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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 insufficient for any other.” The passage from the first act of Ilenry V., in which Prince Hal is described, is happily applied to the dramatist himself (p. 116) :
“ Hear him but reason in divinity,
Above all, Shakespeare knew life in all its forms and phaseslife 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, Nir. 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, Simonides thus introduces two lawyers to Cleanthes :
“ These are lawyers, man,
Clean.—They shall be now, sir ;
But the good we have most good on.” 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
.“ A fine law evasion !
'Mongst many words may be found contradictions,
, And these men dare sue and wrangle with a statute
If they can pick a quarrel with some error.” 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 office, who had possibly done business for the firm 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
[Gives him his purse. 1st Law._I will afford you my opinion, sir."
The lawyer's opinion appearing, however, to Simonides mere quibble, he bids him restore his fee
“Give him his fee again ; 'tis not worth two deniers.”
Mark the reply, which displays extraordinary knowledge of the detail of legal conduct :
“ 1st Law.— There is no law for restitution of fees, sir." The above passage affords more palpable evidence of legal acquirements than that quoted by Lord Campbell out of “King Lear:"—
“ Lear. This is nothing, fool.
gave me nothing for it."
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
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 plays. 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 if 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., & Co.” One example of the legal language employed by Beaumont and Fletcher will suffice. We will take it from “ The Elder Brother.” The scene relates to settling an estate on a younger son, and the following dialogue
“ 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 suffered 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 write, and be foolish enough to publish, letters to his “Dear Mr. Alfred Tennyson," in which should be demonstrated-first, that its author was a great student of Milton's poems; and secondly, that Milton was a military man, and had seen in early youth a good deal of warfare—how many passages, full of battle scenes and maneuvres of armies, he might cite to support the theory; but we will be content with throwing out the hint, and not set the profane example.
Let us return, however, to the gracefully combined subjects of Shakespeare and John Lord Campbell, which cannot be done better than in extracting the following passage from the pen of the latter of these two great pien:
“ If Shakespeare,” says Lord Campbell, “really was articled to a Stratford attorney, in all probability during the five years of his clerkship he visited London several times on his master's business, and he may then have been introduced to the green room at Blackfriars by one of his countrymen connected with that theatre.
“Even so late as Queen Anne's reign there seems to have been a prodigious influx of all ranks from the provinces into the metropolis, in term time. During the preceding century, parliament sometimes did not meet at all for a considerable number of years; and being summoned rarely and capriciously, the · London seasou’ seems to have been regulated, not by the session of parliament, but by the law terms
and prints before Term ends. -POPE. “ While term lasted, Westminster Hall was crowded all the morning, not only by lawyers, but by idlers and politicians in quest of news. Term having ended, there seems to have been a general dispersion. Even the judges spent their vacations in the country, having when in town resided in their chambers in the Temple or Inns of Court. The chiefs were obliged to remain in town a day or two after term for Nisi Prius sittings ; but the puisnes were entirely liberated when proclamation was made at the rising of the court on the last day of term, in the form still preserved, that all manner of persons may take their ease, and
VOL. VII. NO. XIII.