——Some folks think water can't run down-hill anywhere out of Boston,—remarked the Koh-i-noor.
I don't know what some folks think so well as I know what some fools say,—rejoined Little Boston.—If importing most dry goods made the best scholars, I dare say you would know where to look for 'em.—Mr. Webster couldn't spell, Sir, or wouldn't spell, Sir,—at any rate, he didn't spell; and the end of it was a fight between the owners of some copyrights and the dignity of this noble language which we have inherited from our English fathers,—language!—the blood of the soul, Sir! into which our thoughts run and out of which they grow! We know what a word is worth here in Boston. Young Sam Adams got up on the stage at Commencement, out at Cambridge there, with his gown on, the Governor and Council looking on in the name of his Majesty, King George the Second, and the girls looking down out of the galleries, and taught people how to spell a word that wasn't in the Colonial dictionaries! R-e, re, s-i-s, sis, t-a-n-c-e, tance, Resistance! That was in '43, and it was a good many years before the Boston boys began spelling it with their muskets;—but when they did begin, they spelt it so loud that the old bedridden women in the English almshouses heard every syllable! Yes, yes, yes,—it was a good while before those other two Boston boys got the class so far along that it could spell those two hard words, Independence and Union! I tell you what, there are a thousand lives, aye, sometimes a million, go to get a new word into a language that is worth speaking. We know what language means too well here in Boston to play tricks with it. We never make a new word till we have made a new thing or a new thought, Sir! When we shaped the new mould of this continent, we had to make a few. When, by God's permission, we abrogated the primal curse of maternity, we had to make a word or two. The cutwater of this great Leviathan clipper, the OCCIDENTAL,—this thirty-masted wind-and-steam wave-crusher,—must throw a little spray over the human vocabulary as it splits the waters of a new world's destiny!
He rose as he spoke, until his stature seemed to swell into the fair human proportions. His feet must have been on the upper round of his high chair;—that was the only way I could account for it.
Puts her through fust-rate,—said the young fellow whom the boarders call John.
The venerable and kind-looking old gentleman who sits opposite said he remembered Sam Adams as Governor. An old man in a brown coat. Saw him take the Chair on Boston Common. Was a boy then, and remembers sitting on the fence in front of the old Hancock house. Recollects he had a glazed 'lection-bun, and sat eating it and looking down on to the Common. Lalocks flowered late that year, and he got a great bunch off from the bushes in the Hancock front-yard.
Them 'lection buns are no go,—said the young man John, so called.—I know the trick. Give a fellah a fo'penny bun in the mornin', an' he downs the whole of it. In about an hour it swells up in his stomach as big as a football, and his feedin's sp'ilt for that day. That's the way to stop off a young one from eatin' up all the 'lection dinner.
Salem! Salem! not Boston,—shouted the little man.
But the Koh-i-noor laughed a great rasping laugh, and the boy Benjamin Franklin looked sharp at his mother, as if he remembered the bun-experiment as a part of his past personal history.
Little Boston was holding a fork in his left hand. He stabbed a boulder of home-made bread with it, mechanically, and looked at it as if it ought to shriek. It did not,—but he sat as if watching it.
——Language is a solemn thing,—I said.—It grows out of life,—out of its agonies and ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple, in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined. Because time softens its outlines and rounds the sharp angles of its cornices, shall a fellow take a pickaxe to help time? Let me tell you what comes of meddling with things that can take care of themselves.—A friend of mine had a watch given him, when he was a boy,—a "bull's eye," with a loose silver case that came off like an oyster-shell from its contents; you know them,—the cases that you hang on your thumb, while the core or the real watch lies in your hand as naked as a peeled apple. Well, he began with taking off the case, and so on from one liberty to another, until he got it fairly open, and there were the works, as good as if they were alive,—crown-wheel, balance-wheel, and all the rest. All right except one thing,—there was a confounded little hair had got tangled round the balance-wheel. So my young Solomon got a pair of tweezers, and caught hold of the hair very nicely, and pulled it right out, without touching any of the wheels,—when,—buzzzZZZ! and the watch had done up twenty-four hours in double magnetic-telegraph time!—The English language was wound up to run some thousands of years, I trust; but if everybody is to be pulling at everything he thinks is a hair, our grandchildren will have to make the discovery that it is a hair-spring, and the old Anglo-Norman soul's-timekeeper will run down, as so many other dialects have done before it. I can't stand this meddling any better than you, Sir. But we have a great deal to be proud of in the lifelong labors of that old lexicographer, and we mustn't be ungrateful. Besides, don't let us deceive ourselves, the war of the dictionaries is only a disguised rivalry of cities, colleges, and especially of publishers. After all, the language will shape itself by larger forces than phonography and dictionary-making. You may spade up the ocean as much as you like, and harrow it afterwards, if you can,—but the moon will still lead the tides, and the winds will form their surface.
——Do you know Richardson's Dictionary?—I said to my neighbor the divinity-student.
Haoew?—said the divinity-student.—He colored, as he noticed on my face a twitch in one of the muscles which tuck up the corner of the mouth, (zygomaticus major,) and which I could not hold back from making a little movement on its own account.
It was too late.—A country-boy, lassoed when he was a half-grown colt. Just as good as a city-boy, and in some ways, perhaps, better,—but caught a little too old not to carry some marks of his earlier ways of life. Foreigners, who have talked a strange tongue half their lives, return to the language of their childhood in their dying hours. Gentlemen in fine linen, and scholars in large libraries, taken by surprise, or in a careless moment, will sometimes let slip a word they knew as boys in homespun and have not spoken since that time,—but it lay there under all their culture. That is one way you may know the country-boys after they have grown rich or celebrated; another is by the odd old family names, particularly those of the Hebrew prophets, which the good old people have saddled them with.
——Boston has enough of England about it to make a good English dictionary,—said that fresh-looking youth whom I have mentioned as sitting at the right upper corner of the table.
I turned and looked him full in the face,—for the pure, manly intonations arrested me. The voice was youthful, but full of character.—I suppose some persons have a peculiar susceptibility in the matter of voice.—Hear this.
Not long after the American Revolution, a young lady was sitting in her father's chaise in a street of this town of Boston. She overheard a little girl talking or singing, and was mightily taken with the tones of her voice. Nothing would satisfy her but she must have that little girl come and live in her father's house. So the child came, being then nine years old. Until her marriage she remained under the same roof with the young lady. Her children became successively inmates of the lady's dwelling; and now, seventy years, or thereabouts, since the young lady heard the child singing, one of that child's children and one of her grandchildren are with her in that home, where she, no longer young, except in heart, passes her peaceful days.—Three generations linked together by so light a breath of accident!
I liked the sound of this youth's voice, I said, and his look when I came to observe him a little more closely. His complexion had something better than the bloom and freshness which had first attracted me;—it had that diffused tone which is a sure index of wholesome lusty life. A fine liberal style of nature it seemed to be: hair crisped, moustache springing thick and dark, head firmly planted, lips finished, as one commonly sees them in gentlemen's families, a pupil well contracted, and a mouth that opened frankly with a white flash of teeth that looked as if they could serve him as they say Ethan Allen's used to serve their owner,—to draw nails with. This is the kind of fellow to walk a frigate's deck and bowl his broadsides into the "Gallant Thunderbomb," or any forty-portholed adventurer who would like to exchange a few tons of iron compliments.—I don't know what put this into my head, for it was not till some time afterward I learned the young fellow had been in the naval school at Annapolis. Something had happened to change his plan of life, and he was now studying engineering and architecture in Boston.
When the youth made the short remark which drew my attention to him, the little deformed gentleman turned round and took a long look at him.
Good for the Boston boy!—he said.
I am not a Boston boy,—said the youth, smiling,—I am a Marylander.
I don't care where you come from,—we'll make a Boston man of you,—said the little gentleman.—Pray, what part of Maryland did you come from, and how shall I call you?
The poor youth had to speak pretty loud, as he was at the right upper corner of the table, and Little Boston next the lower left-hand corner. His face flushed a little, but he answered pleasantly,—telling who he was, as if the little man's infirmity gave him a right to ask any questions he wanted to.
Here is the place for you to sit,—said the little gentleman, pointing to the vacant chair next his own, at the corner.
You're go'n' to have a young lady next you, if you wait till to-morrow,—said the landlady to Little Boston.
He did not reply, but I had a fancy, that he changed color. It can't be that he has susceptibilities with reference to a contingent young lady! It can't be that he has had experiences which make him sensitive! Nature could not be quite so cruel as to set a heart throbbing in that poor little cage of ribs! There is no use in wasting notes of admiration. I must ask the landlady about him.
