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These Papers have been indexed in a common table because, if there is anything of value in them, it will not be less valuable when made of easy reference. But principally they are so identified because, although written at differing intervals, there runs through them all a sort of common purpose. That purpose is to protest, as far as one voice can, against what seems to me the cruel and unusual punishment which Shakespeare is just now meeting at the hands of the esthetic critics. These esthetes, divigating their processes from simple demonstration of Shakespeare's beauties, have fallen to counting his lines, his syllables and endings; from this numeration to conceive a certain algebra, and from this algebra to demonstrate the "period" and the chronology of this or that play or poem. Nay, more. They even write his-William Shakespeare's-personal history from the impressions they themselves receive from this treatment of particular passages in the Plays, until there are as many William Shakespeares as there are commentators! My own idea has been that William Shakespeare was a man of like passions with ourselves, whose moods and veins were influenced-just as are ours-by his surroundings, employments, vocations; that his works are for all times that love him, but not (as is shown by the Davenant episode) for those that do not; and that, great as he was and oceanic as was his genius, we can read him all the better because he was, after all, a man.
I admit to having modified — in the course of time and study-a good many of the opinions expressed in these Papers, as well as in my earlier "Shakespearean Myth." But
since I cannot pronounce whether I was right then, or am right now (without a dogmatism which, so far, I have been able to avoid), it seems to me best to let them all stand as they are. All the facts of the Shakespeare case are in, and all the doubts. The questions arising upon them are, however, open ones, and, I sincerely believe, always will be. "Those who have lived as long as myself in the midst of Shakespearean criticism," says the veteran J. O. Halliwell Phillipps, "will be careful not to be too certain of anything." With such a caution from so revered an authority, younger students may well wish to keep alertly on their guard against foreclosing themselves.
Such a caution need not deter the real student of Shakespeare, however, nor hint that he has only a hobby or a foible before him, and so, presently, only his labor for his pains. By the study of Shakespeare, should not, I think, be understood the glorification of one man. In that wonderful renaissance which took place in the Shakespearean age — that wonderful age of beginnings — almost everything that we prize, that makes life endurable to-day, was born or was coming to the throe of birth. Civil liberty, in the revolt of such men as Raleigh and Essex against the Tudor idea of government; art, surgery, medicine; the heaven-born doctrine of Equity as a regulator and modulator of the rigors of the common law (first reduced to a science in the hands of Lord Bacon): that greatest of truths that a philosophy which should be of any value to mankind must be born of knowledge and experience, rather than (as the bewildered ancients had thought) that all knowledge must be argued out by hair-splitting dialecticism of words. All these reforms were beginning to live and move in that wonderful Shakespearean age. It is because some of us believe that of these reforms and of this renaissance the pages of Shakespeare are the best and fullest transcript, that we propose still to study them, not—as the Mussulman studies his Koran — kneeling, and with bated breath, but standing upright on one's feet; with the finer glasses that moderns grind, and with the
electric light rather than the lantern and the tallow dip which, in every other field of human research, have been finally relieved from duty. Only let us beware how we subject to esthetic criticism the ocean, or this mighty page of human passion that is vaster than the ocean.
But after all, is it not the truth that Shakespeare — the man-is an ideal to each one of us, and his biography a pasture for poets and for dreamers always, with the personal equation always to the fore? We have no use for dates and documents, muniments and pedigrees. Hamlet and Desdemona, Othello and Macbeth - Love, Rage, Jealousy — every human passion· take their places. Who knows, or who can say, that William Shakespeare was born in the month of April? And what does it matter if he were or were not? "Others abide our question-thou art free!" says Mr. Arnold in his splendid sonnet. But if Shakespeare is free indeed-to reduce him to a splitter of syllables and a counter of stopped endings" seems to me a thing ungiven, at least
"To the foiled searchings of mortality!" Glamorgan, July 13, 1887.
N. B.-Chapter X has been added at the suggestion of my publishers, in deference to certain questions just now of curious interest. And I am very willing to supply it, and happy to put myself on record as of opinion that the Cipher theory of my esteemed friend Mr. Donnelly (while I most thoroughly disbelieve in every word of it, or in any foundation for a morsel of it) is to the full as legitimate an offering to the solution of the Mystery of Shakespeare as what seems to me the rubbish of the esthetic, the inductive and the creative critics.-As to this, I have no modified'opinion.
William Shakespeare and
QUINCE. It shall be written in eight and six. BOTTOM. No, make it two more; let it be written in eight and eight.- Midsummer Night's Dream.
T is matter of very frequent complaint that our critics and commentators read into Shakespeare much more than they read out of him. But if they find it there, who shall, after all, gainsay them? Why should not poets build better than they know? What else is it that gives what is called immortality to human work? What we have to guard against, I think, is the tendency of esthetic to become creative criticism and so demand from the text of Shakespeare certain propositions as to the man Shakespeare of which the world is yet in reasonable doubt. Loving and ardent study of the glowing text and contribution to its hermeneutics thereby is one thing. But insistence on dogmatical or debatable conclusions therefrom as to