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but the aid that he had given to the drama ? His earliest work, according to his own account “ the first heir of his invention," was the poem of “VENUS AND ADONIS.” That was printed for the first time in 1593: but he was then the friend of Lord Southampton, who was the friend of genius. How had he manifested his genius and acquired this friendship, which did both so much honor, before 1593, unless by the dramas which he had without doubt at that time created? The fact of there having been none of his plays in print at that period proves nothing. There is, according to the opinion of critics, an evident and a very invidious allusion to him, as actor and dramatist, in Robert Green's “GROATSWORTH OF Wit," written in or before the year 1592 ; so that he was then well known as a writer of plays. The omission of Shakspeare's name in Harrington's “ APOLOGIE FOR POETRY,” published in 159091, proves, not that Shakspeare had not then written, but simply that Harrington either preferred the plays of Lord Buckhurst and others, or that he was unaware of the dramas of Shakspeare or of their merit. If the plays of our author were not (as they appear not to have been) in print at that period, the fact of Harrington having omitted to speak of the excellence of works that he had had no opportunity of reading, seems to be sufficiently accounted for.
On the arrival of Shakspeare in London, it is generally supposed that he resorted to the stage for employment; commencing, probably, as actor, for it is certain that he was an actor during part of his sojourn; and producing afterwards, from time to time, his marvelous plays.
It has been discovered that, in 1596, he lived near the Bear Garden, in Southwark, his residence being also in the neighborhood of the theater to which he was attached; and that in 1609 he occupied a good house within the liberty of the Clink. It would appear that he remained in London till about the year 1611: not longer, for in March, 1612, he is described as “of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman,” in a deed by which a house in Blackfriars, which he had purchased, was conveyed to him by one Henry Walker. During his residence in London, however, he made occasional visits to Stratford, in the course of which he was accustomed to stop at the Crown Inn, at Oxford, at that time kept by one John Davenant; and it is tolerably certain that he became, in 1606, the godfather of Davenant's son, afterwards known as Sir William Davenant, the poet. Previously to this, he had acquired the friendship of Lord Southampton, and of Lord Pembroke: had, in 1598, been admitted to an intimacy with Ben Jonson; and had associated generally with the wits and writers of the age. It was at the Mermaid, then a tavern of note in Fleet Street, that Shakspeare, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and other social men of genius, were wont to congregate; and there* it was, that those lively interchanges of wit and vivacity, those “wit combats," which we are told of, occurred between Ben and Shakspeare. Amongst other persons, he was acquainted with Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College, and during that person's absence in the country, was in the habit of visiting his wife, who remained in London. In one of her letters to her absent husband, she informs him that a certain Mr. Francis Chaloner had endeavored to borrow ten pounds; but that “Mr. Shakspeare, of the Globe, who came * * * said he knew him not, only he herd of him that he was a roge, so he was glad we did not lend him the money." This is the only real anecdote that we possess of Shakspeare during his London residence. Amongst other acquisitions of this period, not to be forgotten, our poet obtained the approbation of Queen Elizabeth, before whom somo of his plays were performed, and who is said to have "appreciated his genius." There is no evidence that
“She showered her bounties on him, like the Hours,"
or, in fact, that she rewarded him with anything more solid than her smiles ; a cheap mode of remunerating genius, but which, to the credit of that age, was not then common with persons of illustrious rank.
That Shakspeare was loved as well as admired by many of his cotemporaries, is well authenticated. Ben Jonson (a warm hearted man, as well as a sterling writer) declares, “I do love the man and honor his memory, on this side of idolatry, as much as any: he was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature;” and the editors of the folio edition of the plays, say that they have collected them to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive, as was our Shakspeare.” Whether the poet was beloved by any one of the opposite sex, remains a mystery. From the tenor of some of his sonnets, there is reason to suppose that he attached himself to some female, and that he was ill requited.
A few years ago some papers were written on this obscure subject, entitled, if I remember rightly, “The Confessions of Shakspeare." They were made out, with great ingenuity, from the “SONNETS" alone; combining and consolidating the several parts of each into one (as it were) authentic narrative. And, indeed, as one travels through these records of the great poet's feelings, a dim and shadowy History seems to rise and disclose itself before us: an intimation not to be neglected; seeing that such a man, however entangled amongst the conceits and fancies of his age, would hardly, in his own person, have wasted such sad and passionate verses on any subject that had no foundation in truth.