These are some of the facts she furnished.—Has not been long with her. Brought a sight of furniture,—couldn't hardly get some of it up-stairs. Hasn't seemed particularly attentive to the ladies. The Bombazine (whom she calls Cousin something or other) has tried to enter into conversation with him, but retired with the impression that he was indifferent to ladies' society. Paid his bill the other day without saying a word about it. Paid it in gold,—had a great heap of twenty-dollar pieces. Hires her best room. Thinks he is a very nice little man, but lives dreadful lonely up in his chamber. Wants the care of some capable nuss. Never pitied anybody more in her life,—never see a more interestin' person.
——My intention was, when I began making these notes, to let them consist principally of conversations between myself and the other boarders. So they will, very probably; but my curiosity is excited about this little boarder of ours, and my reader must not be disappointed, if I sometimes interrupt a discussion to give an account of whatever fact or traits I may discover about him. It so happens that his room is next to mine, and I have the opportunity of observing many of his ways without any active movements of curiosity. That his room contains heavy furniture, that he is a restless little body and is apt to be up late, that he talks to himself, and keeps mainly to himself, is nearly all I have found out.
One curious circumstance happened lately, which I mention without drawing an absolute inference.—Being at the studio of a sculptor with whom I am acquainted, the other day, I saw a remarkable cast of a left arm. On my asking where the model came from, he said it was taken direct from the arm of a deformed person, who had employed one of the Italian moulders to make the cast. It was a curious case, it should seem, of one beautiful limb upon a frame otherwise singularly imperfect.—I have repeatedly noticed this little gentleman's use of his left arm. Can he have furnished the model I saw at the sculptor's?
——So we are to have a new boarder to-morrow. I hope there will be something pretty and pleasant about her. A woman with a creamy voice, and finished in alto rilievo, would be a variety in the boarding-house,—a little more marrow and a little less sinew than our landlady and her daughter and the bombazine-clad female, all of whom are of the turkey-drumstick style of organization. I don't mean that these are our only female companions; but the rest being conversational non-combatants, mostly still, sad feeders, who take in their food as locomotives take in wood and water, and then wither away from the table like blossoms that never come to fruit, I have not yet referred to them as individuals.
I wonder what kind of a young person we shall see in that empty chair to-morrow!
——I read this song to the boarders after breakfast the other morning. It was written for our fellows;—you know who they are, of course.
Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys? If there has, take him out, without making a noise! Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite! Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!
We're twenty! We're twenty! Who says we are more? He's tipsy,—young jackanapes!—show him the door!— "Gray temples at twenty?"—Yes! white, if we please; Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!
Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake! Look close,—you will see not a sign of a flake; We want some new garlands for those we have shed,— And these are white roses in place of the red!
We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told, Of talking (in public) as if we were old;— That boy we call "Doctor," and this we call "Judge";— It's a neat little fiction,—of course it's all fudge.
That fellow's the "Speaker,"—the one on the right; "Mr. Mayor," my young one, how are you to-night? That's our "Member of Congress," we say when we chaff; There's the "Reverend"—What's his name?—don't make me laugh!
That boy with the grave mathematical look Made believe he had written a wonderful book, And the ROYAL ACADEMY thought it was true! So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too!
There's a boy,—we pretend,—with a three-decker-brain, That could harness a team with a logical chain; When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire, We called him "The Justice," but now he's "The Squire."
And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,— Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith,— But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,— —Just read on his medal,—"My country,"—"of thee!"
You hear that boy laughing?—You think he's all fun,— But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done. The children laugh loud as they troop to his call, And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!
Yes, we're boys,—always playing with tongue or with pen,— And I sometimes have asked,—Shall we ever be men? Shall we always be youthful and laughing and gay, Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?
Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray! The stars of its Winter, the dews of its May! And when we have done with our life-lasting toys Dear Father, take care of thy children, the Boys!
* * * * *
[Footnote A: The Works of William Shakespeare. Edited, etc., by RICHARD GRANT WHITE. Vols. II., III., IV., and V. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1858]
We doubt if posterity owe a greater debt to any two men living in 1623 than to the two obscure actors who in that year published the first folio edition of Shakspeare's plays. But for them, it is more than likely that such of his works as had remained to that time imprinted would have been irrecoverably lost, and among them were "Julius Caesar," "The Tempest," and "Macbeth." But are we to believe them when they assert that they present to us the plays which they reprinted from stolen and surreptitious copies "cured and perfect of their limbs," and those which are original in their edition "absolute in their numbers as he [Shakspeare] conceived them"? Alas, we have read too many theatrical announcements, have been taught too often that the value of the promise was in an inverse ratio to the generosity of the exclamation-marks, too easily to believe that! Nay, we have seen numberless processions of healthy kine enter our native village unheralded save by the lusty shouts of drovers, while a wretched calf, cursed by stepdame Nature with two heads, was brought to us in a triumphal car, avant-couriered by a band of music as abnormal as itself, and announced as the greatest wonder of the age. If a double allowance of vituline brains deserve such honor, there are few commentators on Shakspeare that would have gone afoot, and the trumpets of Messieurs Heminge and Condell call up in our minds too many monstrous and deformed associations.
What, then, is the value of the first folio as an authority? We are inclined to think that Mr. Collier (for obvious reasons) underrates it, and that Mr. White sometimes errs in the opposite direction. For eighteen of the plays it is the only authority we have, and the only one also for four others in their complete form. It is admitted that in several instances Heminge and Condell reprinted the earlier quarto impressions with a few changes, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse; and it is most probable that copies of those editions (whether surreptitious or not) had taken the place of the original prompter's books, as being more convenient and legible. Even in these cases it is not safe to conclude that all or even any of the variations were made by the hand of Shakspeare himself. And where the players printed from manuscript, is it likely to have been that of the author? The probability is small that a writer so busy as Shakspeare must have been during his productive period should have copied out their parts for the actors, himself, or that one so indifferent as he seems to have been to the mere literary fortunes of his works should have given any great care to the correction of such copies, if made by others. The copies exclusively in the hands of Heminge and Condell were, it is manifest, in some cases, very imperfect, whether we account for the fact by the burning of the Globe Theatre or by the necessary wear and tear of years, and (what is worthy of notice) they are plainly more defective in some parts than in others. "Measure for Measure" is an example of this, and we are not satisfied with being told that its ruggedness of verse is intentional, or that its obscurity is due to the fact that Shakspeare grew more elliptical in his style as he grew older. Profounder in thought he doubtless became; though, in a mind like his, we believe that this would imply only a more absolute supremacy in expression. But, from whatever original we suppose either the quartos or the first folio to have been printed, it is more than questionable whether the proof-sheets had the advantage of any revision other than that of the printing-office. Steevens was of opinion that authors in the time of Shakspeare never read their own proof-sheets; and Mr. Spedding, in his recent edition of Bacon, comes independently to the same conclusion.[B] We may be very sure that Heminge and Condell did not, as vicars, take upon themselves a disagreeable task which the author would have been too careless to assume.
[Footnote B: Vol. III. p. 348, note. He grounds his belief, not on the misprinting of words, but on the misplacing of whole paragraphs. We were struck with the same thing in the original edition of Chapman's Biron's Conspiracy and Tragedy. One of the misprints which Mr. Spedding notices affords both a hint and a warning to the conjectural emendator. In the edition of The Advancement of Learning printed in 1605 occurs the word dusinesse. In a later edition this was conjecturally changed to business; but the occurrence of vertigine in the Latin translation enables Mr. Spedding to print rightly, dizziness.]
