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INTRODUCTION.

The interest excited by our greatest poet extends beyond his writings. Shakspeare's commentators have made the most skilful researches to ascertain the incidents of his life. The late Mr. Malone, in particular, was fortunate enough to correct much error on this subject, and to leave the few particulars we have of his family and himself proved by documents, which will hardly now be disputed. Unfortunately the life of the poet by that gentleman was left unfinished—he conducted him only to the period of his quitting Stratford; and the remaining section, which should have been devoted to his appearance in London, is occupied by the essay on the chronology of his dramas. I am little disposed to blame his editor for not giving that for which he received no materials; but the many conversations which I had the honour and happiness to hold with Mr. Malone upon this subject, (some of which I see he very flatteringly remembered) convince me that, though he left no record, he had accumulated much ; and that he could have proceeded to the very end of the poet's existence, and have poured forth at every period, abundance of new fact, or refutation of long established mistake. The commentators, while they inquired after the actor and the poet, did not altogether neglect his personal resemblance. But very

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unfortunately, they conducted the latter inquiry in a way little likely to lead to certainty. They usually worked themselves up to the feeling of partizans rather than that of inquirers, and determined to see no marks of authenticity out of the frame of their favourite portrait. But the few pictures, that have any claim to be considered, being already of great age, and having sustained much injury, it becomes a duty in the poet's worshippers, to settle, if possible, the person of their divinity; and not leave posterity to a wretched indecision, among hundreds of copies and pretended originals, in which the true pictures are debased, and the nation insulted, and his admirers look in vain for any traits of their great and amiable poet. A reader who rises from the perusal of Shakspeare's writings will be apt, from a fanciful analogy, to invest his person with extraordinary graces; and his portrait is required to reflect all the intelligence in his works. Experience of nature, it is true, commands us to limit such expectations; and indeed art must disappoint them, even if they were just. Shakspeare has himself told us, with his usual point, that “the will is infinite, and the execution confined; that the desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit.” If we read over the cotemporary allusions to Shakspeare (when the writers were not obviously irritated by his success) we find the most cordial assent to his great and amiable character. He is admirable in the quality he professes; he is the wonder of the age for his genius, and THAT was not for an age, “but for all time.” As a man of business, he is strictly correct and honourable—as a friend and

fellow, as well as a writer, his mind and hand go together; he is the gentle grace of society, and redeems the profession he adorns, from the galling odium which illiberal prejudice had chained about it. Aubrey, on perhaps good authority, has added something to these pleasing features. He tells us that “he was a handsome wellshaped man, very good company, and of a very ready, and pleasant, and smooth wit.” * = Of such a man, therefore, who would not wish to possess an exact resemblance? Accuracy in such a matter is every thing. Our wish must be, by the aid of picture, to enjoy him in private life; to sit with him in the same room ; and, while we have before us the inspirations of his mind, to catch the characteristic look of his meditation, or perhaps the smile with which he brightened his familiar circle. Happily, I think we do possess satisfaction of this nature. It is the object of these pages to shew, that in very few cases of a similar kind have we likeness more strongly authenticated. Both the pencil and the graver have perpetuated the features of our poet. It is our duty to convey to distant times the pleasure we ourselves enjoy—to relieve them, while we have the means, from the spurious portraits; to establish and extend the true; and thus hand down, along with works that are never to die, the express image of him who composed them. Of all the follies which expensive triflers commit among us, the cruellest is that which is called illustration. The reader knows that I allude to the practice of tearing the portraits from the works of our great authors, to combine them in some fantastic series under a particular reign. The mania is inconceivably violent. Let a man

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once begin to illustrate a chronicle, a Clarendon, or a catalogue, and a fortune only can purchase the bauble. I would, by some rare, because pleasant, Act of Parliament, compel these collectors, to

restore such accumulated plunder to the original possessors

“So distribution should undo excess,

“And each book have enough.”

The first authentic collection of the plays of Shakspeare was printed for Messrs. Heminge and Condell, by Jaggard and Blount, in the year 1623, though a copy is in existence dated one year earlier; it is a medium folio, printed with two columns on each page, and exhibits the plays, with the simple and natural classification, under the three heads of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies: meaning by the middle term, such dramas as had been constructed from the materials of our English chronicles.

The copies of this book, called the first folio, are usually found divested of their original title; and the reason is, not that this page was more liable to injury than any other, for it was sufficiently guarded by the leaves preceding it, but that it has been torn out, to afford an illustration to some fanciful assemblage of English portraits. The process then has been, to get the head from the second, third, or fourth impressions of the book, and let this into a spurious title-page printed for such purposes. The original price of the folio 1628 was one pound—the highest price it has ever yet brought at our booksales is 107 guineas, which the late Mr. Boswell paid for the copy that was Mr. Kemble's. This book, it is true, had been rendered

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