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that one of his dramas which stands first in his printed volumes, and which, for the sublimity of its conceptions and the exquisite beauty of its language, is second to nothing which he ever wrote.
It is interesting to us to remember, too, that the same Earl of Southampton who was Shakspeare's earliest patron and especial friend, and to whom he dedicated his first poem, was among the earliest friends of New England colonization; and that to the influence of his son, then Lord Treasurer of England, some of the most valuable privileges of at least one of our New-England charters were afterwards ascribed. *
But, above all, we cannot forget the inexhaustible wealth which Shakspeare has contributed to that English literature, which, down to the period of our National Independence, certainly, we have a right to speak of as our literature, and to that English language, which, thank Heaven! is ours, and will be ours for
Nor can we fail, as an Historical Society, to remember Shakspeare as an historian, as well as a dramatist and poet. The original title of his collected works, as published successively in 1623, 1632, 1664, and 1685, was, “ Mr. William Shakspeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies." And what historian has ever done so much as he to give life and individuality to the great characters which he portrays, or to make the events which he describes familiar as household words for ever? It may be that he was not always exact in following the old chronicles of Holinshed, or that he may have sometimes indulged a poetic license in dressing his figures for the stage. Yet no one will doubt that the common mind of the last two centuries has owed its most vivid impressions - I had almost said its only impressions -- of the Richards and the Henrys, of Macbeth, King Lear, and King John, - to say nothing of Julius Cæsar and Mark Antony, - to the historical dramas of Shakspeare.
Unhappily, he that has given us so many grand delineations of others has left but few records of himself. Even the day of his birth, which is about to be celebrated, is but a matter of inference: it is only known, certainly, as the day of his death. We know the date of his baptism and of his funeral. We know where he was born, and where he was buried. We know that he married Anne Hathaway, and had three children. We know that he went to London, wrote plays, and helped to perform them at the “Globe" and the “ Blackfryers." We know that he returned to Stratford-upon-Avon; made a will, “ commending his soul into the hands of God his Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ his Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting;” and soon afterwards died at fifty-two years of age.
* See Sir H. Ashhurst's Dedication to the Lady Rachel Russell of Cotton Mather's Funeral Sermon on Governor Fitz John Winthrop, as reprinted in London, 1710.
Almost everything else is inference, conjecture, uncertain tradition. And so it happens that we know least of him, of whom we should all desire to know most. Not one familiar letter; not one authentic conversation ; hardly a domestic incident; only three or four known autographs, and those but signatures; not a scrap of his original manuscripts, a single line of which would outsell the collected autographs of all the monarchs of the world, -not a scrap of those priceless manuscripts, though the players must have had them all, when they said, in their preface to the first edition of his works, that his mind and hand went together; and that what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers."
And this brings before us a fact most important to his character. We know that so insensible was he to the worth of his own writings, or so indifferent to their fate, that he never collected or revised them for publication; and that it was seven years after his death before they entered upon that world-wide career of immortality which the press and the stage, the art and the literature, of almost every land beneath the sun, have since united to secure for them, and which they seem destined to enjoy, generation after generation, age after age, above all other writings, except the Holy Scriptures.
Nor would we willingly forget that the only epithets coupled with his name by his contemporaries and friends were “our gentle Shakspeare," " our worthy Shakspeare," " our beloved Shakspeare."
But it is not my purpose, gentlemen, even were it in my power, to anticipate the eloquent eulogies which will be pronounced on the great English dramatist, at home and abroad, during the approaching commemoration-week. I only designed, by these few remarks, to prepare the way for the following resolution, which your Standing Committee have authorized me to submit for your adoption:
Resolved by the Massachusetts Historical Society, That, in view of the near approach of the Tercentenary Commemoration of the birthday of SHAKSPEARE, we gladly avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded us by this, our seventy-third Annụal Meeting, to enter upon our records an expression of our profound reverence for the genius of that marvellous man; of our gratitude to God for the matchless gifts with which he was endowed for the instruction and delight of mankind; of our deep sense of the inexhaustible riches which his writings have added to the literature and the language which were the birthright of our fathers, and which are ours by inheritance; and of our hearty sympathy with all those, whether in Old England, in our own country, or in any other part of the world, who shall unite in celebrating so memorable a nativity.
ADDRESS MADE AT THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICAN TRACT SOCIETY, BOSTON,
MAY 24, 1864.
I CONGRATULATE you most heartily, my friends, on the signal success which has attended the operations of the American Tract Society since our last annual meeting. You have heard the detailed statements of your Advisory Committee in regard to the work of our own New England branch. And you have seen an abstract of the report of the parent Society at New York on the printed programme which I hold in my hand. I will not recapitulate what they have abundantly set forth. It is enough to say, that no single year since our first organization has witnessed such an increase in every department of our labors as the year which has just closed. Never before has there been so great a demand for our publications; and never before, I believe, so large an aggregate of distributions and receipts. Among other most welcome statements made in the last annual report at New York, you will not fail to have noticed the fact that more than fifty millions of pages of our publications have been gratuitously circulated among the soldiers and sailors of our army and navy. Another not less welcome part of that report was that which described the highly successful labors of our agents among the colored freedmen who have been committed to their care. One of those agents, I am happy to say, is here with us this afternoon, and will give you an account of what has been attempted and accomplished in this new and interesting enterprise.
And thus, my friends, although we are not privileged to-day to listen to any historical discourses, or to partake of any semicentennial breakfasts, – as some of our neighbors, who have nothing but our best wishes, are about to do, - we may yet really and rightfully regard this as a jubilee anniversary; as an occasion, certainly, when our hearts should be full of satisfaction and gratitude for the past, and full of hope and confidence for the future. Especially should we be grateful that we are still associated with a great National society, whose field is nothing less than our whole country; whose operations during the past year have extended over all the loyal States of the nation, and are destined soon again, we trust, to embrace the whole American Union. It is a cheering reflection for us all to-day, that we are standing side by side with good men and true from every one of those sister States whose sons are now jeoparding their lives in defence of a common flag. Who of us does not rejoice, that whatever schisms or secessions may have taken place on our right hand or on our left, nothing has occurred to separate us, at an hour like this, from our brethren of the Middle and Western States, and that we may still look forward to the day when worthy and patriotic men from the South, as well as from the North, will be once more included in the comprehensive and catholic organization of the American Tract Society ?
Never, certainly, was there greater need than now of earnest and united efforts, among Christians of all sections and of all sects, to stay the flood of vice and crime, of immorality and irreligion, which is sweeping so wildly over our land. I would not exaggerate the pernicious effects of this deplorable civil war upon public and private morality. Doubtless there have been developments of courage and patriotism, of benevolence and munificence, of self-denial and self-sacrifice, among the men and among the women of our land, during the last two or three years, which are worthy of all admiration, and which furnish no small set-off to the balance of evil on the other side of the account. But no one can be unconscious of the fearful influences of times like the present, in enfeebling and almost extinguishing that sense of individual responsibility, moral and religious, which is the great safeguard of social virtue. No one can be blind to the reckless extravagance, the dishonest contracts, the gambling speculations, the corrupting luxury, the intemperance, profligacy,