Most of us will not live to see it, for our recovery from this disease will be long and troublesome, but the War will do great things for us. It will make a reality of the British Commonwealth, which until now has been only an aspiration and a dream. It will lay the sure foundation of a League of Nations in the affection and understanding which it has promoted among all English-speaking peoples, and in the relations of mutual respect and mutual service which it has established between the English-speaking peoples and the Latin races. Our united Rolls of Honour make the most magnificent list of benefactors that the world has ever seen. In the end, the War may perhaps even save the soul of the main criminal, awaken him from his bloody dream, and lead him back by degrees to the possibility of innocence and goodwill.
Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British Academy, delivered July 4, 1918
There is nothing new and important to be said of Shakespeare. In recent years antiquaries have made some additions to our knowledge of the facts of his life. These additions are all tantalizing and comparatively insignificant. The history of the publication of his works has also become clearer and more intelligible, especially by the labours of Mr. Pollard; but the whole question of quartos and folios remains thorny and difficult, so that no one can reach any definite conclusion in this matter without a liberal use of conjecture.
I propose to return to the old catholic doctrine which has been illuminated by so many disciples of Shakespeare, and to speak of him as our great national poet. He embodies and exemplifies all the virtues, and most of the faults, of England. Any one who reads and understands him understands England. This method of studying Shakespeare by reading him has perhaps gone somewhat out of vogue in favour of more roundabout ways of approach, but it is the best method for all that. Shakespeare tells us more about himself and his mind than we could learn even from those who knew him in his habit as he lived, if they were all alive and all talking. To learn what he tells we have only to listen.
I think there is no national poet, of any great nation whatsoever, who is so completely representative of his own people as Shakespeare is representative of the English. There is certainly no other English poet who comes near to Shakespeare in embodying our character and our foibles. No one, in this connexion, would venture even to mention Spenser or Milton. Chaucer is English, but he lived at a time when England was not yet completely English, so that he is only half-conscious of his nation. Wordsworth is English, but he was a recluse. Browning is English, but he lived apart or abroad, and was a tourist of genius. The most English of all our great men of letters, next to Shakespeare, is certainly Dr. Johnson, but