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HAVE always been disposed to think that collaboration on the part of several authors in the production of a work of importance should, where it is possible, be avoided; since the probable incompatibility of their views, to say nothing of the inequality of their style, thus only increases the confused estimate concerning Literature already too prevalent in the present Age. But to write of Shakespeare, under whatever conditions, is a privilege for any one, and for the writer of this Introduction to have an opportunity of doing so for American readers is a peculiarly attractive temptation.'
1 What may be considered to be the well-established facts concerning the life and writings of Shakespeare are, in the opinion of the writer, to be found in Mr. Sidney Lee's erudite, comprehensive, and wholly admirable work on
The germs of Shakespeare's mature and fully developed genius are to be traced in his earliest acknowledged writings, "Venus and Adonis," "The Rape of Lucrece," and the "Sonnets"; for, while these unmistakably manifest both striking dramatic power and a copious rhetoric, the most majestic and terrible of his Tragedies exhibit, in the construction and music of their blank verse, the lyrical note running so bewitchingly through the first utterances of his Muse, which resembles the nightingale, that most variously gifted of songbirds, in its power to express the singing quality equally in the rise, the prolongation, and the fall of its voice, in its sadness no less than in its joy, in its most woeful as in its most amorous and exultant descants. This persistently lyrical quality in Shakespeare's blank verse has not, as far as I have observed, ever been indicated as it should be; and this can be done only by comparing it with the blank verse of other greatly esteemed English Poets, and likewise with the rhymed verse of Shakespeare himself. A few examples must here suffice, by reason of the limited dimensions of space at one's disposal. Let us open Milton and Shakespeare quite accidentally, and cite the passages on which one's eye happens first to fall.
"Thus talking, hand in hand alone they passed
the subject; and, in all I shall say, it will be assumed that the reader is familiar with that volume. Those who are not, if there be such, should become so, at
Of thickest covert was inwoven shade,
"Paradise Lost," Book IV.
"Dalila. I see thou are implacable, more deaf
Eternal tempest never to be calmed."
"Portia. The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark
The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
"The Merchant of Venice," Act V, sc. 1.
"Lear. Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once
"King Lear," Act III, sc. 2.
1 Shakespeare perforce must have been well aware that the nightingale does sing by day just as much as by night, but doubtless wished to convey that it pauses, or might just as well pause, in its singing when geese begin to cackle.