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Some three hundred years ago there lived in England a man who was an actor by profession and who also wrote plays for the stage. He was successful in his vocation and, in good time, retired, with the money he had saved, to a country home in his native town where he died. For a hundred years after his death both the man and the work he had done were almost forgotten. A decade after he had been laid in his grave, a printer gathered together what he could of the writings of this man and presented them to a heedless public in a very badly printed folio volume. Interest in this book was so feeble that five small editions only were sufficient to supply a century's demand. The man was William Shakespeare, and the volume, the now famous and almost priceless "First Folio." To-day, the name Shakespeare is sacred in every home where the English language is spoken, and the printed editions of his plays would fill a library that would rival in size the legendary Alexandrian.
What has happened to bring about this marvellous change? That happened which always must happen when a great creative spirit wills itself into activity- the world took on new and more lovely colors, and life held out for us fresh joys and more abiding hopes. We then realized that the humble play-actor and play-writer had been a man inspired; for we saw that he had revealed for us the profoundest secrets of the human heart and the eternal beauties of the living world. And he had done this in such
language as had never before or since been uttered by mortal man. We stood spell-bound and entranced. Surely, this simple stage-player, with his unique genius, had been an angel sent us from heaven; and we had left him to walk the earth unguessed at." Every page of the now tattered folio shone resplendent in the magical light of his revealing insight and beneficent wisdom which radiated from them. We could not forgive ourselves for our utter blindness, and for two hundred years we have been trying to make amends. Our orators and critics sounded the praises of this forgotten poet, so that his name became a word to conjure with. Books by the thousand were written to expound his wisdom and reflect his light. Theatres were built in which to present his plays; universities sent out their missionary teachers to preach his gospel; children were taught to lisp his numbers and sing his songs; his language became current and precious in the mouths of statesmen and leaders; legends were fashioned out of the events of his life and death; monuments were raised to his greater glory. In short, the man Shakespeare was worshipped as did the Greeks of old their Olympian deity.
Have we done wisely in going to this other extreme? doubt it. If we were once blind and have now been made to see, that is no reason for being foolish in our gratitude. That, indeed, is but to be blind in another way. We will show a truer wisdom when we use our newly acquired power in ways that shall justify us in its possession. It is good to worship what is worthy; but it is better to know and to realize in our own lives the worthiness of the worshipped. Shakespeare did not write that we should admire him; he would not have been Shakespeare had he had such a pur
pose. Shakespeare wrote to give us the benefit of his wisdom to make us wiser and gladder. Our admiration of him, therefore, will be best expressed by our use of his wisdom- by living more sanely and more joyously. Unfortunately, we are too content with our blind worship of him to do this. We take his greatness for granted and let it go at that.
Let us be frank with each other and confess, that though we may admire the gilded backs of the volumes of Shakespeare's works in our glass-protected bookcases, and boast of their possession, we rarely read them. What, then, is the value of our pride and praise of this man? ter What can Shakespeare do for us, or what can we do, in gratitude for his bountiful gifts to us, if we are either too indifferent or too afraid to make friends with him? PerΤΕ haps it is impossible to make friends with a god. If so, then have we done very ill in relegating Shakespeare to the dehumanized loneliness of Olympian heights. But we can make friends with him, for he was really a man like ourselves and spoke the same language we speak. He lived our common human life and, like all of us, knew life's troubles and pleasures, its sorrows and joys. His friend, Ben Jonson, called him "the gentle Shakespeare,” and tells us that he was of an open and free nature." Those who met him at his ease knew him as a jolly companion with a splendid wit. Surely the hand of such a man is to be warmed with our clasps, not chilled with a cold sceptre. That he could create out of his sufferings and joys such work as he has given us is our everlasting good fortune; and the man who did it is worth knowing. It is for the purpose of studying and knowing the work of this man that the present edition of Shakespeare's works is published.