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CHISWICK: PRINTED BY C. AND C. WHITTINGHAM. SOLD BY CARPENTER AND SON, OLD BOND STREET;
T. HURST AND CO. ST. PAUL'S CHURCH YARD; N. HAILES, PICCADILLY ; J. POOLE, NEWGATE STREET ; COWIE AND CO. AND R. JENNINGS, POULTRY; ANT
C. S. ARNOLD, TAVISTOCK STREET.
WHEREVER any extraordinary display of human intellect has been made, there will human curiosity, at one period or the other, be busy to obtain some personal acquaintance with the distinguished mortal whom Heaven had been pleased to endow with a larger portion of its own etherial energy. If the favoured man walked on the high places of the world; if he were conversant with courts; if he directed the
movements of armies or of states, and thus held in his hand the fortunes and the lives of multi. tudes of his fellow-creatures, the interest, which he excites, will be immediate and strong: he stands on an eminence where he is tbe mark of many eyes; and dark and unlettered indeed must be the age in which the incidents of his eventful life will not be noted, and the record of them be preserved for the instruction or the entertainment of unborn generations. But if his course were through the vale of life: if he were unmingled with the factions and the contests of the great: if the powers of his mind were devoted to the silent pursuits of literature --to the converse of philosophy and the Muse, the possessor of the etherial treasure may excite little of the attention of his contemporaries; may walk quietly, with a veil over his glories, to the grave; and, in other times, when the expansion of his intellectual greatness has filled the eyes of the world, it may be too late to inquire for his history as a man. The bright track of his genius indelibly remains; but the trace of his mortal footstep is soon obliterated for ever. Homer is now only a name—a solitary name, which assures us, that, at some unascertained period in the annals of mankind, a mighty mind was indulged to a human being, and gave its wonderful productions to the perpetual admiration of men, as they spring in succession in the path of time. Of Homer himself we actually know nothing; and we see only an arm of immense power thrust forth from a mass of impenetrable darkness, and bolding up the hero of his song to the applauses of never-dying fame. But it may be supposed that the revolution of, perhaps, thirty centuries has collected the cloud which thus withdraws the father of poesy from our sight. Little more than two centuries has elapsed since Wiliam Shakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod the selfsame soil with ourselves; and if it were not for the records kept by our Church in its registers of births, marriages, and borials, we should at this moment be as personally ignorant of the “sweet swan of Avon” as we are of the old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That William Shakspeare was born in Stratford upon Avon; that he married and had three children; that he wrote a certain number of dramas; that be died before he had attained to old age, and was buried in his native town, are positively the only facts, in the personal bistory of this extraordinary man, of which we are certainly possessed; and, if we should be solicitous to fill up this bare and most unsatisfactory outline, we must have re. course to the vague reports of unsubstantial tra. dition, or to the still more shadowy inferences of lawless and vagabond conjecture. Of this remarkable ignorance of one of the most richly endowed with intellect of the human species, who ran bis mortal race in our own country, and who stands separated from us by no very great intervention of time, the causes may not be difficult to be ascertained. William Shak. speare was an actor and a writer of plays; in neither of which characters, however he might excel in them, could he be lifted high in the estimation of his contemporaries. He was hopoured, indeed, with the friendship of nobles, and the patronage of monarchs : his theatre was frequented by the wits of the metropolis; and he associated with the most intellectual of his times. But the spirit of the age was against him; and, in opposition to it, he could not become the subject of any general or comprehensive interest. The nation, in short, knew little and cared less about him. During bis life, and for some years after his death, inferior dramatists outran him in the race of popularity; and then the flood of puritan fanaticism swept him and the stage together into temporary oblivion. On the restoration of the monarchy and the theatre, the school of France perverted, our taste, and it was not till the last century was somewhat advanced that William Shakspeare arose again, as it were, from the tomb, in all his proper majesty of light. He then became the subject of solicitous and learned inquiry : but inquiry was then too late ; and all that it conld recover, from the ravage of time, were only a few human fragments, which could