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AUCH has been said and written on the
learning of Shakspeare. How far the
greatest genius of modern times was
Untutored in the lore of Greece or Rome,
among men of letters with intense interest.
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say that this enquiry is a new one, I do not mean that our poet's acquaintance with Scripture has altogether escaped the notice of every one of his numerous commentators; for such is not the case :* and
had it been so, my undertaking might well be sus:: pected of tco great and too presumptuous a singu
lạrity to warrant an expectation of its usefulness and söbriety. AllI would imply is that Shakspeare has not yet received the credit, which I think I shall be able to prove that he deserves, of having been, in a more than ordinary degree, a diligent and a devout reader of the Word of God; and that he has turned this reading to far more and far better account than any of his critics would seem to have suspected, or at all events has yet attempted to point out.
His marvellous knowledge of the Book of Nature is admitted on all hands: his knowledge of the Book of Grace, though far less noticed, will be found, I believe, to have been scarcely less remarkable. His works have been called “a secular Bible :' my object is to show that while they are this, they are also something more, being saturated with Divine Wisdom, such as could have been derived only from the very Bible itself.
And I enter upon my task with keener interest and heartier zeal upon two accounts; first, because I trust I shall be paying a duteous service to the memory
* For instance, I observe in Mr. Singer's edition of 1826 the following note : -' It has been remarked that Shakspeare was habitually conversant with his Bible.'-Vol. v. p. 464.
great man, whom every Briton should delight to honour, by removing an imputation which has been (I am persuaded) hastily and inconsiderately cast upon him, as though he had, in some instances, designed to treat the Inspired Word with profaneness ; * and secondly, because, if it shall appear (as I doubt not it will) that a genius so incomparable was content to study, and r.Jt unfrequently to draw his inspiration from the pages of Holy Scripture, submitting his reason to the mysterious doctrines which it reveals, and his conscience to the moral lessons which it prescribes; it may be hoped that no one of my readers will consider it beneath him to follow an example, set by an authority so highly, so justly, and so universally esteemed.
‘He was indeed honest,' says his friend Ben Jonson, and of an open and free nature.'t Upon such unquestionable testimony, it is pleasant to be permitted to think of our greatest poet, as one ‘who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, kept it, and brought forth fruit with patience.' That he brought forth fruit—immortal fruit--to the glory of God and the benefit of mankind, no one can deny. Nor is there any conflicting record to prevent us from believing that the tenor of his life,
* See Mr. Boswell's Advertisement to the Variorum edition of Shakspeare, 1821, p. 8.
+ Ibid. vol. i. p. 449.