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family demanding more lucrative exertion on his part than his native town afforded scope for, that he resolved to go up to London and seek employment there. Many circumstances concurred to render this step one of promising prospect. His acquaintance with the members of those companies of actors who had frequently performed at Stratford,-several of whom were natives of Warwickshire,--and his own dominant tastes for poetry and the theatre, led him to adopt this course, as offering an immediate source of profitable as well as delightful occupation. With his MS. poems, and a few plays already written, besides sketches and floating plans of others innumerable, we behold Shakespeare setting forth-in homely story-book phrase—“to seek his fortune.” And what a fortune ! One surpassing all that has been recorded of wandering princes or fairy heroes. He achieved the fortune of commanding men's admiring fealty to the end of time, and becoming lord of a boundless realm that shall never know decay or decadence.
It is pleasant to observe how the loving reminiscences of his native village clung perpetually to him, softening and ameliorating with their gentle rural influence the harder urban polishings and experiences. We find him giving the names of neighbour villagers--Fluellen, Bardolph, Audrey—to certain of his written character creations. Anne was the name of one of his sisters, as well as his wife's name ; and how well it becomes the pretty yeoman's daughter—“Sweet Anne Page !” His money-help to his parents ; his obtaining a grant of arms for his father; his solicitude to support the family-name, to advance its social position and privilege to rank with the gentry, at a time when the profession of actor was held to be incompatible with claims to the title of “Gentleman;" his constant investment of his well-earned gains in landed property on the spot of his birth,—all demonstrate the honourable ambition and fond homeattachment of Shakespeare's nature. In their old age, he brought his father and mother to share the dwelling (“New Place") which his genius had enabled him to purchase ; he associated one brother (Edmund) with him in his profitable town avocations; and to another (Gilbert) he intrusted the management of his pecuniary affairs in their native place : all that Shakespeare did in this respect, serves to vindicate the noble privileges attained by well-earned money, and to rescue it from the vulgar supposition of its being a source of low and degrading consideration. Prudence in money-matters gives the right and the ability to indulge in a profuse generosity. He was as practical and provident, as he was poetical, and admirably showed how false is the notion, that the greatest genius is "irregular"—in any way. He was business-like, orderly, and methodical ; and, how truly these are consistent with bounty, is avouched in the letter extant (the only one addressed to him known to be in existence) from Richard Quiney, applying to the Poet for a loan of L.30, (then equal to about L.150 of sterling money now,) showing that his character stood well for liberality, in the likelihood entertained of a favourable reply—a belief confirmed by the result. While maintaining these strong links of sentiment with his native Stratford, he entered into all the vivacities of London life no less strenuously. It is this mingling of country charm with metropolitan vigour and refinement throughout his sojourn upon earth that so grandly concurred to make Shakespeare the consummately-perfected genius that he was born to be. At the same time that he continued to visit Stratford regularly every year, he freely led a town life while in town. He enjoyed royal favour, had court popularity, possessed the friendship of the worthiest and most distinguished noblemen,
was honoured among his brother wits and writers, and was beloved by his fellow-actors. Pre-impressed with the beautiful and pure-joyed images of his country boyhood, he spent his prime of manly reflection amid scenes of intellectual culture and exercise. Everything afforded food to his observation, and faculty for turning it to immortal advantage. His keen perception beheld at once what others gather by studious and lengthened examination. His comradeship with actors—who are a genial, cheerful people-was conducive to good ; his intimacies with men of rank, gave ease and familiarity of admission to high-bred associations : his frequenting the company of author-friends was promotive of rapid interchance and expression of thought. How vividly is Shakespeare's manner painted to us by those fervent words of Ben Jonson, [ever blessed be his memory for putting them down for posterity!] "I loved the man, and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature ; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.” What a complete picture of our Poet's fertile outpouring of thought in speech is conveyed in that last sentence! And think of “stopping” him! “Stopping” SHAKESPEARE while he talked !! It precisely confirms the description given by Fuller of the two men, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, in their “witcombats :” “which two,” he says, “I behold like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man-of-war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention." These concentrated accounts -containing so much in so small space-give us ample information of the social bearing of Shakespeare.
