The true title of this work should be 'Concerning Shakespeare.' The author's original incentive was the desire to "introduce," as they say in England, the new translation of Shakespeare to the public. The tie that binds him so closely to the translator need not deprive him of the privilege of commending the translation. From another side, and still more closely, his conscience was engaged by the subject itself. In contemplating Shakespeare, all the questions relating to art have arisen in the author's mind. To deal with these questions is to set forth the mission of art; to deal with these questions is to set forth the duty of human thought toward man. Such an opportunity for speaking some true words imposes an obligation that is not to be shirked, especially in time like ours. This, the author has understood. He has not hesitated to take every avenue of approach to these complex questions of art and of civilization, varying the horizon as the perspective shifted, and accepting every hint supplied by the urgency of the task. From such an enlarged conception of the subject this book has sprung.
This great work does not depend for its value upon the accuracy of its statements of fact, nor even, upon the light it throws upon the life and genius of Shakespeare. It is mainly to be prized as a masterly statement of the author's ideas concerning the proper relation of literature to human life - a statement illuminated by wonderful flashes of poetry and eloquence, and illustrated by strong characterizations of many famous books and men. This is not to say that the present work will not serve, better than most others, as an introduction to Shakespeare, to Æschylus, and perhaps to some other of the immortals whom it so glowingly celebrates.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was a French writer who went into exile after Napoleon III seized power (1851), returning to France in 1870. His novels include The Hunchback of Norte Dame (1831) and Les Miserables (1862). Hugo was France's favorite son but, more than that, for years he had been her champion, her conscience and her spirit.