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O most gentle Jupiter !-what tedious homily have you wearied your
PRINTED BY ROBERT BIRBECK, 31372, BROAD STREET.
HREE hundred and nineteen years ago this very day, was
born, less than two hours' journey from this room, a man who was destined to live in the minds of his fellows through ages yet unborn, whose cherished thoughts and writings have moulded in no little measure the literature of the world. Among writers comparable to none. All good writers consult him, and many of our most eminent ones have been men and women who have been most familiar with his works, who have profited most by his teaching, reflecting some of his good qualities in their own writings; and though so many years have gone since he did his work, he still occupies a central position, looked up to by all. Among dramatists the grandest, among poets the mightiest, among teachers the gentlest. Our celebrated philologist Dr. Johnson says that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed, so my poor words to-night-a few hurried and imperfect notes—will be but simple reminders of things you all know as well as myself, and most of you could say them much better.
It is a pleasing thing to be familiar with an author, to understand his meaning, and enjoy his writings; but difficult to many of us to convey, in a clear concise manner to the minds of others, his tendency on our own, and especially is this the case with SHAKESPEARE. It is a pursuit that so leads to a true knowledge of one's self that the two studies are almost synonymous, for he so surrounds us, is so woven into our daily life, that we cannot
away from him, and see him as we should a subject less entwined with ourselves, our acquaintance has been so long, and our experiences so many, one knows not where to begin ; the freshness of our first impressions are somewhat worn; we are in the full enjoyment of his noble companionship, and owe so much more to him than we are ever able to trace back, that it is next to impossible thoroughly to analyse the influence on our own minds made by long familiarity. And, when we consider that men of all countries have been, and still are, continually talking about him, and that the subject has been under the thrashing flails of such an army of able exponents through centuries just past, down to the eminent men of our own day, such as George Dawson, Samuel Timmins, Halliwell-Phillips, Cowden Clarke, and a host of others, the wonder is that we can still continue to meet on so crowded a platform, or dare to open our mouths on the subject. But as spring comes round, and all is new, so he, like nature, buds afresh every year.
Many dramatic writings never get read outside a theatre. SHAKESPEARE'S works, written for the theatre, and at first jealously guarded and kept exclusively for dramatic performance, now seem, with a few brilliant exceptions, to be rather falling away from that use; and though the theatre is a wonderful help to the understanding of his endless variety of character, in bringing out the different shades of thought, and is an easy way of getting a general knowledge of the subject, still its full worth can be reached only by close application; containing as they do so much that requires a thoughtful pause, which the rapidity of representation will not allow. Compensating in a large measure for his absence from the theatre, we find him now diffused through all society, he is grown and waxed strong ; our magazines and reviews are not complete without their paper on SHAKESPEARE, he is intermixed with all our endless reading, referred to from pulpit, platform, and bar; our Q.C. Mr. James Murphy quoted him with great effect, in the Irish murder prosecutions, in words from Macbeth, “Blood will have blood ;” and in a speech at the opening of our new libraries, Mr. Bright mentioned him in connection with that remarkable old Scotch lady, Janet Hamilton, who never went to school, who learned to write when she was 50, wrote for one of Cassell's publications when she was 54, went blind at 60, and lived till she was 75 or 76, leaving behind her a volume of compositions, among which were poems written much in the style of Burns. When young she read with great eagerness all books that came in her way, and when she came to SHAKESPEARE she says she found him like a revelation to her. It was not considered good in her time to read him, so she read when the good people were not looking, and when at work hid him in a hole in the wall. And now to see what a change is come about: he is read even in our schools, and most people who take him up in earnest, find him as Janet Hamilton did, and as indeed all good books are, a revelation.
Some books we read and lay aside for ever done with, others we read several times, but SHAKESPEARE stands foremost among those we can always read; and that he can be so read from the time we first begin to handle books, to the time we give up all reading, is one of the strongest proofs of his greatness. It would be interesting if we could go back in memory to the time when first we dipped into his golden pages, in that morn of life when we were lads full of enthusiasm. In one respect we were nearer to the poet then; in the strength and vividness of our imaginings we follow him in his loftiest flights, and, like the bard, gave to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; or, like SHAKESPEARE's Glendower, we can call spirits from the vasty deep (whether they come or not is another question).
We open the book at random, and perhaps the first personage of his that claimed our attention was the Duke of Gloucester; the energy of his intellect, his determination and fearlessness of character had a charm for our young blood ; his words as he gives the coup de grace to the old King in prison, “ Down, down to hell, and say I sent thee thither,” are fascinating in their terrible earnestness. We thumb King Richard III, a play full of lively action and stirring times of battle so seductive to young readers. We try to read the soliloquy, beginning “Now is the winter of our discontent:" we people the air with men and horses, and the tramp of the trooper runs through our brains as we fight the battle of Bosworth Field over again ; while the words “Give me another horse, bind up my wounds,” are a masterpiece of stirring elocution to us at that early time, when the coinage of the brain had a sweet ring of expectation, and shone with a