metaphor from these weeds, that are most apt to grow in fattest soil? Has not Spenser his lawterms: his capias, defeasance, and duresse; his emparlance; his enure, essoyn, and escheat; his folkmote, forestall and gage; his livery and seasin, wage and waif? It will be said, however, that, whatever the learning of Spenser may have gleaned, the law-books of that age were impervious to the illiterature of Shakespeare. No: such an intellect, when employed on the drudgery of a wool-stapler, who had been high-bailiff of Stratford-uponAvon, might have derived all that was necessary from a very few books: from Totell's 'Presidents,' 1572; from Pulton's 'Statutes,' 1578; and from the 'Lawier's Logike,' 1588. It is one of the axioms of the 'Flores Regii,' that, To answer an improbable imagination is to fight against a vanishing shadow."-p.


And again, in his " Supplemental Apology," etc., 1799, Chalmers remarks,—

"The biographers, without adequate proofs, have bound Shakespeare an apprentice to some country attorney; as Mr. Malone has sent him without sufficient warrant to the desk of some seneschal of a county court: but these are obscurities that require other lights than conjecture and assertion, which, by proving nothing, only establish disbelief."-p. 226.

So much for Chalmers's having "first suggested" the theory, of which Lord Campbell has undertaken the support. Surely his Lordship must have been verifying Rosalind's assertion, that lawyers sleep between term and term, or else he is guilty of having loosely made a direct assertion in regard to a subject upon which he had not taken the trouble to inform himself; although he professes (p. 10) to have "read nearly all that has been written on Shakespeare's ante-Londinensian life, and carefully examined his writings with a view to obtain internal evidence as to his education and breeding."

One exhibition of his Lordship's inaccuracy is surprising. Commenting upon Falstaff's threat, "Woe to my Lord Chief

Justice!" (24 Henry IV., Act V., Se. 4,) he remarks, (p. 73,) "Sir W. Gascoigne was continued as Lord Chief Justice in the new reign; but, according to law and custom, he was removable, and he no doubt expected to be removed, from his office." Lord Campbell has yet to rival the fifth wife of the missionary who wrote the lives of "her predecessors"; but surely he should have known that the expectations which he attributes to Sir William Gascoigne were not disappointed, and that (although the contrary is generally believed) the object of Falstaff's menace was superseded (by Sir William Hankford) March 29th, 1413, just eight days after the prince whom he committed to prison came to the throne,

[ocr errors]

a removal the promptness of which would satisfy the strictest disciplinarian in the Democratic party. The Records show this; but his Lordship need not have gone to them; he would have found it mentioned, and the authority cited, by Tyler in his "Memoirs of Henry the Fifth."

And while we are considering the disparity between his Lordship's performances and his pretensions, we may as well examine his fitness to bring about a "fusion of Law and Literature," which he says, with some reason, have, like Law and Equity, been too long kept apart in England. We fear, that, whatever may be the excellence of his Lordship's intentions, he must set himself seriously to the task of acquiring more skill in the use of the English tongue, and a nicer discrimination between processes of thought, before his writings will prove to be the flux that promotes that fusion.

For, in the third paragraph of his letter, he says to Mr. Collier, "I cannot refuse to communicate to you my sentiments upon the subject," and in the following sentence adds, that this communication of his "sentiments" will drive from his mind "the recollection of the wranglings of Westminster Hall." His Lordship probably meant to refer to the communication of his opinions, for which word "sentiments" is not usually substituted,

except by gentlemen who remark with emphasis, "Them's my sentiments"; and he also probably intended to allude to the memory of the wranglings of which he is professionally a witness,--having forgotten, for a moment, that recollection is a purely voluntary act, and not either a condition or a faculty of the mind.

Again, when his Lordship says, (p. 18,) "That during this interval (A. D. 1579 to 1586) he [Shakespeare] was merely an operative, earning his bread by manual labor, in stitching gloves, sorting wool, or killing calves, no sensible man can possibly imagine," we applaud the decision; but can hardly do as much for the language in which it is expressed. Lord Campbell quite surely meant to say that no man could possibly believe, or suppose, or assent to the proposition which he sets forth; and when (on p. 26) he again says, "I do not imagine that when he [Shakespeare] went up to London, he carried a tragedy in his pocket," there can be no doubt that his Lordship meant to say, "I do not think that when," etc. He should again have gathered from his Shakespearean studies a lesson in the exact use of language, and have learned from the lips of "that duke hight Theseus" that imagination has nothing to do with assent to or dissent from a proposition, but that

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact:

[ocr errors]

And, as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name."

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V. Sc. 1.

We would not protract this finding of faults, and will only add, that, when his Lordship says, (p. 116,) that Henry V. "astonished the world with his universal wisdom," he entirely overlooks the fact, that wisdom is a faculty of the mind, or, rather, a mode of intellectual action, of which universality can no more be predicated than of folly, or of honesty, or of muscular strength; and that it is

not knowledge, or at all like knowledge; which, indeed, is often acquired in a very remarkable degree by persons eminent for unwisdom. Lord Campbell might as well have said that Henry V. astonished the world with his universal prowess in the battle-field.

