Picking up where his runaway bestseller "Back Bay" left off, William Martin returns to Boston, this time bringing the history of Harvard University vibrantly to life.
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By WILLIAM MARTIN
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
ROBERT HARVARD went often to Stratford-on-Avon, but never before had he gone
with such trepidation. Never before had the sight of the tower at Guild Chapel
turned his stomach to jelly, nor the sound of his horse's hooves upon Clopton
Bridge given him such cause to turn and ride the whole eighty miles back to
Ordinarily, he went to buy cattle, for he owned a butcher shop, and the farmers
of Warwickshire raised the fattest cattle in England, and a butcher without
cattle was like a tailor without cloth. But on this August afternoon, Robert
Harvard went to seek a wife, for he was also a man, and a man without a wife was
like a butcher without cattle, or a tailor without cloth, or a playwright
without a stage....
And that, he thought, was a string of metaphors to charm the birds from the
trees.... Or were they similes? No matter. Will would know. Will would calm him,
too, and give him the confidence to court a young woman as beautiful as
Katherine Rogers. Of that he was certain. So, once across the river, Robert
Harvard made for the rambling big house known as New Place. Will would tell him
which of his words would work best. Will would also tell him the difference
'twixt a metaphor and a simile.
"'A butcher without cattle'?" cried Will Shakespeare. "You call that an image of
love? You call that poetry? Or 'a tailor without cloth'?"
"Well ... what of 'a playwright without a stage'?" asked Harvard in his strong
Southwark accent. "You court a wife, man, not a cutler. Sharpen your wit with
"Soft words? Words like ... like featherbed?" "Aye, featherbed," said Will.
"Featherbeds are soft. Pudding is soft. The dung that manures my roses is soft.
But we speak here of a woman's heart."
Shakespeare was forty-one and far heavier than when first he appeared in
Harvard's butcher shop some fifteen years before, a young man come to London
hungry for fame but hungrier still for sausage or beef suet or even a marrow
bone to fill his belly. Now, his face had filled and his belly had settled, as
happened with most men whose purses had filled and whose lives had settled. But
when he moved, Will Shakespeare was ever the actor, shaping each gesture and
step to the role he played. And the role of the moment was poet.
He pushed open the windows of the great room and gazed out at his roses. He did
not ruminate or pace upon the polished stone floor. His poetry came quickly. He
gazed, he thought, and he said, "'Tis a beautiful day, Rob."
"Aye." Rob clasped his hands behind his back, then folded them in front of
himself, then rested one on the hilt of his dagger and the other on his belt.
Though he owned property in London, served as a warden in his church, and could
afford to dress for courtship in a fine crimson doublet of crushed velvet, he
still had the hands of a tradesman-big and coarse and never at ease unless
holding a tool. "'Tis a beautiful summer's day," said Shakespeare.
"Aye." "Were I in your place, I'd say to her, 'Shall I compare thee to a
summer's day?'" "A summer's day, Will. Yes ... 'Tis warm ... and soft." "Indeed.
'Thou art more lovely and more ... more-'" "Temperate?" Robert Harvard offered
a word that sounded eloquent. "Temperate"-Shakespeare counted the syllables on
'Thou art more lovely and more tem-per-ate.' Not a word to describe the passion
of love, but as a word for Katherine Rogers, I suppose 'tis aptly chosen, and it
fits the meter."
And on he went, composing a sonnet to the fleeting beauty of summer and the
solid nature of Robert Harvard's love.
"'So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this'-the sonnet,
I mean-'so long lives this, and this ... this gives life to thee.' "With a flip of
his hand and a little bow, Will was done. "Soft words for Katherine Rogers."
Too many words, thought Robert Harvard, and too many metaphors ... or were they
similes? But who was he to question a man whose poetry had earned him that
handsome house and beautiful garden?
"Many thanks, Will. Courtship never come easy, even to a man of thirty-five."
"She's an angel, Rob ... reed slender, to be sure, but still an angel."
"And I be a mere mortal, widowed once and wantin' a new wife." "You've been an
angel to many a hungry actor." "'Twas only what a Christian should do."
"There were Christians aplenty who denied victuals to this glover's son. But you
gave him to eat. So"-Will gripped Robert's shoulders-"screw your courage to the
sticking place, as we say. Speak to her father, then go to Katherine and tell
her of a love as warm as a summer's day."
"Would that you'd stand aside me, Will, and whisper these words in me ear."
"'Tis for you to do yourself, Rob. And you'd not want me whispering in your ear
on a day when malevolence whispers in mine." "Malevolence?"
"By the name Iago, servant to the blackamoor Othello. He has deranged Othello
with his lies." The excitement danced on Will's face, and malevolence crept into
his voice. "Othello is about to strangle his flaxen-haired wife in a fit of
jealous rage. He wraps his hands round her neck and-" Will calmed himself, as if
his imagination were a pitcher full to the brim, from which he could afford to
spill only a little. "So, then ... you to your muse, and I to mine."
