FIRST ARTICLE: THE TEXT.
MR. HORACE HOWARD FURNESS — who, although he is doubly a doctor, can afford to be spoken of as if he were only a gentleman —has added a fourth play and a fifth volume to the new variorum edition of Shakespeare’s works which he has begun, and which it is to be hoped that he will have the health, the endurance, and the perseverance to complete. The plays which he has heretofore given us are Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet. The scale on which he works is so grand that the first and the second of these plays fill, each of them, with their various readings, notes, and commentaries, a large octavo volume, while for Hamlet two such volumes are required. The fifth volume, now before us, contains King Lear.
A variorum edition of a great writer is so called, as most of the readers of The Atlantic probably know, because it presents, with his text, all of the work of his various editors and commentators which in the judgment of the variorum editor are necessary to a critical study of that text, and all the various readings of all previous editions which are of any authority or interest. Thus, as Mr. Furness remarks in his preface to the present volume, “ the attempt is here made to present on the same page with the text all the various readings of the different editions of King Lear, from the earliest quarto to the latest critical edition of the play, together with all the notes and comments thereon which the editor has thought worthy of preservation, not only for the purpose of elucidating the text, but at times as illustrations of the history of Shakespearian criticism ; ” and yet to this there is added, in the appendix, essays on the text, the date of the composition of the play, the source of the plot, the duration of the action, the insanity of Lear, the great actors of the principal part, the costume of the play, Tate’s version of it, selections from English and German criticisms of it, and its bibliography, — a work, the magnitude, we might almost say the enormity, of which can be appreciated only by those who have some practical acquaintance with such labors,2
There have been several variorum editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed, as every editor has almost of necessity availed himself of the labors of all of his predecessors and quoted them, every critical edition has been more or less a variorum ; but the only editions which have really this character in any approach to completeness are those known as Johnson and Steevens’s, 1785, in ten volumes; Malone’s, 1790, in ten volumes; Reid and Steevens’s, 1813, in twenty-one volumes; and Boswell’s Malone, 1821, also in twenty-one volumes. The great Cambridge edition, by William George Clark and W. Aldis Wright, in nine volumes, is a complete variorum as to readings, but not as to notes and comments. Of these Boswell’s Malone is the standard variorum, and is always meant by editors and commentators when they cite “ the Variorum.” That of Reid and Steevens is sometimes cited as “ the variorum of 1813.” But even the former of these does not approach Mr. Furness’s work in the vastness of its plan, or in its systematic arrangement, or in the thoroughness of its execution. And the activity of Shakespearian criticism between 1821 and 1880, and the searching and almost scientific study of the English language and its literature during the last twenty-five years, have resulted in the accumulation of a mass of critical material upon this subject since Malone’s time which makes a new variorum edition of Shakespeare almost a literary necessity of the day. It is to the honor of the American branch of English literature that the labor of supplying this need has been undertaken by one of our scholars and critics; and still more to its honor that this labor has been performed thus far with the wide range of knowledge, the acumen, the judgment, the taste, and, it may well be added, the invariable good temper which are displayed by Mr. Furness.
To the general reader it may seem that the poet is editorially overlaid in this great edition. The text of Hamlet may be printed in large type on sixty or seventy duodecimo pages; and indeed it was originally published in a small quarto pamphlet of that volume. In the new variorum, Hamlet fills two ponderous octavo volumes. But it is to be remembered that the purpose of a variorum editor is not to produce a pocket edition of his author for popular use. It is not supposed that any one who wishes to take Hamlet with him on a summer excursion will put the new variorum edition into his traveling-bag, — or the old variorum, for that matter. Boswell’s Malone’s Shakespeare was quite as much overlaid for its time as Furness’s is ; and even more so, for it is filled with rubbish which subsequent editors have swept into the dust-bin. A variorum edition professes to give what is necessary for the critical study of its author, and even, as Mr. Furness says, to illustrate the history of the critical literature of which he is the source and the subject. The doing of this involves the preservation of much which is, in the judgment of the variorum editor himself, of little intrinsic value.
