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fair state ;" the munificent Southampton, “ the observ'd of
“ Alleyn, playing Faustus,
The age of Shakespeare was the age of romance,
“ Of pomp, and feast, and revelry,
On summer eves by haunted stream.” As yet, frigid philosophy had not reduced man's existence to one dull round of sad realities ; but some magical drops
were distilled in the cup, to make the bitter draught of life go down. Shakespeare had drank deep at this fountain of inspiration; hence the high-toned sentiment, the noble enthusiasm, the perfect humanity, that make the heart tremble, and the tears start, in the works of this mighty enchanter. The age, too, was a joyous one; the puritanical ravings of Gosson and Stubbes, and the snarling of Prynne, had not disinclined the people to their ancient sports and pastimes; and England, in her holy-days and festivals, well deserved her characteristic appellation of “ Merrie.” These national peculiarities were not lost on a mind so excursive as Shakespeare's :-his works abound in curious illustrations of the domestic habits and popular superstitions of our ancestors; and he who has attentively studied them, may claim more credit for antiquarian knowledge than is generally conceded to the readers of fiction and fancy. From all that I can learn of his personal history, his disposition was bland, cheerful, and humane; by one who best knew him, he is styled the“ gentle Shakespeare." He possessed that happy temperament so beautifully described by Hamlet in his character of Horatio :
" For thou hast been
To sound what stop she please.” He loved the merry catch and the mirth-inspiring glee,the wine and wassail, the cakes and ale, which warmed the hearts of that immortal triumvirate, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and the Clown, and extracted from the taciturn Master Silence those precious relics of old ballad poetry that erst graced the collection, “ fair wrapt up in parchement, and
bound with a whipcord,” of that righte cunninge and primitive bibliographer, Captain Cox, of Coventry! And how deeply has he struck the chords of melancholy !--yet no marvel thereat; since there never was a true poet who did not feel the presence of this sublime spirit-a spirit that dwelt in Shakespeare in all its intensity:
“ To him the mighty mother did unveil
And ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.” Among the moments that I contemplate with peculiar complacency, are those passed in the theatre. Katharine and Constance-Hamlet and Lear- Richard and Shylockand those merry varlets, Benedick, Mercutio, and Autolicus, from being my idols on the stage, became my companions in the closet, and there inspired me with still more exquisite delight. Thus led to the fountain-head of true poetry, I discovered that the stream had been polluted by ignorance and presumption; that interpolation and stage necessity (?) had disfigured the bard, and shorn him of some of his choicest beauties; and that passages of high intellectual power, from being slurred over by a “robustious periwigpated fellow,” had fallen unheeded on my ear, but now discoursed most eloquent music. Like the traveller journeying afar, who has been alternately delighted and amazed with the various prospects that have opened to his viewwho has contemplated the smooth river and the mountaintorrent- -whose eye has rested on one unbounded extent of earth, and ocean, and sky; I, in studying the writings of Shakespeare, have been presented with every object in Nature's landscape, with the added charms of philosophic and metaphysical lore. I have seen the springs of passion unlocked, the inmost recesses of the heart explored, and every thought, however deeply seated there, revealed and analysed. The veil that separates the material from the immaterial world has been drawn aside, and I have bebeld the wonders of that mysterious region. I have been subdued by sorrow that I would not have exchanged for mirth, and exhilarated by merriment that might have unbent the dull brow of melancholy and softened it into a smile. I have seen morality and science in the many-coloured vesture of poetry; and philosophy, erect, not elated, cheerful, benevolent, and sublime. But envy hath no fancy to the rose of the garden, and what careth malice for the lily of the valley? Of Voltaire, and his host of infidels and buffoons, let me speak with temper. There are certain men to whom we cannot afford our anger; but charity demands something, and we throw them our contempt. This is the only feeling provoked by the French critics. Beautiful Spirit! what griefs hast thou not alleviated and charmed ? what sympathies hast thou not awakened and sublimed? In health and in sickness, in joy and in sorrow, in the busy turmoil of every-day life, in the silent tranquillity of reflection and solitude, the infirmities of our nature have in thy brightness been glorified and transfigured.
Shakespeare did not wait for the sear and yellow leaf, ere he bade a final adieu to the theatre of his glory. If ever pride became a virtue, it was that which glowed in the poet's bosom at this auspicious moment. Of fame he possessed a greater share than ever fell to the lot of human being. A splendid retirement was before him ;
" And that which should accompany
age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends.”
With what emotions must he have revisited that sacred pile, the last object where perchance he fondly lingered, when he went forth a wanderer !—Too soon it was to become his mausoleum—the shrine of adoring votaries, through distant ages; who, led thither by the divine spirit of his muse, account it no idolatry to bow before the dust of Shakespeare.