"'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'" Robert Harvard repeated the words
as he walked from New Place to the Rogers home in High Street.
A temperate summer's day. On such a day, how could a man see deranged Moors
strangling flaxen-haired women? Playwrights were foreign creatures altogether,
he thought, that they could imagine such things and not themselves be deranged.
He tried to banish these dark visions, but he feared to lose the better images
Will had put into his head, as when we seek to banish the thorn, we lose also
the petal. So he turned his mind to the bouquet of roses he had cut in Will's
garden and to the thorn pricking his finger.
The house of Thomas Rogers was one of the finest in Stratford, rising in three
half-timbered stories, with great windows flung open on every floor. Rich man's
windows they were, overlooking a street wider and more welcoming than any in
London. And there was no man in London or Stratford more welcoming than Thomas
Rogers, alderman and cattle broker.
Next to cattle, good cheer was his stock-in-trade, but what man would lack for
good cheer who profited from Warwickshire beef and ate it, too? His good cheer
grew even greater when he learned the purpose of Harvard's visit, for Rogers had
seven daughters, and the girl in question had reached the ripe old age of
twenty-one without a husband.
It did not surprise Robert, then, that they settled on a dowry more quickly than
ever they had settled on a price for cattle. It did surprise him, however, that
Rogers would honor the bargain only if the girl went willingly to marriage.
"Willingly ... aye," said Robert, "or not at all." He found Katherine in the
garden, in a shaft of golden sunlight, and the shimmer of her flaxen hair caused
him to forget all the words Will Shakespeare had given him. He nearly forgot his
"Why, Master Harvard," she said, "'tis pleasure to see you." Rob reached for
Will's words, but the first image he found was of a deranged Moor, fingers
twined round the neck of his flaxen-haired wife, an image to be banished yet
again. And just as he feared, Will's soft words went with it, so that he could
only stammer, "I ... I ..."
"Roses?" said Katherine. "Roses are a joy."
"Yes." And now he found a few of Will's words, hiding in his memory ... old
words, but good ones, and soft, spoken by the character of Romeo. "Roses they
are, miss, but ... that which we call a rose, by any other name would ... would ..."
"Smell as sweet?" "Yes ... though not so sweet as you, miss." And that, he
thought, was well said.
In taking the roses, she noticed the blood on his fingertip. "Why, good sir, you
bleed for me? How noble." And gently she touched him.
His hand trembled at her touch, and yet did her touch itself tremble, which he
found strangely calming, for it meant that she was as nervous as he ... and
perhaps as willing. And a small measure of his wit returned. He said, "I bleed
for love, miss." And she said, "I yearn for it."
And Rob found a few of Will's softer words to speak. "I bleed willingly for
love, on a ... a summer's day."
"'Tis a fine summer's day that Robert Harvard brings me roses." "A temperate
summer's day." And then did his wit return in full. "I promise many more, even
when the cold December of our lives has been lived to the solstice, even then
shall I find a final summer's day with thee, miss, should you say yes to
And her smile spoke more eloquently than all the words that Will Shakespeare had
Two years later, if one were to ask Robert Harvard the season, he would say
"summer," no matter the angle of the sun, for no northern blast could cool the
summer he knew in the bed of Katherine Harvard, a rose even sweeter now that she
bore his name.
And no day was more June-glorious to him than the damp November afternoon when
he and Katherine brought their firstborn son to St. Saviour's in Southwark.
Robert Harvard would never know with greater certainty of God's love or his own
immortality than at the moment when the tiny head was held over the font and the
spirit-cleansing water poured down. Nor would he ever know better that the love
of his fellow man reflected God's love than on that night, when friends and
neighbors went to the Queen's Head Inn to celebrate the birth of the baby named
As Robert Harvard was a part owner of the inn, the presence of the babe brought
no scandal to the taproom. In truth, there was little that happened on that side
of the Thames that could cause Southwark to appear more scandalous than it
already was. City fathers reigned on the north bank, but their power did not
cross the twenty-arch bridge. So here would be found prostitutes in their stews,
selling favors to pay rents to the corrupt bishop of Winchester.
Here cutpurses thrived in alleys, and convicts served in Clink. Here animal
baiters brought beasts to fight in the pits, and when the beasts were killed,
the baiters learned new skills from convicts and cutpurses, too. And here,
performing by day in the theaters, carousing by night in the taprooms, were the
But here also the bell tower of St. Saviour's rose like a father confessor above
his sinners. And here men like Robert Harvard, men of business and sometimes of
property, saw sin for what it was and rose above it, too, though Robert believed
in the Lord's admonition that "what you do for the least of my brethren, you do
for me." So on that night of celebration, he opened the tap for all and asked
payment of none.
Most brought good wishes. A few brought gifts of silver coin. Others brought no
more than their thirst. But one, who came in from the cold wearing a cape
trimmed in rabbit fur, brought a gift of paper and leather that would prove more
valuable than gold. Will Shakespeare elbowed through the crowd, neither
expecting nor offering ceremony to those who greeted him with shouts and
handshakes and resounding slaps upon the back.
