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To the Reader.
If ever a people had reason to be proud of their Literature, it is ourselves : no other nation has approached us in the grandeur and number of our writers; and of these the Author of the following pages shines preeminent.
The age in which he appeared was resplendent with the light of the Reformation : at no other period were there so many great minds floating on the surface; and amongst the host, our bard had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All nature presented herself to his imagination; and he drew from her whatever portraits he pleased, or those which best answered his purpose at the moment: every one he took was perfect in its way, both as to head and heart, dropping exactly into the place assigned for it by the wonderful power of his pen.
That which makes his works appear more extraordinary, is the knowledge we possess that his genius did not receive the advantage of either an extended, or high education; indeed, we may gather, that the principal part of it must have been his experience after he arrived in London ; the probability being, that he neither read, nor even saw, very many books, until he was thrown upon the wide world, and left to struggle with it in the Metropolis. Then commenced the outpourings of his imagination and fancy, flowing like rivers of pure silver, destined to irrigate the world of man to the latest posterity.
All the minds he pourtrayed, his soul appeared to enter into for the time being ; whether in the spiritual Ariel,—the inimitable Falstaff,—the deformed humanity of Caliban,—the perfection of female purity in Miranda,—the proud but noble patrician in Coriolanus,--the true matron in Volumnia, -the brave soldier in Antony,--the Eastern queen in Cleopatra,—the human fiend in Iago,—the kingly tyrant in Richard, the princely metaphysician in Hamlet, or the over-confiding friend in Othello ; these, and many others, stand out with a distinctness that no other pen ever in the like manner pourtrayed.
It has been observed, that near him in the number of bosom lines,- of lines that we may cherish in our bosoms, and that seem almost as if they had grown there,-of lines that, like bosom friends, are ever at hand to counsel, comfort, and gladden us, under all the vicissitudes of life.” Again, of the wonderful excellence of his plays we have no reason to believe that he was fully conscious: we know that he did not take the trouble of publishing his works, excepting that some of the single plays were printed, as books of the opera are at the present day, merely to help the play-goers to accompany the actors.
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His genius adapted itself with such nicety to all the varieties of ever-varying man, as to pourtray the mind of the times which the play elucidated, in the physiognomy of the characters. It has been remarked, that
although human passions are the same in all ages, there are modifications of them dependant on the circumstances of time and place, which Shakespeare always caught and expressed. He has thus given such national tinge and epochal propriety to his impersonations, that even when one Jaques in a bag-wig and sword, one may exclaim, on being told that he is a French nobleman, “This man must have lived at the