« ÎnapoiContinuă »
there appeared at least once every ten years a fresh edition. Among others may be named Rowe's in 1709, Pope's in 1725, Theobald's in 1733, Sir Thomas Hanmer's in 1744, Warburton's in 1747, Dr. Johnson's in 1765, Steevens' in 1766, Dr. Hugh Blair's in 1771, Malone's in 1790, and Reed's in 1793. During the present century, in which a taste for reading and general literature has been so largely cultivated, there have been editions and editors without number. Beginning with Boydell in 1802, who was followed by Chalmers, Bowdler, and Boswell, we come down to Collier, Dyce, Campbell, Singer, Halliwell, Knight, and Staunton. Shakespeare's fame has broadened, and his genius has been more universally felt as centuries have rolled on, but he took his place among England's foremost poets even in his own lifetime, and there never has been a period when that place was forgotten or disputed by his countrymen.
Whilst Shakespeare's mind thus endures, and its creations are a portion of our intellectual possessions ever present to our daily thoughts,Shakespeare, the individual man,-Shakespeare “in his habit as he lived,” is mysteriously withdrawn from
and is destined to remain little more than a nominis umbra. It is not yet two hundred and fifty years since he died; we have full and accurate biographies of many who lived centuries before him; ; but all that we know definitely concerning the details of his life can be stated in a few lines. No private letter of his writing, no record of his He sup
conversation, scarcely any authentic personal reminiscence of him by contemporaries remain. Laborious enthusiasts, who have raked up every possible scrap of information, have been delighted to "fringe an inch of fact with acres of conjecture," many of which are self-evidently false. Most men who have written so much have furnished some clue to themselves in their own writings, but Shakespeare is the least egotistical of all great thinkers. In creating others he forgot himself. His mind appears to us in his works in isolation from his person. presses individual consciousness, that he may the better bring before us the broad features of universal humanity. In his sonnets alone, which were written for the most part when he was a young man, we are able to find some slight indications of personal history or feelings, but these are meagre. and uncertain. We discover occasional touches of sadness, occasional intimations that his state or way of life was not what he could have wished; but we also find in them a wonderful delight in the strength of friendship, and a noble scorn of all base desires and unworthy deeds. We trace, on the whole, a modest, cheerful, and contented spirit, little affected by the outward show of things, but prone to dwell upon
their inward and essential virtues. Like all truly great men, Shakespeare was more disposed to use and enjoy his own powers than to think of turning them to worldly account. unvexed by any craving after success, setting probably no high value on what is familiarly understood
by success. It seems extremely likely, as Guizot has well remarked, that he “retained, even at the end of his career, some remains of ingenuous ignorance of the marvellous riches which he scattered so lavishly in every direction."
Yet there were moments when a presage of immortality stirred within him, and he knew that he uttered truth when he wrote
“Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;"
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
Large books professing to be biographies of Shakespeare have been written; but if we separate their chaff from their wheat, we shall find that the former is in larger proportion to the latter than Falstaff's sack was to his bread. Steevens has said truly that when we have told that Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon, that he married and had children there, that he went to London when he was twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, that he became an actor and wrote plays, that he returned to Stratford when he was approaching the age of fifty, resided there two or three years, made his will, died, and was buried, we have told all that can be
told with certainty. One reason, perhaps, why so many records of him which must have existed have now disappeared, is, that twenty-six years after his death that great civil war commenced which divided England into hostile factions, setting family against family, and led to the extinction of many traditions and memorials. Shakespeare belonged to a profession which the Roundheads hated and the Cavaliers looked down upon.
Add to this, that three years before his death the Globe Theatre, with which he had been long connected, was burned to the ground; that a great fire afterwards occurred in Stratford; and, finally, that the house of his friend and admirer, Ben Jonson, was also burned. It is by no means improbable that many papers bearing reference to Shakespeare were thus destroyed.
One of the most remarkable evidences of antiquarian uncertainty is to be found in the doubt which so long existed, and which is not even yet altogether dissipated, as to the manner in which our poet's name should be spelled, or, rather, as to what the name really was. It has been written Chacksper, Shaxpere, Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakespeyre, Schakespeire, Schackspere, Shackspeare, Shakspeare, and Shakespeare. Malone stood out for Shakspeare, and was followed by Steevens, Bowdler, Drake, De Quincey, Guizot, and others. Knight adopted Shakspere, but was not successful in making that spelling popular. Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Dyce, and Halliwell preferred Shakespeare as at once the most correct and most
euphonious orthography. This spelling is supported by the following authentic documents, which seem to put its accuracy beyond a doubt :-First, A certificate which was presented in the year 1589 to the Privy Council by her Majesty's Players and “Sharers in the Blackfriars’ Play-house,” which bears the signature inter alios of William Shakespeare; Second, In 1596 the same company presented a Petition to the Privy Council, which contains the same signature; Third, In a preface to one of the plays published in 1598 it is written—"As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for tragedy and comedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare, among the English, is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage;" Fourth, The patent of James I., dated at Westminster, 19th May, 1603, in favour of the players acting at the Globe, is headed Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare, et aliis; Fifth, Among the papers in Dulwich College there is a letter of Mrs. Edward Alleyn, dated 20th Oct., 1603, in which she writes,—“ About a weeke agoe there came a youthe who said he was known unto you and Mr. Shakespeare of the Globe;" Sixth, In Lintot's edition of the Poems, which appeared in 1709, the Editor says,
“ That most learned prince and great pattern of learning, King James the First, was pleased with his own hand to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakespeare, which letter, though now lost, remained long in the hands of Sir William Davenant, as a credible person now living can testify;" Seventh, In the Diary of the Rev. John Ward, vicar of