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it; and not to have done it occasionally would have been an affectation of singularity. Ben Jonson did so in his tragedies; and it was the almost invariable course for a century afterwards.
(10) Hunts not the trail of policy] The track or course of any thing that has passed, or been drawn along: and is generally applied, as here, to such things as hy their scent enable those that follow to know the line of pursuit. “ Cry out upon no trail.” M. W. of W. IV. 2. Ford.
(11) no other but the main] The chief point. “ Mayne or strength. Vigor. Robur.” Promptuar. parvulor.
“ These flaws,
• To man's less universe.” Par. Reg. IV. 454. See Othello, II. 1. 2 Gent.
(12) falsely born in hand] Holden in hand, having attention engaged. It is generally used in an ill sense, as with a view to delude, deceive, or impose upon. See M. ado &c. IV, 1. Beatr.
(13) It likes as well] Pleases. “ Liku, placere. me licath, mihi placet, congruit, Gr. yaixoua.. cupio." Ihre's Glossogr. Suiogoth. Upsal. Fo. 1769, “ To see my conquerour me lykes, yt lykes me hym to know.” (Meum victorem videre libet.) Jasp. Heywood's Seneca's Herc. furens. 4to. 1581, Fo. 18. that liked or pleased with the sight of it. Eblandita aspectu rosa. Plin.” Baret's Alvearie, 1617. See Lear, II. 2. Kent,
" A rose,
(14) Thus it remains, and the remainder thus] “ In Polonius the poet makes a noble delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature, and not a character only of manners, discriminated by properties superficial, accidental, and acquired. Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is designed to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that made no introduction, and of method that embarrassed rather than explained. This part of his character is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive and confident, because he knows that his mind was once strong, and vs not that it is become weak. Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his memory, and can draw from his repositories of knowledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful counsel; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot be kept long busy and intent, the old
man is subject to sudden dereliction of his faculties, he loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom, will solve all the phænomena of the character of Polonius.” Johnson.
Because Pope, speaking of Shakespeare, had said what is generally true, that“ to the life and variety of his characters we must add the wonderful preservation of them,” Warburton must make it out, Reed's edit. XVIII. 110. that it is so in this instance; and, if you will take his word for it, you may believe it to be so here. But the idle suggestions that he makes, though rejected by Dr. Johnson, seem to have led the Doctor to take up the point ; and he has certainly played the advocate with talent, and some plausibility: and, if not more convincing than his predecessor, at least entitles himself to some attention and respect. Nothing can be more easily conceivable or intelligible than the idea of dotage encroaching upon wisdom : but the question is, the application of this maxim to the person and character of Polonius. To be extinguished, talent or faculty must first have existence: to be impaired, it must have had something like integrity. Now we have nothing in this drama that directly goes to establish the fact of his having had at any time a clear and commanding intellect. Almost every thing has, on the contrary, an opposite bearing; for the very
circumstance or quality relied upon in this view, appears to us to be one of those that most strongly indicates imbecillity of mind: viz, having the memory stored with sage rules and maxims, fit for every turn and occasion, without the faculty of making application or effective use of thèm upon any. Warburton, though it is ill adapted to bis purpose in this place, pronounces him “ weak, a pedant, and a fop;” and, presently afterwards, “ a ridiculous character, and acting as a small politician:" and Hamlet, repeatedly branding him with folly, is in III. 4, made to characterize him as one
“Who was in life (i. e. while living) a foolish prating knave.” The poet has not here made false (i.e. tedious and encumbered) modes of reasoning, and false wit, (" formality of method and the gingle and play of words," the idols of a pedantic age) ridiculous, without uniformly subjecting the character itself, which he makes the vehicle of this purpose, to the same imputation and censure: nor can any facts be pointed out sufficient to remove the strong impressions left of the natural imbecillity of his mind: and without these, the argument of Dr. Johnson proceeds upon an assumption altogether unfounded, and contradicted as well by his predecessor and associate as by his author. Had he considered Polonius as really intelligent, he would not, in the close of the foregoing scene, have pointed out a “remark of his as not being that of a weak man.” Throughout this detail, as in his general conduct, unmixt folly or dotage is visible at every turn; but the lesson of life given to Laertes is a perfect whole, delivered with all the closeness and gravity of a phi
losophic discourse; Plenius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore: and had it been dictated by a mind any way enfeebled, at some point or other we should, as here, have seen “wisdom,” according to Dr. Johnson,“ encroached upon by dotage.” But what he offers is a mere advocating, is what may be said, rather than what either ought to be said, or in fact exists; it is prize-fighting, and nothing like a search after truth. For, when elaborate discussion has been employed to give a sense not obvious but different from the generally received meaning, if that interpretation does not leave its impression long upon any plain mind, the presumption is that it cannot be sound. See note 71.
This species of criticism, of which the forgotten commentaries of Warburton afford more apt and tiresoine examples, reminds us of the ingenuous confession, recorded by the late Mr. Cumberland, his grandson, of the great hero of this school, Bentley, respecting the use he made of the great writers of antiquity. His favourite daughter Joanna, the Phæbe of Byrom's charming pastoral, and wife of Cumberland, bishop of Kilmore, lamenting to him that he had employed so much of his time on criticism, he acknowledged the justice of the remark, and remained for a time thoughtful and seemingly embarrassed by it: at last, recollecting himself, he said, “ Child, I am sensible I have not always turned my talents to the use for which they were given to me; but the wit and genius of those old heathens beguiled me: and, as I despaired of raising myself up to their standard upon fair ground, I thought the only chance I had of looking over their heads, "vas to get upon their shoulders." Memoirs, 4to. 1806. p. 14.
(15) To the most beautified] Accomplished. “By art bewtified and adorned, and brought far from the primitive rudenesse.” Puttenham's Arte English Poesie, 4to. 1589, p. 18.