On quitting London, Shakspeare retired to his native town of Stratford. He had previously purchased one of the best houses there, called “New Place,” and in this house he lived and died. He was buried on the 25th of April, 1616, on the north side of the chancel of the great church of Stratford. A monument was shortly afterwards — certainly before the year 1623 — erected to his memory. The artist has represented him in a sitting posture, with a pen in his right hand, and his left resting on a scroll of paper; and on the cushion which appears spread out before him, are engraved the following lines :
“ Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
* The following is Fuller's account of Shakspeare, in his “WORTHES OF ENGLAND: "" He was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, 'preta non fil, sed nascitur: one is not made but born a poet. Many were the wit combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, like an English man of war, lesser in bulk but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.”
Not much can be said of this monument as a work of art; it is poor enough. And yet to this tomb, and to the house wherein he is supposed to have) lived and di how many thousand pilgrims have since come! Here, people of all ages and all nations have repaired for upwards of two hundred years. Walls covered with inscriptions (each man eager to write down his admiration) attest the worth and influence of a great poet. It would have been creditable to this country, or to its government, if some fit memorial, in bronze or marble, had been built up in his honor. For, although (as Milton sings)
“What, noeds my Shakspeare for his honored bones,
The labor of an age in piled stones?
yet that does not exonerate us from paying the tribute due to his memory; however it may account for the abundance of statues which we have erected, in the vain hope of immortalizing people who have shed neither glory nor light of any sort upon the English nation.
% 6. As part of the biography of Shakspeare, it would have been very desirable to have ascertained the order in which his plays were written. It would have exhibited the gradations, and, perhaps, fluctuations, of his intellect, and have cast light on many questions of great interest relating to the works themselves ; but, unfortunately, this must still remain doubtful. The subject has been frequently discussed; and trifling facts have from time to time arisen, proving that certain plays had been actually performed when, as was once supposed, they existed only in the imagination of the author. But nothing like satisfactory evidence has been produced to shew at what precise time any one play was written. We know that some plays were printed, and that others were represented, in certain years. But we do not know how long before those years these dramas were actually composed, nor whether other plays, which were made public at a later date, were not then in existence.
For my own part, I think that, in determining the chronology as well as the authenticity of Shakspeare's plays, there is, after all, no evidence like the internal evidence; no proof like the plays themselves. Other proofs may be, and have, in similar cases, repeatedly been found fallacious. But there is no retrograding in point of style; no going back from the style of vigorous manhood, or even the neatness and fastidiousness of later life, to the loose, unsettled character which invariably betrays the youthful writer. A date may be incorrectly given; a report may be without foundation; a second edition may be mistaken for a first; and the work which is published to-day, may, in manuscript, have many predecessors. In Shakspeare's case, the doubts are so strong and numerous, that we are thrown back altogether upon conjecture. Had the great author, indeed, left anything which could have enabled us to unravel the mystery, the question might have assumed another aspect; but, in the absence of all information from himself, we cannot do better, as I have said, than consult his works.
The principal point of interest is as to those plays with which he commenced his labors; for we have his own acknowledgment, that “the first fruit of his invention" was the poem of “ VENUS AND ADONIS.” If it could be satisfactorily ascertained that “ TITUS ANDRONICUS" and the First Part of “ HENRY THE SIXTH" were written by him, I should be disposed to place them at the commencement of the list. But I doubt their authenticity; and I altogether disbelieve all reports and dissent from all opinions which aim at fathering upon him “Sir JoAN OLDCASTLE,” “ THOMAS, LORD CROMWELL," and “The YORKSHIRE TRAGEDY.” They are decidedly spurious: and the circumstance of Schlegel having pronounced his deliberate conviction that those wretched performances “unquestionably" belonged to Shakspeare, nay, that they “are amongst his best and maturest works,” — is almost enough to beget a doubt as to the originality of some of his own critical opinions.
