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THE success of the first series of Mr. Reed's Lectures on English Literature, has tempted me to a new experiment on the kindness of the public. This volume comprises two courses on kindred subjects-one delivered in 1846, on the Historical Plays of Shakspeare-from the dim legendary period, when scarcely the form of history is maintained, down to the edge of the poet's own day and generation, the reign of Henry the Eighth-the other, a very brief one on Tragic Poetry, in 1842. The first course was prepared for the smaller class of the College Chapel; and the second, which was by comparison very highly elaborated, for a more popular audience. With this latter course Mr. Reed took great pains, and had reason to be content with the result; for they were listened to with delight by a most intelligent audience, and added much to his local reputation. Both will, I am sure, be read with great pleasure, though of them, as of all these posthumous works, it is but fair to say that they are in want of the critical revision which the author alone could have given, and must be read, not as carefullywritten essays, but as spoken discourses intended more for the ear than the eye. Practically, there is good reason in
Sydney Smith's distinction, if not as to the greater care necessary, at least as to the greater care usually taken in what is written to be read than in what is written to be spoken. Mr. Reed wrote, not carelessly, but very rapidly. In one of his private letters (to many of which, by-the-by, I have referred in the notes to this volume) he thus describes not only his mode of composition, with its attendant embarrassments, but the feeling almost of enthusiasm which his theme often excited:-"Since you were here," he writes, “a very busy man have I been—perpetually haunted by the writing of one lecture a week, and usually not being able to finish it till about an hour before it was wanted. This has been a severity on one who likes to compose with a leisurely thoughtfulness. I have just got through the Shakspeare part of my course, with a lecture on Hamlet yesterday evening. I could scarcely have conceived how much my reverential admiration--wonder at the genius of the myriad-minded one-has deepened by this kind of study of his dramas' in the lowest deep, a lower deep.' John Milton is before me in awful majesty for Monday next."
Thus he wrote and felt when poetical study occupied his mind; and, though this letter does not refer to these courses of lectures, but to one other more extended on the British Poets, which I yet hope to give to the public, I have quoted it in some measure to account for slight inaccuracies—the fruit of haste, and also as a revelation of the earnest and thoughtful spirit that influenced him throughout. His was the heart of a most devout poetical student.
Of the first course of lectures on English History as illustrated by Shakspeare, I need only say, in addition to the
explanations of the Introductory Lecture, that this mode of historical writing is entirely new. With the exception of some fugitive essays in English magazines-the object of which was to show how wrong Shakspeare was—I am aware of nothing of the kind in the language. How the idea of using Shakspeare's plays, in Lord Bacon's phrase, as "Historia spectabilis," is developed, the indulgent reader must determine, bearing in mind throughout, that the drama is not used merely as a mode of illustrating historical records or lightening their gravity, not as a means of entertainment and relief, but as an instrument of deep philosophy in combining two great departments of human thought and knowledge too often dissociated. "I seek," to use Mr. Reed's words, "this combination, not so much as a means of relieving the severity of historical study and making it more attractive, as because I have a deep conviction that poetry has a precious power of its own for the preservation of historical truth; that it can so revivify the past-can put such life into it, as to make it imperishable." The attempt is now before the reading public.
In editing this volume I have added a few notes, and in them have, in several instances, availed myself of my brother's private correspondence. It is of so interesting a nature-so varied, and, as with every thing he wrote, so characteristic, and transparent to his pure tastes and gentle nature, that I am inclined to promise, at no very distant day, a memoir of his life and correspondence. I speak doubtfully; for, though among his family and intimate friends every hour of desolate separation, with its sad thoughts and memories, is less tolerable, (and I write these
words at the distance of more than a year from the day of the sacrifice of the Arctic,) such a step must very much depend on the favour with which these volumes are received by the public.
Down to this point of time, as I have said, the publication of Mr. Reed's works has been eminently successful; the Lectures on English Literature having passed through several editions-three in this country, and at least one in a cheap form in Great Britain. Rarely has an unheralded book been more kindly received both at home and abroad. I have not seen the English edition, which I understand to be in the form of what is known as "Railway reading." It has, of course, been printed without regard to the American copyright, affording in a small but very striking way (for here, those who are wronged are the widow and orphan) an illustration of the discreditable condition of the law between the two countries, the responsibility for which, I am sorry to say, rests on my own countrymen. I am the more free to express this opinion, recollecting, as I do most distinctly, how strong were my brother's feelings-how intensely he felt, as a matter of American self-reproach, the want or the denial of international copyright.
In preparing this volume for the press, I am glad to make my acknowledgements for great assistance rendered to me by Professor George Allen-one of my brother's colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania. W. B. R.
OCTOBER 9, 1855.
LECTURES ON ENGLISH HISTORY.
ON THE STUDY OF HISTORY.
Shakspeare's Chronicle-Plays-Legendary history: King Lear-