Nevertheless, however strong a case may be made out against the Folio of 1623, whatever sins of omission we may lay to the charge of Heminge and Condell, or of commission to that of the printers, it remains the only text we have with any claims whatever to authenticity. It should be deferred to as authority in all cases where it does not make Shakspeare write bad sense, uncouth metre, or false grammar, of all which we believe him to have been more supremely incapable than any other man who ever wrote English. Yet we would not speak unkindly even of the blunders of the Folio. They have put bread into the mouth of many an honest editor, publisher, and printer, for the last century and a half; and he who loves the comic side of human nature will find the serious notes of a variorum edition of Shakspeare as funny reading as the funny ones are serious. Scarce a commentator of them all, for more than a hundred years, but thought, as Alphonso of Castile did of Creation, that, if he had only been at Shakspeare's elbow, he could have given valuable advice; scarce one who did not know off-hand that there was never a seaport in Bohemia,—as if Shakspeare's world were one which Mercator could have projected; scarce one but was satisfied that his ten finger-tips were a sufficient key to those astronomic wonders of poise and counterpoise, of planetary law and cometary seeming-exception, in his metres; scarce one but thought he could gauge like an ale-firkin that intuition whose edging shallows may have been sounded, but whose abysses, stretching down amid the sunless roots of Being and Consciousness, mock the plummet; scarce one but could speak with condescending approval of that prodigious intelligence so utterly without congener that our baffled language must coin an adjective to qualify it, and none is so audacious as to say Shakspearian of any other. And yet, in the midst of our impatience, we cannot help thinking also of how much healthy mental activity this one man has been the occasion, how much good he has indirectly done to society by withdrawing men to investigations and habits of thought that secluded them from baser attractions, for how many he has enlarged the circle of study and reflection; since there is nothing in history or politics, nothing in art or science, nothing in physics or metaphysics, that is not sooner or later taxed for his illustration. This is partially true of all great minds, open and sensitive to truth and beauty through any large arc of their circumference; but it is true in an unexampled sense of Shakspeare, the vast round of whose balanced nature seems to have been equatorial, and to have had a southward exposure and a summer sympathy at every point, so that life, society, statecraft serve us at last but as commentaries on him, and whatever we have gathered of thought, of knowledge, and of experience, confronted with his marvellous page, shrinks to a mere footnote, the stepping-stone to some hitherto inaccessible verse. We admire in Homer the blind placid mirror of the world's young manhood, the bard who escapes from his misfortune in poems all memory, all life and bustle, adventure and picture; we revere in Dante that compressed force of lifelong passion which could make a private experience cosmopolitan in its reach and everlasting in its significance; we respect in Goethe the Aristotelian poet, wise by weariless observation, witty with intention, the stately Geheimerrath of a provincial court in the empire of Nature. As we study these, we seem in our limited way to penetrate into their consciousness and to measure and master their methods;—but with Shakspeare it is just the other way; the more we have familiarized ourselves with the operations of our own consciousness, the more do we find, in reading him, that he has been beforehand with us, and that, while we have been vainly endeavoring to find the door of his being, he has searched every nook and cranny of our own. While other poets and dramatists embody isolated phases of character and work inward from the phenomenon to the special law which it illustrates, he seems in some strange way unitary with human nature itself, and his own soul to have been the law- and life-giving power of which his creations are only the phenomena. We justify or criticize the characters of other writers by our memory and experience, and pronounce them natural or unnatural; but he seems to have worked in the very stuff of which memory and experience are made, and we recognize his truth to Nature by an innate and unacquired sympathy, as if he alone possessed the secret of the "ideal form and universal mould," and embodied generic types rather than individuals. In this Cervantes alone has approached him; and Don Quixote and Sancho, like the men and women of Shakspeare, are the contemporaries of every generation, because they are not products of an artificial and transitory society, but because they are animated by the primeval and unchanging forces of that humanity which underlies and survives the forever-fickle creeds and ceremonials of the parochial corners which we who dwell in them sublimely call The World.
But the dropping of our variorum volume upon the floor recalls us from our reverie, and, as we pick it up, we ask ourselves sadly, Is it fitting that we should have a Shakspeare according to plodding Malone or coarse-minded Steevens, both of whom would have had the headache all their lives after, could one of the Warwickshire plebeian's conceptions have got into their brains and stretched them, and who would have hidden under their bedclothes in a cold-sweat of terror, could they have seen the awful vision of Macbeth as he saw it? No! and to every other commentator who has wantonly tampered with the text, or obscured it with his inky cloud of paraphrase, we feel inclined to apply the quadrisyllable name of the brother of Agis, king of Sparta. Clearly, we should be grateful to an editor who feels it his chief duty to scrape away these barnacles from the brave old hull, to replace with the original heart-of-oak the planks where these small but patient terebrators have bored away the tough fibre to fill the gap with sawdust!
This task Mr. White has undertaken, and, after such conscientious examination of his work as the importance of it demands, after a painful comparison, note by note, and reading by reading, of his edition with those of Messrs. Knight, Collier, and Dyce, our opinion of his ability and fitness for his task has been heightened and confirmed. Not that we always agree with him,—not that we do not think that in respect of the Folio text he has sometimes erred on the side of superstitious reverence for it, and sometimes in too rashly abandoning it,—but, making all due exceptions, we think that his edition is, in the phrase of our New England fathers in Israel, for substance, scope, and aim, the best hitherto published. The chief matter must in all cases be the text, and the faults we find in him do not, as a general rule, affect that. Some of them are faults which his own better judgment, we think, will lead him to avoid in his forthcoming volumes; and in regard to some, he will probably honestly disagree with us as to their being faults at all. No conceivable edition of Shakspeare would satisfy all tastes;—sometimes we have attached associations to received readings which make impartial perception impossible; sometimes we have imparted our own meaning to a passage by too steady pondering over it, just as in twilight an inanimate thing will seem to move, if we look at it long, though the wavering be truly in our own overstrained vision; sometimes our personal temperament will insensibly warp our judgment;—but Mr. White has generally shown so just a discrimination, that there are few instances where we dissent, and in these a pencil will enable every one to edit for himself. Any criticism of an edition of Shakspeare must necessarily concern itself with seemingly insignificant matters, often with a comma or a syllable,—and the danger is always of degenerating into a captiousness and word-catching unworthy the lover of truth for its own sake. We shall endeavor to be minute without being small.
Mr. White reserves for a first volume (not yet published) his notices of Shakspeare's life, his remarks upon the text, and other general introductory topics. In the second volume, he gives us an excellent copy of the Droeshout portrait, the preliminary matter of the Folio of 1628, with notices of the writers of commendatory verses thereto prefixed, and of the principal actors who performed parts in Shakspeare's plays. We notice particularly his discussion of the authorship of the verses signed J.M.S. as a good example of the delicacy and acuteness of his criticism. Though he has the great authority of Coleridge against him, we think that he has constructed a very ingenious, strong, and even convincing argument against the Milton theory. Each play is preceded by an Introduction, remarkably well digested and condensed, giving an account of the text, and of the sources from which Shakspeare helped himself to plots or incidents. We cannot but commend highly the self-restraint which marks these brief and pithy prefaces, and the pertinency of every sentence to the matter in hand. The Germans, (to whom we are undeniably indebted for the first philosophic appreciation of the poet,) being debarred by their alienage from the tempting parliament of verbal commentary and conflict, have made themselves such ample amends by expatiations in the unfenced field of aesthetics and of that constructive criticism which is too often confined to the architecture of Castles in Spain, that we feel as if Dogberry had charged us in relation to them with that hopelessly bewildering commission to "comprehend all vagrom men" which we have hitherto considered applicable only to peripatetic lecturers. Mr. White wisely and kindly leaves us to Shakspeare and our own imaginations,—two very potent spells to conjure with,—and seems to be aware of the fact, that, in its application to a creative mind like that of the great Poet, the science of teleology may sometimes find itself as much at fault as it so often is in attempting to fathom the designs of the Infinite Creator. Rabelais solves the grave problem of the goodliness of Friar John's nose by the comprehensive formula, "Because God willed it so"; and it is well for us in most cases to enjoy Shakspeare in the same pious way,—to smell a rose without bothering ourselves about its having been made expressly to serve the turn of the essence-peddlers of Shiraz. We yield the more credit to Mr. White's self-denial in this respect, because his notes prove him to be capable of profound as well as delicate and sympathetic exegesis. Shakspeare himself has left us a pregnant satire on dogmatical and categorical esthetics (which commonly in discussion soon lose their ceremonious tails and are reduced to the internecine dog and cat of their bald first syllables) in the cloud-scene between Hamlet and Polonius, suggesting exquisitely how futile is any attempt at a cast-iron definition of those perpetually metamorphic impressions of the beautiful, whose source is as much in the man who looks as in the thing he sees. And elsewhere more directly,—Mr. White must allow us the old reading for the sake of our illustration,—he has told us how
"Affection, Master of passion, sways it to the mood Of what it likes or loathes."
We are glad to see, likewise, with what becoming indifference the matter of Shakspeare's indebtedness to others is treated by Mr. White in his Introductions. There are many commentators who seem to think they have wormed themselves into the secret of the Master's inspiration when they have discovered the sources of his plots. But what he took was by right of eminent domain; and was he not to resuscitate a theme and make it immortal, because some botcher had tried his hand upon it before, and left it for stone-dead? Because he could not help throwing sizes, was he to avoid the dice which for others would only come up ames-ace?