“ Titus ANDRONICUS,” the First Part of “HENRY THE Sixth,” and “PERICLES," are said to contain passages which shew, beyond all question, that Shakspeare was their author. But short passages, having the stamp of Shakspeare, prove no more than that he occasionally retouched and invigorated the dramas that came before him; a circumstance which is by no means improbable. In respect to “PERICLES," I think, from a careful reading of the play, that the three last acts were undoubtedly written by Shakspeare. No other man could write in the same style, or in a style so good. The two first acts are, indeed, very unlike his composition; and there is something in the
early part of the plot that, I suspect, never originated in his invention. “ TITUS ANDRONICUS" and the First Part of “HENRY THE SIXTH,” are in a different predicament. In the more material qualities of a play, – in character, in plot, in spirited intelligent dialogue, these two dramas are deficient. Talbot (in the latter play) is a bold sketch, and the scene between him and the Countess of Auvergne, is striking and dramatic; but, in the main, the dramatis personæ differ but little from each other, whilst the level style of verse, and the brutal treatment of the Maid of Orleans at the close, betray, as it seems to me, the hand of an inferior dramatist. However Shakspeare may have yielded to the national prejudices of his age, he was too noble and humane to have attempted to justify upon the stage that most atrocious tragedy, in which the English barbarians of the time consummated their renown, by burning to death an enemy who was at once a woman and their prisoner. Amongst the ineradicable stains upon the arms of England (small and few in number, I trust), this diabolical act of the murder of the Maid of Orleans stands out blackest and unparalleled.
In regard to “Titus ANDRONICUS,” it has always appeared to me to have issued from the same mint, and to bear the same stamp as “Lust's DOMINION,” which is known to have been produced by Marlowe. With the exception of one beautiful passage, there is the same style of verse (totally unlike that adopted in Shakspeare's known plays), the same exaggeration and confusion of character, the same mock (with occasional real) sublimity, which the tragedies of Marlowe present; and, above all, the same villanous ferocity and bloodthirstiness which Marlowe delighted to indulge in, and which Shakspeare's far-sighted genius altogether disdained. Marlowe (although he has fine and even grand bursts of poetry) stands forth, the historian of lust and villany, and the demonstrator of physical power; whilst Shakspeare is ever the champion of humanity and intellect. If the two last-mentioned plays may, contrary to my expectation, claim Shakspeare for their author, then I think that they must have been the earliest of his dramatic productions; and, in all probability, the Second and Third Parts of “HENRY THE Sixtı” speedily followed; for the style throughout is like that of Marlowe, although those “parts" present more subtle and numerous distinctions of character than that dramatist has ever drawn.
About this time Shakspeare must have begun to assume an independent style in his plays; and now, I imagine, he composed the “Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.” This play has, in all respects, a youthful character, and it is undoubtedly his. Almost all the similes and sentiments have reference to love, without the intermixture of weightier matter. The meter is wanting in pliancy and sinew; but the occasional sententious lines, the play upon words, the style and quality of the comedy, with its jokes dovetailed and full of retorts, all point him out as the author. It is a slight play compared with many others of later date; but there is a passion and freshness in it, as though it had been breathed forth in that time of year when April
“ Had put a spirit of youth in everything.” Perhaps “Love's Labor's Lost” may be placed next. It is a decided advance in power, in style, and even in dramatic skill. With the exception Launce (in whom the germ of much that afterwards blossomed out is obvious), and, perhaps, of Julia, there is little of character in the “ Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONa.” But Biron and Rosaline, Boyet, Armado and his page, Moth (that handful of wit"), Holofernes, and Costard, are all clear outlines, although all of them may not be very strong. And some of the poetry in this play is, as mere poetry, equal to that of Shakspeare's maturer time. The aphorism
“ A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
of him that hears it,"
is profound and Shakspearian. The play itself looks as though it rested on some event in the history of Provence, in times when the Troubadours figured in the solemn masquerades of Love. The two principal characters, Biron and Rosaline, were afterwards recast by Shakspeare, with some alterations, and appear under the names of Benedick and Beatrice.