With regard to his acting powers, we can hardly have better pledge than the enthusiastically-asserted belief of such a man as Coleridge; who said:-“ It is my persuasion -indeed my firm conviction-so firm that nothing can shake it-the rising of Shakespeare's spirit from the grave modestly confessing his own deficiencies could not alter my opinion—that Shakespeare, in the best sense of the word, was a very great actor; nothing can exceed the judgment he displays upon that subject. He may not have had the physical advantages of Burbage or Field ; but they would never have become what they were without his most able and sagacious instructions; and what would either of them have been without Shakespeare's plays ? Great dramatists make great actors. But looking at him merely as a performer, I am certain that he was greater as Adam, in 'As You Like It,' than Burbage as Hamlet or Richard III. Think of the scene between him and Orlando; and think again, that the actor of that part had to carry the author of that play in his arms ! Think of having had Shakespeare in one's arms! It is worth having died two hundred years ago to have heard Shakespeare deliver a single line. He must have been a great actor.” We heartily subscribe to this “absolute must;"" and then, what more than music must have been Shakespeare's voice, as the Ghost in Hamlet! It thrills the soul only to think of the tones in which he doubtless uttered those accents from the grave of a dead king and father. Conceived by his brain, breathed by his lips, how ineffably sublime must they have been !
No less strong is our impression of the mode in which Shakespeare composed. Not only when he was seated, with paper before him, and pen in hand, but while he was
journeying, as he went along, on horseback, passing through the open air, in his visits to his native place and back, we behold him revolving the thoughts which became pages. When strolling through the green lanes of Stratford, or pleasant Shottery, by Avon's banks, or along the wooded glades of Charlecote, he may have meditated those sylvan beauties that illumine the “Midsummer Night's Dream,” or “As You Like It;" (in the latter play he has enshrined his mother's maiden name of “ Arden,” giving it to the forest which is the beau-idéal of poetical forests; the old British word, “Arden” signified “woodiness ;") or when treading the mazes of London streets, he might have mused upon those great labyrinths of human passion, the throbbing heart of Lear, the “betoss'd soul" of Romeo, or the chaos of Othello's agony. Minds like Shakespeare's work spontaneously, and wait not for the formality of mechanical appliances. Many were the scenes on the road, between Middlesex and Warwickshire,-picturesque or grotesque, graceful or homely, pathetic or humorous,—that suggested hints to the poet's fancy, and set it working. At the Crown Inn, Oxford, where we are told he halted, when travelling between London and Stratford, he surely beheld, by lanternlight, just such a group of carriers as figure in the Rochester Inn-yard of “Henry IV.," Part I. ; which he there and then recorded in his brain, to be transferred to paper at leisure, with its accompaniment of “Charles's wain over the new stack of chimneys," and the reminiscence of “Robin Ostler, who never joyed since the price of oats rose.”
His retirement into the country, to enjoy the remainder of his life with his family in his native place, at a period when men are usually still intent upon the pursuit of wealth and fame, gives another proof of Shakespeare's superior sense and feeling. He enjoyed the respect and liking of his neighbours, with whom he lived in friendly intercourse ; and the monumental bust which surmounts his tomb in the chancel of Stratford-upon-Avon church, witnessing the honour in which his memory was held at his birth-place, gives us an excellent representation of him as he must have appeared at this epoch of retired ease. The bland, expansive forehead, the eyes full of mingled thought and cheerfulness, the rounded cheeks, the tranquil-smiling mouth, the person full, manly, and reposeful, combine to give a delightful embodiment of the poet in his quiet, enjoying mood. The portrait by Droeshout (prefixed to the folio 1623, and forming the frontispiece to this edition) presents him to our view at the height of his mental activity. The face is full of blended spirit and sweetness, of intellectual vigour and sensibility; while the person is spare and close-knit, as if in the eagerness and impulse of energetic purpose. It thoroughly responds to our impression of Shakespeare, the dramatist and actor. The portrait we possess in the monumental bust has something of genial with exalted, that is unspeakably encouraging to look upon,-it is the impersonation of England's greatest genius in simple manly serenity of self-earned comfort.
The way in which Shakespeare drew up his will and saw his second daughter's marriage solemnized within a short time previous to his death, again bears testimony to the poet's wise and provident conduct. His calm and prudence in thus preparing for death, illustrates his own fine words: “If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” Finally, he closed his mortal existence on the same day which saw its commencement. And here again, his very words singularly pre-herald his own appointed course. It is as if, in a strain of inspired prescience, he had penned them :
“ This day I breathèd first; time is come round,
And where I did begin, there shall I end;
The only thing we could have wished Shakespeare to have done differently, of all that he did do, was, that he should have devoted the last few years of his life, his period of retired leisure, to the editing of his own works.* What a priceless edition would that have been! Instead of which, his Dramas were left at the Globe Theatre when he quitted London; they were playhouse copies—in manuscript-probably in separate parts, for actors' use; and a few of them found their way into print, by single plays, published in quarto, filched by unscrupulous booksellers, or purloined for them-as slovenly brought forth as unfairly procured.