“ Seeing you are beautified with goodly shape.” Two G. of V. i Outlaw, IV. 1.
Dr. Farmer instances Heywood's Edw. VI. “Catharine Parre, queen dowager, was a woman beautified with many excellent virtues.” We shall add, “ To the worthily honoured and vertuous beautified Lady, the Ladie Anne Glemnham, wife to the most noble, magnanimous and worthy Knight, Sir Henry, &c." Dedication by Henry Olney to Diella, Čertaine Sonnets adjoyned to the amorous Poeme of Diego and Gineura by R. L. Gent. Printed for Henry Olney, 18mo. 1596. “ To the niost honoured and vertuously beautified Lady, the Lady Elizabeth Carey.” Dedication to Christ's Teares over Jerusalem, by Tho. Nash, 4to. 1631. Mr. Steevens cites edit. 1594.
(16) In her excellent while bosom, these] The ladies at that time, and more than a century afterwards, Mr. Steevens says, wore pockets in the front of their stays: and Proteus, in the Two Ġ. of V, says,
(17) thee best, 0 most best] Hyperbole and super-excellence are the language of devotion and love. Mr. Steevens quotes Acolastus, 1540.
“ That same most best redresser or reformer, is God.” (18) And more above, hath his solicitings] Besides; or as the King in the opening of this scene, moreover. Solicitings is the reading of the quartos and modern editors: soliciting of the folios. There must either way be left a difficulty in the grammar or construction. (19) If I had play'd the desk or table-book ;
Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb;
Or look'd upon this love with idle sight.] Had I merely minuted this in my mind, locking it up in the treasury of my memory, as in a desk, for future use; or had I dealt with the active energies of body and mind, as with the eyes when yielding to repose, and suffered its bearings in silence to pass unnoticed; or had contemplated it with a careless eye as a thing frivolous and unworthy of regard.
The enforcing of an idea by the use of synonimes or reduplication of similar terms, is common to our author with those of his age. The identical instance is given by Mr. Malone from his Rape of Lucrece:
“ And in my hearing be you mute and dumb." In the folios winking was substituted for working, the reading of the quartos,
Between the two words there is not much to chuse: and whether from the critical character of that age it is to be considered that the change was macle in consequence of such a nicety as the recurrence of the word work, only two lines below (went round to work) is left for the reader to say.
(20) went round to work] Directly to the point, or through out and on all sides and points; plainly and without reserve. In this sense and senses nearly allied to it, this word is used with great latitude. • Is hee more favourable in concealement than round in his private reprehensions.” Bishop Hall's Characterismes of Vertues. (The true friend) 12mo. 1608, p. 47. In H. VIII. V. 3, Chamberl, we have “ round fines,” i. e. full, effectual. (21) (a short tale to make,)
Fell into a sadness; then into a fast, &c.] The ridicule of this character is here admirably sustained. He would not only be thought to have discovered this intrigue by his own sagacity, but to have remarked all the stages of Hamlet's disorder, from his sadness to his raving, as regularly as his physician could have done; when all the while the madness was only feigned. The humour of this is exquisite from a man who tells us, with a confidence peculiar to small politicians, that he could find
“ Where truth was bid, though it were hid indeed
(22) For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion-Let not your daughter walk in the sun! conception is a blessing, but not as she may conceive,-friend, look to't.] As it would be too forced a sense to say that our author calls the sun“ a good kissing carrion,” we have nothing better to offer than that the carcass of a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion," may mean, good for the sun, the breeder of maggots, to kiss for the purpose of causing putrefaction, and so conceiving or generating any thing carrion like, any thing apt quickly to contract taint in the sunshine; good at catching or drawing the rays or kisses of “ common kissing Titan :” and in the phraseology of the day, as shewn by Mr. Malone in the historical play of Edw. III. 1596, the above ideas appear to have been connected :
“ The freshest summer's day doth soonest taint
66 The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss." · Hamlet having thus (if this too is not also thought too forced a construction) in no very delicate combination of them, started the ideas of “ breeding and kissing,” in a wild or mad way (and yet, as Polonius says, having method in it) talks of Polonius's daughter, whom he cautions against this same Titan; whose property of corrupting, whose generating touch and teeming kiss, may ripen into conception: and then, proceeding most obviously, to infer, that within the sun's reach his influence must be in this way powerfully impressive, at the same time that he admits that one of its consequences, conception, is a blessing, he yet adds ; but not as the maid, who instead of being recluse, stages herself to the broad day, i, e, mixes with the world, and in his phrase," walks in the sun" (when she is prodigal enough, who but unmasks her beauty to the moon, I. 3.) exposing herself to be tainted, “ not a blessing, in the way in which she may conceite." Or its meaning and argument may be simply this ; it is dangerous for your daughter to be in the sun, because the sun will breed maggots in a dead dog, he being so good (lusty) a kisser even of carrion. Here is unquestionably much doubt and difficulty; and whether we have chanced to have made a fortunate conjecture must be left to others; be this as it may, we cannot resist the temptation of subjoining a specimen of the note-making, alluded to at the close of the observations upon the character of Polonius; and one that was certainly not made for the sake of the author or his reader.
“ The editors seeing Hamlet counterfeit madness, thought they might safely put any nonsense into his mouth.
But this strange passage, when set right, will be seen to contain as great and sublime a reflection asany the poet puts into his hero's mouth throughout the whole play. We will first give the true reading, which is this: For if the sunbreed naggots in a dead dog, being a god, kissing carrion, As to the sense we may observe, that the illative particle (for) shows the speaker to be reasoning from something he had said before : what that was we learn in these words, to be honest, us this world gues, is to be one picked out of ten thousand.