Up to the middle of 1854,[C] there had been published in England and on the Continent eighty-eight complete editions of Shakspeare in English, thirty-two in German, six in French, and five, more or less complete, in Italian. Beside these, his works had been translated into Dutch, (1778-82,) into Danish, (1807-28,) into Hungarian, (1824,) into Polish, (1842,) and into Swedish (1847-51). The numerous American editions are not reckoned in this statement; and, to give an adequate notion of the extent of the Shakspeare-literature, we should add that the number of separately-printed comments and other illustrative publications already exceeds five hundred. No other poet except Dante has received such appreciation,—and not even he, if we consider in Shakspeare's case the greater bulk of the works and the difficulty of the language. After so many people had used their best wit and had their say, could there be any unconsidered trifle left for a new editor? Could the sharpest eyes find more needles in this enormous haystack? We do not pretend to have examined the whole of this polyglot library, nay, but for Herr Sillig, we had never heard of most of the books in it, but we are tolerably familiar with the more important English editions, and with some of the German comments,[D] and we must say that the freshness of many of Mr. White's observations struck us with very agreeable surprise. We are not fond of off-hand opinions on any subject, much more on one so multifarious and complex as this,—we are a great deal too ready with them in America, and pronounce upon pictures and poems with a b'hoyish nonchalance that would be amusing, were it not for its ill consequence to Art,—but we love the expression of honest praise, of sifted and considerate judgment, and we think that a laborious collation justifies us in saying that in acute discrimination of aesthetic shades of expression, and often of textual niceties, Mr. White is superior to any previous editor.
[Footnote C: Die Shakspere-Literatur bis Mitte 1854. Zusammengestellt und herausgegeben von P.H. SILLIG. Leipzig. 1854.]
[Footnote D: Among which (setting aside a few remarks of Goethe) we are inclined to value as highly us anything Tieck's Essay on the Element of the Wonderful in Shakspeare.]
In proof of what we have said, we will refer to a few of the notes which have particularly pleased us, and which show originality of view.
(Tempest, Act ii. Sc. 2.)
"'Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash, dish.'
"Dryden, Theobald, Dyce, Halliwell, and Hudson would have 'trenchering' a typographical error for 'trencher,' which they introduce into the text. Surely they must all have forgotten that Caliban was drunk, and, after singing 'firing' and 'requiring,' would naturally sing 'trenchering.' There is a drunken swing in the original line which is entirely lost in the precise, curtailed rhythm of—
'Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish.'"
Other editors had retained "trenchering," but none, that we know, ever gave so good a reason for it. Equally good is his justification of himself for omitting Theobald's interpolation of "Did she nod?" in "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Act i. Sc. 1. Other examples may be found in the readings, "There is a lady of Verona here," (same play, Act iii. Sc. 1); "Yet reason dares her on," (Measure for Measure, Act iv. Sc. 4); "Hark, how the villain would glose now," (same play, Act v. Sc. 1); "The forced fallacy," (Comedy of Errors, Act ii. Sc. 1); in the note on "Cupid is a good hare-finder," (Much Ado, Act i. Sc. 3); the admirable note on "Examine those men," (same play, Act iii. Sc. 1); the readings, "Out on thee! Seeming!" (same play, Act iv. Sc. 1); "For I have only silent been," (ibid.); "Goodly Count-Confect," and note, (same play, Act iv. Sc. 2); the note on "I do beseech thee, remember thy courtesy," (Love's Labor's Lost, Act v. Sc. 1); on "Mounsieur Cobweb," and "Help Cavalery Cobweb to scratch," (Mid. Night's D., Act iv. Sc. 1); on "Or in the night," etc. (same play, Act v. Sc. 1); on "Is sum of nothing," (Merchant of Venice, Act iii. Sc. 2); on "Stays me here at home unkept," (As you like it, Act i. Sc. 1); on "Unquestionable spirit," (same play, Act iii. Sc. 2); on "Move the still-piecing air," (All's Well, etc., Act ii. Sc. 2); and on "What is not holy," (same play, Act iv. Sc. 2). We have referred to a few only out of the many instances that have attracted our notice, and these chiefly for their bearing on what we have said of the editor's refinement of appreciation and originality of view. The merely illustrative and explanatory notes are also full and judicious, containing all that it is important the reader should know, and a great deal which it will entertain him to learn. In the Introductions to the several plays, too, we find many obiter dicta of Mr. White which are excellent in their clearness of critical perception and conciseness of phrase. From that to the "Comedy of Errors" we quote the following sentence:—
"Concerning the place and the period of the action of this play, it seems that Shakspeare did not trouble himself to form a very accurate idea. The Ephesus of "The Comedy of Errors" is much like the Bohemia of "The Winter's Tale,"—a remote, unknown place, yet with a familiar and imposing name, and therefore well suited to the purposes of one who, as poet and dramatist, cared much for men and little for things, and to whose perception the accidental was entirely eclipsed by the essential. Anachronisms are scattered through it with a profusion which could only be the result of entire indifference,—in fact, of an absolute want of thought on the subject."—Vol. III. 189.
We think this could not be better said, if only we might supplant "things" with the more precise word "facts"; for about things Shakspeare was never careless. It is only that deciduous foliage of facts which every generation leaves heaps of behind it dry, and dead, that he rustles through with eyes so royally unconcerned. As a good example of Mr. White's style, we should be inclined to cite the Introduction to "Love's Labor's Lost," from which we detach this single crystal:—
"It is ever the ambitious way of youthful genius to aim at novelty of form in its first essays, while yet in treatment it falls unconsciously into a vein of reminiscence; afterward it is apt to return to established forms, and to show originality of treatment."
The temptation which too easily besets an editor of Shakspeare is to differ, if possible, from everybody who has gone before him, though but as between the N.E. and N.N.E. points in the circumference of a hair. We do not find Mr. White guilty in this respect for what he has done, but sometimes for what he has left undone in allowing the Folio text to remain. The instance that has surprised us most is his not admitting (As You Like it, Act iv. Sc. 1) the reading,—"The foolish coroners of that age found it was Hero of Sestos," instead of the unmeaning one, "chroniclers." He has been forced, for the sake of sense, to make some changes in the Folio text which seem to us quite as violent, and we cannot help thinking that the gain in aptness of phrase and coherence of meaning would have justified him in doing as much here. He admits, in his note on the passage, that the change is "very plausible"; but adds, "If we can at will reduce a perfectly appropriate and uncorrupted word of ten letters to one of eight, and strike out such marked letters as h, l, and e, we may re-write Shakspeare at our pleasure." Mr. White has already admitted that "chroniclers" is not perfectly appropriate in admitting that the change is "very plausible"; and he has no right to assume that the word is uncorrupted,—for that is the very point in question. As to the disparity in the number of letters, no one familiar with misprints will be surprised at it; and Mr. Spedding, in the edition of Bacon already referred to, furnishes us with an example of blunder[E] precisely the reverse, in which one word of eight letters is given for two of ten, (sciences for six princess,)—the printer in both cases having set up his first impression of what the word was for the word itself. Had this occurred in Shakspeare, instead of Bacon, we should have had a series of variorum notes like this:—
[Footnote E: Bacon's Works, by Ellis, Spedding, & Heath. Vol. III. p. 303, note.]
"That sixpence was the word used by our author scarcely admits of doubt. From a number of parallel passages we select the following:—
'Live on sixpence a day, and earn it.'—Abernethy.
'I give thee sixpence? I will see thee and-so-forthed first!'—Canning.
'Be shot for sixpence on a battlefield.'—Tennyson.
'Half a crown, two shillings and sixpence.'—Niemand's Dictionary.
Moreover, we find our author using precisely the same word in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream':—
'Thus hath he lost sixpence a day during his life.'" JONES.
"Had the passage read 'two princes,' we might have thought it genuine; since 'the two kings of Brentford' must have been familiar to our great poet, and he was also likely to have that number deeply impressed on his mind by the awful tragedy in the tower, (see Richard the Third,) where, it is remarkable, precisely that number of royal offspring suffered at the hands of the crook-backed tyrant. The citation from Niemand's Dictionary, by the Rev. Mr. Jones, tells as much in favor of two princes as of sixpence; for how could the miseries of a divided empire be more emphatically portrayed than in the striking, and, as it seems to me, touching phrase, HALF a crown? Could we in any way read 'three princes,' we should find strong support in the tradition of 'the three kings of Cologne,' and in the Arabian story of the 'Three Calenders.' The line quoted by Thomson, (Shakspeare, by Thomson, Vol. X. p. 701.) 'Under which King Bezonian, speak or die!' (though we agree with him in preferring his pointing to the ordinary and meaningless 'Under which King, Bezonian,' etc.) unhappily can throw no light on the present passage till we know how many King Bezonians are intended, and who they were. Perhaps we should read Belzonian, and suppose a reference to the Egyptian monarchs whose tombs were first explored by the intrepid Belzoni. The epithet would certainly be appropriate and in Shakspeare's best manner; but among so many monarchs, a choice of two, or even three, would be embarrassing and invidious." BROWN.