It is easy to laugh and sneer at the editors and commentators of Shakespeare ; and some of them, in their dullness of apprehension no less than in the voluminous superfluity and feeble triviality of their criticism, are indeed " fixed figures for the time of scorn to point his slow unmoving finger at. ’ But not a little of the scoffing to which they as a class have been subjected is the mere effervescence of the ignorance of the scoffers, which with some folk is a very sparkling quality. Many even of those who read and enjoy Shakespeare talk of being content with the text itself without note or comment. But what text ? Such objections to editorial labor on Shakespeare can be made by candid and intelligent persons only in utter ignorance of the state in which the text of Shakespeare’s plays has come down to us. The “ text of Shakespeare,” when thus spoken of, means merely the text which the speakers have been in the habit of reading. But that very text, they may be sure, is the result of the painful labors, through many generations, of the very editors of whom they speak so slightingly. Shakespeare did not publish his plays himself and read the proofs with the assistance of a good corrector of the press. Would that he had done so ! They were some of them obtained by their first publishers surreptitiously ; they were printed from imperfect manuscripts, or from mutilated stage copies ; and then they were printed with less care than is now given to the printing of a handbill. The very edition issued by his fellow-actors after his death, the great First Folio, 1623, a perfect copy of which is worth twenty-five hundred dollars and upwards, is incomplete and full of errors. The first edition of Hamlet, 1603, is in many passages absolutely unreadable, and is in fact an absurd jumble of what Shakespeare wrote. The “authentic” edition of 1623, besides being full of perplexing errors of the press, is very incomplete. If the text of Shakespeare were put before these captious amateur critics uncorrected by editorial labor and without comment, they would not recognize it in numberless passages ; they would not believe that it was “ Shakespeare,” — and they would be right; and besides this, in numberless passages in which they would really have “ Shakespeare,” they would be unable to understand him. The truth is that the text of Shakespeare’s plays has come down to us from his own time with such imperfection and such variety of presentation that to form it into a self-consistent whole requires a degree of scholarship and of critical acumen beyond that required by the text of any other great poet of the past, excepting Homer, whose poems lived only in the mouths of rhapsodists and in the memory of hearers for hundreds of years before they were put upon paper. As to Shakespeare’s writings, there is such variety of authority in regard to them, and the authority is so conflicting in many cases, they are so lame and mutilated in every “authoritative” form, that they are just in the condition to need and to provoke the most careful critical recension of the most capable scholarship. If their condition had been contrived by some malicious spirit for this very purpose, it could not have been better adapted to that end. And then, the writings which exist in this deplorable state are the crown of all literature and the glory of the English race. What wonder that Shakespeare has editors and commentators ! That some of these have been men whose feebleness of intellect has been equaled in degree only by their presumption does not essentially affect this question.
Let us look at a few passages of King Lear in the light of these remarks, which may seem trite to persons who have a moderate acquaintance at first hand with the subject.
In the very first scene, and in the fifth and sixth lines of that scene, we find this discrepancy between the “ authorities.” One of them has, “for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in nature can make choice of either’s moiety; ” while the other reads, “that curiosity in neither can make choice,” etc. Which of these is the text of Shakespeare ? The latter, which is the reading of the folio of 1623, has been generally and finally accepted ; but much might be said in favor of “ curiosity in nature.” And then what does “ curiosity in neither” mean ? It might puzzle some of the carpers at Shakespearian editing to tell. This, merely by way of showing how soon we come upon a stumbling-block in “ the text of Shakespeare.” And it may be not without interest to my readers for me to point out what I believe to be the origin of this particular variation between the texts of the two old editions, which has never been done. It is due, I am sure, to what is called a misprint by the ear. Except in extraordinary cases, compositors put in type words, not letters ; and a skillful and practiced compositor will sometimes set up a phrase of a dozen words, or of a score, without referring to his copy. Manifestly, therefore, he spells with his type the sound that he has in his mind. Now in Shakespeare’s time the sounds of nature and neither were almost identical. The first syllable of neither was pronounced nay, and th had the sound of dth (and sometimes even of d and t), as we now hear it sounded by Irish speakers of English.3 Whether, therefore, the compositor in this instance had nature or neither before his eyes, he had in his mind’s ear the one, or nearly one, sound with which an Irishman utters both words. This cause of confusion was aggravated if the text of the quarto in which “ nature ” appears was taken down, as it may have been, from a recital of the scene. Misprints and miswritings by the ear were the cause of not a little confusion in the old texts of Shakespeare.
And what does Regan mean when, according to the text of 1623, which Mr. Furness adopts, she says to her father,
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense professes ” ?
