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A FEW words may be necessary, by way of preface, to my little volume, lest its purport be misunderstood. Not for the wealthy man of learning and leisure, who can afford to buy many books, and devotè much time to any favourite study, is this humble contribution to our English history intended; but for my own order, the men who never purchase books without sacrificing some other of the few comforts of life which a poor man enjoys,—the men who love Literature as a benignant goddess, whose countenance is surrounded by a holy halo, like the Christ of some poet-painter, but who must curtail their small wardrobe and pantry expenses, to afford the glorious luxury of good books. I have aimed at conveying that information in one cheap eighteen-penny volume, which it has cost me the perusal of a hundred higher-priced books to obtain ; to give, in a few hours' reading, a condensation or epitome of the history of Shakspere's days, which, scanty as it undoubtedly is, has cost me the labour of some months. I have endeavoured to make my little book as correct as possible ; and if I have ever erred in dates, the fault is in the books to which I have had access; and any error of this description which may be pointed out to me, will be carefully attended to in another edition, should one ever be required. I think it is WilLIAM COBBETT who gives us the shrewd advice, never to write a book unless we have first found the want of such a one ourselves. have acted upon this maxim, having often found the want of a book like the present; and the memorandums from which the present volume is compiled were, at first, merely collected for my own instruction ; and, I must confess, that I am more "impelled by hunger” to publish them, than by any great “ request of friends :" though several literary men, whose opinions I respect, have encouraged me to print the work, as they thought a contemporaneous history of the period treated of in the following pages could not but be acceptable to the general reader. For as William Oldys, the antiqnary, well observes :-"How many readers are there who would be glad of attaining to knowledge the shortest way, seeing the orb thereof is swollen to such magnitude, and life but a span to grasp it?
In a word, if he be ignorant, who would not wish to enlarge his knowledge ? If he be knowing, who would not willingly refresh his memory ?"
I regret to say, that having treated of the early years of Shakspere at too great length for the limits of the present volume, notwithstanding the close manner in which it is printed, I have been reluctantly compelled to materially curtail my notice of men and events during the manhood of Shakspere, in order that the work may appear at the low price advertised by the publisher. This will also ac count for the non-appearance of the long notes referred to in the commencement of the volume.
HIS TIMES AND CONTEMPORARIES.
" That demi.god!
While sportive Fancy round him flew;
Instructed him in all she knew,
PRE-EMINENT amongst all the writers in our English literature, and towering over the classic authors of antiquity, like an Egyptian pyramid over humbler obelisks, stands the name of WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: a name that will reverberate through the world,
“ From day to day,
Macbeth, act v., scene 5th. Living at a time when the minds of Englishmen had but partially burst their swaddling-bands, it is marvellous at what perfection the poets of the Elizabethian era had arrived. It has been too much the fashion to under-rate all the contemporaries of Shakspere—many of them, doubtless, his comrades and bosom-friends—as though his imperishable fame required that every other writer of his day should be covered with
The fat weed
Hamlet, act i., scene 5th.
To me it seems greater praise, as well as justice, to declare, that amidst a glorious galaxy of bards, such as the world has not before or since surpassed ; that among many choice young man and goodly” in the world of letters, not only was there "no
a person than he," but-as Samuel said of Saul amongst the Israelites—" from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people."
“ One of those giant minds, who, from the mass
He was one
A monument of greatness, and-alone!
JOHN WALKER ORD. Never, perhaps, did man possess so deep an insight into the workings of the human heart; never had man a finer perception of the good, the beautiful, and the true, than the player Shakspere. Most assuredly we possess no landscapes so, graphic; no portraits so correctly or strikingly sketched; no delineations of humanity, in all its various and varying phases, so truthfully given, as are to be found in his inimitable dramas. In his hands the stage indeed accomplishes " the purpose of playing,” which his own “Hamlet” (act ii., scene 2nd,) so judiciously tells us, “ both at first, and now, was, and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to Nature; to show Virtue her own image, Scorn her own feature, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”
To become a great dramatist requires genius of the highest order, and a knowledge of man and history most extensive; for all the characters must be drawn to the life; their actions truly represented, and not mis-represented; else the piece will degenerate into a mere caricature. Successfully to accomplish dramatic writing, the author must comprehend the actions of all his characters, and the motives from which their actions spring; and he must be able to 'sympathise with all men, under all circumstances, or his own prejudices will speak in every line. Compare, for instance, poor Kit Marlow's "Rich Jew of Malta, with Shakspere's Jew in the “Merchant of Venice.” Both
* I Samuel, chap. ix., verse 2nd,