( Originally Published 1916 )
BACK to Shakespeare !
Study him in your youth, and in your old age he will come back to comfort you.
If you would be a writer, learn from him how grandeur of thought can flow in a limpid style, and how an exquisite judgment can choose the one word wherein trembles the essence of conviction.
If you would speak in public, let him be your master in that combined conciseness and eloquence that warms men's hearts while it persuades their minds.
If you would know human nature and grasp the art of living, make familiar friends of his characters, high and low, mean and noble, and you shall come into that universality of experience no man than he has better set forth.
Of all Time's figures he appears the most amazing. The empires of Napoleon and Charlemagne have dissolved. The books of poets, essayists, and novelists who have been acclaimed by the people as immortal have stood awhile, and at last have fallen from their pedestals, but Shakespeare remains, polished and perfect, the admiration of present day intelligence as much as when Ben Jonson sang his praise.
He has been attacked and derided, his flaws have been pointed out. His very existence has been denied. But all the waves of criticism have beaten in vain upon the edifice of his fame. He remains to-day the greatest master of the greatest language of history. There is no other author where you can find English in its ideal perfection.
He is a true master of men. As has been said: "What king has he not taught state? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy? What lover has he not outloved ? What gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behavior?"
Read your Shakespeare, young men and women! If he bores you, it is for the same reason that the noble bores the low and narrow; read on, until you catch step with that majestical mind; read on, and find your littleness falling from you and your soul growing great!
And rest assured that it is a sad thing for us when we cannot have a whole-souled admiration for those real kings of men whom Time has tested and all mankind has crowned.
Buy the small editions of his separate plays. Carry a little volume in your pocket. Pencil it. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Read aloud his sounding phrases to another or to your-self. Commit to memory those lines which find you.
The mind to whom Shakespeare is a constant companion cannot be entirely commonplace; for in Shakespeare is the soul of the English race at its best.