What is a precious square ? What is a square of sense ? How can a square of sense profess ? As to the last point, it seems to me clear that the text of the Folio, 1623, here furnishes an example of another sort of misprint, — the misprint by repetition. If a man has spoken or written a word once, such is the action of the mind that he is likely, even without reason, to repeat it; and this likelihood is much greater if the word is suggested by kindred thought or a like form in another word. Hence compositors sometimes repeat words which they have just put in type ; and hence in this case I am sure the compositor repeated profess, although he had possesses before his eyes. The quarto has, “ Which the most precious square of sense possesses.” But this still leaves us with the precious square of sense upon our hands. What can it mean ? Let us see how some of the ablest of Shakespeare’s editors and commentators have explained it. Warburton said that “ square of sense ” refers to “ the four nobler senses, sight, hearing, taste, and smell.” Dr. Johnson said, “ Perhaps square means only compass, comprehension.” Hudson accepts the whole phrase as meaning “fullness or wealth of sensibility or capacity of joy.” Aldis Wright’s explanation is “ that which the most delicately sensitive point of my nature is capable of enjoying.” The German Schmidt, who has undertaken to teach men of English blood and speech what Shakespeare’s words mean, says that the phrase means “ choicest symmetry of reason, the most normal and intelligent mode of thinking ;" thus producing the most extravagant and farfetched and would-be-profound-seeming of all these somewhat over-subtle and very unlike explanations. Certainly the variety of sense extracted from these four words is remarkable. But does any one of these paraphrases satisfy the intelligent Shakespeare lover whose mind is clear and unmuddled by the study of various readings, — the most distracting and bewildering of all mental occupations, one which tends to idiocy ? I will venture to say that it does not. Hence it has been supposed to be corrupted, and “ precious sphere of sense,” “ spacious sphere of sense,” “ spacious square of sense,” and even “ precious treasure of sense ” have been proposed as readings. I fear that it must be left as it stands, with the humble confession that it is a dark saying.
And what are we to make of Cordelia’s entreaty to her father when she says, according to both the old authorities, “ I beseech you
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action or dishonour’d step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favor” ?
Were young princesses then so apt to commit murder that it was enumerated as a matter of course among the slips to which they were liable ? Or was the gentle, loving, self-sacrificing Cordelia an exception in this respect in the eyes of her doting father, — a murderess by distinction ? The case is very perplexing. Hence the corrector of the Collier folio read “ no vicious blot nor other foulness,” Mr. Collier remarking that “ the copyist or the compositor miswrote or misread no other ‘ murther; ’” and the change was accepted by some editors with great expression of relief and satisfaction. Walker, that much overrated commentator, — overrated because of the impression which a formal, systematic arrangement produces on many minds, — declared without hesitation that we should read, “It is no vicious blot, umber, or foulness;” an emendation so feeble, far-fetched, and foolish that it might have been made by Zachary Jackson. Keightly would read, “no vicious blot, misdeed, or foulness,” which is well enough in itself ; but why not read anything else with an m in it as well as misdeed? Against the Collier reading, “ nor other foulness,” it is to be objected, first, that the suggestion of a misprint of murther for no other, although plausible as to the folio, docs not touch the quarto, where we not only also have murder, but find it spelled with a d ; next, and more important, vicious blot and foulness are so nearly the same in meaning, so absolutely the same in turpitude, that even a writer far inferior to Shakespeare would not make the latter alternative to the former. But finally comes Hudson, and says with that fine insight which he often shows, “ I suspect that Cordelia purposely uses murder out of place, as a glance at the hyperbolical absurdity of denouncing her as ‘ a wretch whom nature is ashamed to acknowledge.’ ” Cordelia has a touch of demure satire in her composition, and this is the only explanation which seems to me at all satisfactory.
In the second scene of Act H., Kent, according to the earliest authority, the quarto, says of Oswald, the fopling villain whom he instinctively so hates,—
Like rats, oft bite the holy cords a-twain
'Which are too intrench t’ unloose; ”
but the folio reads, “ Which are t’ intrence t’ unloose.” Which is the text of Shakespeare, and what does either reading mean ? No one could answer either question until it occurred to a learned and acute commentator of the last century, named Upton, that intrence of the folio was a misprint for intrinse, a short form of intrinsecate. like reverb for reverberate ; intrinsecate being an Anglicized form of the Italian intrinsecare, to entangle, which was used by a few writers of the Elizabethan age. And here again I suggest, and indeed am sure, that we have an example of the misleading influence of pronunciation upon the printer’s art. For the intrench of the quarto is merely a phonetic spelling of intrinse.4 We have still a remnant of this pronunciation. Not uncommonly provincial people, and Mr. Lincoln’s “ plain people,” talk of “ renciling [for rinsing] clothes,” or say “ reneh [for rinse] those glasses.” Just so intrinse was pronounced intrench. The pronunciation rench for rinse is but the survival of an old fashion. As to the word intrinse, it means merely entangled, knotted ; but what would have become of this passage were it not for Shakespearian editors ?
