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HAGVASD COLLEGE LIBRARY
FOTHE LIBRARY OF
OCT. 20, 1933
ENTERED, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1848, by
BAKER & SCRIBNER, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.
THOMAS B. SMITH, STEREOTYPER,
216 WILLIAM STREET, K. Y.
DEDICATION AND PREFACE.
TO MR. RICHARD H. DANA.
MY DEAR SIR: The manner in which you have looked upon my labours encourages the thought, that the appearance of your name in this place, as it will be a comfortable sight to me, will not be unacceptable to you; and if the sentiments that ought to prompt such an act are not here expressed, I not only know, but feel assured that you will know, it is not because they are not felt. Were the merit of these volumes as certain as the propriety of inscribing them to you is manifest, I might as well write my name here and stop: but I confess no little interest, that readers should not expect from me what I trust I am as far from pretending as from being able to give.
He who is always striving to utter himself, will of course be original enough: but he who wishes to teach, will first try to learn; and as, to do this, he will have to study the same objects, so, unless his eye be a good deal better or a good deal worse than others, he will be apt to see, think, and say very much the same things as have been seen, thought, and said before. Wherefore, you will, I doubt not,
both credit my words and understand my meaning, when I assure you, that in writing these lectures, if I know my own mind, I have rather studied to avoid originality than to be original.
Aiming merely to produce a faithful commentary on the works of one who, unquestioned and unquestionable as is his excellence, is very apt, like virtue, to be praised and neglected, I have of course availed myself of all the aids and authorities within my reach; often giving the thoughts of others just as I found them, oftener reproducing them in a form of my own; and thus endeavouring, by all the means and resources at hand, to attain both justness of conception and clearness of expression. Often, when I have of my own accord arrived at conclusions wherein I afterwards found that others had anticipated me, I have chosen rather to fall back and stay myself on their authority than appear to stand alone; because I know very well, that in a matter which has been so often and so ably handled, to be seen too much alone, is to be distrusted by all such whose confidence is worth having. I could with far more ease, and perhaps with more success, have thrown off any quantity of what are called “original views;" for you cannot be ignorant how easy it is, with a small supply of matter and a great agitation of wit, to fill volumes with such things : but in that case my work would certainly have been no less worthless than easy and successful.—But at a time so rich in affectation of originality, when men seem unusually prone to think any thing wise which they can take to them. selves the credit of discovering, and to fancy they are making
a just report of things while merely exposing their own obliquities and infirmities ;--at such a time no judicious person will need to be told why an author should make unoriginality a matter rather of boasting than of confession.
The lectures, as will be obvious to the slightest inspection of them, are not so properly on Shakspeare as on human nature, Shakspeare being the text. For the peculiar excellence of the poet's works is their unequalled ability to instruct us in the things about us, and to strengthen us for the duties that lie before us. If they went above or beside the just practical aims and interests of life, it would not be worth any man's while to study, much less, to interpret them. Literature, it can hardly be too often said, is good for nothing, nay worse than nothing, unless it be kept subordinate to something else: used as a means “to inform men in the best reason of living," it is certainly a very, noble and dignified thing; but it loses all its depth and dignity when exalted, or rather degraded into an end. For, so to exalt it, is, truly, to degrade it. Whether the prevailing cant and affectation of literature be not an evidence that some such inversion has already taken place, is a question which I must content myself with merely asking. Those who are prepared to answer it in the affirmative, will not need to look any farther for the cause of that shallow, flashy, maudlin rhetoric which has been of late so plentifully spawned and so loudly puffed. As Shakspeare was the farthest of all men from this miserable idolatry of literature; so, if I have treated him with any sort of justice; if I have been at all under his
influence while writing upon him, I can hardly have failed to set him forth as the schoolmaster of a most liberal and practical wisdom, the high-priest of a most useful and manly discipline.
The tendencies and aptitudes of the time are so much more to science than to poetry, that works of art, if left to themselves, stand but a slender chance; since people, however intelligent, can hardly be interested in works where imagination has to give the initiative. When the analytic powers have thus eaten up the creative powers, and men bave become too scientific to relish poetry, the result cannot well be other than disastrous : it is like Pharaoh's lean kine devour. ing the fat, yet growing none the fatter or fairer for all their good eating. Such a thing may be justly said to portend a moral and intellectual famine. But works of art are capable of a scientific as well as a poetic interest, else criticism were an absurdity; and if men are to develope or recover the faculties they want, it must be in the exercise of those they have: which explains my purpose in writing these lectures. Confident that if people could be drawn and held to works of art by a scientific interest, they would then come under influences, would silently and insensibly inherit pleasures and benefits which no mere science can impart, I have sought to induce and aid, not supersede, the study of Shakspeare; to awaken a practical human interest in his characters; to make my hearers or readers acquainted with his men and women: and, to this end, I have endeavoured to write in such a manner as should pre-suppose and at the same time further