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ing been already engaged in cultivating the fields subsequently walked over by his lordship, have seemed to think, and indeed said, that with his character of biographer he conjoined very successfully that of the nisi prius leader; for it is well known to be an essential quality in the latter, that in the consultation room and chamber he should skilfully draw upon, and boldly appropriate, the labours of his juniors ; so that, having adopted all he cares to use, he successfully parades the well-prepared and arranged learning of the younger or less known practitioner who sits behind him. From whatever sources derived, however, Lord Campbell has a recognised literary character; and this work on Shakespeare will be, we doubt not, perused in consequence.
We need hardly inform our readers that Lord Campbell’s letter to “My dear Mr. Payne Collier,” commits the author to no opinion whatever upon the subject he discusses. In point of fact, he keeps very safe himself, while he “ chafls” his correspondent. He sums up his evidence in the old-fashioned judicial manner. “ If you think the testimony is strong enough to enable you to find a verdict for the plaintiff, you will do so ; if not, you won’t. Again, if the facts justify you in drawing a rational inference either in one way or the other, you will be safe in taking either course; but if not, you had better avoid the responsibility.”
Many of the passages collected from Shakespeare’s plays might, of course, have been written, so far as legal knowledge is concerned, by any man of the world. The whole together merely shows that our great poet, in knowledge, and in power of using it—in wisdom, and the faculty of employing it—in observation, wit, and other mental qualities, far surpassed all other men. Lord Campbell indeed admits this. He tells us, in one of the most sensible and strikingly original remarks in the book, that it behoves us to bear in mind that Shakespeare “was a mortal man, and nothing miraculous can be attributed to him.” The first branch of which statement is a fact, of which contemporary testimony, and indeed the certificate of his death, sufficiently assure us; an_d the second branch is not open to much doubt among the orthodox. The writer seems really to sum up the truth on this subject when he says that Shakespeare “ was, intellectually, the most gifted of mankind ;” and “ he was capable of acquiring knowledge where the opportunities he enjoyed would have been insuflicient for any other.” The passage from the first act of Henry V., in which Prince Hal is described, is happily applied to the dramatist himself (p. 116) :——
“ Hear him but reason in divinity,
And, all-admiring, with an inward wish,
You would desire the king were made a. prelate.
You would say, it hath been all-in-all his study.
A fearful battle render’d you in music.
Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian knot of it he will unloose
And the mute wonder lurketh in man's ears
So that the art, and practick part of life,
Must be the mistress to this theorick.”
Above all, Shakespeare knew life in all its forms and phases_ life in the great world and in the common world. He describes kings and beggars, queens and courtesans, lawyers and fools, the noble heart and the mean sycophant, the pomp of courts and the poverty of the garret, with equal truth. His poetic genius enabled him to depict what by his extraordinary apprehension he had mastered. His mind was framed to penetrate and portray man in all his moods. The conflict of the camp and the “ wrangling ” of the courts were alike subject to his pen. He must have been a soldier, statesman, merchant, ecclesiastic, as well as a. lawyer, if vivid description of the life of each class could prove him to have personally experienced what he described.
William Shakespeare was landowner, proprietor of playhouses, manager of theatres, and hence it is not strange that he should have learnt something of leases, bonds, and generally of the law of property, of securities, and other cognate topics, with and by which lawyers’ minds and mouths are filled. We fancy Mr. Lumley, Mr. Gye, and Mr. E. T. Smith—-perhaps, too, Mr. Farren, Charles Matthews, Mr. Buxton, and others in like position—would, on examination, pass very fairly in matters relating to bonds, bills, contracts, insolvencies, and much of what popular “Handybooks” now profess to reveal to the public.
