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I doubt hugely there has ever been a writer of so catholic a reputation as this so slandered character; for, as I firmly believe, it is scarce possible to point out any one part of the huge globe, where some faint whisper of him hath not penetrated. On the desertest rock, in the savagest country, in all extremes of climate, and among the goodliest and glcomiest features of land and sea, somewhat of the countless great heaps of comfort he hath left us, hath had its exquisite sweet influence. In what remote wilderness hath the missionary set up his dwelling, which knoweth not, in his lighter hours, the cheerful piety of his matchless preaching ?-Over which inhospitable towering mountain, doth the traveller seek a path, that hath not heard, to beguile the way of its weariness, the welcome remembrance of his infinite wit? And over what far distant ocean hath the sea-boy strained his gaze, that never caught from such lofty gallery, snatches of the inimitable music of his everlasting tuneful verse? There are no such places. He hath adventured wide and far; and his stream of purest English hath flowed from the gentle Avon, through every monstrous sea that dasheth its violent, fierce billows against the walls of the globe: and it is drunk with a like delicate rare freshness as at its humble source, on the banks of the gigantic Mississippi, the mighty Ganges, and on those of their in good time, as glorious rival, the Darling.
Amongst the living, there existeth no sign of any such greatness. Every succeeding generation it seemeth to increase, whilst such examples as had undisputed supremacy before it made itself manifest, have since wrapped their antique cloaks about them, and been content with humbler places. The shades of Sophocles, Æschylus, Euripides, Menander, and Aristophanes, are stirred from their long deep lethargy by wondrous memorials of the wool-stapler's son of Stratford uttered within the ruin which was once their“ Globe,” by some adventurous tourist from an island that never had name or existence in their memories : and so their masters in arms yet pupils in learning the haughty Romans, rise from their desolate theatres marvelling exceedingly to hear there proclaimed in all that appertaineth to excellence in the writing of Tragedy and Comedy the undisputable omnipotence of a Briton.
Thus, in his national proper apparelling goeth he so famously abroad, but in a foreign dress he is scarce less reverenced, for the principal nations of Europe have strove to make his excellence as familiar with them as was possible, and have turned his English into as eloquent language of their own as they had at their commandment. By these means, the Spaniard, the Italian, the Frenchman, and the German, have got him into their friendly acquaintance. But of these only the Germans can be said either to know him thoroughly, or appreciate him with a proper affection. These excellent worthy persons do love him with all their hearts study him so intently, they will not let the slightest of his manifold graces to escape without the full measure of admiration it meriteth and do so much make of him the general talk, as though all Germany were but Stratford-upon-Avon, and her sole glory no other than William Shakspeare. I have ventured to style him the High Priest of Nature, and truly, not without proper warrant. He is the chief interpreter of her mysteries, and the sovereign pontiff of her universal church, wherever the beautiful is felt, or the intellectual understood; and Nature, who gave unto him his surpassing attributes, receiveth back, in a myriad of exhaustless channels, as I have insufficiently noted, the divine excellence that came of her giving. Since he hath ministered at her altar there hath been no schism as to her doctrine, nor sign of dispute of her authority; for he so put her religion into language and action, that wherever there is enlightened humanity, there must ever remain the most earnest loving deephearted devotedness. In this capacity, it is as utter foolishness to attempt drawing up an inventory of the riches hoarded in the treasuries of the deep, as to seek to particularise, with any thing nigh upon faithfulness, the prodigal amount of good he hath caused to be distributed to mankind. As a benefacor, 'tis vain to look for his peer-as a philanthropist, no one hath lived with such profit to his fellows. The legacy which he left in trust to Time for the universal benefit, hath this peculiar property, that the more of it is disposed of, the more abundantly will it increase, and so rapidly doth it multiply itself as it getteth to be spread abroad, that it may, without any colour of exaggeration, be said, it is a benefaction that must embrace all space and all eternity.
Whilst endeavouring to exhibit something that approaches to the true character of the man, I have also sought to pourtray the principal characteristics of the age on which he conferred such marvellous honour. Perchance some may think that these volumes are worthy only of that sort of credit a mere romance can look for; but let them be assured there is more of history in these pages than divers books purporting to be histories can boast of, and whenever they hold not Truth by the hand they tread as nigh upon her heels as may be. Mayhap too, others may look on divers passages as savouring in no slight prominence of over-boldness in the writer, but, in very truth, it is nought else but the daring which love inspires, and ought, it is respectfully urged, in no case to be considered as coming of any
other source. Of the imperfectness of the elaborate picture I have essayed, I am as conscious as any person that breathes, but I doubt not amongst all liberal kind bearts I shall find such charitable constructions put on my deficiency, as may induce them to allow that the performance, humble as it may be, hath not been altogether unprofitable. This I have been the more induced to look for from the generous encouragement afforded to “Shakspeare and his Friends” by such critics and scholarly persons who have taken it in hand, who both publicly and privately bave bestowed on it their commendation with such exceeding bounteousness as I had not dared to expect. That the praise so generally given applied much more to the subject than its treatment I cannot help but believe ; but let that be as it may, I will ever seek what means I have at my disposal, to prove how earnestly I strive for the desert in which it ought to have originated.
Doubtless, it would be but fitting of me here, to make some apology for publishing these works out of their proper order, as the present should have preceded its predecessor ; but methinks I cannot do better than leave the fault to be dealt with by the reader as he shall think fittest--hoping it may not be found a matter of such heinousness as to deprive the offender of some excusing, particularly as each is a distinct work, complete in itself. If there exist no other objection, I doubt not, despite their irregular starting, they will now run their race together as fairly and as gallantly withal, as can be expected of them.
There hath been some stir lately made concerning of the orthography of the ever-honoured name of our “Sweet Swan of Avon.” On that point it is only necessary here to say that it was customary with divers notable persons of the age of Elizabeth, to write their names in more than one form, just as it took their fantasy, proof of which will be discovered in the letters of the time, wherein Raleigh sometimes signeth himself “ Rawley” Lord Burleigh hath some three or four ways of spelling his name, and others do the like sort of thing; therefore, to find a variation in the autographs of the illustrious Shakspeare is in no manner strange. The orthography here adhered to, hath the recommendation of being that which the great Bard employed in the latter period of his life, when it is supposed he must have settled it to his liking; is moreover the same that was used by the choicest of his friends, who doubtless, had the best means of knowing bis humour in it, and hath been made familiar to us, in consequence of its adoption by the most learned of his editors, critics, and scholars in this, and in all other countries, who, so it is presumed, ought to be the properest guides to follow in such a matter.