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1588, was probably a well-educated man. The last will of Shakspere would appear to have been prepared in some degree with reference to this marriage. It is dated the 25th of March, 1616; but the word “ Januarii" seems to have been first written and afterwards struck out, “ Martii” having been written above it. It is not unlikely, and indeed it appears most probable, that the document was prepared before the marriage of Judith; for the elder daughter is mentioned as Susanna Hall,—the younger simply as Judith. To her, one hundred pounds is bequeathed, and fifty pounds conditionally. The life-interest of a further sum of one hundred and fifty pounds is also bequeathed to her, with remainder to her children; but if she died without issue within three years after the date of the will, the hundred and fifty pounds was to be otherwise appropriated. We pass over the various legacies to relations and friends to come to the bequest of the great bulk of the property. All the real estate is devised to his daughter Susanna Hall, for and during the term of her natural life. It is then entailed upon her first son and his heirs male ; and in default of such issue, to her second son and his heirs male; and so on : in default of such issue, to his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall (called in the language of the time his “niece''): and in default of such issue, to his daughter Judith and her heirs male. By this strict entailment it was manifestly the object of Shakspere to found a family. Like many other such purposes of short-sighted humanity the object was not accomplished. His elder daughter had no issue but Elizabeth, and she died
childless. The heirs male of Judith died before her. The estates were scattered after the second generation; and the descendants of his sister were the only transmitters to posterity of his blood and lineage.
“Item, I give unto my wife my second-best bed, with the furniture." This is the clause of the will upon which, for half a century, all men believed that Shakspere recollected his wife only to mark how little he esteemed her,—to “cut her off, not indeed with a shilling, but with an old bed."* We had the satisfaction of first showing the utter groundlessness of this opinion; and we here briefly repeat the statement which we made in our Postscript to “Twelfth Night,' that the wife of Shakspere was unquestionably provided for by the natural operation of the law of England. His estates, with the exception of a copyhold tenement, expressly mentioned in his will, were freehold. His wife was entitled to dower. She was provided for amply, by the clear and undeniable operation of the English law, Of the houses and gardens which Shakspere inherited from his father, she was assured of the life-interest of a third, should she survive her husband, the instant that old John Shakspere died. Of the capital messuage called New Place, the best house in Stratford, which Shakspere purchased in 1597, she was assured of the same life-interest, from the moment of the conveyance, provided it was a direct conveyance to her husband. That it was so conveyed we may infer from the terms of the conveyance of the lands in Old Stratford, and
other places, which were purchased by Shakspere - in 1602, and were then conveyed “to the onlye proper use and behoofe of the saide William Shakespere, his heires and assignes, for ever." Of a life-interest in a third of these lands also was she assured. The tenement in Blackfriars, purchased in 1614, was conveyed to Shakspere and three other persons; and after his death 'was re-conveyed by those persons to the uses of his will, “for and in performance of the confidence and trust in them reposed by William Shakespeare deceased." In this estate, certainly, the widow of our poet had not dower. It has been remarked to us that even the express mention of the second-best bed was anything but unkindness and insult; that the best bed was 'in all probability an heir-loom: it might have descended to Shakspere himself from his father as an heir-loom, and, as such, was the property of his own heirs. The best bed was considered amongst the most important of those chattels which went to the heir by custom with the house. *
The will of Shakspere thus commences :—“I, Wil. liam Shakspere, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gent., in perfect health and memory, (God be praised !) do make and ordain this my last will anu
* “ And note that in some places chattels as feit-looms (as the best bed, table, pot, pan, cart, and other dead chattels moreable) may go to the heir, and the heir in that case mayı have an action for them a: the common law, and shall 200 sue for them in the ecclesiastical court; but the heir-loam is due by custom, and not by the common law."-Coke upun Littleton, 18 b.
testament."- And yet within one month of this declara. tion William Shakspere is no more :
OBUT ANO. por. 1616. ÆTATIS 53. DIE 23. AP. Such is the inscription on his tomb. It is corroborated by the register of his burial :-“ April 25. Will Shak spere gent.” Writing forty-six years after the event, the vicar of Stratford says, “Shakspere, Drayton, and Ben Jonson bad a merry meeting, and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakspere died of a fever there contracted." A tradition of this nature, surviving its object nearly half a century, is not much to be relied on. But if it were absolutely true, our reverence for Shakspere would not be diminished by the fact that he accelerated his end in the exercise of hospitality, according to the manner, of his age, towards two of the most illustrious of his friends. The “merry-meeting," the last of many social hours spent with the full-hearted Jonson and the elegant Drayton, may be contemplated without a painful feeling. Shakspere possessed a mind eminently social_" he was of a free and generous nature.” But, says the tradition of half a century," he drank too hard" ut this “merry meeting." We believe that this is the vulgar colouring of a common incident. He “died of a fever there contracted." The fever that is too often the attendant upon a hot spring, when the low grounds upon a river bank have been recently inundated, is a fever that the good people of Stratford did not well understand at that day. The “merry meeting ” rounded off a tradition much more effectively. Whatever was the immediate cause of his last illness, we may well
believe that the closing scene was full of tranquillity and hope; and that he who had sought, perhaps more than any man, to look beyond the material and finite things of the world, should rest at last in the “ peace which passeth all understanding"—in that assured belief which the opening of his will has expressed with far more than formal solemnity :—“I commend my soul into the hands of God my creator, hoping, and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting."