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In Hamlet, see vol. vii. p. 216, Mr. Malone states, that the quarto, 1604, reads,
"The safety and health of this whole state;" where he supposes that the before health was inadvertently omitted. We may doubt, upon Spenser's authority, whether there was any omission. One class of verses have hitherto been considered as defective, but erroneously in my opinion. In the first scene of Macbeth this passage occurs. See vol. xi. p. 12:
" 1 Witch. Where the place?
The second of these having been considered imperfect, the reader will see, at the page referred to, the remedies which have been proposed. In Love's Labour's Lost, vol. iv. p. 371, I have mistakingly printed
"She for whom even Jove would swear
In the old copies even is omitted, and thus we find it also in the Passionate Pilgrim, see vol. x; and in England's Helicon. I am satisfied that our ancestors had a measure consisting of only six syllables, and that both the lines quoted were perfectly correct as they originally stood. I have come to this conclusion, not only because other instances are to be found in Shakspeare's plays, but in many of his contemporaries. Thus, in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
So also in the Epilogue to the Tempest:
"Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
"Gentle breath of yours my sails
It is true that there are seven syllables in the lines which I have here marked by italicks; but a syllable may be either added or not at the beginning of such verses, as the common measure may consist of seven syllables or eight. If we had merely these several instances to produce from Shakspeare, we could scarcely consider them all as accidental corruptions; yet it might still be considered as a practice peculiar to himself. I have now to show that the same may be found in his contemporaries. The following, among others, occur in Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess:
"Up and down every where
"Let her fly, let her scape,
Let us now turn to Ben Jonson :
"Look, see!-beshrew this tree-
As the seven or eight syllable measure was divided into two short ones,
"With ravished ears
so, also, out of this were formed two still shorter:
"Here we may
Stops our breath.
Various lines in Shakspeare, and the poets of his time, which sound harshly to a mere modern ear, are brought back to regularity by resorting to a different accentutation, such as, détestable for detéstable; aspéct for aspect; and many other instances which are adverted to in the notes. Yet still the number is not
inconsiderable, which by no process whatever, can be rendered harmonious. The defence that must be set up for Shakspeare is, that his contemporaries were equally faulty in this respect. It may be observed, that this defect is scarcely ever found but in the heroick metre of ten syllables. Those who wrote smoothly in a shorter measure, fall into the most hobbling versification when they attempt the heroick couplet. The smaller pieces, for instance, of Nicholas Breton, have a very pleasing flow, of which the well-known ballad,
"On a hill there grows a flower,”
may be cited as an instance. But the same writer, in his "Sir Philip Sidney's Ourania,” has exhibited the most deplorable specimens of doggrel that the language can supply. The commencement of his Shepherd's song will show in what measure he intended to compose:
"Before this world, quoth he, was set in frame,
Yet we soon after find him hobbling in this manner:
"Yet were no angels as then created,
"Nor angels offices destinated;
"Nor could their attendance do him pleasure,
and the greater part of his poem is much in the same strain. But much higher names than Breton are liable to a similar reproach. Thus, even Spenser:
"Faire seemely pleasaunce each to other makes
"Vile caytive vassall of dread and dispayre."
B. ii. c. iii. st. 7.
Thus also Massinger :
"I should divert him from his holy purpose
City Madam, Act III. Sc. III.
"I never saw him
"Since he swoon'd in the presence when my father
Bashful Lover, Act II. Sc. II.
"His desires were that
"Assurance for his safety might be granted
I could multiply quotations on this subject; but these will suffice to show, that when Shakspeare fell into these irregularities, he was countenanced by the practice of his contemporaries; that the attempts at emendation to get rid of those are wholly unnecessary; and that there was not the slightest foundation for the sneers of Messrs. Ritson and George Hardinge, when Mr. Malone asserted that such verses were tolerated in our poet's time. The ten syllable heroick line is, perhaps, the most difficult species of verse in our language, as it is in truth the longest; the Alexandrine and that of fourteen syllables being, in fact, two short ones joined together. If a wrong accent is placed on any one word, the line loses its character, which is essentially iambick, with the occasional mixture of other feet for the sake of variety, and falls into an anapestick cadence. Take, for instance, the first line of Pope's Essay on Man:
"Awake my St. John, leave all meaner things."
Pronounce the name of that infidel nobleman as if he had been a saint; or for "leave all," read " desert;"