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LONGFELLOW, HENRY WADSWORTH .
CATHCART'S LITERARY READER.
1564 - 1616.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, dramatist and poet, was born at Stratford-on-Avon, England, in April, 1564. Of his early life almost nothing is known. It is believed that he was a student in the free school at Stratford, and that in his youth he assisted his father in the latter's business, which was that of a wool-dealer and glover. That he formally entered upon any definite calling we have no proof; but critics have found evidence in his writings of his familiarity with various professions : Malone, one of his acutest commentators, firmly insisted that Shakespeare was a lawyer's clerk. At the age of eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, then eight years his senior. Of this union only a vague report that it proved uncongenial has come down to us. In 1586 or 1587 Shakespeare seems to have gone to London, and two years later appears as one of the proprietors of the Blackfriars Theater. In the few years next following he became known as a playwright, and in 1593 he published his first poen, Venus and Adonis. The dates of publication of his plays are not settled beyond doubt; but the best authorities place Henry VI. first and The Tempest last, all included between 1589 and 1611. Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer of plays, and remained on the stage certainly as late as 1603. Two years later he bought a handsome house at Stratford, and lived therein, enjoying the friendship and respect of his neighbors till his death in 1616.
Meager as is the foregoing sketch, it yet embodies, with a few trifling exceptions, all the known facts as to Shakespeare's life. A mist seems to have settled over “ the most illustrious of the sons of man,” almost wholly hiding his personality from curious and admiring posterity. Of many of his contemporary writers, and of some who preceded him, comparatively full particulars have come down to us: Edmund Spenser stands out conspicuous among the bright lights of the Elizabethan age; the genial face and the personal habits of “rare Ben Jonson " are almost familiar to us; and even of Chaucer, the father of English literature, we possess a reasonably distinct portraiture ; but Shakespeare, the man, is lost to us in the darkness of the past. In his works, however, he lives, and will live while written records survive.
The name of Shakespeare is so pre-eminently famous, standing out in the firmament of literature “like the moon among the lesser stars," that no attenipt to conrey an idea of his greatness seenis to be necessary here. We content ourselves, therefore, with quoting the opinions of a few of those who have been worthy to judge him.
Dr. Samuel Johnson says : “ The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissolvable fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare.”
Thomas De Quincey says: “In the grarest sense it may be affirmed of Shakespeare that he is among the modern luxuries of life; it was his prerogative to have thought more finely and more extensively than all other poets combined.”
Lord Jeffrey says : “More full of wisdom and ridicule and sagacity than all the moralists that ever existed, he is more wild, airy, and inventive, and more pathetic and fantastic, than all the poets of all regions and ages of the world.” Lord Macaulay pronounced Shakespeare “the greatest poet that ever lived,” and esteemed
Othello, the play from which our first selection is taken, as perhaps the greatest work in the world.”
Thomas Carlyle bears this characteristic testimony: “Of this Shakespeare of ours, perhaps the opinion one sometimes hears a little idolatrously expressed is, in fact, the right one; I think the best judgment is slowly pointing to the conclusion that Shakespeare is the chief of all poets hitherto, the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has left record of himself in the way of literature. On the whole, I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man. Such a calmıness of depth, placid, joyous strength, all things imaged in that great soul of his so true and clear, as in a tranquil, unfathomable sea!”
OTHELLO'S SPEECH TO THE SENATE.
Her father loved me; oft invited me;
And portance in my travel's history ;
such was the process;
This to hear,
In faith, 't was strange, ’t was passing strange;
THE WINNING OF JULIET.*
JULIET. Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face: Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek, For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.
* An extract from the love scene in the garden, in the play of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, in ambuscade at night, is discovered by Juliet listening to her declaration of love for him.
Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
Romeo. Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
JULIET. O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
ROMEO. What shall I swear by ?
Do not swear at all,
heart's dear love -