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the sale of books was necessarily tardy, Shakespeare had four folio editions in sixty years—a period including the whole period of the Commonwealth, during which stage-playing was prohibited. That such a poet should have been so careless of his fame, as not to have himself collected and revised his writings, can only be accounted for by supposing that Shakespeare really did not imagine, when he was rapidly producing drama after drama, to supply a succession of novelties for his theatre, that he was actually writing things worthy of eternal regard and praise. Yet, only on this self-abnegation of his own merit can his practical contempt of fame be accounted for. This is not my own humble conjecture alone ;- it also is the opinion of one of the best actors and dramatists now in this country.
It is strange that, as yet, the authentic information respecting Shakespeare is so scanty. I suspect that in the munimentchests of the descendants of the Elizabethan nobles and squires, much valuable materials remain unknown. Of this there can be little doubt, when we recollect how much light was thrown upon Shakespeare's personal history, twenty years ago, by the publication of Mr. Collier's New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare, and New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakespeare, which were principally derived from the Ellesmere manuscripts, preserved at Bridgewater House, London, by the Earl of Ellesmere (better known, perhaps, as a man of letters, by his former titles of Lord Francis Leveson Gower, and Lord Francis Egerton), the present representative of that Lord Ellesmere, who is well known in English history as Keeper of the great seal to Queen Elizabeth, and Lord-Chancellor to James I. Among other ascertained incidents, recorded in these documents (which are principally legal and necessarily exact, therefore), is the important one which shows Shakespeare's connection with the Black Friar's Theatre (previously dated as having commenced in 1596), to have existed seven years earlier-for, in November, 1589, he appears, by the Ellesmere MSS., to have been one of the fifteen "sharers” or proprietors of that theatre. This was only two years after his arrival in London, and the fact that, in so brief an interval, he had attained such a position, goes far to disprove
the story that he had commenced his London career by holding horses at the playhouse-door.
It is probable that Shakespeare, during the period of his London life, had travelled into France and Italy. His descriptions of continental scenery are too faithful to have been derived from any thing short of personal observation, and his allusions to foreign manners and customs, are too accurate to have been suggested by others. The oversight of giving a seaport to the inland kingdom of Bohemia is constantly brought against him, to show his deficiency in geographical knowledge; but the persons who thus refer to it never think of condemning (and with equal justice they might) Virgil as a Know-Nothing as regards History, because he incorrectly made Æneas contemporary with Dido. — Those who, like myself, have visited most of the places in England and Scotland, which Shakespeare has brought into his dramas, will not readily believe that he could have described their leading features so clearly as he has done, without having actually seen them.
Collier regretfully admits that “after all that has been discovered and written, we really know so little about Shakespeare, that it is almost impossible to arrive at what even approaches certainty upon any point, excepting that he was the greatest dramatic poet that ever lived !” There is some plausibility in Maginn's conjecture—“The reason why we know so little of Shakespeare is, that when his business was over at the theatre, he did not mix with his fellow-actors, but stepped into his boat, and rowed up to Whitehall, there to spend his time with the Earl of Southampton, and other gentlemen about the court." We must not despair of yet learning a good deal about Shakespeare. As it is, we really know less about him than we do of Chaucer, the father of English Poetry.
R. SHELTON MACKENZIE. New York, February 5, 1856.