Lear, consciously deceiving himself, I think (I can indicate his state of mind with brevity no otherwise), says to Regan, when, cursing Goneril, he flies to his second daughter (Act II., Scene 4),
Thy tender-hefted nature shall not give
Thee o’er to harshness.”
This is the folio reading; the quarto reading in the second line is “ tenderhested.” The word is spelled with the oldfashioned long f. which might easily be a misprint for f; but it is to be remarked that both of the quarto impressions, although they differ here typographically, have “ tender-hested.” In any case, however, what will the advocate of an unedited text of Shakespeare do here ? Is either reading “ the text of Shakespeare ” ? What does either a tenderhefted nature or a tender-hested nature mean ? It is said that as heft means handle, tender-hefted “ means smooth or soft handled, and is here put for gentleness of disposition.” Another explanation is that tender-hefted means “ delicately housed, daintily bodied, finely sheathed.”The latter is given in the Edinburgh Review, and also by Aldis Wright, the Cambridge editor, who adds, “ Regan was less masculine than Goneril.” Was she ? She assists at the most frightful and revolting scene in all tragedy, — introduced by Shakespeare, I believe, partly to show the savage nature of the times he was depicting, — the tearing out of Gloster’s eyes ; and she, with her own “ tender-hefted ” hand, kills the servant who assists her husband in the act. She seems to me rather the worse of the two elder sisters. But whether she is so or not, can we accept any one of these explanations of this strange compound word ? I think that they are all not only much too far-fetched, but entirely from the purpose. Rowe, Shakespeare’s first editor, read “ tender-hearted nature,” a very plausible emendation, which other editors have adopted. But how came this simple and hardly-to-bemistaken phrase to be misprinted in both the old impressions, which were separated by a space of fifteen years, and which were put in type from different " copy ” ? This question is one of a sort that Shakespeare’s editors have not unfrequently to pass upon. “ Tender-hefted” is inexplicable consistently with common sense and Shakespeare’s use of language. “ Tender-hearted ” is inadmissible against the reading of both quarto and folio. After all, is it not the f in the folio that is the misprint, and is not the quarto right ? Did not Shakespeare write tender-hested nature ; that is, tenderly commanded, tenderly ruled, tenderly ordered nature ? If he did not, I, for one, give up the passage as inexplicable and hopelessly corrupt.
When Regan urges Lear to return to Goneril and live with her with half his stipulated train, he breaks out, —
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To wage against the enmity o’ th’ air,
To he a comrade with the wolf and owl,
Necessity’s sharp pinch. Return with her! ”
The old copies agree in this reading. The meaning of the phrase “ necessity’s sharp pinch ” is plain enough ; but what does Lear mean by it ? What is its connection ? The Collier folio has. " and howl necessity’s sharp pinch,” which I am sorry to see that Mr. Furness adopts. Lear surely did not mean to speak of howling the sharp pinch of necessity. The first line of Regan’s speech, to which this of Lear is a reply, seems to make the passage clear. She says to him, —
that is, submit to the hard necessity of your condition. To this Lear, choleric, proud, and kingly, replies, [Shall I yield to] necessity’s sharp pinch [and] return with her ! The phrase is merely an elliptical interrogative exclamation. It seems to me that to a reader who is in sympathy with the scene it hardly needs explanation, and that the Collier folio reading is insufferable.
But I must bring this consideration of particular passages to a close; and I shall remark upon only one more, which, as it stands in both the quarto impressions and in all subsequent editions, is certainly one of the most incomprehensible in all Shakespeare’s plays. In the scene in which Gloster loses his eyes, he, referring to the driving of old Lear out into the storm, says boldly to Regan, as the passage appears in the quartos, in the variorum of 1821, in the Cambridge edition, in the Globe, and in my own : —
Thou shouldst have said: Good porter, turn the key,
All cruels else subscrib’d: but I shall see
The winged vengeance overtake such children.”
The folio has, “ All cruels else subscribe.” But whether we read subscribe or subscribed, what is the meaning of this phrase ? Its obscurity is so great that the notes upon it fill, in small type, the whole of one of Mr. Furness’s ample pages. How it was that I came to pass it without remark in my own edition I cannot undertake to say. It was a strange oversight. Dr. Johnson says that subscrib'd means “ yielded, submitted to the necessity of the occasion; ” but what help does that give ? Aldis Wright says that “ all cruels else subscrib’d ” means “ all other cruelties being yielded or forgiven.” Moberly, the able editor of the Rugby edition, says that it means “all harshness, otherwise natural, being forborne or yielded from the necessity of the case.” Schmidt, whom it is the fashion now to regard as an “ authority ” of weight on Shakespeare’s words, because he has made an alphabetical catalogue of them with explanations, says, “‘All cruels ’ can mean nothing else but all cruel creatures,” and that the passage means, “ everything which is at other times cruel shows feeling or regard; you alone have not done so.” Mr. Furness, in desperation, it would seem, makes this phrase a part of the supposed instructions to the porter, and reads, —
All cruels else subscribe.’ But I shall sec,” etc.
