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WITHOUT undervaluing in the least degree the laborious researches of those English critics who, by a careful collation of manuscripts, by archæological research, and historical investigation, have restored and illustrated the text of Shakespeare, it may be safely asserted that to Germany we owe, if not the founders, yet the most able and systematic among the disciples of that school of Shakespearian critics who have illustrated rather his thought than his language, his matter than his manner, who have studied his writings rather as those of a moralist, a thinker, a master of human nature, and a poet of all places and of all time, than as those of an English writer of a certain epoch. The labours of what may be not unfairly called the English school of Shakespearian critics are invaluable, since without them the language in which the moralist and the poet has spoken would have been often little understood, and to their efforts for the elucidation of many otherwise obscure passages we owe much of our intelligent appreciation of the language of the great dramatist. A higher place, however, must be, perhaps, assigned to those who, with minds well qualified for the task, have devoted their attention to the illustration of those eternal truths enshrined in that language-truths which lie hidden to the common eye, and
which, if they are to be comprehended in their full meaning, demand patient study and investigating perse
Among the disciples of this latter school will be found the names of some English writers, such as Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and others. Johnson also treated the poet in an ethical point of view, and if his work on the subject added little to his fame, it showed, as Macaulay remarks, how attentively he had during many years observed human life and human nature. But it is not my intention in these few prefatory words to enter into any detailed notice of the works upon Shakespeare which have appeared in England, America, France, and Germany. Each of these countries may reckon among its scholars men who have conscientiously studied the genius, the ethics, and the art of the great poet; and the labours of Hudson, Guizot, Schlegel, Goethe, Ulrici, and others have from time to time brought forth much valuable material, and have met with due appreciation.
The relation in which this work of Gervinus stands to these previous commentaries he has himself so fully pointed out in his Introduction that it is needless for me to enlarge upon it here. He has indeed so far followed in the steps of his predecessors in regarding his author not only as a poet and a dramatist, but as a moralist, and a master of human nature. But he has done more than this. Taking up the idea which Goethe only suggested in his criticism on Hamlet, he has pursued the course which the German poet indicated. He has perceived one ruling idea pervading every play, linking every part, every character, every episode, to one single aim. He has pointed out the binding thread in things which before seemed disconnected, and has found a justification for much that before seemed needlessly offensive and even
immoral. And in doing this, in thus weaving together materials apparently scattered, and in giving us a guiding thread through the intricacies of the plot, he has opened out to us a new source of interest, and has afforded a yet firmer basis to our former appreciation of the works of Shakespeare.
It is for this reason that he holds a distinguished place among the commentators on Shakespeare in his own country, and standing thus alone in the path he has taken, his work will be a welcome addition to English Literature. His 'History of German Poetry,' and his 'History of the Nineteenth Century,' have already given his name a world-wide reputation, and have placed him in the highest rank as a critic of art and as a philosophical historian.
It only remains for me to add that I have undertaken this work with the author's sanction and under his supervision. It has led me more and more deeply to appreciate the views it unfolds, and the personal advantage and enjoyment I have derived from their consideration will, I trust, be shared by many readers.
F. E. BUNNETT.