The censure to which Mr. Rushton's pamphlet is occasionally open in regard to style may properly be averted by the modesty of its tone and its unpretending character.


But to pass from the manner to the matter of the learned gentlemen who appear on behalf of Malone's theory. Lord Campbell, after stating, in the introductory part of his letter, that in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," "Twelfth Night," "Julius Cæsar," "Cymbeline," « Timon of Athens," "The Tempest," "King Richard II.,” “King Henry V.,” “King Henry VI., Part I.," "King Henry VI., Part III.," "King Richard III.," " King Henry VIII.," "Pericles," and "Titus Andronicus," ‚”—fourteen of the thirty-seven dramas generally attributed to Shakespeare, he finds "nothing that fairly bears upon this controversy," goes on to produce from the remaining plays, seriatim, such passages as in his judgment do bear upon the question, and to remark upon them, thus isolated and disconnected from each other. Mr. Rushton is more methodic and logical. He does not merely quote or cite all the passages which he has noticed in which legal terms occur, but brings together all such as contain the same terms or refer to kindred proceedings or instruments; and he thus presents his case with much more compactness and consequent strength than results from Lord Campbell's loose and unmethodical mode of treating the subject. We can arrive at the merits of the case on either presentation only by an examination of some of the more impor

[blocks in formation]

teries with the following passage from the very play just named; and to most readers it will seem a bomb of the largest dimensions, sent right into the citadel of his opponents:—

"Suff. Lord Cardinal, the king's further pleasure is,

Because all those things you have done of late

By your power legatine within this kingdom
Fall into compass of a premunire,—
That therefore such a writ be sued against

To forfeit all your goods, lands, tenements,
Chattels, and whatsoever, and to be
Out of the king's protection: - this is my

King Henry VIII. Act iii. Sc. 2.

We shall first remark, that, in spite of his declaration as to " Henry VIII.," Lord Campbell does cite and quote this very passage (p. 42); and, indeed, he must have been as unappreciative as he seems to have been inaccurate, had he failed to do so; for, upon its face, it is, with one or two exceptions, the most important passage of the kind to be found in Shakespeare's works. Premunire is

thus defined in an old law-book which was accessible to Shakespeare:—

"Premunire is a writ, and it lieth where any man sueth any other in the spirituall court for anything that is determinable in the King's Court, and that is ordeined by certaine statutes, and great punishment therefore ordeined, as it appeareth by the same statutes, viz., that he shall be out of the King's protection, and that he be put in prison without baile or mainprise till that he have made fine at the King's will, and that his landes and goods shal be forfait, if he come not within ij. moneths."-Termes de la Ley, 1595, fol. 144.

The object of the writ was to prevent the abuse of spiritual power. Now, here is a law-term quite out of the common, which is used by Shakespeare with a well-deployed knowledge of the power of the writ of which it is the name. Must we, therefore, suppose that Shakespeare had obtained his knowledge of the purpose and the power of this writ in the course of professional reading or practice?

[blocks in formation]

That back into the Papacie did flie."
Ed. 1619, p. 382.

Here is the very phrase in question, used with a knowledge of its meaning and of the functions of the writ hardly less remarkable than that evinced in the passage from " Henry VIII.," though expressed in a different manner, owing chiefly to the fact that Drayton wrote a didactic poem and Shakespeare a drama. But Drayton is not known to have been an attorney's clerk, nor has he been suspected, from his writings, or any other cause, to have had any knowledge of the law. Both he and Shakespeare, however, read the Chronicles. Reading men perused Hall's and Holinshed's huge blackletter folios in Queen Elizabeth's time with as much interest as they do Macaulay's or Prescott's elegant octavos in the reign of her successor, Victoria. Shakespeare drew again and again upon the former for the material of his historical plays; and in writing "Henry VIII.," he adopted often the very language of the Chronicler. The well-known description of Wolsey, which he puts into the mouth of Queen Katherine,—

"He was a man Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking

Himself with princes; one that by suggestion

Tith'd all the kingdom: Simony was fair play:
His own opinion was his law: I' the presence
He would say untruths; and be ever double,
Both in his words and meaning: He was never,
But where he meant to ruin, pitiful:
His promises were, as he then was, mighty;
But his performance, as he is now, nothing:
Of his own body he was ill, and gave
The clergy ill example,"-

is little more than the following paragraph from Holinshed put into verse:—

"This cardinall (as you may perceive in this storie) was of a great stomach, for he compted himselfe equall with princes, and by craftie suggestion gat into his hands innumerable treasure: he forced little on simonie, [i. e., regarded it as of little consequence,] and was not pittifull, and stood affectionate in his owne opinion: in open presence he would lie and saie untruth, and was double both in speach and meaning: he would promise much and performe little: he was vicious of his bodie, and gave the clergie evill example."-Ed. 1587, vol. iii. p. 922.

