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always remain an accurate test for true feeling and taste. His book of human character forms a grand standard by which men may measure themselves. It will preventduly consulted—the rank overgrowth of mercenariness, meanness, selfishness : it will check the hard gallop of the "fast school.” It will teach men to beware of believing that sneering at good impulses and holy aspirations constitutes superiority; and will show them that faith in excellence is strength, not weakness.
Shakespeare's works contain a standard for morals. It is not so much that he was the greatest intellect that ever wrote, as that he was the greatest moralist; and not moralist in the way of set moral teaching,-cut-and-dry moralizing-didactic model morality,—but as presenting those grand ethical lessons to be drawn from broad expansive delineating, like the face of nature herself, laying open large legible indices from which commonest sagacity may read truth and wisdom. As one instance of his moral teaching-deducible more than preceptive—witness the influence of his good people upon his bad people ;-witness the fine strain of his poetical justice, not merely doling out success to the virtuous, defeat to the vicious, prosperity to the good, punishment to the wicked, meted in strict, yet most unnatural proportion—but that higher moral retribution which instills the unvarying impression : better, far better be those who do well through evil fortune, than be those who do evil though crowned with apparent triumph. The inseparable happiness and preferableness of right, he never fails to inculcate by subtlest truth of demonstration.
Some of the finest brains have thought their best, and uttered their best, upon the subject of Shakespeare's writing ; and it seems little less than absolute presumption to offer an additional remark. Yet so imperative is the desire to express—however consciously inadequate the power—a portion of that grateful reverence and admiration which fills the heart in thinking of his transcendent excellence, that, at all risks, the attempt must be made. It has been well said :—“We are glad to listen to every one who has travelled through the kingdoms of Shakespeare ;" and perhaps the long and loving denizenship which it has been our privilege to enjoy in his glorious realm,naturalized there, and permitted to become humble but diligent labourers on his rich soil-gives us some claim to the honour of yielding homage, and bearing testimony to our "liege's sovereignty." One of us may be allowed to take pride in the thought that she was the first of his female subjects selected to edit his works; and it is one of the myriad delights we owe to him, that she should be the woman upon whom so great a distinction was conferred.
No other theme in literature will bear such constant reverting to without satiety, no other theme will bear recurring to at all seasons without untimeliness; no other theme will endure allusion to upon all topics with so little fear of irrelevance. Shakespeare
is ever welcome, for he is ever fresh and new; as he is ever welcome, because he is pertinent, familiar, home-telling.
It has been resolved that the present edition of his works shall have no notes. The reader is to enjoy the comfort of reading Shakespeare's text undisturbed by comment; and even uninterrupted by those marks of (a) (b) (c) or (1) (2) (3) which occur in annotated editions. The squabbles of commentators will be escaped from; the tedium of discussion will be avoided. Other editions may be consulted for every variety of information, and for reference; but this is intended for purely enjoyable reading-Shakespeare's book itself, and nothing else.
To this end, the utmost pains have been taken to collate the several readings adopted by the best authorities; to carefully weigh their reasons for adopting them, while abiding by or rejecting the sanction of the original copies where these are obviously misprinted; to examine every doubtful or disputed passage; to scrutinize line by line, and word for word, every iota of the work, so as to give the pure text of Shakespeare as far as our judgment and long study of him enable us to discern what it really is. The absence of explanatory notes will afford no opportunity of giving our reasons for the various decisions arrived at; but the reader may rest assured that no decision will have been made without conscientious deliberation, at the same time that he is spared perusal of the Editors' debated motives. There being neither note nor commentary to mark the editorial labour, will serve merely to save the reader's toil, while that of the Editors shall be none the less for being unseen. As a means of supplying the needful information upon words and phrases of antique usage, occurring in the text, or upon bygone customs and manners therein alluded to,-a Glossary is appended, with references of Act and Scene to each passage ; which will afford a condensed compendium of such requisite explanation as is usually contained in diffuse notes. The com fort of having interpretative help snugly packed away in a corner by itself, for use only when absolutely wanted, can be well appreciated by those who have suffered from the perpetual worry of foot-notes, or the torment of notes that are frequently mere vehicles for abuse, spite, and arrogance. Many of these seem written for the sole purposenot of farthering a knowledge of Shakespeare, or ascertaining his text, but-of proving that other editors are wholly wrong. When we read the scorn that is heaped on their hapless brethren by these writers, the only conclusion is, that they are actuated by malice or envy; and we feel tempted to wonder that they should have learned no better lesson from the teaching of a poet who was magnanimity itself.
