Зображення сторінки
PDF

writers, he is also one of the greatest of borrowers ; and as few authors have appropriated so freely from others, so none can better afford to have his obligations in this kind made known.

Of the critical remarks in the Introductions, pernaps the less said, the better. The Editor, how : ever, may be allowed to say, that in this part of his work he has held it as a sort of axiom, that the proper business of criticism is to translate truths of feeling into truths of intelligence; and that his aim has been rather to involve or imply the principles of criticism so deeply meditated and expounded by Coleridge and Schlegel than to give a distinct formal expres·sion of them. For it may be aptly said that in studying works of art “he is oft the wisest man who is not wise at all.” And the course here pursued seems the better, forasmuch as it holds out some hope of conducting the reader, by silent natural processes, to such a state and habit of mind, that he may contemplate the plays, perhaps without knowing it, as works of art, and see all the parts and elements of a given structure intertwining and coalescing and growing up together in vital, organic harmony and reciprocity. For if, without being drawn into an ugly conceit or vanity of criticism, the reader can be made to see and understand how in the Poet's delineations every thing is fitted to every other thing; how each requires and infers the others, and all hang together in orderly coherence and mutual support; it is plain that both the pleasure and the profit of the reading must be greatly increased

Ripe Shakespearians, it is true, may not need such help, and may even be impatient of it; nevertheless the Editor ventures to think that just analyses of the Poet's characters, briuging out into conscious recognition their individual forms and distinctive springs, may be of service to many readers, not only in making them more at home with his truth, but in helping them to realize more fully the vast wealth and compass of his multitudinous mind. Shakespeare interprets Nature: to interpret him, is a much humbler function indeed, but not altogether useless.

In the Life here given of Shakespeare, the Editor has aimed merely to set forth, in a simple and plain way, and without any flourish or fumigation, whatsoever lay within his reach, that seemed to illustrate, directly or remotely, the history and character of the subject as a poet and as a man ; his aims in life, and his failures and successes in them; wherein he was helpful to others, and wherein he received help from them. The materials for this work are meagre enough at the best, and their meagreness is apt to induce an overworking of them. Besides, of the little matter there is, the greater part, being derived from legal documents and public records, is of so dry and hard a quality, that to make it interesting and attractive, save for the subject's sake, is nearly out of the question. If the present essay should be thought overcharged with the original sin of the matter, there is yet no law against holding that even such a fault is better than to offend good taste, as some of the Poet's biographers have done, by elaborate impertinence and ornate and fanciful con

jecture. The only kindling that seems desirable here is such as will throw real light on the Poet, not such as would smoke him into vastness.

Touching the Historical Sketch of the English Drama, the writer's main purpose therein was to show, what has not always been duly attended to, that the Drama, as we have it in Shakespeare, was a national growth, not an individual creation; and that we are probably indebted for it as much to the public taste and preparation of the time as to the genius of the man. The Shakespearian Drama came, not merely or mainly because Shakespeare was the greatest of human intellects, but rather because he was an Englishman, breathing, from the cradle upwards, the atmosphere of English life and thought, and concentrating in himself the whole spirit and efficacy of the English mind and character, as these had ripened up through centuries of development and progress. In his day, the Drama was and long had been an intense national passion ; a passion which kept growing deeper and stronger, till at length an age of daring innovation and expansion set it free; while the further want of an omniloquent organ to give it voice and expression was met and answered in Shakespeare. Thus the time and the man were suited to each other; and it was in his direct, fearless, whole-hearted sympathy with the soul of the time that the man both lost himself and found his power: which is doubtless one reason why we see so little of him in his work; he being too

much kindled to think of himself or of the figure he was making. So that the work could not possibly have been done anywhere but in England, the Eng. land of Spenser and Raleigh and Bacon; nor could it have been done there and then by any man but Shakespeare. In his hand, what had long been a national passion became emphatically a National Institution ; how full of life, is shown in that it has ever since refused to die. And it seems well worth the while to bring this clearly into view, inasmuch as it serves to remove the subject upon deeper and broader principles of criticism than have commonly stood uppermost in the minds of the Poet's critics. To impart anything like just and adequate ideas touching the origin and progress of the English Drama, the Editor knew no better, nor indeed any uther way, than by giving analyses of various specimens in the several forms or stages through which that Drama passed. It is not unlikely that he may have overdone this part of the work ; for the subject has a certain fascination for him, insomuch as to disqualify him perhaps for judging how far it might prove edifying or attractive to others.

Of his slender qualifications for the task, perhaps it is enough for the Editor to say that he is deeply sensible of them; that every step he has taken in the work has reminded him of them; and that none, it is hoped, will be more apt to charge him, than he is to charge himself, with presumption in undertaking it. It is but justice to add, that the work sought him, not he the work. Fortunately, by far the most important part of the task, that of setting forth a pure and genuine text of the Poet, is one where patient industry and care may in some measure be made to supply the lack of other qualification.

In the course of his work the Editor has incurred many obligations; divers facilities having been kindly offered him before they were sought, and others as kindly granted upon his hinting a request. In fact, he has met with nothing but the most generous and hearty spirit of accommodation. To Mr. Charles Folsom, the late accomplished and gentlemanly librarian of the Boston Atheneum; to Mr. Henry T. Parker, formerly of Boston, now of London, England; to George C. Shattuck, M. D., Mr. Edwin P. Whipple, and Mr. Joseph Burnett, of Boston ; also, to the learned and liberal Dr. Cogswell, of the Astor Library, the Hon. Gulian C. Verplanck, Mr. Evert A. Duyckinck, Mr. George L. Duyckinck, and Mr. Edward S. Gould, of New York ; – to all these he has been and is indebted for important favours. Nor must the stereotypers of the Boston Foundry go unremembered; whom he has found as fine a set of fellows to work with as an author o. editor ought to desire.

Boston, September, 1871.

« НазадПродовжити »