with this paraphrase : “ Thou shouldst have said ‘ Good porter, open the gates ; acknowledge the claims of all creatures, however cruel they may be at other times.’ ”
It is not necessary to quote or to remark upon any other of the explanations ; and I feel that I cannot err in saying that none of these is at all satisfactory, and that among them Schmidt’s is the least acceptable. But it seems to me also that after all there is little difficulty in the passage, except in the word “cruels,” and that that is far from being inexplicable. It means, I believe, all cruelties, all occasions of cruelty, — a use of language quite in Shakespeare’s manner. The folio gives the true reading with the proper punctuation according to the fashion of the time. There is a full stop after “ Good porter turn the key,” and a colon after “ subscribe,” thus: —
All Cruels else subscribe: but I shall see
The winged Vengeance overtake such Children.”
Now in such passages in old books a colon has the power which in more modern punctuation is expressed by a comma, and merely marks off the subject of an assertion. “ Subscribe ” is here used in the sense of attest, guaranty, a use common with Shakespeare, and not uncommon nowadays, and but in a sense which it also has at present, — that. The construction of the passage (which really should not require all this explanation) is, then, this : After Gloster has told Regan that she should have told the porter to open the door, he utters the solemn asseveration, — All other such cruelties attest that I shall see swift vengeance overtake such children. So Albany says (Act IV., Scene 2) : —
You justicers, that these our nether crimes
So speedily can venge.”
Let the passage be printed just as it is in the folio, with the mere (and usual) substitution of a comma for the old colon : —
All cruels else subscribe, but I shall see
The winged vengeance overtake such children.”
Mr. Furness’s perception of the supreme difficulty of this passage as it is usually printed is only an indication of his fitness for the great work that he has undertaken. In his apprehension of Shakespeare’s thought lie shows generally that combination of sensitiveness and common sense which goes to the making of a first-rate editor of a great poet, and which most of all is required in the editor of Shakespeare. Dyce, for example, had great learning and good judgment ; but he lacked that power of apprehension which comes from a condition of the mind sympathetic with the moods of a great poet, and consequently, with all his learning and his ability, he produced a second or third rate critical edition of this author.
I hope that in quoting several notes upon the passage,
More hideous when thou show’st thee in a child
Than the sea monster,”
the object of which is to show what particular swimming beast the sea monster is, Mr. Furness was, as he says in his preface, merely illustrating the history of Shakespearian criticism. For surely never was critical conjecture more wasted than in attempting to remove the vagueness of that image by giving the sea monster a specific name. For vagueness not only excites terror, but enhances horror, and is indeed a constant element in the awful and in all the exciting causes of the great apprehensive emotions. To give Lear’s sea monster a name and a form is to drag him down from the higher regions of poetry into the plain prose of natural history. He becomes at once a possible inmate of an aquarium, or an item in the Greatest Show on Earth. Who thanks Upton for suggesting that Shakespeare made Lear compare ingratitude to a “ hippopotamus,” or another commen tator for deciding sagely that it was “ a whale ” that Shakespeare had in mind ? Hudson objects that a hippopotamus is not a sea monster, but a river monster (indeed, have we not the famous showman’s assurance that the name “ is derived from hippo, a river, and potamos, a horse ” ?), and he might have added with equal propriety that a whale, although it is the largest of post-diluvian animals, is not at all hideous. But, O gentle critic, it is not because the hippopotamus is a river haunter, or because the whale is not repulsive, that these suggestions are injurious to the passage, but because they belittle it. You do, as might be expected of you, much better when you say, “ If the poet had any particular animal in view, I suspect it was the one that behaved so ungently at old Troy.” For what was that particular Trojan animal? The poets did not know themselves any more than Shakespeare did. It was simply a sea monster, Your “if” is a very potent and pertinent little word. Shakespeare, be sure, had no particular animal even in his own mind’s eye. The sea has always been in the popular mind the home of monsters, huge, horrible, shapeless, and pitiless ; and to excite the vague dread which is born of ignorance and fancy was the poet’s purpose. His end was mystery ; why endeavor to reduce his mystery to certainty ? Must we in all things be so “ scientific ” as to substitute positive knowledge for an undefined loathing? Must we classify and pigeonhole the very causes of our emotions ?
