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The two works referred to in this article are samples of what has been done for Shakspearian literature within the last few years. It is a matter of congratulation to all students of the great dramatist that the appliances of modern science should have given us an exact fac-simile of the first collected edition of the poet's works, and thus have enabled all readers to judge for themselves of the state and arrangement of the text as it first left the hands of the poet's literary executors. Mr. Neil's little book has done good service in presenting the facts of the poet's biography, and the most material documents relating to it, in their strict chronological order. The value of the slenderest notices derived from original papers in illustrating not only the life of the poet, of his family, and
* I. Shakespeare: The First Folio Edition of 1623. Reproduced under the immediate supervision of Howard Staunton, by Photo-lithography. Folio.
2. Shakespere: a Critical Biography. By Samuel Neil. i2mo. London, 1861. New Series.—Vol. XIV., No 5.
*D HIS TIMES.*
his neighbors in Warwickshire, but the spirit and manners of the period, can never be fully appreciated until the whole mass of evidence has been thoroughly sifted. Availing ourselves therefore of what has been brought to light by the indefatigable diligence of the poet's admirers within the last few years, and of such papers as still remain unpublished in the Record Office, we propose to lay before our readers a sketch of Shakspeare's life and times, carefully eliminating from the former those supposed facts and theories which have gathered round it on the faith of documents now generally regarded with discredit.
Of Shakspeare's great contemporaries, by descent as well as by feeling, Spenser was intimately connected with the aristocracy of England. His life was spent at a distance from the metropolis. During his long residence in Ireland he treasured up the impressions he had received in his youth of the glories of Elizabeth, and the grandeur of Protestantism,—its heroic sufferings, its eventual triumph over all forms \ 33
of falsehood and deceit, moral, religious, social, scientific, and political. These impressions were never disturbed by too close an approximation to realities. Happily, it was never the poet's lot to witness the party and personal squabbles in which his knights indulged too freely in the court of his Gloriana, or to see prelates and Puritans divided, and both equally forgetful of mutual charity, in bitter controversies about square caps and white surplices. Hooker, on the other hand, owed his descent to the burgher class. The chief part of his life was spent in the quiet seclusion of the university. If Spenser was mainly indebted to his imagination for his knowledge of the external world, Hooker judged it by his books. His mind was as deeply tinctured with fathers and schoolmen—with an ideal Christianity enshrined in the past—as Spenser's imagination lingered over raedia;val romances and Arthurian legends. Over both the past had a stronger hold than the present; the to xaX6v of the one and the rb Slxcuov of the other are equally heroical—both equally transcend the capabilities and the limits of poor, failing, commonplace humanity.
It was otherwise with Shakspeare. Like Spenser, he was allied by his mother's side to gentle blood ;* like Hooker, he was linked to the burgher classes by the stronger parent. Brought up in the country till the age of manhood, thrown early upon his own resources, obliged to no college-fellowship like Hooker, to no diplomatic appointment like Spenser, he was tossed on the seething waves of the metropolis, or rather cast himself upon them, with the same boldness, perhaps the same apparent recklessness, as he had entered on a marriage at eighteen, when he was no better than a poor apprentice or foreman to a failing glover in a poor country town. Of his life-struggles—and they must have been many—he has left no sign. Of his patience, his endurance, his solitary determination, whilst unassisted and unadvised he carved out his way from the safe obscurity of Stratford to the highest pinnacle of fame, he has told us nothing. This early familiarity with the hard realities of life left no trace on his mind, as these things leave scars and traces on inferior intellects, beyond perhaps that sympathy
* "She was one of the heirs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote."—Grant of Arms.
with humanity, that profound appreciation of it in all its forms, which is one of his greatest characteristics as a poet.
How far the circumstances of his life and times may have determined or assisted the development of his genius, it is not easy to ascertain. Of no other English poet can it be said with greater justice: "Poeta nascitur non fit." Many, indeed, of Shakspeare's enthusiastic admirers will not allow that he owed anything to art or to learning. They claim for Nature and for natural inspiration alone those great masterpieces of invention in which others have professed to find traces of the most profound philosophy, the most acute physiological knowledge, the clearest distinctions of races, the fullest appreciation of all forms of poetry, the exactest study of man and of nature.
That Shakspeare owed most to nature, that his obligations to learning or accidental circumstances were but slight, we may fully concede, without at the same time entirely overlooking the obvious advantages afforded by the times for dramatic composition, and the traces of classical education to be found throughout the poet's works. The same keen and unerring instinct which from a single glance could body forth and project in a visible form the whole life and character of a man, however remote from ordinary observation, would by a similar power extract from books—poor and meagre in themselves— the quintessence of a life rich and varied, instinct with thoughts and feelings, such as inferior intelligences would fail to gather from the most perfect productions of the greatest genius. The dreary chronicle, the blundering biography, the vapidest translations of Cassar or of Sallust, were instruments sufficient to set at work that innate power of the poet which, like nature itself, develops the most perfect and glorious results from the most contemptible and unworthy materials. That is what we mean by genius. With ordinary men the instruments by which they work must bear some proportion in dignity and value to die end to be produced; but genius is divine and miraculous in this, that it is not tied to the order, methods, and instruments by which common men are bound. Admitting, then, that no amount of training or study can account for Shakspeare's plays, admitting also that the poet was little indebted to school