The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XIII. Later Essayists
§ 19. William Winter
Another, and to a marked degree, is William Winter (1836–1917).For many years the dean of American dramatic critics, he ever rode full tilt and fearless against the commercialism rampant on our stage. He was the most winning of our essayists on Shakespeare, having in his own nature more than a touch of Hamlet. Erudite in the technique of the play-wright, Winter was still more versed in the lyric knowledge of the poet and in that high wisdom which realizes both the potentialities and the obligations of dramatic art; and thus his critiques in the daily press were concerned with the eternal, as opposed to the diurnal, aspect of things. But while his standards were uncompromising, his style was gracious, courteous, tender even—as we should expect of a poet; and in such a series of papers as are included in his Gray Days and Gold (1894) we see how great a part sentiment played in the life and writings of that brave antagonist of all the blatant and all the insidious influences which drag down the art of a nation. The past lured him with every manner of associations, and his writings on Shakespeare’s England have the charm of old days—one of the characteristics most appealing in the work of Washington Irving. Indeed, with a greater strain of melancholy, and a lesser strain of humour, William Winter was, in the closing years of the nineteenth century, the last and most winsome descendant of our first great essayist; and especially by the English public should he continue to be read as one who held that land in the tenderest regard.