The poet worked in a way directly converse to this, having a directly opposite end in view, when he made Edmund (Act I., Scene 2) say, “My cue is villainous melancholy,” etc., and end his speech ”fa, sol, la, mi.” It has been pointed out by two musicians, who are among Shakespeare’s commentators, that this succession of notes is “ unnatural and offensive ” and “ distracting.” But Aldis Wright says that Mr. Chappell informed him that “ there is not the slightest foundation ” for this view of the passage, and that “ Edmund is merely singing to himself, in order to seem not to observe Edgar’s approach.” Mr. Chappell is a very accomplished musician; and he is none the less so because he has, in my judgment, misapprehended this passage. True, a desire to seem not to observe Edgar’s approach is the occasion of his singing to himself; but why does he sing as he does ? Why does he not begin, as a singer naturally would (not singing an air), on the tonic ? The notes which he sings are these:—
Now to any musical ear this succession of notes suggests a discord that must be resolved by the chord of the tonic : —
This resolution would have been implied if Edmund had gone on, as he naturally would have done, and sung fa, sol, la, mi, fa: —
But, beginning on the sub-dominant, he stops short of the tonic upon the leading note of the scale; and this when he has just said, “ These eclipses do portend these divisions,” — divisions being used in a double sense, that of distraction, and the musical sense — in which Shakespeare often uses it — of a rapid succession of notes. Surely it could not have been by chance that Shakespeare, a musician, did this. It is as if this chord
were played and not resolved; a discipline to which Mr. Chappell, because he is an accomplished musician, would, I suspect, not like to be subjected.
In a speech of Gloster’s (Act III., Scene 7), the close of which has already been commented upon, he, speaking of the storm which plays such an important part in this tragedy that it may almost be numbered among the dramatis personæ, says of it, —
In hell-black night endur’d, would have buoy’d up,
And quench’d the stelled fires.”
This is the reading of the folio and of the quartos; but is “buoy’d up” to be accepted without question ? Mr. Furness and all the best editors leave it undisturbed; but in both the Collier folio and the Quincy folio “ buoy'd up ” is changed to “ boil'd up.” Heath, who is among the good Shakespeare commentators, says that buoyed is “ used here as the middle voice in Greek, signifying to buoy or lift itself up;” and if the word is to be retained this doubtless is the sense in which it must be taken. But Schmidt, the new German light upon Shakespeare’s words, takes exactly the opposite view of the word, and says that the verb is “ used here transitively, and the phrase means, the sea would have lifted up the fixed fires and extinguished them.” Now buoy is a strange word. It has come to mean in English just what it does not mean etymologically. A buoy (Dutch boei) is a chain, a fetter ; and a buoy is so called not because it floats, but because it is chained to its place. But because it does float its name has been understood and used to mean a float, and has also been made a verb meaning to float or lift up ; and buoyant, instead of meaning chained down, as by rights it should, has come to mean light and ready to move freely about and above. I ’ll warrant that many persons have thought that buoyant in its sound suggested lightness and mobility, and that there was some connection between this and its meaning. Such notions are generally mere fancies. The word came into the English language, with other of our maritime phrases, in the sixteenth century. But did the change in its meaning take place so early as the sixteenth century, or even as the early part of the seventeenth century, when King Lear was written ? I doubt that it did. I doubt that any evidence can be produced even that buoy was used as a verb at all at that period. None, at least, has been recorded in any publication known to me. We have it as a noun meaning a fixed mark upon the water, but with no other meaning. These facts point to the improbability of the word’s being used in the extraordinary sense in which it must be used in this passage, and give a seeming strong support to the reading “ would have boil'd up,” which presents a natural, although a hyperbolical, picture of the foaming sea raised as high as heaven by the storm.
But there is one consideration that destroys the force of all these facts. It is this: that buoy, being unknown as a verb in Shakespeare’s time, buoyed could not have been put in type by a compositor, or written by a copyist, who had boiled before his eyes. Neither would or could thus have changed a well-known word into one that was unknown. The very fact that buoy as a verb was unknown, or almost unknown, in Shakespeare’s time shows that Shakespeare must have written buoyed. Besides, it would be like a poet, and like Shakespeare among poets, to see in a buoy not its fixed position, but its floating and apparently self-sustaining power. If, therefore, it was, as I am inclined to think it will be found to be, that Shakespeare, in his free and no-verbal-criticfearing use of language, was the first to make buoy a verb, his use of it as a reciprocal verb, making the sea buoy up (Heath’s middle voice), is explained, He was not using a word which already had an established meaning. The old reading “would have buoy’d up” must be retained, with the sense that the sea rose so high that it would have extinguished the stars. For Schmidt’s notion that it buoyed up the stars and also put them out is not only absurd in itself, but lacks support in the sense in which the word was used in Shakespeare’s day.
