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LIFE AND POETRY
How strange it is that on the two greatest of all poets the most mystery hangs—Homer and Shakspeare !
Even as Mounts Everest and Dhawalagiri, towering far above the Himalayan summits, attract the thickest mantles of mist, are clad in the deepest piles of snow, and are for ever inaccessible; so it is with these surpassing poets. Homer—who and what was he? Was he an Ionian, or did he on
"The Chian strand Behold the Iliad and the Odyssey
Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea”? Which of the seven cities that contended for the honour of his birthplace deserved to succeed in the strife? Was he or was he not a blind beggar ? Was he one, or was the “Iliad” the product of many minds, all inspired by the spirit of those
« Heroic rays,
Such as lit onward to the Golden Fleece,
And fired their fathers in the Colchian days” ? Was he author of the “Iliad” only, or also of the marvellous “ Odyssey.” How lived he—where died he—and where was he buried ? Such questions, often asked, as if at the cloudy Ida, where his spirit may be figured as dwelling, have received no satisfactory reply, and still Stat nominis Umbra.
Of Shakspeare we know a little, and only a little, more. George Steevens has said, “All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspeare is—that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon-married and had children there -went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays — returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried.” This is certainly but a meagre skeleton of such a wonderful man, and is calculated to excite regret and disappointment. We become angry on account of our ignorance, although angry we cannot tell rightly with whom or what. Was Shakspeare bound to write an autobiography for our information ? Or was nature bound to rear a Boswell to preserve, in a kind of dripping-pan, the exhaustless exuberance of his conversational genius? Or could his contemporaries be expected to appreciate a man who was “ before all ages?” Besides, how do we know that his life, were it fully detailed, would be so interesting, or that his conversation, had it been recorded, would have been so extraordinary? Was he not perhaps a quiet, silent, brooding man-no great talker-none of those who “ set the table in a roar," but rather
“A great observer, and who look'd
Quite through the deeds of men," none the less keenly that he looked through them in silence ? And does not, besides, a kind of ghost-like awe and mystery thus gather round that humble player, with the greatest mind on earth concealed now under his plain daily dress, and now under his tinsel nightly robes, and you feel as if Apollo or Mercury had disguised himself as a tapster or a sceneshifter? Perhaps, instead of vainly mourning that we know so little of him, we should rather cry out, as we have cried out before, “ Munificent and modest benefactor, it was thine to knock at the door of the human family by night, to throw in inestimable wealth, and then, as if thou hadst done a guilty thing, to fly, leaving the sound of thy feet dying away in the distance as all the tidings thou hast given of thyself!"
Often when we contemplate the mind and history of