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reckon, to take an account of, to take the quotient or result of a computation.
Since I proposed a former explanation, I met with a passage in the Isle of Gulls, a comedy, by John Day, 1633, which proves Dr. Johnson's sense of the word to be not far from the true one:
"-twill be a scene of mirth
"For me to quote his passions, and his smiles." To quote on this occasion undoubtedly means to observe.
36 My liege, and madam,] The strokes of humour in this speech are admirable. Polonius's character is that of a weak, pedant, minister of state, His declamation is a fine satire on the impertinent oratory then in vogue, which placed reason in the formality of method, and wit in the gingle and play of words. With what art is he made to pride himself in his wit : That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true, 'tis pity: And pity 'tis, 'tis true: A foolish figure; But farewel it,
And how exquisitely does the poet ridicule the reasoning in fashion, where he makes Polonius remark on Hamlet's madness:
Though this be madness, yet there's method in't: As if method, which the wits of that age thought the most essential quality of a good discourse, would make amends for the madness. It was madness indeed, yet Polonius could comfort himself with this reflection, that at least it was method. It is certain Shakspeare
excels in nothing more than in the preservation of his characters; To this life and variety of character (says our great poet in his admirable preface to Shakspeare) we must add the wonderful preservation. We have said what is the character of Polonius; and it is allowed on all hands to be drawn with wonderful life and spirit, yet the unity of it has been thought by some to be grossly violated in the excellent precepts and instructions which Shakspeare makes his statesman give to his son and servant in the middle of the first, and beginning of the second act. But I will venture to say, these critics have not entered into the poet's art and address in this particular. He had a mind to ornament his scenes with those fine lessons of social life; but his Polonius was too weak to be author of them, though he was pedant enough to have met with them in his reading, and fop enough to get them by heart, and retail them for his own. And this the poet has finely shewn us was the case, where, in the middle of Polonius's instructions to his servant, he makes him, though without having received any interruption, forget his lesson, and say,
And then, sir, does he this;
He does- -What was I about to say?
I was about to say something—where did I leave? The servant replies,
At, closes in the consequence. This sets Polonius right, and he goes on,
At, closes in the consequence.
He closes thus:- -I know the gentleman, &c. which shews they were words got by heart which he was repeating. Otherwise closes in the consequence, which conveys no particular idea of the subject he was upon, could never have made him recollect where he broke off. This is an extraordinary instance of the poet's art, and attention to the preservation of character.
This account of the character of Polonius, though it sufficiently reconciles the seeming inconsistency of so much wisdom with so much folly, does not perhaps correspond exactly to the ideas of our author. The commentator makes the character of Polonius, a character only of manners, discriminated by properties superficial, accidental, and acquired. The poet intended a nobler delineation of a mixed character of manners and of nature. Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored with observation, confident of his knowledge, proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. His mode of oratory is truly represented as 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 knows 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 charac ter of Polonius.
37 If I had play'd the desk, or table-book;
What might you think?] i. e. If either I had conveyed intelligence between them, and been the confident of their amours [play'd the desk or table-book], or had connived at it, only observed them in secret, without acquainting my daughter with my discovery [given my heart a mute and dumb working]; or lastly, had been negligent in observing the intrigue, and overlooked it [looked upon this love with idle sight]; what would you have thought of me?
38 -(a short tale to makc,)—
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 VOL. XIV.
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 hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the centre.
39 For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog,] The editors seeing Hamlet counterfeit madness, thought they might safely put any nonsense into his mouth. Being a good kissing carrionHave you a daughter?
But this strange passage, when set right, will be seen to contain as great and sublime a reflection as any the poet puts into his hero's mouth throughout the whole play. We shall first give the true reading, which is this;
For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog,
As to the sense we may observe, that the illative particle [for] shews the speaker to be reasoning from something he had said before: what that was we learn in these words, to be honest as this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand. Having said this, the chain of ideas led him to reflect upon the argument which libertines bring against Providence from the circumstance of abounding evil. In the next speech therefore he endeavours to answer that objection, and vindicate Providence, even on a supposition of the fact, that almost all men were wicked. His argument in the two lines in question is to this purpose, But why