In what order the rest of the plays followed, at what period the greatest dramas were produced, and what was the final work of this unequaled poet, I will not pretend to guess. As a general principle, however, I would say, that the plays in which signs of imitation (particularly imitation of style) are manifest, should be accounted the earliest ; and that those wherein the poetry is redundant and far exceeds the necessities and purposes of the story, should be held to have preceded, in point of time, the great and substantial dramas, in which the business of the play is skillfully wrought out, and where the poetry springs out of the passion or humor of the characters, and serves to illustrate and not to oppress them. In conformity with this view, I think that the “WINTER'S TALE," although perhaps not actually performed until the year 1611, can never have been the last work of Shakspeare. It is far more like the labor of his youth. That the “ TEMPEST" should have been the last play is far less unlikely ; and I would fain connect it, if possible, with his farewell to the stage, were it only for those beautiful and melancholy words of Prospero, with which he (another enchanter) abandons his “80 potent art:"
WHATEVER doubts may exist concerning the parentage or education of Shakspeare ; — concerning his residence, his mode of life, his progress from poverty to wealth; or concerning the order of his dramas, shewing thereby his ascension from the immaturity of boyhood, to that full perfection of mind which he afterwards attained; there can be none as to the quality of his intellect, nor, in my opinion, as to the vast benefits which he conferred upon the world. Poetry, the material in which Shakspeare dealt, has been treated often as a superfluity
— as a thing unimportant to mankind, and as a luxury against which sumptuary laws might be fairly leveled. This is the opinion of men of literal understanding, who, seeing no merit in poetry because it differs from science, and overlooking its logic, which is involved instead of being demonstrated, pronounce at once against it. It is more especially an opinion of the present age; an age in which the material world has been searched and ransacked to supply new powers and luxuries to man; and in which the moral world has been too much neglected.
We do not encourage the poet; but we encourage the chemist and the miner, the capitalist, the manufacturer. We encourage voyagers, who penetrate the forests of Mexico, the South Indian pampas, and the sterile tracts of Africa beyond the mountains of the moon. These people tell us of new objects of commerce; they bring us tidings of unknown lands. Yet, what a vast unexplored world lies about us! what a dominion, beyond the reach of any traveler – beyond the strength of the steam-engine — nay, even beyond the power of material light itself to penetrate – is there to be attained in that region of the brain! Much have the poets won, from time to time, li out of that deep obscure. Homer has bequeathed to us his discoveries, and Dante also, and our greater Shaks
peare. They are the same now, as valuable now, as on the day whereon they were made. In our earth, all is for ever changing. One traveler visits a near or distant country; he sees traces (temples or monuments) of human power; but unforseen events, earthquake or tempest, obliterate them; or the people who dwelt near them migrate; the eternal forest grows round and hides them; or they are left to perish, for the sake of a new artist, whose labors are effaced in their turn. And so goes on the continual change, the continual decay. Governments and systems change; codes of law, theories philosophical, arts in war, demonstrations in physics. Everything perishes except Truth, and the worship of Truth, and Poetry which is its enduring language.
And now, when I am about to speak of some of the great qualities of Shakspeare, I do not propose to be very critical. It is better to approach him with, as I think Mr. Coleridge has suggested, an " affectionate reverence. It is safer to err on the side of too much respect. I am unwilling to discuss, at length, his (so called) want of utility, or his morality, or his historical, geographical, or verbal errors; some of which last may be ascribed to the age he lived in, whilst others may be safely placed to the account of interpolators or transcribers of his plays. Besides, our poet deals with subjects so many and so various, and he is of so high an intellect, that I dare not venture to speak of him as of any other writer. He has been denounced lately, I hear, as an offender against letters; stripped and hacked and scarified, to satisfy the bad humor of some very unenviable person. I have forborne to read this libel against the greatest man that the world has produced, being already sufficiently acquainted with the freedom of preceding critics.