When we feel regret at the meagreness of the fact-matter to be gathered respecting Shakespeare's life, we must remember what he himself says in bequeathing us his book :-“My spirit is thine, the better part of me.” We must accept this “better part of him” as his best and truest relic. He lives to us still, and for ever, in his works. To know that he was born in that sweet English village ; that he went to the metropolis, and earned his fame unto all time, as well as a fortune enabling him to purchase a house and garden in his own native place; that he had the sense and taste to retire thither; that he lived there in the respect and esteem of his neighbours; that his honoured remains lie enshrined in the quiet village church on the banks of his own river Avon, with its silver stream and green trees, holy, bland-shining, and tranquil, as his own spirit,-seems fully enough to know of one of the greatest as well as simplest of God's human beings. After reading all that research has collected respecting his career, we feel that the doubt existing in every particular leaves us unsatisfied, and that on the whole we scarce want these vague records. On the other hand,—every, the minutest particular relative to him being precious,-men have been content to catch at even apocryphal anecdotes, such as the deer-stealing, the horse-holding, the thousand pounds given by the Earl of Southampton to the poet, &c., rather than possess no traces of Shakespeare's existence upon earth. With zealous care have these scattered accounts and dubious circumstances been accumulated, sifted and garnered by venerating editors, and embodied in such biographical form as their scanty nature would allow; while we are compelled to appease our craving to know more by again
reflecting that we have the better part of him—his spirit—his genius—his intellecthis own immortal book.
But, indeed, we possess much, fitly considered, in the few ascertained facts of Shakespeare's life ;* they suffice to show us that he attained a degree of literary renown and social repute rarely achieved by a man of his station at that period; and, moreover, they serve to manifest that he was precisely the being whom circumstances happily combined to mould as well as to produce. He was no less made a genius than born a genius, by the events that providentially succeeded to his original creation. His birth was propitious; (he was born on the 23d April, St George's day,—the patron saint of England;) it was of good parentage--"good" in the widest sense of the large-embracing word; it took place in a lovely, quiet village, where pure air, simple habits, free exercise, nurtured the infant frame. His breeding was propitious; country-bred, so long as out-door sports and childish pursuits were best for boyish need, and for cultivating innocent affections and home associations,--town-bred, when youthful manhood demanded more active sphere for mental as well as moral energies. We see him,—with the vision lent us by these few recorded facts, together with what traces may be gathered from his own writings,-fidgeting at his mother's knee, like the little Mamillius beside Hermione, with his child's restlessness and eager eyes upturned towards her face, telling one of those wondrous Winter tales that bewitched his young imagination even then ; and which, in his after-telling, became unfading summer stories for mankind: or led by Mary Shakespeare's hand—as little (namesake) William, by Mistress Page's-to school, where Sir Hugh Evans, in the living prototype shape of Thomas Jenkins, (master of the Stratford Grammar-school,) stood to question him of those " articles" which "be thus declined," &c., and which, in their faulty repetition, with subsequent, yet hardly more guilty lapse, brought forth the Jonsonian fling at the "little Latin and less Greek.”
There are three years in Shakespeare's life, 1579, 1580, and 1581, when he was a youth of fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years of age, which admit of the possibility that he was a student at one of the universities, --more probably Oxford,----and subsequently at one of the Inns of Court. The arguments in favour of this supposition are, his classical knowledge and tastes, his mythological colouring and allusions, more particularly as evinced in his earlier-written plays, where they appear with just so much tincture of scholarly mannerism as might be supposed to mark the productions of a young collegian fresh from the learned haunts where he had “ walked gowned.” The “ Two Gentlemen of Verona,” with its prodigality of young-inan friendship,--the “Comedy of Errors," with its Plautus plot and origin, -the “ Love's Labour's Lost," with its revelry in pedantic affectations and gentlemanly gallantries,—seem to be the very plays for first essays in student-authorship. The “Venus and Adonis"--professedly “the first heir of his invention "--and the "Lucrece," bear palpable tokens of college elegance and predilection, both in story and in treatment. The air of niceness and stiffness almost peculiar to the schools invests these efforts of his youthful genius with almost unmistakable signs of having been written by a schoolman. Then, his
* Collected into a chronological table, and subjoined, for the convenience of referring, at a glance, to either or all of them in corroboration of these remarks upon Shakespeare's career. This table has been chiefly compiled from the “Life" by Mr Payne Collier--altogether the best biography of the poet that has been produced.
familiar acquaintance with college terms and usages, makes for the conclusion that he had enjoyed the privileges of a university education. The arguments against it are, that no record has yet been found to exist at either Oxford or Carrbridge of such being the case ; whereas, had they ever numbered such a member aniong their body, the fact could hardly have failed to be well known; and another point that militates against the assumption is, that John Shakespeare's circumstances during those three years were less prosperous, and therefore the sum requisite for sending his son to college, and maintaining him there, was not likely to have been at command. Still William Shakespeare may have been a scholar upon the foundation,-a sizer, or servitor,-in which case, his collegiateship would have been no expense to the father. There is a passage in the second part of “Henry IV." which shows how sending a young man to one of the Inns of Court was a customary sequent step to sending him to college. Justice Shallow says
"I dare say my cousin William is become a good scholar :
he is at Oxford still, is he not? Sil. Indeed, sir, to my cost.
