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thor of all others the most calculated to make his readers better as well as wiser.
Shakspeare, possessed of wit, humour, fancy and imagination, built up an outward world from the worl
stores within his mind, as the bee finds a hive * from
either hero or saint, ever acted from an unmixed
There must have been some mistake in the report of this sentence, unless there was a momentary lapse of mind on the part of the lecturer.
intellect, and unrestrained by conscience, trampled upon him. Falstaff, not a degraded man of genius, like Burns, but a man of degraded genius, with the same consciousness of superiority to his companions, fastened himself on a young Prince, to prove how much his influence on an heir apparent would exceed that of a statesman. With this view he hesitated not to adopt the most contemptible of all characters, that of an open and professed liar : even his sensuality was subservient to his intellect ; for he appeared to drink sack, that he might have occasion to show off his wit. One thing, however, worthy of observation, is the perpetual contrast of labour in Falstaff to produce wit, with the ease with which Prince Henry parries his shafts; and the final contempt which such a character deserves and receives from the young king, when Falstaff exhibits the struggle of inward determination with an outward show of humility.
order of SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS.
VARIOUS attempts have been made to ar
range the plays of Shakspeare, each according to its priority in time, by proofs derived from external documents. How unsuccessful these attempts have been might easily be shewn, not only from the widely different results arrived at by men, all deeply versed in the black-letter books, old plays, pamphlets, manuscript records and catalogues of that age, but also from the fallacious and unsatisfactory nature of the facts and assumptions on which the evidence rests. In that age, when the press was chiefly occupied with controversial or practical divinity, when the law, the church and the state engrossed all honour and respectability,—when a degree of disgrace, levior quædam infumiæ macula, was attached to the publication of poetry, and even to have sported with the Muse, as a private relaxation, was supposed to be-a venial fault, indeed, yet-something beneath the gravity of a wise man, -when the professed poets were so poor, that the very expenses of the press demanded the liberality of some wealthy individual, so that two thirds of Spenser's poetic works, and those most highly praised by his learned admirers and friends, remained for many years in manuscript, and in manuscript perished, when the amateurs of the stage
were comparatively few, and therefore for the greater part more or less known to each other,— when we know that the plays of Shakspeare, both during and after his life, were the property of the stage, and published by the players, doubtless according to their notions of acceptability with the visitants of the theatre,-in such an age, and under such circumstances, can an allusion or reference to any drama or poem in the publication of a contemporary be received as conclusive evidence, that such drama or poem had at that time been published? Or, further, can the priority of publication itself prove any thing in favour of actually prior composition?
We are tolerably certain, indeed, that the Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, were his two earliest poems, and though not printed until 1593, in the twenty-ninth year of his age, yet there can be little doubt that they had remained by him in manuscript many years. For Mr. Malone has made it highly probable, that he had commenced a writer for the stage in 1591, when he was twenty seven years old, and Shakspeare himself assures us that the Venus and Adonis was the first heir of his invention.*
Baffled, then, in the attempt to derive any satisfaction from outward documents, we may easily
• But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, &c.
Dedication of the V. and A. to Lord Southampton.
stand excused if we turn our researches towards the internal evidences furnished by the writings themselves, with no other positive data than the known facts, that the Venus and Adonis was printed in 1593, the Rape of Lucrece in 1594, and that the Romeo and Juliet had appeared in 1595,-and with no other presumptions than that the poems, his very first productions, were written many years earlier, (for who can believe that Shakspeare could have remained to his twenty-ninth or thirtieth year without attempting poetic composition of any kind?)—and that between these and Romeo and Juliet there had intervened one or two other dramas, or the chief materials, at least, of them, although they may very possibly have appeared after the success of the Romeo and Juliet and some other circumstances had given the poet an authority with the proprietors, and created a prepossession in his favour with the theatrical audiences.
CLASSIFICATION ATTEMPTED, 1802.
The London Prodigal.
Henry VI., three parts, first edition.
The old King John.
The old Taming of the Shrew.