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Tercentennary [!] celebration of the birth of Shakespeare online

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Reprinted from the Historical and Genealogical Register for July, 1864.

Saturday, April 23.

This being the day which was to be celebrated in England as the
three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Shakispeare, the society
observed it by appropriate exercises, as suggested by Rev. Mr. Bart-
let, of Chelsea (ante, p. 21<3), in the hall of the House of Represen-
tatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There is some
doubt about the day of Shakespeare's birth; and, if it were well es-
tablished, there is a question whether the date ought not to be reduced
to New Style, which would fall on May 3d. This is the American cus-
tom. Thus, the landing of Columbus, Oct. 12, 0. S., or 21, N. S.,
1492, and the birth of Washington Feb. 11, 0. S., or 22, N. S., 1732,
are celebrated by us Oct. 21st and Feb. 22d. The society thought
best however, to observe the same day as our English brethren.

"It was," says the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette, to which we
are indebted for this report, " an occasion of profound interest which
was participated in by a distinguished and brilliant audience. The
exercises were commenced at precisely 3 o'clock. Dr. Winslow Lew-
is, Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements, was gratified to an-
nounce that the Society was honored by the presence of one of its dis-
tinguished members — the Governor of the Commonwealth. ' You all
know,' continued Dr. Lewis, ' his readiness to do any required act
of kindness to all. I, therefore, cordially invite him to iissume the
chair and thereby confer upon me a great personal obligation, and on
the Society the prestige of his eminent social position and excellence.'

The invitation wis cordially approbated by the audience.

Gov. Andrew, on assuming the chair, remarked that he had to as-
sume easy and simple duties, and that he took the chair only for the
purpose of introducing the gentlemen whose addresses and the gentle-
man whose poem wouM form tin; attractions of the day. He would
ask the attention of the audience to an address from Rev. James Free-
man Clarke.

Mr. Clarke commenced his Address by saying that so little is
known of the outward life of Shakespeare, that the destructive critics
of the twentieth century could easily explain away his existence and
consider him as a mere myth. We do not know certainly when he was
born, how his name is spelt, what his father did, whether Shakespeare
had any edut ation, or anything about him from his birth to his mar-
riage. We know that he married, when only ei'ihteen, a woman
eight years older than himself, that he went to London, became an
actor, dramatic writer and proprietor of a theatre, wrote two plays a
year, became rich, went back to Stratford, and died aged fifty-two.
'We know that he was contemporary with Sir Walter Raleigh, Spen-
ser, Lord Bacon Coke, Cecil. Hooker, Montaigne, Cervantes, Tasso,
Galileo, Descartes, Rubens the artist, Grotius, Marlowe, Chapman,

— and that not one of them mentions his name, nor he theirs. He is
spoken of with love and respect in his life time by Ben Jonson; by-
Meres in 1598, when Shakespeare was still in London; by the Earl
of Southampton, who calls him his especial friend; and possibly also
by Spencer. After his death he was almost forgotten for a hundred
years, though Milton, Dryden and others continued to admire him.
Voltaire compared his Hamlet to the work of a drunken savage, and
says it contains " grossieretes abominables " and " folles non moins
degoutantes." He was rediscovered by Lessing and Goethe, rehabili-
tated by Schlegel, Coleridge, Lamb — and is now considered not only
as a wild genius, but also a consummate artist, by all critics.

By the matured opinion of the world he stands at the summit of
Human Intelligence, the greatest brain God ever sent upon earth.
But;ias L)iagination is his chief faculty, it follows that Imagination is
the chief faculty of the human mind. His Imagination is the king —
it controls his Reason, Judgment, Fancy, Humor, Wit — and brings
each drama into a unity of tone and idea. His characters differ from
all other creations in being growths from within, not being made from
without. He proves man to be a microcosm, a world in himself — for
he created out of himself a world of truth and reality. His moral in-
fluence does not consist in his rewarding the good and punishing the
bad; but in his always making goodness attractive, and vice repul-
sive — and in liis showing that there is in man a power to conquer the
evil in himself. He is gross, but not as gross as his age — but though
gross is never vicious. Compared with the other writers of his day,
he is chaste as a saint. His respect for women, and his admirable
pictures of female cbaracters, show his purity of soul. He belongs
to England and America — and both may be benefited by his lessons,
and his wisdom.