Rob called for Will's tankard to be taken from the shelf and filled.
Katherine, no longer reed-slender, but a young mother in all the fullness of
life, proclaimed, "Master Shakespeare, you do the Harvards a great honor."
"I honor the child, ma'am." Shakespeare bowed. "And his beautiful mother."
"Many thanks, Will," said Robert. "Many thanks for all your favors," added
Katherine. "My husband has oft spake of your help one temperate summer's day. Do
you know what now he calls our son?"
"Aye," said Will with a laugh. "'Love's Labours Won.' 'Tis a description to
flatter a playwright. But the babe surely tells of love's victory."
"Aye!" cried Robert a little drunkenly. "To my own Love's Labours Won!" And the
Then Shakespeare reached under his cape and withdrew a volume of quarto size,
bound in red leather, held with a blue ribbon. "The very play, Love's Labours
Won. In a prompt book, transcribed by my own hand from my foul papers."
"'Tis a thing of beauty, good sir." Katherine held the book in front of her
child. "Look you, John, see what Master Shakespeare gives you."
The babe was more interested in the taste of his own thumb, but Robert Harvard
received the book with all the awe he might muster had the rector of St.
Saviour's given him a relic of the true cross. He caressed the leather binding,
thumbed the pages, and asked, "But, Will, would you not stage this play again?"
Shakespeare waved a hand. "The King's Men have another prompt book, though the
play be all out of date, and a trifle as 'tis." "Would you not print it, at the
"Once a play sees print, any man may stage it, which be money from my pocket,"
said Shakespeare. "'Tis the reason I seldom give such gifts as this. But for
the Harvards, Love's Labours Won be a talisman of good fortune. Should you sell
this to a printer-" "Oh, never, Will."
"-'twill fetch ten pounds. As companion to Love's Labours Lost, which they say
sold well, perhaps more. A good start for the child's future."
"I'll never sell, Will. This takes a place of honor with me Bible, a reminder of
this night and that summer's day in Stratford." "Good." Shakespeare touched the
child's head. "Let its title remind him that a happy man enjoys his summer days
and knows the miracle of love's labors."
At that, Rob raised his mug again, "To Love's Labours Won!"
God gave the Harvards eighteen summers more to labor in their love, and they
produced a family of seven children. Then God sent the coldest of winds.
It was in the third week of August, anno Domini 1625, that the first blast
struck their son Willie, who went stumbling to his bed, chilled and feverish.
Within an hour, he was vomiting. He brought up the gruel he had eaten in the
morning, then remnants of stew from the night before, then streams of bile so
green and viscous, it seemed that his very insides were shredding.
Then young Robbie came home freezing despite the damp heat that lay like a quilt
upon London. He threw an extra log onto the great-room fire, wrapped himself in
a blanket, and began to sweat and shiver all at once.
Then Kate, a gentle child of thirteen, looked up from her knitting, cried out in
shock as her bowels suddenly let go, and collapsed into a puddle of her own
That was when Katherine Harvard shouted up the stairs to John that he put by his
books and hurry to fetch his father. John was sitting in his favorite spot, by a
window on the top floor, oblivious in the sunlight to all save his study of a
Latin text on the epistles of Paul. But from the sound of terror in his mother's
voice, he knew what was upon them.
Excerpted from Harvard Yard
by WILLIAM MARTIN
Copyright © 2003 by William Martin.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
William Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels, an award-winning PBS documentary, and a cult classic horror movie, too. His first novel, Back Bay, introduced treasure hunting hero Peter Fallon, who has now appeared in five novels, and spent fourteen weeks on the Times list. SInce then Martin has been telling stories of the great and the anonymous in American history, from the Pilgrims to 9/11. His novels, including Cape Cod, Annapolis, City of Dreams, and The Lincoln Letter, have established him as "a storyteller whose smootness equals his ambition" (Publisher's Weekly). He lives near Boston with his wife and has three grown children. In 2005, he was the recipient of the prestigious New England Book Award, given to "an author whose body of work stands as a significant contribution to the culture of the region."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The history of America mirrored in the history of Harvard University. William Martin does smooth transitions, chapter by chapter, between Then and Now. Through well portrayed characters and historic events we understand how early Puritan families become the Brahmins of Boston. The slow but inevitable evolution of religious thought and cultural expression through the centuries is revealed as generation gives way to generation. The interweaving mystery is the icing on the cake. At the end, all the t's are not crossed nor the i's all dotted, which is true to life. Makes me want to read more William Martin, more Shakespeare, more Harvard, more New England.
This is the second book to follow Back Bay and is just as good as the first book. It picks up the characters years later and brings them back into another adventure. The historical aspect is still very good and the narrative between the past and present is very well written. I love the style of writing and the historical information given and how easily the writer transports the reader through time.
A great read
She jumps onto em purring tries to pull her hair out (the exact same thing my cat dose every morning)