Other dramatists besides Shakespeare abound in allusions to legal topics; and, seeing that almost all mankind must be more or less subjected to the lawyer as well as the physician during their lives, and so feel some interest in their doings, arising either from admiration or disgust, satisfaction or horror—it is not very remarkable to find abundance of allusions to such topics in those authors who reflect the doings and thoughts of mankind. Let us take an example, picked up cursorily from Massinger. In “ The Old Law,” Act I., Scene 1, Sirnonides thus introduces two lawyers to Cleanthes :
“ These are lawyers, man,
Clean.—They shall be now, sir ;
lst Law.—O, sir, we must undertake of both parts ;
After some interchange of remarks upon the difference between law and conscience, Cleanthes exclaims, with reference to an acute interpretation of an act of parliament—
;Mongst many words may be found contradictions,
The statute in question (a very fair mock enactment) is set out at length, thereby showing Massinger's close acquaintance with the statute-book. Indeed, he may have been, so far as this passage is evidence, apprenticed in a parliamentary agent’s ofiice, who had possibly done business for theifirm of attorneys in which Shakespeare was the conveyancing clerk.
,_ Again, when Cleanthes wants the opinion of the first lawyer
upon the clause of the statute, Massinger exhibits familiar acquaintance with the professional feelings in the course which he now makes Cleanthes take :——
“ Clean.—Come, sir ! I know
The la.wyer’s opinion appearing, however, to Siinonides mere quibble, he bids him restore his fee—
Mark the reply, which displays extraordinary knowledge of the detail of legal conduct :—
“ lst Law.— There is no law fbr restitution qffees, sir.”
The above passage affords more palpable evidence of legal t
at-quirements than that quoted by Lord Campbell out of “ King Lear :”— “ Lear.—This is nothing, fool.
If, as Lord Campbell says, the latter passage shows “that Shakespeare had frequently been present at trials in courts of justice,” the former proves beyond all question that Massinger must have been familiar with a very important branch of chamber practice.
Another instance of Massinger’s intimate acquaintance with the law of Dower is seen in the same play from which we have already quoted, when one of his characters, who desires the death of his father's widow, says-—
“Then would her thirds be saved, too.”
Many like passages, in aid of the theory that Massinger was at one time of his life connected with the legal profession, could be
adduced, but the above will in his case suffice. We will turn next to Beaumont and Fletcher’s p1a~YS- Here
the mass of legal phraseology which we find, amounts almost to a demonstration that these authors belonged at one time to the same profession of which Shakespeare and Massinger have been proved to have been members; and they were a firm of attorneys at an early period of their lives, the curious fact of their names being always associated in the plays would be thus explained. We therefore may assume, after the manner of Shakespearian critics, that they were solicitors, carrying on business under firm of “B., F., 8z Co.” One example of the legal language employed by Beaumont and Fletcher will sufiice. We will take it from “The Elder Brother.” The scene relates to settling an estate on a younger son, and the following dialogue occurs :—
“L. Are they (the deeds) draWn'!”—“‘B. They shall be ready, sir, within these two hours; and Charles (the eldest son) set his hand. —“ L. ’Tis necessary ; for he being a joint purchaser, though your
estate was got by your own industry, unless he seal to the conveyance it can be of no validity.”—(Act II. Scene 1.)
At page 95, Lord Campbell has an erudite note on Shakespeare's knowledge of the difference between taking by descent and purchase, which applies equally to the above extract from the firm of Beaumont and Fletcher; we will therefore borrow it as a comment thereon. “ English lawyers sometimes use these terms (descent and purchase) metaphorically, like Lepidus. Thus, a law lord who has sufiered much from hereditary gout, although very temperate in his habits, says :—‘ I take it by descent, not by purchase.’ Again, Lord Chancellor Eldon, a. very bad shot, having insisted on going out quite alone to shoot, and boasted of the heavy bag of game which he had brought home, Lord Stowell, insinuating that he had filled it with game bought from a. poacher, used to say :——-‘ My brother takes his game, not by descent, but by--purchase.’ This being a pendant to another joke Lord Stowell was fond of :—‘ My brother, the chancellor, in vacation goes out with his gun to kill—time.’ ”
It has occurred to us, if in this imitative age Mr. Briefless (using his intervals from professional labour) should resolve to