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time when the Italian taste was prevalent in France.' How differently does he moralize from King Henry, or Hamlet ! although their morality, like all morality, comes to pretty nearly the same conclusion." Indeed, it is as a Moralist and Metaphysician that Shakespeare shines pre-eminently; and he alone has thrown the wand of enchantment over these qualities of man, by the power of his Poesy, which, when they have been treated by more prosaic natures, often appear in such repulsive coldness, that the intellect refuses to feed in such dry pastures. Whereas with our mighty countryman, he handles the inmost recesses of the head and the heart in
So sweet a manner, that the mind studies
in his company, with the same pleasure that we feel, whilst enjoying the beauties of nature, in the lovely Springtide.
Another writer has beautifully observed, that “no heart would have been strong
enough to hold the woe of Lear and Othello, except that which had the unquenchable elasticity of Falstaff, and the Midsummer Night's Dream. He, too, is an example that the perception of the ridiculous does not necessarily imply bitterness and scorn. Along with his intense humour, and his equally intense piercing insight into the darkest and most fearful depths of human nature, there is a spirit of universal kindness, as well as universal justice, pervading his works; and Ben Jonson has left us precious memorial of him, when he calls him ‘My gentle Shakespeare. This one epithet sheds a beautiful light on his character : its truth is attested by his wisdom, which could never have been so perfect, unless it had been harmonized by the gentleness of the dove.” Again,—“ The whole race of the giants would never pile an Ossa on this Olympus; their missiles would roll back on
their heads from the feet of the gods that dwell there. Even Goëthe and Schiller, when they meddled with Shakespeare, and would fain have mended him, have only proved what Voltaire and Dryden had proved before, that 'within his circle none can walk but he' Nor when Shakespeare's genius passed away from the earth, did any one akin to him reign in his stead. Indeed, according to that law of alternation, which is so conspicuous in the whole history of litera. ture, it mostly happens that a period of extraordinary fertility is followed by a period of dearth. After the seven plenteous years come seven barren years, which devour the produce of the plenteous ones, yet continue as barren and ill-favoured as ever.”
Of Sbakespeare's relatives, our knowledge is comparatively scanty; consisting of the particulars which eminent antiquaries, actors, and commentators have since collected respecting them; namely, that his father was of the middle class, and stood high in position and in the estimation of his fellow townsmen ;
and that his mother was descended from the
ancient and honorable family of the Ardens: and subsequently we gather a few further particulars, from the dispositions of his will, which is deposited in the office of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Of his early life at Stratford we know but little, and of his daily life in London, still less. There can be no doubt but that such a mind must have been a social one, and loved by whoever it came in contact with. We learn that he enjoyed high patronage ; his sympathies, in fact, were with the great, as well as with the humble : such a gentle mind could sympathize with all.
We also know, that in comparatively few years he made sufficient money to retire upon; and, faithful to the instincts which
usually govern man, he returned to his native town to pass the remainder of his days; investing his earnings in houses and lands, which at his death he demised to his family.
We read again, " that little more than two centuries have elapsed since William Shakespeare conversed with our tongue, and trod the self-same soil as ourselves; and if it were not for the records kept by our Church, in its registers of births, marriages, and burials, we should at this moment be as personally ignorant of the sweet swan of Avon' as we are of the old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles.”
That he, in a general sense, lived before his time, is proved by the circumstance that during his life, and for many years after his death, inferior dramatists outran him in the race of popularity : indeed, his genius might be said to have slept for nearly a century,