John H. Sheppard, Esq., followed with beautifully written and im-
pressive remarks, introductory to a poem written for the occasion, in
which he defepded Shakespeare from the loose and ill-considered
charge sometimes brought agninst him, of improprieties and immoral-
ities of his writings. Shakespeare was pure; and if, now and then,
an expression creeps out that offends prudish modesty, it must be ta-
ken as sn excres ence that belongs more to the age in which he wrote
than to Shakespeare himself.

Mr. Sheppard was led by his subject to a youthful reminiscence.
He describe;! in a vivid, picturesque manner his first night at a thea-
tre, long years ago, in his college days. The house was the Federal
Street Theatre; the play was Hamlut. Mr. Cooper was the Hamlet
and Mrs. Powell the Ophelia. Mr. S. spoke of the novelty of the
scene, the n anly dignity of Cooper; his deep-toned, mellow voice; no
bellowing and ranting;, like some of the popular actors of the present
day — the beauty and grace of Mrs. Powell — the excellence of Mr.
Bernard — the Warren of that day — and the fairy-like appearance of
the entire scene, with a richness of coloring and a vivacity that seem-
ed to belong more to the vigorous fancy of youth than to the mature
and ripened judgment of a septuagenarian. He became young again
as his mind went back to halcyon days and that supreme scene which
was so indelibly impressed upon his memory. Mr. Sheppard's poem

which followed was exceedingly beautiful and adapted to the occa-

Rev. Mr. Holland followed with " A Study of Shakespeare," that
showed how well the speaker knew his subject, and how happily he
could illustrate that subject to an intelligent and attentive audience.
He said that, notwithstanding so little was known of Shakespeare's
early life and the domestic incidents in his career, he was intimately
and dearly known to us by our sympathies. Mr. Hollands effort
was a masterly Shakespearian analysis. No one feature in the geni-
us that he was endowed with was predominant; he had no pet char-
acters; no idol; his tendencies were impartial; he was a witness who
could not abate one jot of the truth he was obliged to utter; he was
the morning star of true philosophy; the creator of the English dra-
ma; the inspirer of all our literature;

" Nothing can cover his high fame but heaven."

This closed the proceedings, and the audience retired after a season
of rare intellectual interest and enjoyment."

By John H. Sheppakd, Esq.
In Stratford upon Avon

Wliere the sileiit waters flow,
The immortal Drama woke from sleep,

Three hundred years ago;
Then, as the long, dark ages rolled away,
A light from Heaven shone on Shakespeare's face.
Land of the illustrious Dead ! With thee this day,
We love to linger near that hallowed place,
For wert thou not the Fatherland of our New England race ?

Beyond the Rocky Mountains,

From the Golden Gate of fame,
Far East to Schoodic's misty shores

Is heard his honored name.
Live where we may, such life-like scenes he drew,
Arrayed in robes of beauty, all his own.
Nature herself proclaims each picture true
To Albion's echoing hills; — nor there alone,
As e'en Niagara speaks in Fi ospero's thunder-tone.

Ah ! what a halcyon memory

Our school-boy days bring on,
When young Othello told us how

He Desdemona won.
Where are the voices that once filled the air ?
Let not stern manhood deem the illusion wrong,
When the boy dreamed the enchanted isle was there
Near Academic grove, unknown to song
Where Kennebec among the hills meandering glides along.

Not in the Tlieatre alone

Is seen his wondrous power,
Though some great actor tread the stage,

The pageant of an hour;
He visits many a humble home — and when
Some brave thought stirs the heart by sorrow riven,
We feel like heroes — though we live like men
In lowly lot; for here full oft at even
The liard of Avon sweeps th' iEolian harp of Heaven.


England ! with all thy glory

From the Druid days of old,
Not Creey's pride, nor Agincourt,
Nor Field of the Cloth of Gold,
Shines with such virtue in all coming time
As genius, learning, minstrelsy inspire.
They fill the ideal world with thoughts sublime,
Guiding Ambition's eye to aim far higher,
Than light the flames of civil war, with strange, unholy fire I

They gleam like stars in history

Along a dreary waste,
Who first enlarged the bounds of mind,

Or raised the tone of taste.
Thus Bacon looms up in that glorious age
Of Spenser's lay and .Jonson's critic eye.
When a Promethean spark illumed the Stage,
And Shakespeare drew such scenes of time gone by
That life a Drama seems, midst shadows of Eternity.


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Online LibraryNew England Historic Genealogical SocietyTercentennary [!] celebration of the birth of Shakespeare → online text (page 1 of 1)