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The tide of public curiosity in matters of Shakespearian enquiry has of late years set almost exclusively in the direction of biography ; the minutest facts respecting the personal history of the World's Poet receiving more attention, and creating wider discussion, than the happiest illustrations of the great works on which his reputation is established. It is not difficult to assign a reason for this preference, for, although the higher branches of criticism are undoubtedly more important, perhaps, even, when fully understood, more interesting and attractive, biographical disquisitions have the advantage of being readily appreciated by all; and, as Shakespeare was the most eminent genius the world has ever produced, it is not surprising that details of his existence, information of his reality when he lived and moved as one of ourselves, should be sought for with so much avidity. We should also recollect that minute historical researches never appear to so great advantage, nor are they productive of so much utility, as when they tend to unfold the private actions and characters of those great men whose deeds or works have exercised beneficial influences on the progress of mankind.
Authors of almost every description have attempted this for Shakespeare, each one bitterly complaining of the paucity of facts, but making ample amends by conjectures of their own; for, as the great dramatist excelled all in imagination, his biographers have exceeded all other biographers in the facility with which they have regarded him in all imaginable and imaginary positions. A small portion only of the writers of the history of Shakespeare's life lay claim to the merit of having instituted original enquiries, the majority being content with appropriating the information recorded by their predecessors, and giving us the results of their own reasonings upon them. Some, especially Malone, and more recently Mr. Collier, have exercised laudable diligence in examining records for notices likely to throw light on the poet's history; legal registers of property and suits, which arrest so many latent facts that had otherwise been lost with the perishing details of social life. These two writers, indeed, have unfolded so much valuable information, and their perseverance has been so great as almost to have become proverbial, that no astonishment may well be expressed, when we find others declining to trace sources believed to have been so minutely investigated, and lamenting the inevitable conclusion that nothing more of any importance respecting the poet was now to be discovered.
Without undervaluing in the slightest degree the distinguished and valuable researches of those two critics, or complaining of want of industry in other biographers, it is necessary to say, however strange such an assertion may appear, that the repositories of documents most obvious to any cnquirer as likely to contain information relating to