Turning back from the page on which the Chronicler comments upon the life of the dead prime-minister, to that on which he records his fall, we find these passages:

"In the meane time, the king, being informed that all those things that the cardinall had doone by his power legatine within this realme were in the case of the premunire and provision, caused his attornie, Christopher Hales, to sue out a writ of premunire against him. After this in the king's bench his matter for the premunire being called upon, two atturneis which he had authorised by his warrant, signed with his owne hand, confessed the action, and so had judgement to forfeit all his lands, tenements, goods, and cattels, and to be out of the king's protection.”—Ib. p. 909.


If the reader will look back at the passage touching the premunire, quoted above, he will see that these few lines from Raphael Holinshed are somewhat fatal to an argument in favor of Shakespeare's "legal acquirements," in so far as it rests in any degree upon the use of terms or the knowledge displayed in that passage. Shakespeare and Drayton are here in the same boat, though "not with the same sculls."

Before we shelve Holinshed,-for the good Raphael's folios are like Falstaff in

size, if not in wit, and, when once laid flat-long, require levers to set them up on end again, let us see if he cannot help us to account for more of the "legalisms " that our Lord Chief Justice and our barrister have "smelt out" in Shakespeare's historical plays. Mr. Rushton quotes the following passages from "Richard II.”:—

"York. Is not Gaunt dead? and doth not Hereford live?

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Take Hereford's rights away, and take from

His charters and his customary rights;
Let not to-morrow, then, ensue to-day:
Be not thyself; for how art thou a king,
But by fair sequence and succession?
Now, afore God, (God forbid I say true!)
If you do wrongfully seize Hereford's rights,
Call in the letters patents that he hath
By his attorneys-general to sue
His livery, and deny his offer'd homage,
You pluck a thousand dangers on your head."
Act ii. Sc. 1.

"Bol. I am denied to sue my livery here, And yet my letters patents give me leave: My father's goods are all distrain'd and sold; And these, and all, are all amiss employed. What would you have me do? I am a subject,

And challenge law: Attorneys are denied me;
And therefore personally I lay my claim
To my inheritance of free descent."-Ib. Sc. 3.
And Lord Campbell, although he pass-
es by these passages in "Richard II.,"
quotes, as important, from a speech of
Hotspur's in the "First Part of Henry
IV.," the following lines, which, it will
be seen, refer to the same act of op-
pression on the part of Richard II. to-
wards Bolingbroke:-

"He came but to be Duke of Lancaster,
To sue his livery and beg his bread."

Act iv. Sc. 3.

But, here again, Shakespeare, although he may have known more law than Holinshed, or even Hall, who was a barrister, only used the law-terms that he found in the paragraph which furnished him with the incident that he dramatized. For, after recording the death of Gaunt, the Chronicle goes on:

"The death of this duke gave occasion of increasing more hatred in the people of this realme toward the king; for he seized into his hands all the rents and reuenues of his lands which ought to have descended vnto the duke of Hereford by lawfull inheritance, in reuoking his letters patents which he had granted to him before, by virtue whereof he might make his attorneis generall to sue liverie for him of any manner of inheritances or possessions that might from thencefoorth fall unto him, and that his homage might be respited

with making reasonable fine," etc.-HOLINSHED, Ed. 1587, p. 496.


The only legal phrase, however, in these passages of "Richard II," which seems to imply very extraordinary legal knowledge, is the one repeated in "Henry IV.,"-" sue his livery," which was the term applied to the process by which, in the old feudal tenures, wards, whether of the king or other guardian, on arriving at legal age, could compel a delivery of their estates to them from their guardians. But hence it became a metaphorical expression to mean merely the attainment of majority, and in this sense seems to have been very generally understood and not uncommonly used. See the following from an author who was no attorney or attorney's clerk :— "If Cupid

Shoot arrows of that weight, I'll swear devoutly

H'as sued his livery and is no more a boy."


FLETCHER'S Woman's Prize, Act ii. Sc. 1.
And this, from the works of a divine:-
"Our little Cupid hath sued livery
And is no more in his minority."

DONNE'S Eclogues, 1613. Spenser, too, uses the phrase figuratively in another sense, in the following passage, which may be one of those which Chalmers had in his eye, when, according to Lord Campbell, he "first suggested" that Shakespeare was once an attorney's clerk:

"She gladly did of that same Babe accept, As of her owne by liverey and seisin; And having over it a litle wept, She bore it thence, and ever as her owne it kept."

Faerie Queene, B. VI. C. iv. st. 37. So, for an instance of the phrase "fee," which Lord Campbell notices as one of those expressions and allusions which showing "crop out" in "Hamlet," " the substratum of law in the author's mind,"

"We go to gain a little patch of ground,

That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee,"—
Act iv. Sc. 2.



« PreviousContinue »