The flattery or good nature of these writers (now an important body) has done but little harm. No book can live and take its permanent place, unless it has in itself the seeds of vitality. But the injury which literature suffers from dishonest, malignant critism, is very great. It is true, that a commanding genius is not to be repressed by malevolence or envy: and it is true, perhaps, that merit of every order will make its way in the end, and secure its due reputation. But, in the meantime, we, the cotemporaries, are defrauded of the fruits gathered in for us; and the laborer is cheated of his hire. Readers of books are for the most part an indolent race. They prefer taking the opinions of the present or last generation, to searching for those which are a century old. In fact, men associate themselves insensibly with the people of their age. Their habits, including even the habit of thinking, run very much in the same current. An original thinker will indeed accept nothing upon hearsay; he will investigate and judge for himself. But the rank and file of man hug an error to their souls ; repeat and propagate it, till even Truth is for a time discomfited. The fact is, that fame sometimes depends upon a happy conjunction of influences. Not only Pallas and Apollo, but Jove and Mercury also, must assemble and determine the point. The old dramatists of England lay inhumed, without mark or epitaph, for 170 years. At last, a clerk in the India House, whose taste led him to ponder over ancient books, pierced the darkness in which they lay, and saw their value. It was as though a diver, suddenly let down in some remote spot of the ocean, had beheld these “sumless wrecks and sunken treasuries,” and had brought up wealth inexhaustible, rich gems, and gold, and antique ornaments, --- for ages neglected or forgotten !
Shakspeare himself has suffered, in his time, from commentators and critics, foreign and domestic. The opinions of Voltaire, even now, interfere with the progress of his fame in France. Our great poet, however, has, by dint of his irrepressible power, risen above all ordinary impediments which beset the course of authors,
“ Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot,"
and has taken his station at the head of all. In this country, at least, he requires no defender; scarcely, indeed, an expounder of his meaning, notwithstanding the change that our language has undergone since his time. Alí that is left is to have some discretion in our worship; to enumerate some of his qualities; to reckon up, as far as space and one's own ability will permit, the good deeds that he has done ; and thus leave him — in a new shapetended and decorated by a new artist, his characters drawn out by the pencil, and many of his delicate fancies (as I think) delicately handled, to take his chance with the English public.
And here, it may be well to advert to some of the points on which others have already spoken. Amongst other titles to respect, Shakspeare has been styled the originator of our “romantic Drama." This phrase conveys a very erroneous, for it conveys a very insufficient, idea of what he did, even for the Drama. The word “romantic,” either in its old signification (of “wild” or “ improbable”), or coupled with its recent and more ludicrous associations, is, to the last degree, disparaging and untrue, as applied to him. That he pursued the lofty, the heroic, and the supernatural, and subdued them to his use, is well known; but probability and truth are the very qualities by which he is distinguishable, above all other writers. Taking the out line of his stories for granted (a necessary postulate), his plots are admirably managed; and his characters are absolutely living people; true in the antique time, true in his own, and true in ours:
“ Age cannot wither them, nor custom stalo
To know what Shakspeare achieved, it is only necessary to look at the previous history of the stage. Before his time, the drama was a narrow region. With the single exception of the Greek drama, it bore no comparison, in any country, with the other departments of national literature. And even in Greece, as elsewhere, the drama was cramped and limited in its very nature. It did not extend beyond its own history, or superstitions; it dealt with a single event that was familiar to all, and in which the whole course of the story was visible from the outset to the end. It embodied the anger of Jove, the power of remorse, the pains and penalties of sinful or presumptuous men; or it reflected the distorted humors or singularities of the time, after the fashion of a farce or satire. This was the case throughout all antiquity.
In our own rude beginnings, the same meagerness of outline and poverty of character prevailed; without any of the grandeur of thought, or beauty of language, which distinguished the drama of Athens. As Eschylus had given to the ancients, Diana and Apollo, Strength, Force, and the Furies; so the English Mysteries and Moralities presented to our forefathers Knowledge, and Good Councill, and Death, and Sathan the Devil, and the rest. The names of such personages sufficiently announce their errands, and shew that the object of these little dramas was simply didactic. They conveyed moral and religious lessons to communities who were unacquainted with books ; and possessed, we may imagine, some extrinsic attractions, which drew together spectators and auditors whom the homilies of the ecclesiastics had failed to collect.
