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And blesseth her with his two happy hands,
MUSIC IN THE GARDEN OF Bliss.
Eftsoons they heard a most melodious sound,
The joyous birds, shrouded in cheerful shade,
THE MISERY OF A COURTIER'S LIFE.
Full little knowest thou that hast not tried,
“ Since the beginning of the present century," says the Edinburgh Review, “Shakspeare's influence on our literature has been very great; and the recognition of his supremacy not only more unqualified, but more intelligent than ever. In many instances, indeed, the veneration for the greatest of all poets has risen to a height which amounts literally to idolatry.”
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born at Stratford-on-Avon, in 1564. In 1586, at the age of twenty-two, he went to the great metropolis, where he almost immediately commenced his career, both as an actor and a writer of plays. He began to rise into distinction about the time of Spenser's death. Having reached the highest point of success, and enjoyed for many years a reputation beyond anything before known in England, in 1612, after a life of twenty-six years amid the exciting scenes of London, the illustrious poet retired, in the fulness of his fame and with a handsome competency, to spend the remainder of his days in the peaceful country town in which he was born. He died at Stratford-on-Avon, in 1616, aged 52 years.
It is now two centuries and a half since his immora tal dramas were penned, and they have been steadily rising in reputation ever since. The current of opinion 5 *
at the present time seems to be, to consider Shakspeare not merely as the first name in English literature, which it clearly is, but as the first name in all literature ancient or modern. He is, above all other writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. “ His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual; in those of Shakspeare it is commonly a species." *
Just at the time when Shakspeare was in the full meridian of his glory, the English translation of the Bible, now in use, was made by order of King James. The English Bible and Shakspeare's Plays, strange as the conjunction may sound, may yet well be named together in one respect. They have done more, probably, than all other causes combined, to fix the English language. They have, more than any other writings, been read by the common people, who are the great corrupters of language. No doubt there have been many changes in the language in the last two centuries and a half. But how few and small are they when com
* Dr. Johnson.
pared with those of the two centuries and a half which preceded. Chaucer stood from Shakspeare at precisely the same distance that the latter does from us. Yet Chaucer had even then to be translated into the modern tongue. An untranslated specimen from the Canterbury-Tales has already been given. The following, in prose, is from Sir John Fortescue, Chief Justice of England, who died in 1470, only little more than a century before Shakspeare's first published play.
" It is cowardise and lack of hartes and corage, that kepith the French men from rysing, and not povertye ; which corage no Frenche man hath like to the English man. It hath been often seen in England that iij or iv thefes, for povertie, hath sett upon vij or viij true men, and robbyd them al. But it hath not ben seen in France, that vij or viij thefes have ben hardy to robbe iij or iv true men.
Wherfor it is right seld that French men be hangyd for robberye, for that they have no hertys to do so terryble an acte. Ther be therfor mo men hangyd in England, in a yere for robberye and manslaughter than ther be hangyd in France for such cause of crime in vij yers.”
“ The difficulty," says Chalmers, “ of making selections from such an author as Shakspeare must be obvious. If of character, his characters are as numerous and diversified as that in human life; if of style, he has exhausted all styles, and has one for each description of poetry and action; if of wit, humour, satire, or pathos, where shall our choice fall, where all are so abundant? We have felt our task to be something like being deputed to search in some magnificent forest for a handful of the finest leaves or plants, and as if we were diligently exploring the