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The still Lion.
An essay towards the restoration of Shakespeare's text.
C. M. Ingleby. LL. D. of Trinity College, Cambridge.
e may say of Shakespeare's text what Thomas De Quincey said of Milton's. „On any attempt to take liberties with a passage of his, you feel as when coming, in a forest, upon what seems a Dead Lion; perhaps he may not be dead, but only sleeping, nay perhaps he may not be sleeping, but only shamming. - You may be put down with shame by some man reading the line otherwise,“ or reading it in the light of more extended or more accurate knowledge.
Here lies the covert danger of emendation. It is true that the text of Shakespeare as it comes down to us -- „the latest seed of time" - in the Folio of 1623, as well as in the quartos, is very corrupt. It is corrupt on two accounts. As to the text of the quartos, there was no proper editorial supervision, since the editions were intended merely for the accommodation of play-goers; and therefore the text was imperfect by design both in substance and in form. As to the text of the folio, the supervision exercised by Messrs. Heminge and Condell seems to have been confined to the selection of copies for the printer; and some of those were playhouse
copies which had been curtailed for representation, and others were copies of quarto editions; while the correction of the press was probably left to the „readers of the printing-house, who did not use any extraordinary vigilance in the exercise of his vocation. So that we have imperfect copies at first; and a misprinted text at last. This is the „case of the advocates of unlimited conjectural criticism; and we cordially make the concession, that our text needs emendation. But, before they can be permitted to conjecture, we require of them to find out where the corruptions lie. If a man's body be diseased, the seat of the disease can be generally determined between the patient and the doctor; in some cases, however, the malady baffles research and experiment.
In the case of Shakespeare's text, the diagnosis is infinitely perplexed: i) from the multitude of obscurities and difticulties that beset it: 2) from the close resemblance that subsists between those obscurities which spring from the obsolete language or archaic allusions of the text, and those which are wholly due to the misreading or misprinting of the text. Our healthy parts are so like our diseased parts, that the doctor sets about the medicinal treatment of that which needs no cure; and the patient's body is so full of those seeming anomalies, that his life is endangered by the multiplicity of agencies brought to bear on his time-worn frame.
What if there are cases in which those κύριοι συνωμόται, , archaic phraseology and textual corruption, unite their powers against us? Why, in such cases, it is most likely that the critic would be utterly baffled: that he would be unable to restore the lost integrity even by the combined powers of exposition and conjecture. Now it so happens that after all that contemporary literature and conjectural criticism can do for Shakespeare's immortal works, there is a residue of about thirty-five passages which have defied all attempts to cure their immortal nonsense. Does it not seem likely that the perplexity in such cases is due to the joint action of those two sources of obscurity, and our inability to discriminate (to persever, Shakespeare might have said) the one from the other? We shall see.
The vintage afforded by these remarks may be thus expressed. Conjectural criticism is legitimate; for it is needed to the perfectionment of the text: but no critic can be licensed to exercise it whose knowledge and culture do not fulfil two great prerequisites. 1) A competent knowledge of the orthography, phraseology, prosody, as well as the language of arts and customs, pre
valent in Shakespeare's day. 2) A refined and reverent judgment for appreciating the genius and learning of Shakespeare.
The present time seems most fitting for the treatment of the question: to what extent, and in what manner may conjectural criticism be safely exercised? For, the last few years have witnessed an assault on the traditional words and phrases of the Bard, which for its wholesale destructiveness and the arrogance of its pretentions, is wholly without parallel. 'The English press has teemed with works designed to improve, but most of them achieving no other result than that of villanously defaming and corrupting (be wraying, the Bard might have said) the ancient text. Here are the titles of some of these.
Proposed Emendations of the Text of Shakespeare's Plays with
Confirmatory and Illustrative passages from the Poet's Works and those of his contemporaries, by Swynfen Jervis. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts. 1860. Price one
shilling. 8vo. pp. 28. 2nd Ed. 1861. pp. 20. Notes on Shakespeare, by James Nichols M. R. C. P. London.
William Skeffington. 163 Piccadilly part I. 1861. 8vo. pp. 28.
part II. 1862. On the Received Text of Shakespeare's Dramatic Writings, and its
improvement, by Samuel Bailey. London: Longman, Green,
have not met with it.] Stray Notes on the Text of Shakespeare, by Henry Wellesley
DD. Principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford. London. John
Murray. Albemarle St. 1865. 4to. pp. 34. New Readings in Shakespeare or proposed Emendations of the
Text, by Robert Cartwight. MD. London. John Russell Smith.