The remarks made above upon the influence of the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time upon his text lead to some others upon the same subject. First, this play which we call King Leer was known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries as King Lare. This is not only certain from the general pronunciation of the combination ea as ay at that time,5 but from the spelling of the name in the old play which preceded Shakespeare’s, and in the old chronicles in prose and in verse. This is invariably Leir ; and the combination ei then indicated the same sound which it still indicates in weight, freight, obeisance, etc.
One of the Fool’s little rhyming speeches (Act I., Scene 4) is remarkable on the score of pronunciation : —
And such a daughter,
Should sure to the slaughter,
If my cap would buy a halter:
So the fool follows after.”
As to the rhymes of the first three lines, there is of course no difficulty; and when it is taken into consideration that the l in such words as halter, falter, falcon, etc., was silent in Shakespeare’s time,6 almost the whole of the apparent difficulty has disappeared. For no one at all familiar with the rustic, that is the old fashioned, pronunciation of daughter, slaughter, and after will then fail to see that the Fool pronounced these rhyming words thus : —
And such a darter,
Should sure to the slarter,
If my cap would buy a ha’ter:
So the fool follows arter.”
Upon the passage usually printed, —
Hangs one that gathers samphire, — dreadful trade! ”
Mr. Furness has a sound and sensible note. The old copies spell “ samphire ” sampire, and Mr. Furness says, “I think that the old spelling should be retained ; it shows the old pronunciation and the derivation ; thus spelled, and pronounced sampeer, all who are familiar with the sandy beaches of New Jersey will recognize in it an old friend.” He is right beyond a doubt.
That Shakespeare wrote the rhyming speech of the Fool remarked upon just above I am not sure. It is not at all equal to the other rhymes vented by the same personage in the same scene ; and not only so, it is of a different sort. A similar speech, unquotable here, of this wonderful personage, at the end of the first act, has been under the gravest suspicion as to its authenticity since Steevens’s time. I expressed the opinion, in my own edition, that the Merlin prophecy uttered by the Fool at the end of Scene 2 of Act III. is also spurious, and gave my reasons therefor. Critical opinion seems to be settling itself in favor of this view of the passage.
The Cambridge editors (Clark, and Aldis Wright) throw suspicion also upon the soliloquy beginning, —
“ When we our betters see bearing our woes,” with which Edgar closes Scene 6 of Act III. They say, referring to its having been retained by all previous editors, “ In deference to this consensus of authority we have retained it, though, as it seems to us, internal evidence is conclusive against the supposition that the lines were written by Shakespeare.”
It is in favor of this opinion, and also of a like judgment upon the two passages mentioned before, that in each case the suspected speech comes at the end of a scene, and is spoken by a personage who remains while the others go out. This is just the place in which to look for interpolations. They are. in the first place, easily made in such situations, because the writer of them is freed from the necessity of harmonizing them with anything immediately succeeding ; and, next, because of a stage demand for them. For if there is anything dear to an actor’s soul it is to be left alone upon the stage to occupy the attention of an already excited audience, and to have the curtain fall or the scene shut upon his soliloquy and his solitary figure. I have no doubt that it was a common thing on the easy-going stage of Shakespeare’s time for an actor to beg some one of the many playwrights who were always hanging about the theatres, hungry for shillings and thirsty for sack, to write a few lines for him, —just a little bit for him to close the scene with. Hamlet’s instructions to the players show that Shakespeare had suffered in this way, especially at the hands of those who played his Fools.
As to this soliloquy of Edgar’s, it must be admitted by every considerate and appreciative reader that both in thought and in rhythm it is wholly unlike the scene which it closes, and, with a few exceptions which I shall point out, unlike the rest of the play. It is hardly more than a succession of almost trite moral reflections put in a sententious form, and written in verse as weak, as constrained, and as formal as that of a French tragedy. I quote it, not only that this may be seen, but for the purposes of a comparison to be made hereafter : —
We scarcely think our miseries our foes.
Who alone suffers, suffers most i’ th' mind,
Leaving free things and happy shows behind.
But then the mind much sufferance doth o’erskip
When grief hath mates, and bearing, fellowship.
How light and portable my pain seems now
When that which makes me bend makes the king bow: —
He childed as I father’d ! Tom, away !
