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In the spring of 1887, Mr. Lowell read, at the Lowell Institute in Boston, six lectures on the Old English Dramatists. They had been rapidly written, and in their delivery much was said extemporaneously, suggested by the passages from the plays selected for illustration of the discourse. To many of these passages there was no reference in the manuscript; they were read from the printed book. The lectures were never revised by Mr. Lowell for publication, but they contain such admirable and interesting criticism, and are in themselves such genuine pieces of good literature, that it has seemed to me that they should be given to the public.
CHARLES ELIOT NORTON.
1 Before their publication in this volume, these Lectures appeared in Harper's Magazine, in the numbers from June to November, 1892.
THE OLD ENGLISH DRAMATISTS
When the rule limiting speeches to an hour was adopted by Congress, which was before most of you were born, an eminent but somewhat discursive person spent more than that measure of time in convincing me that whoever really had anything to say could say it in less. I then and there acquired a conviction of this truth, which has only strengthened with years. Yet whoever undertakes to lecture must adapt his discourse to the law which requires such exercises to be precisely sixty minutes long, just as a certain standard of inches must be reached by one who would enter the
army. has been studying all his life how to be terse, how to suggest rather than to expound, how to contract rather than to dilate, something like a strain is put upon the conscience by this necessity of giving the full measure of words, without reference to other considerations which a judicious ear may esteem of more importance. Instead of saying things compactly and pithily, so that they may be easily carried away, one is tempted into a certain generosity and circumambience of phrase, which, if not adapted