1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Stratford-upon-Avon: Feeling of Local Attachment

William Shakespeare
(Part 15)




STRATFORD-UPON-AVON (cont.)

Feeling of Local Attachment


Amongst ether illustrations of this strong feeling of: local attachment that might be given there is one that· has recently excited a good deal of attention and is worth noticing in some detail. Mr. Hallam, in a well-known passage, has stated that "no letter of Shakespeare's 'writing, no record of his conversation, has been preserved."

But we certainly have at least one conversation reported at first hand, and it turns directly on the point in question. It relates to a proposal made in 1614 by some of the local proprietors for the enclosure of certain common lands at Welcombe and Old Stratford. The corporation of Stratford strongly opposed the project on the ground that it would be a hardship to the poorer members of the community, and their clerk Mr. Thomas Greene, who was related to Shakespeare, was in London about the business in November of the same year'.

Under date November 17th Greene says, in notes which still exist, "My cosen Shakespeare comyng yesterday to town, I went to see him how he did. He told me that they assured him they ment to inclose no further than to Gospel Bush, and so upp straight (leavyng out part of the Dyngles to the field) to the gate in Clopton hedg, and take in Salisburyes peece; and that they mean in April to survey the land, and then to gyve satisfaction, and not before; and he and Mr. Hall say they think their will be nothyng done at all."

This proves that the agents of the scheme had seen Shakespeare on the subject, that he had gone carefully into the details of their plan, consulted his son-in-law Dr John Hall about them, and arrived at the conclusion that for the present they need take no decided action in the matter. There is evidently on Shakespeare's part a strong feeling against the proposed enclosure, and the agents of the scheme had clearly done their best to remove his objections, promising amongst other things that if it 'went forward he should suffer no pecuniary loss, a promise already confirmed by a legal instrument.

But nine months later, when the local proprietors seemed bent on pushing the scheme, Shakespeare takes a more decided stand, and pronounces strongly against the whole business. We have a notice, dated September 1, 1615, to the effect that Mr. Shakespeare had on that day told the agent of the corporation "that he was not able to bear the enclosing of Welcombe."





As his proprietary rights and pecuniary interests were not to be affected by the proposed enclosure, this strong expression of feeling must refer to the public advantages of the Welcombe common fields, and especially to what in Scotland would be called their" amenity," the element of value arising from their freedom and beauty, their local history and associations.

Welcombe, as we have seen, was the most picturesque suburb of Stratford. The hills divided by the leafy Dingles afforded the finest panoramic view of the whole neighbourhood. On their eastern slope they led to Fulbroke Park, the probable scene of the deer-stealing adventure, and towards the north-west to the village of Snitter-field with its wooded sweep of upland "bushes."

Every acre of the ground was associated with the happiest days of Shakespeare's youth. In his boyish holidays he had repeatedly crossed and recrossed the unfenced fields at the foot of the Welcombe Hills on his ways to the rustic scenes and occupations of his Uncle Henry's farm in the outlying forest village. He knew by heart every boundary tree and stone and bank, every pond and sheep-pool, every barn and cattle-shed, throughout the whole well frequented circuit.

And in his later years, when after the turmoil and excitement of his London life he came to reside at Stratford, and could visit at leisure the scenes of his youth, it was perfectly natural that he should shrink from the prospect of having these scenes partially destroyed and their associations broken up by the rash hand of needless innovation.

In his own emphatic language, "he could not bear the enclosing of Welcornbe," and the only authoritative fragment of his conversation preserved to us thus brings vividly out one of the best known and most distinctive features of his personal character and history -- his deep and life-long attachment to his native place.

Another illustration of the same feeling, common both to Scott and Shakespeare, is supplied by the prudence and foresight they both displayed in husbanding their early gains in order to provide, amidst the scenery they loved, a permanent home for themselves and their families. Shakespeare, the more careful and sharp-sighted of the two, ran no such risks and experienced no such reverses of fortune as those which saddened Scott's later days. Both, however, spent the last years of their lives in the home which their energy and affection had provided, and both sleep under the changing skies and amidst streams that gave light and music to their earliest years.

Hence, of all great authors, they are the two most habitually thought of in connexion with their and homesteads. Even to his contemporaries was known as the Swan of Avon. The British ground most completely identified with the noblest energies of genius, consecrated by life-long associations, and hallowed by sacred dust are the Tweed from Abbotsford to Dryburgh Abbey, of the Avon from Charlecote Park to Stratford all lovers of literature, to all whose spirits have been touched to finer issues by its regenerating influence, these spots, and above all the abbey grave and the channel tomb, are holy ground, -- are national shrines visited by pilgrims from every land, who breathe with gratitude and affection the household names of Shakespeare and of Scott.





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