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point, and view the universe from thence. We shall afterwards go our way, as seems best; bearing with us Shakspere's gift. And Shakspere has no better gift to bestow than the strength and courage to pursue our own path, through pain or through joy, with vigour and




In the preceding chapter a brief and partial study was attempted of Shakspere the man, and Shakspere the artist, considered as one element in the great intellectual and spiritual movement of the Elizabethan period. The organism,—a dramatic poet,—we endeavoured to view in connection with its environment. Now we proceed to observe, in some few of its stages of progress, the growth of that organism. Shakspere in 1590, Shakspere in 1600, and Shakspere in 1610, was one and the same living entity; but the adolescent Shakspere differed from the adult, and again from Shakspere in the supremacy of his ripened manhood, as much as the slender stem, graceful and pliant, spreading its first leaves to the sunshine of May, differs from the moving expanse of greenery, visible a century later, which is hard to comprehend and probe with the eye in its infinite details, multitudinous and yet one, receiving through its sensitive surfaces the gifts of light and dew, of noonday and of night, grasping the earth with inextricable living knots, not unpossessed of haunts of shadow and secrecy, instinct with ample mysterious murmurs, the tree which has a history, and bears in wrinkled bark and wrenched bough memorials of time and change, of hard

ship, and drought, and storm. The poet Gray in a well-known passage, invented a piece of beautiful mythology, according to which the infant Shakspere is represented as receiving gifts from the great Dispensatress

Far from the sun and summer gale

In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon strayed,
To him the mighty Mother did unveil
Her awful face; the dauntless Child
Stretched forth his little arms and smiled;
This pencil take, she said, whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year,

Thine too these golden keys, immortal Boy!
This can unlock the gates of Joy,

Of Horror that, and thrilling Fears,

Or ope the sacred fount of sympathetic Tears.

But the mighty Mother, more studious of the welfare of her charge, in fact gave her gifts only as they could be used. Those keys she did not entrust to Shakspere until, by manifold experience, by consolidating of intellect, imagination and passions, and by the growth of self-control, he had become fitted to confront the dreadful, actual presences of human anguish and of human joy.

Everything takes up its place more rightly in a spacious world, accurately observed, than in the narrow world of the mere idealist. In bare acquisition of observed fact Shakspere marvellously increased from year to year. He grew in wisdom and in knowledge (such an admission does not wrong the divinity of genius), not less but more than other men. Quite a little library exists, illustrating the minute acquaintance of Shakspere with this branch of information, and with that: "The Legal


Acquirements of Shakspere," "Shakspere's Knowledge and Use of the Bible," "Shakspere's Delineations of Insanity," "The Rural Life of Shakspere," "Shakspere's Garden," "The Ornithology of Shakspere," "The Insects mentioned by Shakspere," and such like. Conjectural enquiry, which attempts to determine whether Shakspere was an attorney's clerk, or whether he was a soldier, whether Shakspere was ever in Italy, or whether he was in Germany, or whether he was in Scotland; enquiry such as this may lead to no very certain result, with respect to the particular matter in question. But one thing which such special critical studies as these establish, is the enormous receptivity of the poet. This vast and varied mass of information he assimilated and made his own. And such store of information came to Shakspere only by the way, as an addition to the more important possession of knowledge about human character and human life which forms the proper body of fact needful for dramatic art. In proportion as an animal is of great size, the masses of nutriment which he procures are large. "The Arctic whale gulps in whole shoals of acalephæ and molluscs."

But it was not alone, or chiefly through mass of acquisition that Shakspere became great. He was not merely a centre for the drifting capital of knowledge. Each faculty expanded, and became more energetic, while at the same time the structural arrangement of the man's whole nature became more complex and involved. His power of thought increased steadily as years went by, both in sure grasp of the known, and in brooding intensity of gaze upon the unknown. His emotions,

instead of losing their energy and subtilty as youth deepened into manhood, instead of becoming dulled and crusted over by contact with the world, became (as is the case with all the greatest men and women), by contact with the world swifter and of more ample volume. As Shakspere penetrated farther and farther into the actual facts of our life, he found in those facts more to rouse and kindle and sustain the heart; he discovered more awful and mysterious darkness, and also more intense and lovelier light. And it is clearly ascertainable from his plays and poems, that Shakspere's will grew with advancing age, beyond measure, calmer, and more strong. Each formidable temptation he succeeded, before he was done with it, in subduing, at least so far as to preclude a fatal result. In the end he obtained serene and indefeasible possession of himself. He still remained indeed baffled before the mystery of life and death; but he had gained vigour to cope with fate; he could "accept all things not understood." And during these years, while each faculty was augmenting its proper life, the vital play of one faculty into and through the other, became more swift, subtile, and penetrating. In Shakspere's earlier writings, we can observe him setting his wit to work, or his fancy to work; now he is clever and intellectual, and again he is tender and enthusiastic. But in his later style, imagination and thought, wisdom, and mirth, and charity, experience and surmise play into and through one another, until frequently the significance of a passage becomes obscured by its manifold vitality. The murmur of an embryo thought or feeling already obscurely

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