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The Birth (and Death) of Shakespeare

Filed under History/The Book of Days

Thanks to Chambers’ Almanac, The Book of Days:

‘He was a man of universal genius, and from a period soon after his own era he has been universally idolized. It is difficult to compare him to any other individual. The only one to whom I can at all compare him is the wonderful Arabian dervise who dived into the body of each [person], and in that way became familiar with the thoughts and secrets of their hearts. He was a man of obscure origin, and, as a player, limited in his acquirements; but he was born evidently with a universal genius. His eye glanced at the various aspects of life, and his fancy portrayed with equal felicity the king on the throne and the clown who cracked his chestnuts at a Christmas fire. Whatever note he took, he struck it just and true, and awakened a corresponding chord in our bosoms.’

— Sir Walter Scott’s speech on proposing the Memory of Shakspeare at the Edin. Theat. Fund Dinner, February 23rd, 1827

And quite a bit later, regarding the dates of Shakepeare’s birth and death both being on April 23:

The 23rd of April being usually given as the date of the death of Cervantes, a supposition has arisen, and become the subject of some rather puerile remark, that Shakspeare and the illustrious author of Don Quixote died on the same day. It has not heretofore been pointed out that, if Shakspeare died on the day reckoned the 23rd of April in England, and Cervantes on that reckoned the 23rd of April in Spain, these two great, and in some measure kindred geniuses, necessarily did not die on the same day. Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar on its first promulgation in 1582, and consequently the 23rd day of April in Spain corresponded with the 13th in England; there being at that time ten days’ difference between the new and old style. It is to be hoped, then, that we shall have no more carefully-laboured, semi-mystical disquisitions on the now [we believe for the first time] exploded fallacy of Shakspeare and Cervantes having died on the same day.

More about the life and works of Shakespeare or more of The Book of Days’ commentary about Shakspeare (note: Victorian spelling).

The title page image from above and some additional Shakespeare portraits are on the Shakespeare #2 collage sheet (with other sheets on the same page of Ophelia, Juliet and other heroines).

I read The Book of Days’ entry for each day of the year during the year 2000 (the “Book” is actually a 2-volume set of approx. 1500 pages). It’s a fascinating glimpse of what was probably common knowledge in the Victorian age. More info:
Chambers’ Almanac, The Book of Days.

Posted by Leslie, April 23rd, 2011

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