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your infinite condescension, but in all things whatsoever, whether they be of the simplest or of the difficultest nature to comprehend.”
“ You think too well of us, my lord,” observed the queen, evidently taking what was said in very good part. “It be but as we have expressed it. Such knowledge as we possess must needs be but small." 1. By my troth, then, the wisdom of all else must be none at all, please your majesty,” exclainned the Lady Howard; “for as it is beyond all contradiction that your majesty's wisdom toppeth that of the wisest of our time to an extent that be wonderful to observe, if, as your majesty is pleased to say, it must needs be but small, the smallness of the wisest of your subjects cannot but be of such sort as may not be visible. But 'tis the modesty of your majesty's disposition that leadeth you this.".
“ Indeed, her majesty is noted for an exceeding modesty," said Lady Blanche Somerset.
“ That be a true thing !” cried my Lord Bumble, , who leaned forward with his head a little on one side, to catch with his ear, as well as his deafness would allow, the purport of what was said. “ Her majesty is noted of all for an exceeding modest
“O' my life, my Lord Bumble, that be the prettiest blunder we have met with a long time," exclaimed the queen, in an infinite pleasant hu
mour, whilst there was no lack of smiling and tittering among the courtiers, at the mistake.
“ As your majesty says, it be the prettiest wonder we have met with a long time," added the old lord, who, from the great length of his service in the palace, was oft allowed by the queen a greater license than had many others of more influence.
By this hand, know I not a prettier wonder in the whole world than such a modest eye. Tis a marvel to look on. There be no such another anywhere."
“ Alack then, are we blind of an eye !" cried her majesty, laughingly; which conceit did so tickle the fancy of those around her, that the mirth it created was in such excess, and the commendation it received was so abundant, that, surely no wit had been ever so received.
All this time, my Lord Bumble fearful, by the general laughter, that he had said something amiss, did keep turning from one to the other, in extreme consternation, as if to learn by their faces what strange error he had had the ill hap to commit.
6i Now, Master Shakspeare,” exclaimed the queen, “we are wonderfully desirous of learning what next these merry wives of yours shall do with that fat knight.”
At this Master Shakspeare, on whom it may well be believed nothing had been lost of the preceding conversation, did go on with the reading of
his play. The description of how Sir John Falstaff, in the last act, was cozened into the taking upon him the disguise of Herne the hunter, and how he was tormented by the pretended fairies when he lay under the oak in Windsor forest, hoping there to have much pleasure with Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, according to their appointment; and how they and their husbands did jeer and laugh when they came upon him in his concealment, was taken in huge delight of all parties; but the manner in which Ann Page tricked the simpleton Master Slender, and the choleric old French doctor, by getting each of them to run away with a boy, dressed up in such clothes as they expected to find her in, whilst she went and got married to her own love, seemed to be liked best of all.
" An admirable ending, Master Shakspeare,” exclaimed the queen, in her most gracious manner, at the conclusion of it. 66 We like that mum and budget conceit infinitely; indeed the whole play is one of exceeding meritoriousness; and be assured that we will go to the playhouse the first time it shall be acted.” At the hearing of this, all the courtiers did join in commendation of the play, as if one was striving to exceed the other in the liberality of his praise.
“ If there be any merit in it, please your majesty," said Master Shakspeare, respectfully, “ with
out doubt 'tis owing to your majesty's infinite condescension, in having desired of me the production of such a play; therefore I cannot say the merit be mine, but-must, in proper honesty, give it to the illustrious source from which it sprung.”
This speech appeared to give her majesty great satisfaction, for she looked well pleased at it; and the ladies around her spoke to one another in commendation of Master Shakspeare's modesty, and did regard him with a wonderful pleased aspect.
Nay, you shall do yourself no such wrong," replied the queen, with a kindness of manner that was truly admirable; “ the performance is of your sole invention, to the which we have contributed not one line; therefore in no case can we claim the smallest partnership in the merit. We have been hugely taken with that fat knight of yours all along, and we have found so much gratification in the very proper treatment of him by the merry wives, that we shall think the better of Windsor for containing such."
At this the courtiers began a praising of her majesty's liberality, for so handsomely denying having any share in the excellence of what at least had been done at her instigation; and in consequence thereof she might justly, they said, have claimed some part of the merit; and all, marvelling at the extreme pleasantness of her majesty's humour, did anticipate that it would be to Master
Shakspeare's profit. In that it seemed, from what immediately followed, they were not without some grounds. 6 Think
you there is ought in which we could do you a service ?” enquired the queen.
“ That is there, please your majesty, I should like done of all things," answered Master Shakspeare.
• Speak, then, what you would have; and if it be within modest bounds, it shall be granted,"
added the queen.
“Please your majesty, tis but for the pardon of a distressed friend of mine, that hath had the ill hap to offend your majesty,” said Master Shakspeare, with exceeding agency; 66 he is one of most notable good partss gallant a gentleman that breathes; infinite in his accomplishments, and princely in his disposition; who hath borne himself so on manifold occasions, as is alike honourable to your majesty, whom it was once his pride and happiness to serve; and creditable to himself, who now languisheth in a prison in utter hopelessness, at having, in some misguided moment, incurred your majesty's displeasure. I will wager my life he is heartily sorry for what he hath done amiss; and that there lives not in this bountiful world one who, if he were allowed, would serve your majesty with more honesty, valour, and devotedness.”