The growing intelligence of the public could not, however, long rest content with these inartificial dramas; and accordingly Tragedy and Comedy began, simultaneously, about the time of the birth of Shakspeare, to manifest themselves in more regular shapes upon the English stage. This dawn announced a coming day. Yet, there is nothing in this period, except the plays of Marlowe, that need detain us; although Peele has sweet and flowing lines, and Lily some charming passages, in which he has revived all the romance and more than the sentiment of the ancient Grecian fables. Marlowe was the only great precursor of Shakspeare. He was far from a perfect dramatist. His characters are defective in discrimination, in delicacy, and in truth. Nevertheless, he was a daring and powerful writer, and his "mighty line" is known, by reputation at least, to all readers of English literature. Some of his thoughts and images are not unworthy of Shakspeare himself. The well-known lines
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burned the topless towers of Ilium ?”
may be referred to as a fine instance of imagination. His bold, reckless heroes, however, are carried to the very limits of extravagance, and his women are extravagant also, or without mark. He is altogether of the earth, earthy: he riots in the sensual and diabolical, and tramples down all probabilities. And yet, amidst all this, are interspersed proud and heroic thoughts, classical allusions, harmonious cadences, that elevate and redeem his dramas from, otherwise, inevitable disgust. For some of these faults Marlowe was himself answerable, but many of them may be fairly ascribed to the barbarism of his age.
% 3. Such was the state of things when Shakspeare came; the good Genius who brought health and truth, and light and life, into the English drama; who extended its limits to the extremity of the earth, nay, into the air itself; and peopled the regions which he traversed, with beings of every shape, and hue, and quality, that experience or the imagination of a great poet could suggest.
The benefits which Shakspeare bestowed upon the stage may possibly be readily admitted, although the precise nature of those benefits must, by most readers, be taken upon trust. But the full importance of his writings to the land he lived in, will never, perhaps, be generally understood. Their effect can scarcely be exaggerated. The national intellect is continually recurring to them for renovation and increase of power:
* As to their fountain, other stars Repairing, in their golden urns draw light."
They are a perpetual preservative against false taste and false notions. Their great author is the true reformer. He stands midway between the proud aristocracy of rank and wealth, and that "fierce democratie” which would overwhelm all things in its whirl; a true philosopher; a magician more potent than his own Prospero, and never otherwise than beneficent and wise.
There is no part of the drama which he did not amend. Until his time (for Marlowe's tragedy is merely speckled and bespotted by vulgar farce) the grave and the comic were never permitted to unite. Tragedy was barred out from Comedy by some traditional law. The picture presented was either gloomy and without relief, or it was trivial and jocose, wanting in depth and stability. The true aspect of human nature, therefore, which is various and always changing, had never been seen upon the stage. Instead thereof, a mask, hideous or grotesque, as the case might be, but always inflexible, was exhibited for our edification or amusement; and we were taught to laugh only with people who could never be serious, or to sympathise with heroes to whom it would be derogatory to smile. This defect, a defect under which the great Athenian dramas labor, Shakspeare remedied; not by engrafting temporary jests or fleeting fashions upon the enduring form of tragedy, but by blending and interweaving humors which are common to all men, with the passions that are also common to all. The humors, and jealousies, and vanities of Illyria, of Egypt, of Greece, of Rome, of the Isle of Prosper, of the Forest of Arden, are they not such as we encounter in England every day?
The quality of Shakspeare's mind was precisely such as is required to form a great dramatist; for he was not only absolutely free from egotism and vanity, but joined to an intellect of the very first order, he possessed an affection or sympathy that embraced all things.
No vain man, and, as I believe, no bad man, can ever become a great dramatist. First, throughout the entire play he must altogether forget himself. His characters must have no taint or touch of his own peculiar opinions. He must forget his own humors; he must forbear to manifest his own weaknesses; he must banish his own sentiments on every subject within the range of the play. He must understand exactly how nature operates on every constitution of mind, and under every accident; and lçt his dramatis personæ speak and act accordingly. And, secondly, he must have a heart capable of sympathising with all; with the hero and the coward; with the jealous man and the ambitious man; the lover and the despiser of love; with the Roman matron, the budding Italian girl, the tender and constant English wife; with people of all ranks, and ages, and humors, however widely they may differ from himself. It has been said that this power of depicting and appearing to sympathise with every passion, is, in fact, part of the intellect itself. If so, it has surely its source in the affections. And, indeed, I have always thought that a large portion of what we know, and what we are apt to ascribe solely to observation,