« ZurückWeiter »
knowledge of the inferior literature of Shakespeare's day can be, and has been, used with great effect upon the pretensions of that volume. I will here, by way of illustration, and because, having mislaid my memorandum, it escaped me in the preparation of my own argument against Mr. Collier's folio and of this volume, mention a forgotten passage which is of much value in Shakesperian literature. You will remember that in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I. Sc. 3, Falstaff says of Mrs. Ford, “I spy en
tertainment in her : she discourses, she carves, “she gives the leer of invitation.” The corrector of Mr. Collier's folio, being unable, like most people nowadays, to apprehend the force of the phrase "she carves," changed it to "she craves ; " and so did Zachary Jackson thirty-five years ago. But Mr. Hunter and Mr. Dyce have quoted from authors of Shakespeare's day, several instances of the use of the word, in the sense of 'propitiating. They do not, however, arrive at the exact meaning; and Mr. Dyce remarks: “whatever was its exact nature it would
appear *** to have been a sort of salutation which "was practised more especially at table.” But the reappearance of my forgotten memorandum enables me to show exactly what this sort of carving was, and how it was performed. In the satirical description of A very Woman, which occurs among the Characters appended to Sir Thomas Overbury's Wife—and it is one of the most graphic, quaint and pungent among them—the description of the married part of her life begins thus: “Her lightnesse gets her to swim at
“top of the table, where her wrie little finger be"wraies carving; her neighbors at the latter end “know they are welcome, and for that purpose she
quencheth her thirst.” Sig. E. 3, Ed. 1632. Cary. ing, then, was a sign of intelligence, made with the little finger as the glass was raised to the mouth. It is remarkable, by the way, that ladies do this now-a-days infinitely more than gentlemen. Is it possible that the trick has survived, while its meaning is lost? But the value of this passage to the Shakesperian scholar is, that it shows the ignorance of the corrector of Mr. Collier's folio with regard to a word and a custom in vogue at the date of the edition on which he made his changes; and therefore furnishes another incontestable proof of the much later date of his labors, and of his unfitness for them.
A few of the following pages are devoted to an examination of the grounds upon which authority can be claimed for Mr. Collier's notorious and curious volume. I need not point out to you that this is not, and does not attempt to be, a detailed approval or disapproval of such of the changes in the text of that volume as have been made public by Mr. Collier, but is purely an argument which aims to show, that those emendations were made in such a way and at such a time that, as to their authority, they are utterly without any claim upon our deference. I have been both publicly and privately censured by Shakesperian enthusiasts for too great consideration towards Mr. Collier, even when most severe upon the changes which he advocates. But
although I am willing to confess, that I have always supposed that gentleman's qualifications as an editor of Shakespeare to consist rather in great learning in the antiquities of English Poetry and the Drama than in sympathetic appreciation of his author, and that his Notes and Emendations confirmed and deepened that opinion, I certainly need not excuse myself for consideration or even deference (little enough through excess of zeal I fear), shown to one who had previously rendered such good service to Shakespeare and the Drama, and who had taken a respectable position in critical literature before I was born.*
Not only the text and the commentators, but some of the characters of Shakespeare are considered in these pages. Acquit me however, in advance, of a presumptuous desire to thrust myself between Shakespeare and the spontaneous admiration of such of his readers as happen to be mine. It is only in the hope of correcting the false teachings of the stage and the commentators that I have ventured upon an analysis of Shakespeare's marvellous creations. The conventional personages of the former and the stereotyped traditions of the latter have almost extinguished, for the mass of the public, many of Shakespeare's most truthful and finished characters. Jacques, Isabella, and Richard III. are prominent examples; but there are others almost equally striking. I have merely endeavored to show these characters as Shakespeare drew them, in opposition to the distorted images of them which hold possession of the public eye, seen through the perverting medium of the playwrights and the commentators. And here justice requires that the Shakesperian representations which Mr. Burton has given at his theatre during the last two years should not only be exempted from such censure, but receive,-if my poor pen may be deemed worthy to bestow it,—the warm approbation of all lovers of Shakespeare for their unexampled faithfulness to the letter and the spirit of the great dramatist.
* The Poetical Decameron. By J. P. Collier. 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1820
But enough of this, and too much; and yet I have said nothing which it did not seem as if I must say, if I broke silence at all. That that which I have just written and that which lies beyond this threshold is not needless, let this dictum of Hallam's, written only fifteen years ago, bear witness: “We " learn Shakespeare, in fact, as we learn a language, "or as we read a difficult passage in Greek, with “the eye glancing on the commentary; and it is
only after much study, that we come to forget a "part, it can be but a part, of the perplexities he " has caused us." Introd. to the Lit. of Europe. Part III. Chap. vi. 52. Now, with all due deference to such eminent opinion, I never had need to go to that school; and when I did go, it was in the teaching of the expounders, and not in the words of the great master that I found the perplexities. Do you ask, -have I the conceit to suppose that I am alone in this ? Far from it. You are with me; and it is because I feel, because I know, that there are thousands and hundreds of thousands like us, and because we have yet had no representative voice in the critical Senate, that I, failing abler hands, have written this book. And the fact that you thus understand and thus feel Shakespeare, while you have not to your many accomplishments added the speciality of Shakesperian scholarship, is an additional reason why I should take such an occasion as this to assure you that, I am, my dear Howadji,