The first appearance of Shakespeare's plays, in a collected form, was the folio edition of 1623, given to the world by Heminge and Condell, his fellow-actors, seven years after the poet's death. They were scarcely fitted to be editors, inasmuch as they allowed the publication to go forth unrevised, so that the most glaring misprints stand uncorrected; and the worst of this neglect is, that some of these typographical errors are so wildly blundering, as to throw at fault the most discriminating judges in their attempts to guess at Shakespeare's originally-written words or phrases. Nevertheless, defective as this first edition is, we cannot be too grateful for it, when we reflect upon the irreparable loss the world would have sustained had it never appeared at all. It at least preserved in an assembled volume those scattered treasures which lay dispersed in stray manuscript sheets, and a few single quarto copies; and it formed a source where diligence and patient investigation might pursue their labours with best chance of discovering Shakespeare's whole wealth of brain-production. Three editions, repetitions of the first, in folio, were successively published in 1632, 1664, and 1685; and at the commencement of the century following the one in which Shakespeare died, Nicholas Rowe brought out two successive editions in the years 1709 and 1714, with “Some Account of the Life of William Shakespeare” accompanying each. Here are first collected such traditionary anecdotes and known particulars as could be gleaned concerning the dramatist; and ample acknowledgment is due to these earlier investigators, Rowe and his followers, since much that seems at present superfluous, as already known, was then new information, owed to their diligence. Each fact, or legend, would have become more and more difficult to be traced as time went on; while thus brought together, they admit of inquiry, and can either be accredited or rejected at pleasure. The contested points, too, of meaning and interpretation, with which the notes of early editors abound, while dealing in mere word-hunting, serve to help clearer and larger perceptions into forming veritable conclusions. While we
* As an elucidation of Shakespeare's possible motive in neglecting to edit his own plays, may be cited a passage from Thomas Heywood's preface to “The English Traveller.” After stating that this tragi-comedy is one among two hundred and twenty in which he had “either an entire hand, or at the least a main finger,” (which testifies the then prevailing custom of dramatic authors adding to or altering the productions of others,) Heywood explains why his plays have not been collectively printed;
“One reason is, that many of them, by shifting and changing of companies, have been negligently lost. Others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their peculiar profit to have them come in print; and a third, that it never was any great ambition in me to be in this kind voluminously read."
smile at the occasional bowings and compliments to each other of the variorum editors, and their restless desire to claim the epithet "ingenious,” we quietly avail ourselves of their more sensible suggestions, and derive what solid assistance we may from them in our search for truth. When we marvel at the wrath and venom, the almost personal acrimony of their bickerings over a disputed word, or a conjectural reading, we remember that those very animosities are one sort of tribute to Shakespeare's pre-eminence,- from persons of irritable temper or vehement nature, who can show their partiality in no other way than by violence of defence.
The impugners of Shakespeare have this vast advantage : their reprehensions stand | as finger-posts for ground of admiration. It may with tolerable safety be concluded,
that wherever they blame, they afford a clue to some peculiar merit. When they point out a defect, follow the hint, and you are pretty sure to discover a beauty. When they censure Shakespeare's blemishes, prepare to observe fresh charms in the poet that have never before struck you. The oft-repeated fallacy, for instance, relative to Shake
speare's want of learning, has opened the way to discernment of his stores of knowledge; ! and the cuckoo-song of his disregard of the unities led to the discovery of his improved system of unity.
If Shakespeare's impugners have their value, his partizans have sometimes been to be deprecated. The zeal with which they have vindicated him has occasionally led them into the strangest and most unjust admissions. They take up curiously-based grounds of defence, and make the awkwardest and unfairest allowances. They err from want of judgment, not from ill intention; or we might be inclined to say to them, on behalf of Shakespeare, as Sir Peter Teazle says, “When I tell you, Mrs Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you 'll not take her part." We cannot believe Mrs Montague to have been actuated by Mrs Candour's motives, when she took the part of Shakespeare against Crabtree Voltaire ; then how else, but from want of judgment, can we account for her saying of Shakespeare's plots, “It must be allowed that they are often exceptionable ;"—or of his beauties, as a set-off against his assumed defects, “ Thus it is that Shakespeare redeems the nonsense, the indecorums, the irregularities of his plays ?” It would be well if, upon such occasions, these rash allowers could be called to account, as they do intemperate speakers in Parliament, by forcing them to “Name! name !"
Dr Johnson, in that extraordinary compound of turgid contradictions, his “Preface to Shakespeare's Works,” while admitting that “the stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare," assures us that "in tragedy he often writes with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity;" adding, “in his tragic scenes there is always something wanting.” What a pity he had not told us what that “something” was. Was it the “something” that is to be found in “Irene ?”—He goes on to inform us that Shakespeare 6 sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose.” (!) It really looks like irony where he observes—“Whenever he solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity.” (!) And again—“When he endeavoured, like other tragic writers, to catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes without