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world within ten days of each other,—the former on the 23d of April, new style, and the latter on the same date, old style. The greatest genius whom
, the authors of Don Quixote and King Lear left behind them was John Milton; but he was only eight years of age when they passed away. Another remarkable man was approaching maturity, through whose instrumentality events, involving both good and evil, were preparing for England. The long succession of her kings was to be broken, her constitutional monarchy was to be overthrown, and a commonwealth was to be set up on its ruins. Oliver Cromwell, however, was as yet prosecuting his studies at college in April, 1616; and no dream of coming regicide and civil war disturbed the poet's dying hours, or mingled with the grief of those who surrounded his deathbed, and in whose breasts the predominant sentiment must have been,
“ This was the noblest Roman of them all.
And say to all the world, This was a man!” Let us not think that he died an untimely death.” Who had ever done so much in fifty-two years? He gave expression to as many high and remarkable thoughts in that time as would have graced and dignified a hundred ordinary lives, protracted to the longest span. No fruit could have been expected from “the golden autumn of such a mind” superior to what its spring and summer
had produced. If wisdom be often found under “the silver livery of advised age,” it was equally found in Shakespeare's unblanched manhood. It was better that he sank beneath the horizon at once, like the broad-orbed sun, than that he should have waned into gradual dimness. If the spirits of the departed are cognizant, as we fondly trust they are, of the sentiments which animate the “ breathers of this world,” Shakespeare's may well be filled with profoundest love and gratitude in the perception of how much it was permitted to contribute towards the elevation and refinement of the world.
To the young, who may yet be unacquainted with his works, these Volumes will be as a newlydiscovered mine, filled with inconceivable riches. To the more advanced it will afford the means of reverting again and again to old-established loves and friendships, which only grow the stronger with every fresh opportunity of renewed intercourse. The absence of notes and commentaries need not be regretted. These, if wanted, can be found elsewhere in superabundance; but Samuel Johnson, erroneous as many of his own commentaries were, never gave sounder advice than when he recommended that they who wished to become fully acquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desired to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, should read every play from the first scene to the last, “with utter negligence of all his commentators.” When fancy is once on
the wing, as the Doctor truly says, it should not stoop at correction or explanation: when the attention is strongly engaged with Shakespeare, let it not turn aside to the name of Theobald or of Pope. Particular passages may be cleared by notes; but the general effect is weakened by the interruption. Obscurities and niceties may be investigated when time permits and inclination prompts; but in the beginning and in the end it is best and safest to allow Shakespeare to speak for himself.
FROM THE ORIGINAL, IN THE OFFICE OF THE
PREROGATIVE COURT OF CANTERBURY.
Vicesimo quinto die Martii, Anno Regni Domini
nostri Jacobi nunc Regis Anglia, &c., decimo quarto, et Scotice quadragesimo nono. Anno Domini 1616.
In the name of God, Amen. I, William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentleman, in perfect health and memory (God be praised !) do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following; that is to say:
First, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping, and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting; and my body to the earth whereof it is made.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my daughter Judith one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful English money, to be paid unto her in manner and form following; that is to say, one hundred pounds in discharge of her marriage portion within one year
after my decease, with consideration after the rate of two shillings in the pound for so long time as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease; and the fifty pounds residue thereof, upon her surrendering of, or giving of such sufficient security as the overseers of this my will shall like of, to surrender or grant all her estate and right that shall descend or come unto her after
decease, or that she now hath, of, in, or to, one copyhold tenement, with the appurtenances, lying and being in Stratford-upon-Avon aforesaid, in the said county of Warwick, being parcel or holden of the manor of Rowington, unto my daughter Susannah Hall, and her heirs for ever.
Item, I give and bequeath unto my said daughter Judith one hundred and fifty pounds more, if she, or any issue of her body, be living at the end of three years next ensuing the day of the date of this my will, during which time my executors to pay her consideration from my decease according to the rate aforesaid : and if she die within the said term without issue of her body, then my will is, and I do give and bequeath one hundred pounds thereof to my niece Elizabeth Hall, and the fifty pounds to be set forth by my executors during the life of my sister Joan Hart, and the use and profit thereof coming shall be paid to my sister Joan, and after