36 Soho Sq. January 1866. 8vo. pp. 40. The Shakespeare Expositor, by Thomas Keightley. [In the press: to be published by Mr. J. Russell Smith: the conjectures
of Mr. K. have been published in the notes to the Cambridge Edition
of Shakespeare; and some few in Mr. K.'s own. Edition. 1864.) Of these works, there is but one of average merit; it is that by
Dr. Wellesley; he is learned, modest, and ingenious; though very speculative.
Some of the conjectures thus put forth may be entertained for careful consideration. But the mass we repudiate as impertinent and absurd. We deny the need of any wholesale change, and we impute amazing ignorance to the assailants; - not to insist on matters of taste de quibus non est disputandum. We are fully able to prove the strength of our position, by shewing that the passages attacked are sense-proof; meaning thereby, not proof against sense, but proof against innovation by the power of their own sense.
We say to the assailants: „When you propose an emendation you are virtually affirming that the passage under your censure is nonsense. In every case, then, in which we shew the passage to be good sense, though veiled in an ancient weed“, we are making you trumpet your own ignorance, and pronounce your own condemnation“. To do this in detail would require the dimensions of a large volume: to teach the general truth by the force of particular examples is all that would be warranted by the dimensions of an article in the Jahrbuch. What is here undertaken may be thus epitomised: We propose
:) To warn the conjectural critic, of the danger of tampering with words or phrases which, after all, may be wholly unexceptionable, and may owe their obscurity only to the change incident to every living language.
2) To furnish a few examples culled from Shakespeare's text, of words and phrases which have presented difficulties to the editors and commentators, not by reason of the corruption, but of the obsolete construction of the old text.
3) To furnish a few examples of justifiable emendation. Having done these three things, we shall gladly leave the old text, with its legions of archaisms and corruptions, to the tender mercies of those critics whose object is to conserve what is sound and to restore what is corrupt; and not at all to improve what, to their imperfect judgment and limited knowledge, seems unsatisfactory. To the arbitration of such critics we submit the question: whether in any particular case a word or phrase which is intelligible to the well-informed reader, however strange or uncouth, does or does not fulfil the utmost requirements of the cultivated mind; regard being had to the context, the situation, and the speaker.
Great is the mystery of archaic spelling. Let as consider a few caprices of spelling before proceeding to notice the vitality and consequent instability of written words: just as we must consider the symbolization and uses of words before the grammatical construction and force of phrases. The word, rightly regarded, is an ens rationis. It is purely a matter of convenience whether it shall be represented to the eye or to the ear. The object of writing or speaking is not to impart the inner word: for transition of aught from one man's mind to another, is impossible; but to suggest it. Still, in effect something is communicated, or made common to both minds. In order that we may suggest to another man's mind any word that is in our own, we employ a medium which will stand for it, and lead him to understand it as we do. The written word is simply such a mediatorial symbol. The letters which constitute it are used to represent vocal sounds: and these may be of very variable force and scope, while the word so symbolized is invariable. Thus, ea and a, or ea and e may by agreement represent the same vowel sound; and j and g, or j and i, may, according to circumstances, stand for the same consonant sound. But further, several written symbols that have little or nothing in common may stand for the same inner word: much more, may two written symbols which have grown by habit and custom from one symbol, such as purture and portray, scase and scarce, moe and more, windoe and windore, kele and cool, leese and lose, meve and move, cusse and kiss, make and mate, etc., be regarded as equivalent terms for one and the same word. Conversely several written symbols which in the letter are identical, may stand for as many distinct words; such as spirit (breath), spirit (soul), spirit (alcohol); or as mere (mare), mere (lake) and mere (pure). The main points to keep distinctly in view, in this study, are that the orthography of the written symbol, like its vocal expression, may change to almost any extent, and yet the internal word signified by such letters or sounds remain unaltered; and that the written or spoken symbol may remain unchanged while the word signified changes, or may be used for words which have not a common origin.
Shakespeare has had many ugly charges brought against him. Among others he has been arraigned for bad spelling and bad grammar! But what was Shakespeare's orthography we have no