Mark the high noises, and thyself bewray,
When false opinion, whose wrong thought defiles thee,
In thy just proof repeals and reconciles thee.
What will hap more to-night, safe ’scape the king!
Lurk, lurk! ”
What have these piping couplets to do with the grand, deep diapason of the blank verse of King Lear! A reader with an ear and a brain will be likely to say, — Nothing. But let us pause a while before we make a final decision, and, turning to the first scene, look at a speech of Kent’s, who is just banished : —
Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.
The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,
That justly thinks and hast most rightly said!
And your large speeches may your deeds approve
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He ’ll shape his old course in a country new.”
And these prim platitudes are uttered by the man who only a few lines before speaks in this style : —
The region of my heart! Be Kent unmannerly
When Lear is mad! What wouldst thou do, old man?
Thinks’t thou that duty shall have dread to speak
When power to flattery bows? To plainness
When majesty falls to folly. . . .
Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom;
Or whilst I can vent clamor from my throat
I ’ll tell thee thou dost evil.”
Not only would it seem that the speeches were written by different poets, but that they were written for different personages. And there is a trace of the same weakness, consciousness, and constraint in these rhymed speeches by Goneril and by Cordelia toward the end of this scene : —
Be to content your lord, who hath received you
At fortune’s alms. You have obedience scanted,
And well are worth the want that you have wanted.
Cor. Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides;
Who cover faults, at last them shame derides.”
And this brings us to the point that such is always the style of the rhymed soliloquies in these plays. If Shakespeare wrote them all, we must infer that the production of didactic poetry in rhyme crippled his mind and fettered his pen. Compare Edmund’s speech, quoted above, which is the occasion of these remarks, with Friar Laurence’s soliloquy in the third scene of Act II. of Romeo and Juliet. I quote a few lines for present convenience : —
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied ;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence, and medicine, power;
For this being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.”
This is precisely the style of thought and of verse that we find in Edmund’s speech in question. The rhythm, the very sound of the lines, in the two passages is almost the same. What could be more like these lines from Edmund’s speech, —
When grief hath mates, and bearing, fellow-ship,”—
than these from the friar’s : —
Poison hath residence, and medicine, power”?
Plainly, it seems to me, if upon evidence of style and structure we refuse to accept one of these speeches as of Shakespeare’s writing, we must also refuse to accept the other. Their metal is not only out of the same mine, but is minted with the same die. But may we be sure that Shakespeare wrote either of them ? If we once begin to suspect and to reject, where are we to stop ? And in his day play-writing was such a mere trade, such a mere manufacture of material for the use of the theatre, and playwrights were so constantly at work together upon great jobs and small jobs, — and Shakespeare in his own day was only one of these, — that we can accept nothing as absolutely his that does not bear plainly upon it the royal image and superscription.
The one point to be constantly kept in mind in the critical consideration of Shakespeare’s dramas is that they were written by a second-rate actor, who, much against his will, was compelled to live by the stage in some way, and whose first object was money,—to get on in life. He wrote what he wrote merely to fill the theatre and his own pockets ; he wrote as he wrote, because he was born the poet of poets, the dramatist of dramatists, the philosopher of philosophers, the most world-knowing of all men of the world. There was as much deliberate purpose in his breathing as in his play-writing.
In Edmund’s speech in question there is a single word which makes much against its authenticity. He, alone and supposed to be merely thinking aloud, calls himself Tom. This naturally he would not do ; this he does not do in any other instance when he is alone. He reserves that name for company, and, to use his own phrase in regard to his assumed character, “ daubs it ” only for their benefit. This one consideration is almost conclusive against the authenticity of the speech.
I have considered only a few of the questions in regard to the text of this tragedy which are suggested by Mr. Furness’s thorough and discriminating edition of it, the study of which must hereafter be a prime object with every critical reader of Shakespeare.
Richard Grant White.
- A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare. Edited by HORACE HOWARD FURNESS, Ph. D., LL. D. Vol. V. King Lear. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippineott & Co. 1880.↩
- This reminds me of the speech of a Wall Street man, who was more familiar with the value of stocks than with that of words, and who was boasting of the largeness of his operations. “Indeed,” he said, “ I don’t believe that any one suspects the enormity of some of my transactions.” Not improbably he spoke better than he knew.↩
- See my Memorandums of English Pronunciation in the Elizabethan Era, vol. xii. of my edition of Shakespeare; also the Irish Pronunciation in Chap. V. of Every-Day English, published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co.↩
- See Memorandums, etc., before cited, under S, which was often pronounced sh.↩
- See the Memorandums, etc., cited above.↩
- See Chapter XV. in Every-Day English.↩