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September 1904

Shakespeare
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Genius is the consoler of our mortal condition, and Shakespeare taught us that the little world of the heart is vaster, deeper, and richer than the spaces of astronomy …

There are periods fruitful of great men; others, barren, or, as the world is always equal to itself, periods when the heat is latent—others when it is given out. They are like the great wine years … His birth marked a great wine year, when wonderful grapes ripened in the Vintage of God. When Shakespeare and Galileo were born within a few months of each other, and Cervantes was his exact contemporary, and, in short space, before and after, Montaigne, Bacon, Spenser, Raleigh, and Jonson. Yet Shakespeare, not by any inferiority of theirs, but simply by his colossal proportions, dwarfs the geniuses of Elizabeth as easily as the wits of Anne, or the poor slipshod troubadours of King René …

The Pilgrims came to Plymouth in 1620. The plays of Shakespeare were not published until three years later. Had they been published earlier, our forefathers, or the most poetical among them, might have stayed at home to read them.

Volume 94, No. 563, pp. 365–367

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