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the "Chronicles of Clovernook" and "St Giles and St James," as the efforts of his vigorous maturity.
Shakespeare may be taken as a standard for language; it is manly, expressive, and purely English. The revival of many of Shakespeare's words—pronounced by Dr Johnson in his dictionary to be "wholly obsolete "—would be a valuable renovation of the English language. In the present rage for fineries of epithet and fopperies of phraseology, when French terms and Greek titles are so much in vogue, it would be a wholesome return to indigenous form of speech, were we to abide by Shakespeare's integrity. Instead of framing newfangled and alien nomenclature, let us maintain the use of Shakspeare's right and true words, and we shall preserve our language in its purity. His is genuine Saxon English; his classical adoptions are sparingly introduced, and only with strictest propriety to the occasion.
Shakespeare affords a good standard for taste—a standard by which to gauge true taste, and estimate false taste. Much is said about this being "bad taste," and that being "too sentimental;"—and so, people—especially young people, in their honest eagerness—rush into the opposite extreme, and, in striving to escape from these, abjure really tasteful things, and things of pure sentiment. Shakespeare will 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 prevent—duly 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 delineation, 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 instils 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 topies 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 (i) (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 comfort 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 footnotes, or the torment of notes that are frequently mere vehicles for abuse, spite, and arrogance. Many of these seem written for the sole purpose—not 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 intellect—his own immortal book.
But, indeed, we possess much, fitly considered, in the few ascertained facts of Shakespeare's life ;* they suffice to show
• 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
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's 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 th.us 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
"Life" by Mr Payne Collier—altogether the best biography of the poet that has been produced.