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BY CHARLES KNIGHT.
THE THIRD EDITION.
REVISED AND AUGMENTED.
"All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspere is that he was born at Stratford-
"Along with that tomb-stone information, perhaps even without much of it, we could have liked to gain
THE BROADWAY, LUDGATE.
416, BROOME STREET.
This is a new edition, with large alterations and additional matter, grounded upon more recent information, of a volume published in 1843. That book has been long out of print; and it is a gratification to me to re-produce it thoroughly revised.
The two mottoes in the title-page express the principle upon which this * Biography' has been written. That from Steevens shows, with a self-evident exaggeration of its author, how scanty are the materials for a Life of Shakspere, properly so called. Indeed, every Life of him must, to a certain extent, be conjectural; and all the Lives that have been written are in great part conjectural. My · Biography' is only so far more conjectural than any other, as regards the form which it assumes; by which it has been endeavoured to associate Shakspere with the circumstances around him, in a manner which may fix them in the mind of the reader by exciting his interest.
I fully agree with Mr. Hunter, with regard to the want of information on the life of Shakspere, that he is, in this respect, in the state in which most of his contemporary poets are-Spenser for instance—but with this difference, that we do know more concerning Shakspere than we know of most of his contemporaries of the same class. Admitting this sound reasoning, I still believe that the attempt which I ventured to make, for the first time in English Literature, to write a Biography which, in the absence of Diaries and Letters, should surround the known facts with the local and temporary circumstances, and with the social relations amidst which one of so defined a position must have moved, was not a freak of fancy, but an approximation to the truth, which could not have been reached by a mere documentary narrative.
What I proposed thus to do is shown in the second motto, from Mr. Carlyle's admirable article on Dr. Johnson, I having ventured to substitute the name of “Shakspere” for that of “Johnson.” I might have accomplished the same end by writing a short notice of Shakspere, accompanied by a History of Manners and Customs, a History of the Stage, &c. &c. The form I have adopted may appear fanciful, but the narrative essentially rests upon facts. I venture, therefore, to think that I have made the course of Shakspere clear and consistent, without any extravagant theories, and with some successful resistance to long received prejudices.
Since the publication of the original edition of this volume in 1843, there have been considerable accessions to the documentary materials for the Life of Shakspere. Many of these are curious and valuable; others are memorials of that diligent antiquarianism, whose results are not always proportionate to its labour. I have availed myself of any real information which has been brought to light during the last two-and-twenty years, and I have in every case ascribed the merit of any discovery to its proper author.