"As for the 'Three Calenders,' there can be no reasonable question that Shakspeare was well acquainted with the story; for that he had travelled extensively in the East I have proved in my 'Essay to show that Sir Thomas Roe and William Shakspeare were identical'; and that he was familiar with the Oriental languages must be apparent to any one who has read my note on 'Concolinel' (Love's Labor's Lost, Act iii. Sc. 1). But that 'six princes' is the true reading is clear from the parallel passage in "Richard the Third," which I am surprised that the usually accurate Mr. Brown should have overlooked,—'Methinks there be Six Richmonds in the field.'" ROBINSON.
"I was at first inclined to the opinion of the late Mr. Robinson, but maturer consideration has caused me to agree with the eloquent and erudite Jones. There is a definite meaning in the word sixpence; and a similar error of the press in Lord Bacon's 'Advancement of Learning,' where the context shows that sixpences and not sciences was the word intended, leads me to suspect that the title of his opus magnum should be De Augmentis Sixpenciarum. Viewing the matter as a political economist, such a topic would have been more worthy of the Lord Chancellor of England; it would have been more in accordance with what we know of the character of 'the meanest of mankind'; and the exquisite humor of the title would tally precisely with what Ben Jonson tells us in his 'Discoveries,' under the head Dominus Verulamius, that 'his language (where he could spare or pass by a jest) was nobly censorious.' Sir Thomas More had the same proneness to merriment, a coincidence the more striking as both these great men were Lord Chancellors. A comic stroke of this description would have been highly attractive to a mind so constituted, and might easily escape the notice of a printer, who was more likely to be intent upon the literal accuracy of the Latin than on the watch for extraordinary flights of humor." SMITH.
But we must return from our excursion into an imaginary variorum, delightful because it requires no eyesight and no thought, to the more serious duty of examining the notes of Mr. White. We have mentioned a single instance in which we differ with him as to the propriety of a fanatical adherence to the text of the Folio of 1623. We differ, because we think that sense is not all that we have a right to expect from Shakspeare,—that it is, indeed, merely the body in which his genius creates a soul of meaning, nay, oftentimes a double one, exoteric and esoteric, the spiritus astralis and the anima caelestis. Had the passage been in verse, where the change might have damaged the rhythm, —had it been one of those ecstasies of Shakspearian imagination, to tamper with which because we could not understand it would be Bottom-like presumption,—one of those tempests of passion where every word reeks hot and sulphurous, like a thunderstone new-fallen,—in any of these cases we should have agreed with Mr. White that to abstain was a duty. But in a sentence of lightsome and careless prose, and where the chances are great that the word to be changed is the accident of the printer and not the choice of the author, we say, give us a text that is true to the context and the aesthetic instinct rather than to the Folio, even were that Pandora-box only half as full of manifest corruptions as it is.
In the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," (Act iii. Sc. 1,) Mr. White prefers, "She is not to be fasting in respect of her breath," to "She is not to be kissed fasting in respect of her breath,"—an emendation made by Rowe,[F] and found also in Mr. Collier's Corrected Folio of 1632. We cannot agree with him in a reading which seems to us to destroy all the point of the passage.
[Footnote F: Mr. Dyce says the word supplied by Rowe was "fasting," a manifest slip of the pen, and worth notice only as showing how easily errors may be committed.]
In Dumain's ode, (Love's Labor's Lost, Act iv. Sc. 3,) beginning,
"On a day, (alack the day!) Love, whose month is ever May,"
Mr. White chooses to read
"Thou, for whom Jove would swear Juno but an Ethiop were,"
rather than accept Pope's suggestion of "ev'n Jove," or the far better "great Jove" of Mr. Collier's Corrected Folio,—affirming that "the quantity and accent proper to 'thou' make any addition to the line superfluous." We should like to hear Mr. White read the verse as he prints it. The result would be something of this kind:—
Thou-ou for whom Jove would swear,—
which would be like the 'bow-wow-wow before the Lord' of the old country-choirs. To our ear it is quite out of the question; and, moreover, we affirm that in dissyllabic (which we, for want of a better name, call iambic and trochaic) measures the omission of a half-foot is an impossibility, and all the more so when, as in this case, the preceding syllable is strongly accented. Even had the poem been meant for singing, which it was not, for Dumain reads it, the quantity would be false, though the ear might more easily excuse it. Such an omission would be not only possible, but sometimes very effective, in trisyllabic measures,—as, for instance, in anapests like these,—
"'Tis the middle of night by the castle clock, And the owls have awakened the crowing cock,"—
where iambs or spondees may take the place of the first or second foot with no shock to the ear, though the change of rhythm be sensible enough,—as
'Tis thĕ dēēp midnight by the castle clock, And ŏwls have awakened the crowing cock.
We quite agree with Mr. White and Mr. Knight in their hearty dislike of the Steevens-system of versification, but we think that Coleridge (who, although the best English metrist since Milton, often thought lazily and talked loosely) has misled both of them in what he has said about the pauses and retardations of verse. In that noblest of our verses, the unrhymed iambic pentameter, two short or lightly-accented syllables may often gracefully and effectively take the place of a long or heavily-accented one; but great metrists contrive their pauses by the artistic choice and position of their syllables, and not by leaving them out. Metre is the solvent in which alone thought and emotion can perfectly coalesce,—the thought confining the emotion within decorous limitations of law, the emotion beguiling the thought into somewhat of its own fluent grace and rebellious animation. That is ill metre which does not read itself in the mouth of a man thoroughly penetrated with the meaning of what he reads; and only a man as thoroughly possessed of the meaning of what he writes can produce any metre that is not sing-song. Not that we would have Shakspeare's metre tinkered where it seems defective, but that we would not have palpable gaps defended as intentional by the utterly unsatisfactory assumption of pauses and retardations. Mr. White has in many cases wisely and properly made halting verses perfect in their limbs by easy transpositions, and we think he is perfectly right in refusing to interpolate a syllable, but wrong in assuming that we have Shakspeare's metre where we have no metre at all. We are not speaking of seeming irregularities, of lines broken up by rapid dialogue or cut short by the gulp of voiceless passion, nor do we forget that Shakspeare wrote for the tongue and not the eye, but we do not believe he ever left an unmusical period. Especially is this true of passages where the lyrical sentiment predominates, and we beg Mr. White to reconsider whether we owe the reading
"All overcanopied with luscious woodbine" (instead of lush)
to the printers of the Folio or to Shakspeare. Even if we accept Steevens's "whereon" instead of "where" in the first verse of this exquisite piece of melody, and read (as Mr. White does not)
"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme grows,"
it leaves the peculiar lilt of the metre unchanged. The varied accentuation of the verses is striking; and would any one convince himself of the variety of which this measure is capable, let him try to read this passage, and the speech of Prospero, beginning "Ye elves of hills," to the same tune. In the verses,
"And ye that on the sands with printless foot Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him When he comes back,"
observe how the pauses are contrived to echo the sense and give the effect of flux and reflux. Versification was understood in that day as never since, and no treatise on English verse so good, in all respects, as that of Campion (1602) has ever been written. Coleridge learned from him how to write his "Catullian hendeca-syllables," and did not better his instruction.[G]
[Footnote G: For the comprehension of the laws of some of the lighter measures, no book is so instructive as Mother Goose's Melodies. That excellent lady was one of the best metrists the language has produced.]
In "Measure for Measure," (Act i. Sc. 1,) in this passage,—
"what's open made To justice, that justice seizes: what knows the law That thieves do pass on thieves?"
does Mr. White believe the "that" and "what" are Shakspeare's? Does he consider
"To justice, that justice seizes: what knows the law"
an alexandrine,—and an alexandrine worthy of a student and admirer of Spenser? Should we read it thus, we should dread Martial's sarcasm of, Sed male cum recitas. We believe that Shakspeare wrote
"What's open made To Justice, Justice seizes; knows the Law That thieve do pass on thieves?"
We have pointed out a passage or two where we think Mr. White follows the Folio text too literally. Two instances we have noted where he has altered, as we think, for the worse. The first is (Tempest, Act iii. Sc. 3) where Mr. White reads,
"You are three men of sin whom Destiny (That hath to instrument this lower world And what is in't) the never-surfeited sea Hath caused to belch you up,—and on this island Where man doth not inhabit; you 'mongst men Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad."
