Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
By William Winter (18361917)
[Shakespeares England. 1886.]
IT is the everlasting glory of Stratford-upon-Avon that it was the birthplace of Shakespeare. Situated in the heart of Warwickshire, which has been called the garden of England, it nestles cosily in an atmosphere of tranquil loveliness, and is surrounded, indeed, with everything that soft and gentle rural scenery can afford to soothe the mind and to nurture contentment. It stands upon a level plain, almost in the centre of the island, through which, between the low green hills that roll away on either side, the Avon flows downward to the Severn. The country in its neighborhood is under perfect cultivation, and for many miles around presents the appearance of a superbly appointed park. Portions of the land are devoted to crops and pasture; other portions are thickly wooded with oak, elm, willow, and chestnut; the meadows are intersected by hedges of the fragrant hawthorn, and the whole region smiles with flowers. Old manor-houses, half-hidden among the trees, and thatched cottages embowered with roses, are sprinkled through the surrounding landscape; and all the roads which converge upon this pointfrom Warwick, Banbury, Bidford, Alcester, Evesham, Worcester, and many other contiguous townswind, in sun and shadow, through a sod of green velvet, swept by the cool, sweet winds of the English summer. Such felicities of situation and such accessories of beauty, however, are not unusual in England; and Stratford, were it not hallowed by association, though it might always hold a place among the pleasant memories of the traveller, would not have become a shrine for the homage of the world. To Shakespeare it owes its renown; from Shakespeare it derives the bulk of its prosperity. To visit Stratford is to tread with affectionate veneration in the footsteps of the poet. To write about Stratford is to write about Shakespeare.
More than three hundred years have passed since the birth of that colossal genius, and many changes must have occurred in his native town within that period. The Stratford of Shakespeares time was built principally of timberas, indeed, it is nowand contained about fourteen hundred inhabitants. To-day its population numbers upwards of eight thousand. New dwellings have arisen where once were fields of wheat, glorious with the shimmering lustre of the scarlet poppy. The other buildings, for the most part, have been demolished or altered. Manufacture, chiefly of beer, and of Shakespearean relics, has been stimulated into prosperous activity. The Avon has been spanned by a new bridge, of iron. The village streets have been levelled, swept, rolled and garnished till they look like a Flemish drawing of the Middle Ages. Even the Shakespeare cottage, the ancient Tudor house in High Street, and the two old churchesauthentic and splendid memorials of a distant and storied pasthave been restored. If the poet could walk again through his accustomed haunts, though he would see the same smiling country round about, and hear, as of old, the ripple of the Avon murmuring in its summer sleep, his eyes would rest on but few objects that once he knew. Yet there are the paths that Shakespeare often trod; there stands the house in which he was born; there is the school in which he was taught; there is the cottage in which he wooed his sweetheart: there are the traces and relics of the mansion in which he died; and there is the church that keeps his dust, so consecrated by the reverence of mankind
A modern house now stands on a part of the site of what was once Shakespeares home, and here has been established another museum of Shakespearean relics. None of these relics is of imposing authenticity or of remarkable interest. Among them is a stone mullion, dug up on the site, which may have belonged to a window of the original mansion. This entire estate, bought from different owners and restored to its Shakespearean condition, became in 1875 the property of the corporation of Stratford. The tract of land is not large. The visitor may traverse the whole of it in a few minutes, although if he obey his inclination he will linger there for hours. The enclosure is about three hundred feet square, possibly larger. The lawn is in beautiful condition. The line of the walls that once separated this from the two gardens of vegetables and of flowers is traced in the turf. The mulberry is large and flourishing, and wears its honors in contented vigor. Other trees give grateful shade to the grounds, and the voluptuous red roses, growing all around in profuse richness, load the air with bewildering fragrance. Eastward, at a little distance, flows the Avon. Not far away rises the graceful spire of the Holy Trinity. A few rooks, hovering in the air and wisely bent on some facetious mischief, send down through the silvery haze of the summer morning their sagacious yet melancholy caw. The windows of the gray chapel across the street twinkle, and keep their solemn secret. On this spot was first waved the mystic wand of Prospero. Here Ariel sang of dead mens bones turned into pearl and coral in the deep caverns of the sea. Here arose into everlasting life Hermione, as tender as infancy and grace. Here were created Miranda and Perdita, twins of heavens own radiant goodness
To endeavor to touch upon the larger and more august aspect of Shakespeares lifewhen, as his wonderful sonnets betray, his great heart had felt the devastating blast of cruel passions and the deepest knowledge of the good and evil of the universe had been borne in upon his soulwould be impious presumption. Happily, to the stroller in Stratford, every association connected with him is gentle and tender. His image, as it rises there, is of smiling boyhood, or sedate and benignant maturity; always either joyous or serene, never passionate, or turbulent, or dark. The pilgrim thinks of him as a happy child at his fathers fireside; as a wandering school-boy in the quiet, venerable close of the old Guild Chapel, where still the only sound that breaks the silence is the chirp of birds or the creaking of the church vane; as a handsome, dauntless youth, sporting by his beloved river or roaming through field and forest many miles about; as the bold, adventurous spirit, bent on frolic and mischief, and not averse to danger, leading, perhaps, the wild lads of his village in their poaching depredations on the park of Charlcote; as the lover, strolling through the green lanes of Shottery, hand in hand with the darling of his first love, while round them the honeysuckle breathed out its fragrant heart upon the winds of night, and overhead the moonlight, streaming through rifts of elm and poplar, fell on their pathway in showers of shimmering silver; and, last of all, as the illustrious poet, rooted and secure in his massive and shining fame, loved by many, and venerated and mourned by all, borne slowly through Stratford churchyard, while the golden bells were tolled in sorrow, and the mourning lime-trees dropped their blossoms on his bier, to the place of his eternal rest.