23 April 2013

The Fellowship of Princes

William Shakespeare would probably not impress us with a sense of our inferiority if we were to meet him tomorrow. Most likely we should be bitterly disappointed; because, having formed our conception of him as the man who wrote Hamlet and Othello we forget that these were not the products of his ordinary moods, but the manifestations of his power at white heat. In ordinary moods he must be very much as ordinary men, and it is in these we meet him.

How notorious is the astonishment of friends and associates when any man's achievements suddenly emerge into renown. "They could never have believed it." Why should they? Knowing him only as one of their circle, and not being gifted with the penetration which discerns a latent energy, but only with the vision which discerns apparent results, they are taken by surprise.

Nay, so biased are we by superficial judgments, that we frequently ignore the palpable fact of achieved excellence simply because we cannot reconcile it with our judgment of the man who achieved it. Because our personal impressions of him do not correspond with our conceptions of a powerful man, we abate or withdraw our admiration, and attribute his success to lucky accident.

This blear-eyed, taciturn, timid man, whose knowledge of many things is manifestly imperfect, whose inaptitude for many things is apparent, can HE be the creator of such glorious works? Can HE be the large and patient thinker, the delicate humourist, the impassioned poet? Nature seems to have answered this question for us; yet so little are we inclined to accept Nature's emphatic testimony on this point, that few of us ever see without disappointment the man whose works have revealed his greatness.

It stands to reason that we should not rightly appreciate Shakespeare if we were to meet him simply because we should meet him as an ordinary man, and not as the author of Hamlet.

—George Henry Lewes, The Principles of Success in Literature

Painting: Cobbe Portrait

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