The Folio reads, "Hath caused to belch up you"; and Mr. White says in his note, "The tautological repetition of the pronoun was a habit, almost a custom, with the Elizabethan dramatists." This may be true, (though we think the assertion rash,) but certainly never as in this case. We think the Folio right, except in its punctuation. The repetition of the "you" is emphatic, not tautological, and is demanded by the whole meaning of the passage. Ariel is taunting the persons she addresses, with the intention of angering them; and the "you" is repeated, because those highly respectable men cannot at first bring their minds to believe that such unsavory epithets are addressed to them. We should punctuate thus, following the order of the words in the Folio,—
"Hath caused to belch up,—you! and on this island, Where man doth not inhabit;—you 'mongst men Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad."
In the "Comedy of Errors," (Act ii. Sc. 2,) Adriana, suspecting her husband of unfaithfulness, says to him,—
"For, if we two be one, and thou play false, I do digest the poison of thy flesh, Being strumpeted by thy contagion. Keep, then, fair league and truce with thy true bed; I live distained, thou undishonored."
Such is the reading of the Folio. Mr. White reads,
"I live distained, thou one dishonored."
But we cannot help thinking that the true reading should be,
"I live distained, though undishonored,"
which is a less forced construction, and coincides with the rest of the passage,—"I am contaminate through thee, though in myself immaculate."
In "As You Like it," (Act ii. Sc. 3,) Mr. White (with the Folio and some recent editors) calls the Duke's wrestler, "the bonny priser of the Duke." The common reading is "bony," which seems to us better, though we believe brawny to be the word intended. We likewise question Mr. White's explanation of the word priser, which, he says, "is prize-fighter, one who wins prizes." One who "fights for prizes" would have been better; but we suspect that the word is more nearly akin with the French prise (in the sense of venir aux prises) than with prix. We should prefer also "Aristotle's ethicks" (Taming of the Shrew, Act i. Sc. 1) to the ordinary "Aristotle's checks," which is retained by Mr. White. In "Much Ado about Nothing," (Act ii. Sc. 1,) we have no doubt that Mr. Collier's corrector is right in reading "sink apace," though Mr. White states authoritatively that Shakspeare would not have so written. It is only fair to Mr. White, however, to say that he is generally open-minded toward readings suggested by others, and that he accepts nearly all those of Mr. Collier's Corrected Folio on which honest lovers of Shakspeare would be likely to agree. In comparing his notes with the text, our eye was caught by a verse in which there seems so manifest a corruption that we shall venture to throw down the discord-apple of a conjectural emendation. In the "Merchant of Venice," (Act iii. Sc. 2,) where Bassanio is making his choice among the caskets, after a long speech about "outward shows" and "ornament," he is made to say that ornament is,
"in a word, The seeming truth which cunning times put on To entrap the wisest."
We find it hard to believe that times is the right word here, and strongly suspect that it has stolen the place of tires. The whole previous tenor of the speech, and especially of the images immediately preceding that in question, appears to demand such a word.
We have said, that we considered the style and matter of Mr. White's notes excellent. Indeed, to the purely illustrative notes we should hardly make an exception. There are two or three which we think in questionable taste, and one where the temptation to say a sharp thing has led the editor to vulgarize the admirable Benedick, and to misinterpret the text in a way so unusual for him that it is worth a comment. When Benedick's friends are discussing the symptoms which show him to be in love, Claudio asks,
"When was he wont to wash his face?"
Mr. White annotates thus:—
"That the benign effect of the tender passion upon Benedick in this regard should be so particularly noticed, requires, perhaps, the remark, that in Shakspeare's time our race had not abandoned itself to that reckless use of water, whether for ablution or potation, which has more recently become one of its characteristic traits."
Now, if there could be any doubt that "wash" means cosmetic here, the next speech of Don Pedro ("Yea, or to paint himself?") would remove it. The gentlemen of all periods in history have been so near at least to godliness as is implied in cleanliness. The very first direction in the old German poem of "Tisch-zucht" is to wash before coming to table; and in "Parzival," Gurnamanz specially inculcates on his catechumen the social duty of always thoroughly cleansing himself on laying aside his armor. Such instances could be multiplied without end.
In annotating Shakspeare, it would, perhaps, be asking too much of an editor to give credit to its first finder for every scrap of illustration. The immense mass of notes already existing may, perhaps, be fairly looked upon as a kind of dictionary, open to every one, and the use of which implies no indebtedness. Mr. White, in general, indicates the source whence he has drawn, though we have sometimes found him negligent in this respect. He says, in the Advertisement prefixed to his second volume, "that in every case, where no such credit is given for a restoration, a conjecture, or a quotation, the editor is responsible for it; and as he is disinclined to the giving of much prominence to claims of this sort, he has, in those cases, merely remarked, that 'hitherto' the text has stood thus or so." We have not been at the trouble of verifying every one of Mr. White's "hithertos," but we did so in two plays, and found in "Midsummer Night's Dream" four, and in "Much Ado" two cases, where the reading claimed as a restoration occurred also in Mr. Knight's excellent edition of 1842. These oversights do not affect the correctness of Mr. White's text, but they diminish our confidence in the accuracy of the collation to which he lays claim.
The chief objection which we have to make against Mr. White's text is, that he has perversely allowed it to continue disfigured by vulgarisms of grammar and spelling. For example, he gives us misconster, and says, "This is not a mis-spelling or loose spelling of 'misconstrue,' but the old form of the word." Mr. Dyce insisted on the same cacographical nicety in his "Remarks" on the editions of Mr. Collier and Mr. Knight, but abandons it in his own with the artless admission that misconstrue also occurs in the Folio. In one of the Camden Society's publications is a letter from Friar John Hylsey to Thomas Cromwell, in which we find "As God is my jugge";[H] but we do not believe that jug was an old form of judge, though a philological convict might fancy that the former word was a derivative of the latter. Had the phrase occurred in Shakspeare, we should have had somebody defending it as tenderly poetical. We cannot but think it a sacrifice in Mr. White that he has given up the whatsomeres of the Folio. He does retain puisny as the old form, but why not spell it puisne and so indicate its meaning? Mr. White informs us that "the grammatical form in use in Shakspeare's day" was to have the verb govern a nominative case! Accordingly, he perpetuates the following oversight of the poet or blunder of the printer:—
[Footnote H: Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 13.]
"What he is, indeed, More suits you to conceive, than I to speak of."
Again, he says that who, as an objective case, "is in accordance with the grammatical usage of Shakspeare's day," (Vol. II. p. 86,) and that, "considering the unsettled state of minor grammatical relations in Shakspeare's time," it is possible that he wrote whom as a nominative (Vol. V. p. 393). But the most extraordinary instance is where he makes a nominative plural agree with a verb in the second person singular, (Vol. III. p. 121,) and justifies it by saying that "such disagreements ... are not uncommon in Shakspeare's writings, and those of his contemporaries." The passage reads as follows in Mr. White's edition:—
"A breath thou art, Servile to all the skiey influences That dost this habitation where thou keep'st Hourly afflict."
Hanmer (mistaking the meaning) read do. Porson objected, on the ground that it was thou and not influences which governed dost. Porson was certainly right, and we wonder how any one could ever have understood the passage in any other way. The mediaevals had as much trouble in reconciling free-will with judicial astrology as we with the divine foreknowledge. A passage in Dante, it appears to us, throws light on the meaning of the Duke's speech:—
"Lo cielo i vostri movimenti inizia; Non dico tutti; ma posto ch' io 'l dica Lume v' e dato a bene ed a malizia, E libero voler che, se fatica Nelle prime battaglie col ciel dura, Poi vince tutto se ben si notrica."
Purg., Cant. xvi.
Cielo is here used for the influence of the stars, as is clear from a parallel passage in the "Convito." Accordingly, "Though servile to all the skyey influences, it is thou, breath as thou art, that dost hourly afflict thy body with the results of sin." But even if this be not the meaning, is Mr. White correct in saying that influence had no plural at that time?[I] Had he forgotten "the sweet influences of Pleiades"? The word occurs in this form not only in our version of the Bible, but in that of Cranmer, and in the "Breeches" Bible. So in Chapman's "Byron's Conspiracy," (Ed. 1608, B. 3,)
"Where the beames of starres have carv'd Their powerful influences."
[Footnote I: Mr. White cites Dr. Richardson, but the Doctor is not always a safe guide.]
Mr. White repeatedly couples together the translators of the Bible and Shakspeare, but he seems to have studied their grammar but carelessly. "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you," is a case in point, and we ought never to forget our danger from that dusky personage who goes about "seeking whom he may devour." At a time when correction of the press was so imperfect, one instance of true construction should outweigh twenty false, and nothing could be easier than the mistake of who for whom, when the latter was written whō. A glance at Ben Jonson's English Grammar is worth more than all theorizing. Mr. White thinks it probable that Shakspeare understood French, Latin, and Italian, but not—English!
