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THE author takes this occasion to acknowledge the friendly consideration with which the former editions have been received by the public, so far as he is aware that the work has attracted attention. Those editions having been exhausted, another still seems to be called for. On its first appearance, the book was noticed by many of the public journals in this country, and by some in England, and in a manner for the most part highly complimentary to the writer, though by no means all were prepared to accede to his conclusions. Nor have all been ready to admit that he had added much to the considerations and proofs that had already been presented by others before him. The subject, however, has continued to be discussed in various ways, and, more recently, the candid and able summaries of the argument, which have appeared in "Fraser's Magazine," "Scribner's Monthly," and other periodicals of high literary character, would seem to indicate that the general interest in the question had rather increased than diminished.
The author has not hitherto found reason to modify his views, or statements, in any material respects. Such additional matters as have been brought to his notice, and were deemed of sufficient importance, have been added in the Appendix; and he trusts they may furnish a further justification for this new
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.
edition of the work. He does not suppose that the inquiry has been exhausted, nor that the truth of the theory has yet been demonstrated to the satisfaction of all, but he scarcely expects himself to find another occasion for touching the subject.
In these days, perhaps, there needs be no apology for writing a book. But a book without a preface, like a dinner without a grace, would seem to be uncivil. Let us have, at least, "so much as will serve to be prologue to an egg and butter." This book must speak for itself: I did not see any good reason why it should not be printed. It may be, that the belles-letters critics will think little of it, or the trade still less, or the fixed orthodoxies, that it ought never to have been written at all, or the philosophers, that it is no great affair at best. But inasmuch as thought and knowledge among men lie stratified, as it were, like the densities of the ocean, or the air, in gradations infinite between the lower deeps and the higher realms, this book, like any other that is thrown into the flowing sea of things, may find its own level and so float somewhere; howsoever that level should come near to measuring the weight of book, writer, and reader. It does not presume to contain anything that is positively new, or that was unknown before: it claims only to state things in its own way. I have sometimes thought I had hit upon a new idea, or discovered a new fact, but I was pretty sure to find the same thing stated, or glanced at, in a week or so, in some newspaper, or in some book, new or old, and for that matter (it might be) as old as the
hieroglyphics. If some things in this book should be new to some readers, they will bear in mind the saying of Plato, that "what is strange is the result of ignorance in the case of all"; and if, to others, some things should appear to be either not new, or, if new, not true, they will, of course, exercise the common privilege and judge for themselves.
Doubtless there have been many who could never rest satisfied with the story of William Shakespeare, any more than a Coleridge, or a Schlegel; nor attain to any clear solution of the problem, that the spontaneous genius of a born poet, without the help of much learning, should come to see deeper into all the mysteries of God, Nature, and Man, and write better about the universal world, than the most accomplished scholars, critics, and philosophers, and be himself still unaware that he had done anything remarkable, wholly indifferent to fame (what might be no great wonder), and even (what may be more to the point) utterly heedless of the preservation of works which the author, howsoever he might deem them to be but trifles idly cast from him, could not but know to be "the wanton burthen of the prime" and the best (in that kind) of the age in which he lived, or of many ages: as if he had been one,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away,
an unparalleled mortal, indeed!-nor of that other problem, that a common under - actor should turn poet, and, rummaging over the hereditary lumber of the play - house, should gather up the best of the traditional material, and through the limbec of his
capacious brain distil the quintessence of British genius from time immemorial, a truly representative man, forsooth! Incredulous men that have been born as well as poets, and perhaps never believed so much as the tale about Santa Claus, not to speak of many other prodigious miracles, may have preferred to disbelieve all the biographers, critics, and teachers; or, if still believing them, to deny, flatly, in the outset, without further question, or any particular search, that there could be, or was, anything so very great in this Shakespeare drama after all; or they may even have tried to persuade themselves that this ingenious actor had, by frequent hearing, caught the manner of the stage, and learned like a parrot to imitate the tone, style, and diction of tragedy and comedy alike; still believing that no deep learning, no superior wisdom, no high art, and no divine revelation, beyond the natural flow of good native wit and sense, was to be found in these plays, and that what little learning the author had, was all borrowed, or picked up about the streets and theatres, allowing only that he was gifted with some sharp powers of observation, "a facetious grace in writing," and a pretty large amount of faculty in general. And so, not imagining that the highest and best things could spontaneously well up in such a man as from an original fountain of inspiration, they may have laid him up on a shelf, and never afterwards looked for such things in his works; and the jewels that lay scattered within sight may have been passed by unseen, as if they had been pearls cast before swine:
"'T is very pregnant, The jewel that we find, we stoop and take 't,