Shal. He must then to the Inns of Court shortly." So strong was our impression that Shakespeare must have been a student at Oxford, and afterwards kept terms at one of the Inns of Court, that we besought some friends to interest themselves in the prosecution of inquiries tending to produce evidence on this point ; but hitherto research has proved unavailing. The Reverend N. J. Halpin entertained a similar persuasion respecting Shakespeare's having been a collegian; supporting it by a quotation from a tract entitled "Polimanteia ;" wherein England addresses “her three Daughters, Cambridge, Oxford, Inns of Court,” &c., and which contains a marginal mention of Shakespeare, as if he were among those of their offspring to be proudly enumerated. Were the fact to be established that he had been a law-student, sufficient clue would be obtained to the marvellous intimacy which Shakespeare has manifested with legal terms, his frequent adoption of them in illustration, and his curiously technical knowledge of their form and force; thereby giving rise to the belief that he had at one time served in an office as an attorney's clerk. Several attempts have been made to substantiate this belief; which probably originated with a supposed sneering allusion to Shakespeare in a contemporary assertion by Thomas Nash, that “Hamlet” was written by a person who had followed the trade of noverint," meaning a scrivener or lawyer's clerk, and borne out by other appearances of evidence. The Thomas Greene who acted as clerk of the corporation in Shakespeare's native town, and was sent up to London on parliamentary business by them in 1614, was apparently son to an attorney of Stratford-upon-Avon, whose burial is recorded in the parish register there, thus:-"Thomas Greene, alias Shakespeare, March 6, 1590." Thomas Greene, the younger, emissary from Stratford, who wrote the note in 1614, mentions his townsman in these words :—“My cosen Shakespeare comyng yesterday, I went to see him, how he did.” What was the relationship between the Greenes and the Poet, which gave the father a right to his registered "alias," and authorised the son in using the title "cousin,” is unknown ; it may have been a mere nominal kinship, some playful “ adoptious” cousinship, denoting the intimate terms of friendship which united the two families in a closeness like that of consanguinity ; but it serves to show Shakespeare's near connexion with professional lawyers, which alone
would suffice to account for his legal knowledge. With such faculties as his, an occa. sional hour in Greene's office, conversing gaily,-idly, it might scem, with his young “cousin ” on what mainly interested the attorney aspirant, would endow him with a degree of proficiency that would demand of another long and studious application. Nevertheless, it is by no means impossible that he may have pursued the legal profession with a view to emolument, in the same way that he may have been assistantmaster, or usher, at the grammar-school, as a means of gaining a livelihood, when it became absolutely necessary that he should earn something towards his own support. Aubrey's manuscript, in the Ashmolean Museum, states that, “in his younger years Shakespeare had been a schoolmaster in the country;” and, if so, it was in all probability at the period when his father's diminished income, together with his own youthful act of independence in taking a wife, rendered some source of gain absolutely indispensable.
Shakespeare's early marriage,-he was but eighteen,-in all its circumstances, affords a signal proof of his poetic and ardent temperament. There exists a tradition that Anne Hathaway was very beautiful ; however that may be, she was assuredly so in his eyes. She was in the full bloom of womanhood, -fiveand-twenty,—the very period of ripened charms and developed cliaracter to win a lad's devoted admiration. From the uniformly noble way in which Shakespeare drew the wifely character, we may feel certain of the esteem as well as affection with which his own wife had inspired him ; and the advantage in generosity which he has always assigned to women over men when drawing them in their mutual relations with regard to love, gives us excellent warrant for supposing that he had had reason to know this truth respecting her sex from the mother of his children. The very slenderness of what is known concerning her is one tacit but significant proof of the worth of Shakespeare's wife, and of the integrity of the feeling which bound him to her,—for those women of whom least is heard, are ofttimes the best of their sex,while the Poet's silence respecting his affection, witnesses its wealth, by his own lines
“ That love is merchandiz’d, whose rich esteeming
The owner's tongue doth publish everywhere.” In the Sonnets—which afford so remarkable a specimen of an autobiographical outpouring, where nothing is told of circumstance or event, but where the internal nature of the man himself is strikingly revealed , where the artist-soul,-in its struggles of alternate feeling, its humility of conscious imperfection with regality of conscious power, its dejected sense of human frailty with towering aspirations, its noble candours, its affected generosities, its passionate homage, its self-confession,-stands bare to view, while no jot of incident is related :-in these sonnets may be traced tokens that Shakespeare could fully rely on the forbearance of his wife, and upon the unreproachful loving reception which she had ever ready for her Poet-husband. Were a crowning testimony wanting, of the warm attachment between Shakespeare and the woman who was the bride of his youth, as well as the wife to whom he constantly returned amid the excitement of his metropolitan life, it would be amply furnished in the nature of the bequest he left her in his will. The sacredness of the sentiment that united them is mutely but eloquently expressed in that simple legacy. Things that seem all but meaningless to the eyes of lookers-on are full of dearest intention to married lovers.
It was when Shakespeare had been a husband but bare four years, that, finding himself the father of three children, the means of his parents less prosperous, and his