The truth is, that, however forms of spelling varied, (as they must where both writers and printers spelt phonographically,) the forms of grammatical construction were as strict then as now. There were some differences of usage, as where two nominatives coupled by a conjunction severally governed the verb, and where certain nouns in the plural were joined with a verb in the singular,—as dealings, doings, tidings, odds, and as is still the case with news. It is not impossible that the French termination in esse helped to make the confusion. We have in the opposite way made a plural of riches, which was once singular. Some persons used the strong preterites, and some the weak,—some said snew, thew, sew, and some snowed, thawed, sowed. Bishop Latimer used the preterite shew, which Mr. Bartlett, in his "Dictionary of Americanisms," pronounces to be the shibboleth of Bostonians. But such differences were orthoepic, and not syntactic.
We regret Mr. White's glossological excursions the more because they are utterly supererogatory, and because they seem to imply a rashness of conclusion which can very seldom be laid to his charge as respects the text. He volunteers, without the least occasion for it, an opinion that abye and abide are the same word, (which they are not,) suggests that vile and vild (whose etymology, he says, is obscure) may be related to the Anglo-Saxon hyldan, and tells us that dom is Anglo-Saxon for house. He pronounces ex cathedra that besides is only a vulgar form of beside, though the question is still sub judice, and though the language has contrived adverbial and prepositional forms out of the distinction, as it has, in the case of the compounds with ward and wards, adverbial and adjectival ones.[J] He declares that the distinction between shall and will was imperfectly known in Shakspeare's time, though we believe it would not be difficult to prove that the distinction was more perfect in some respects than now. We the less value his opinion on these points as he himself shows an incomplete perception of the difference between would and should. (See Vol. V. pp. 114, 115, "We would now say, 'all liveliness,'" and "We would now write, 'the traits of,'" etc.) He says that the pronunciation commandement was already going out of use two centuries and a half ago. Mr. Pegge speaks of it as a common Cockneyism at the beginning of this century. Sometimes this hastiness, however, affects the value of an elucidatory note, as where he tells us that a principality is "an angel of the highest rank next to divinity" [deity], and quotes St. Paul, breaking off the passage at the word in question. But St. Paul goes on to say powers,—and there were, in fact, three orders of angels above the principalities, the highest being the Seraphim. An editor should be silent or correct, especially where there is no need of saying anything.
[Footnote J: It is singular, if the s be a corruption, that the Germans should have fallen into the same in their vorwaerts and rueckwaerts. We are inclined to conjecture the s a genitival one, supplying the place of a missing of and von respectively. We formerly said, "of this side," "of that side," etc.; but the idiomatic sense of of is so entirely lost, that Mr. Craik (English of Shakspeare) actually supposes o'clock and o'nights to be contractions of "on the clock," "on nights," and that, although we still say habitually, "of late," "of old." The French use of de, and the Italian of di, is parallel. The Italians have also their avanti and davante, and no one forgets Dante's
"Di qua, di la, di su, di giu, gli mena." ]
But it is after Mr. White has been bitten by the oestrum of Shakspearian pronunciation that he becomes thoroughly contradictory of himself, especially after he has taken up the notion that "Much Ado about Nothing" is "Much Ado about Noting," and that the th was not sounded in the England of Shakspeare. After that, his theory of rhetorical variety seems to become that of Geoffroy, "dire, redire, et se contredire." First he tells us, (Vol. II. p. 94,) that "the old form 'murther' should be retained because it is etymologically correct, and because it was the uniform orthography of the day, [a hasty assumption,] and the word was pronounced in accordance with it." Next, (in order to sustain his anti-th theory,) he says, (Vol. III. p. 227,) that "the last syllable of 'murder,' then written murther, seems to have been pronounced somewhat like the same syllable of the French meurtre." He assures us (Vol. III. p. 340) that raisin was pronounced as we now pronounce reason, and adds, "The custom has not entirely passed away." Certainly not, as any one who knows Thackeray's "Mulligan of Ballymulligan" is aware. But Mr. White (having forgotten for a moment his conclusion that swears was anciently sweers) quotes (Vol. V. pp. 399-400) from the "Haven of Health" as follows:—"Among us in England they be of two sorts, that is to say, great Raysons and small Raysons" (the Italics are our own). In "Love's Labor's Lost," he spells Biron Birone, (Chapman spelt it Byron,) as being nearer the supposed pronunciation of Shakspeare's day; but finding it rhyming with moon, he is obliged also to assume that moon was called mown, and is severe on Mr. Fox for saying Touloon. He forgets that we have other words of the same termination in English for whose pronunciation Mr. Fox did not set the fashion. The French termination on became oon in bassoon, pontoon, balloon, galloon, spontoon, raccoon, (Fr. raton,) Quiberoon, Cape Bretoon, without any help from Mr. Fox. So also croon from (Fr.) carogne,—of which Dr. Richardson (following Jamieson) gives a false etymology. The occurrence of pontoon in Blount's "Glossographia," published before Mr. Fox was born, shows the tendency of the language.[K] Or did Mr. Fox invent the word boon?
[Footnote K: Let us remark, in passing, that the spellings "Berowne," "Petruchio," and "Borachio" are strong indications that the manuscript copies of the plays in which they occur were dictated to an amanuensis.]
The pronunciation of words in Shakspeare's time is a matter of no particular consequence, except that it may be made the basis of conjectural emendation. This consideration gives the question some importance, and, as error is one of those plants which propagate themselves from the root, it is well to attempt its thorough eradication at the outset.
"If tinkers may have leave to live, And bear the sow-skin bowget;
Then my account I well may give, And in the stocks avouch it."
Upon this Mr. White has the following note:—
"'The sow-skin bowget':—i.e. budget; the change of orthography being made for the sake of the rhyme; about which our early writers, contrary to the received opinion, were very particular. Even Ben Jonson, scholar and grammarian as he was, did not hesitate to make radical changes in orthography to obtain a perfect, in place of an imperfect rhyme. The fact is important in the history of our language." (Vol. V. pp. 398-9.)
Readers of our older literature are familiar with what the early writers of treatises on poetry say upon this subject, concerning which, under the head of licentia poetica, they give some rather minute directions. But we think Mr. White's expression "radical changes" a little strong. The insurmountable difficulty, however, in the way of forming a decided judgment, is plain at the first glance. You have not, as Dr. Kitchener would say, caught your hare; you have no standard. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? How shall you determine how your first word is pronounced? and which of two rhyming words shall dominate the other? In the present instance how do we know that avouch was sounded as it is now? Its being from the French would lead us to doubt it. And how do we know that bowget was not pronounced boodget, as it would be, according to Mr. White, if spelt budget? Bishop Hall makes fool rhyme with cowl. That ou was sometimes pronounced oo is certain. Gill (of whom infra) says that the Boreales pronounced wound, waund, and gown, gaun or geaun.
Mr. White supposes that ea was sounded like ee. We are inclined to question it, and to think that here again the French element in our language has made confusion. It is certain that ea represents in many words the French e and ai,—as in measure and pleasure. The Irish, who were taught English by Anglo-Normans, persist in giving the ea its original sound (as baste for beast); and we Northern Yankees need not go five miles in any direction to hear maysure and playsure. How long did this pronunciation last in England? to how many words did it extend? and did it infect any of Saxon root? It is impossible to say. Was beat called bate? One of Mr. White's variations from the Folio is "bull-baiting" for "bold-beating." The mistake could have arisen only from the identity in sound of the ea in the one with ai in the other. Butler, too, rhymes drum-beat with combat. But beat is from the French. When we find least, (Saxon,) then, rhyming with feast, (French,) and also with best, (Shakspeare has beast and blest,) which is more probable, that best took the sound of beest, or that we have a slightly imperfect rhyme, with the ā somewhat shorter in one word than the other? We think the latter. One of the very words adduced by Mr. White (yeasty) is spelt yesty in the Folio. But will rhymes help us? Let us see. Sir Thomas Wyat rhymes heares and hairs; Sir Walter Raleigh, teares and despairs; Chapman, tear (verb) with ear and appear; Shakspeare, ear with hair and fear, tears with hairs, and sea with play; Bishop Hall, years with rehearse and expires, and meales with quailes. Will Mr. White decide how the ea was sounded? We think the stronger case is made out for the ā than for the ee,—for swears as we now pronounce it, than for sweers; though we fear our tired readers may be tempted to perform the ceremony implied by the verb without much regard to its orthoepy.
Mr. White tells us that on and one were pronounced alike, because Speed puns upon their assonance. He inclines to the opinion that o had commonly the long sound, as in tone, and supposes both words to have been pronounced like own. But was absolute identity in sound ever necessary to a pun, especially in those simpler and happier days? Puttenham, in his "English Poesy," gives as a specimen of the art in those days a play upon the words lubber and lover, appreciable now only by Ethiopian minstrels, but interesting as showing that the tendency of b and v to run together was more sensible then than now.[L] But Shakspeare unfortunately rhymes on with man, in which case we must either give the one word the Scotch pronunciation of mon, or Hibernicize the other into ahn. So we find son, which according to Mr. White would be pronounced sone, coquetting with sun; and Dr. Donne, who ought to have called himself Doane, was ignorant enough to remain all his life Dr. Dunn. But the fact is, that rhymes are no safe guides, for they were not so perfect as Mr. White would have us believe. Shakspeare rhymed broken with open, sentinel with kill, and downs with hounds,—to go no farther. Did he, (dreadful thought!) in that imperfect rhyme of leap and swept, (Merry Wives,) call the former lape and the latter (Yankice) swep'? This would jump with Mr. White's often-recurring suggestion of the Elizabethanism of our provincial dialect.
[Footnote L: Everybody remembers how Scaliger illustrated it in the case of the Gascons,—Felices, quibus vivere est bibere.]
Mr. White speaks of the vowels as having had their "pure sound" in the Elizabethan age. We are not sure if we understand him rightly; but have they lost it? We English have the same vowel-sounds with other nations, but indicate them by different signs. Slight changes in orthoepy we cannot account for, except by pleading the general issue of custom. Why should foot and boot be sounded differently? Why food and good? Why should the Yankee mark the distinction between the two former words, and blur it in the case of the latter, thereby incurring the awful displeasure of the "Autocrat," who trusses him, falcon-like, before his million readers and adorers? Why should the Frenchman call his wooden shoe a sabot and his old shoe a savate, both from the same root? Alas, we must too often in philology take Rabelais's reason for Friar John's nose! With regard to the pronunciation of the vowels in Queen Bess's days, so much is probable,—that the a in words from the French had more of the ah sound than now, if rhymes may be trusted. We find placed rhyming with past; we find the participle saft formed from save. One relic of this occurs to us as still surviving in that slang which preserves for us so many glossologic treasures,—chauffer,—to chafe, (in the sense of angering,)—to chaff. The same is true of our Yankee chămber, dănger, and mănger, cited by Mr. White.
If we have apprehended the bearing of Mr. White's quotation from Butler's English Grammar, we think he has misapprehended Butler. We wish he had not broken the extract off so short, with an etc. What did Butler mean by "oo short"? Mr. White draws the inference that Puck was called Pook, and that, since it was made to rhyme with luck, that word and "all of similar orthography" were pronounced with an oo. Did our ancestors have no short u, answering somewhat to the sound of that vowel in the French un? We have little doubt of it; and since Mr. White repeats so often that we Yankees have retained the Elizabethan words and sounds, may we not claim their pronunciation of put (like but) and sut for soot, as relics of it? If they had it not, how soon did it come into the language? Already we find Lord Herbert of Cherbury using pundonnore, (point d'honneur,) which may supply Dr. Richardson with the link he wants between pun and point, for the next edition of his Dictionary. Alexander Gill, head-master of St. Paul's School and Milton's teacher, published his "Logonomia Anglica" in 1621, a book which throws more light on the contemporary pronunciation of English than any other we know of. He makes three forms of u: the tenuis, as in use,—the crassa brevis, as in us,—and the longa, as in ooze. The Saxons had, doubtless, two sounds of oo, a long and a short; and the Normans brought them a third in the French liquid u, if they had it not before. We say if, because their organs have boggled so at the sound in certain combinations, ending in such wine-thick success as piktcher, portraitcher.
"On earth's green cinkcher fell a heavy Jew!"
That the u had formerly, in many cases, the sound attributed to it by Mr. White, we have no question; that it had that sound when Shakspeare wrote "Midsummer Night's Dream," and in such words as luck, is not so clear to us. We suspect that form of it was already retreating into the provincial dialects, where it still survives.
Another of Mr. White's theories is that moon was pronounced mown. Perhaps it was; but, if so, it is singular that this pronunciation is not found in any dialect of our language where almost every other archaism is caught skulking. And why was it spelt moon? When did soon and spoon take their present form and sound? That oo was not sounded like o long is certain from Webbe's saying, that, to make poore and doore rhyme with more, they must be written pore and dore. Mr. White says also that shrew was pronounced shrow, and cites as parallel cases sew and shew. If New England authority be worth anything, we have the old sound here in the pronunciation soo, once universal, and according both with Saxon and Latin analogy. Moreover, Bishop Hall rhymes shew with mew and sue; so that it will not do to be positive.
We come now to the theory on which Mr. White lays the greatest stress, and for being the first to broach which he even claims credit. That credit we frankly concede him, and we shall discuss the point more fully because there is definite and positive evidence about it, and because we think we shall be able to convince even Mr. White himself that he is wrong. This theory is, that the th was sounded like t in the word nothing, and in various other words, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. This certainly seems an unaccountable anomaly at very first sight; for we know that two sounds of th existed before that period, and exist now. What singular frost was it that froze the sound in a few words for a few years and left it fluent in all others?
Schoolmaster Gill, in his "Logonomia," already referred to, gives an interesting and curious reason for the loss from our alphabet of the Anglo-Saxon signs for the grave and acute th. He attributes it to the fact, that, when Henry VII. invited Wynken de Word over from Germany to print for the first time in English, the foreign fount of types was necessarily wanting in signs to express those Saxon sounds. Accordingly, the form th was required to stand for both. For the Germans, he says, call thing, Ding, and father, Vater.[M] In his alphabet he gives though and thistle as expressing the two sounds, which is precisely consonant with present usage. On page 152, speaking of the difficulties of English pronunciation to a foreigner, he says, "Etenim si has quinque voculas, What think the chosen judges? quid censent electi judices? recte protuleris, omnem loquendi difficultatem superasti." Ben Jonson in his Grammar gives similar examples, and speaks also of the loss of the Saxon signs as having made a confusion. It is certain, then, at least, that Shakspeare did not pronounce thing, ting,—or, if he did, that others did not, as we shall presently show.
[Footnote M: Praefatio, p. 6. We abridge his statement.]
Most of Mr. White's arguments in support of his opinion are theoretic; the examples by which he endeavors to sustain it tell, with one exception, against him. That exception is his quoting from one of Shakspeare's sonnets the rhyme doting and nothing. But this proves nothing (noting?); for we have already shown that Shakspeare, like all his contemporaries, was often content with assonance, where identity could not be had, in rhyming. Generally, indeed, the argument from rhymes is like that of the Irishman who insisted that full must be pronounced like dull, because he found it rhyming with bŭll. Mr. White also brings forward the fact, that moth is spelt mote, and argues therefrom that the name of the Page Moth has hitherto been misconceived. But how many th sounds does he mean to rob us of? And how was moth really pronounced? Ben Jonson rhymes it with sloth and cloth; Herrick, with cloth. Alexander Gill tells us (p. 16) that it was a Northern provincialism to pronounce cloth long (like both), and accordingly we are safe in believing that moth was pronounced precisely as it is now. Mr. White again endeavors to find support in the fact that Armado and renegado are spelt Armatho and renegatho in the Folio. Of course they were, (just as the Italian Petruccio and Boraccio are spelt Petruchio and Borachio,) because, being Spanish words, they were so pronounced. His argument from the frequent substitution of had for hath is equally inconclusive, because we may either suppose it a misprint, or, as is possible, a mistake of the printer for the Anglo-Saxon sign for th, which, as many contractions certainly did, may have survived in writing long after it was banished from print, and which would be easily confounded with d. Can Mr. White find an example of dod for doth, where the word could not be doubtful to the compositor? The inability of foreigners to pronounce the th was often made a source of fun on the stage. Puttenham speaks of dousand for thousand as a vulgarism. Shakspeare himself makes Caius say dat, and "by my trot"; and in Marston's "Dutch Courtezan," (Act ii. Sc. 1,) we find Francischina, (a Dutch woman,) saying, "You have brought mine love, mine honor, mine body, all to noting!"—to which her interlocutrix answers, "To nothing!" It is plain that Marston did not harden his ths into ts, nor suppose that his audience were in the habit of doing so. How did Ben Jonson pronounce the word? He shall answer for himself (Vision of Delight).—