Imatges de pÓgina


If anything were wanting to shew how much a new edition of the dramatic writings of Shakespeare is wanted, in which we should have a text the result of deep consideration of the various texts presented by the old editions, with occasional emendations, carefully and judiciously made, or borrowed from preceding editors, and in which the passages where the meaning is obscure to nine-tenths of the readers or spectators were elucidated, so that their full force and meaning were accurately exhibited, one of the most striking passages in the play now before us would be sufficient. No one who ever witnessed the performance of this play, or who ever entered on the serious study of it at home, can have forgotten the scene in which King John seeks to induce Hubert to put Prince Arthur to death, without actually committing himself to give the hateful command: and no one will ever forget that particular portion of the dialogue in which King John addresses Hubert thus:—

I had a thing to say ;-but let it go :

The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
Attended with the pleasure of the world,
Is all too wanton, and too full of gauds,
To give me audience :-If the midnight bell
Did with his iron tongue and brazen mouth
Sound on into the drowsy race of night;
If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs :
Or if the surly spirit Melancholy

Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy, thick,
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
Making that idiot Laughter keep men's eyes
And strain their cheeks to idle merriment,

A passion hateful to my purposes.—Act iii. sc. 3.

Such is the passage nearly as it stands in the original copies. Turn now to the Variorum, and one of the lines will be found printed thus:

Sound one into the drowsy race of night;

and this is generally understood to be the true reading, both at the theatres and elsewhere, and the Poet is supposed to speak of a clock-bell on which the hour of one is struck.

For this substitution of one for on, and for the idea that the Poet meant to speak of the bell of a clock or a bell sounding the hour, we are indebted, it seems, to Theobald. "Mr. Theobald made the correction," says Mr. Malone, and he overwhelms some unfortunate person who had expressed a doubt of the correctness of the new reading with numerous instances in our old writers in which the numeral one is printed on. There can be no doubt that one is sometimes. found printed without the final e, but there also can be no doubt that on much more frequently is neither more nor less than the particle which we so write at present. The utmost, therefore, that is proved by Mr. Malone's heap of authorities is, that one was sometimes printed on, so that if the exigencies of a passage really required that on should be understood to be equivalent to one, it might be so taken.

The slight incongruity of the bell on which the hour of one is struck being spoken of as the midnight bell has not been held sufficient to disprove the correctness of the new reading. But it was soon discovered that this change required another, and that for into we must read unto

Sound one unto the drowsy race of night

that is, strike one so as to be heard of the sleepers at that dead time of night. This second change is made in some of the editions, and would have been found in the last Variorum, had not Mr. Malone discovered that into and unto are some

times written indifferently, so that he kept into in the text, directing that it should be understood as if it were unto.

Thus the passage was left in 1821; where we have the incongruity (1) of the midnight bell striking the hour of one in the morning; (2) of the hammer of a clock striking on the outside of a bell being presented to the mind by the "iron tongue and brazen mouth," in which, on a little reflection, we cannot but perceive that it was the pendulous clapper, not the hammer striking on the outside of the bell, that must have been in the Poet's mind; and (3) of men steeped in sleep being described by such a poet as Shakespeare by the phrase "the drowsy race of night." Any one of these, if due attention were given to the passage, would have been sufficient to shew that there was something rotten in the state of Denmark.

Let us now see how the latest editor has dealt with the passage.

"We prefer the old reading—

Sound on into the drowsy race of night

on all accounts. Many of the commentators would read one instead of on,' which is contradicted by the midnight bell' in a line just preceding. There is more probability in reading ear instead of 'race,' recollecting that of old ear was spelt eare, and the word might possibly be mistaken by the printer: but still 'race' in the sense of course or passage conveys a fine meaning; the midnight bell with its twelve times repeated strokes may be very poetically said to 'sound on into the drowsy race of night,' one sound produced by the 'iron tongue' driving the other 'on' or forward, until the whole number was complete, and the prolonged vibration of the last blow on the bell only left to fill the empty space of darkness."

Such is the state in 1844.*

*It is not my intention in the progress of these remarks to enter into further examination of the text of Mr. Collier's edition, or of the illustrations which he has given of this author. I have been called to defend my theories respecting some of these plays against Mr. Collier's objections; and, if I am not greatly mistaken, where we could get at the ground of an opinion adverse to mine I have shewn that it was insufficient. As to opinion which is mere opinion, its force is greatly weakened by the proofs which this edition exhibits that Mr. Collier can

Now the Poet certainly had not in his thoughts the striking of a clock at all; and the intervention of this idea has the effect of marring in a very extraordinary degree the beauty and grandeur of the conception.

The King has a horrid purpose to unfold, or rather to stimulate his victim to conceive for himself the horrible design. It happens that their conversation takes place in the open day and in broad sunshine. Such a time is favourable to gay and cheerful thoughts: the night is for the thoughts and deeds of darkness. He seeks therefore to withdraw the mind of Hubert out of the influence of the actual circumstances, and to place him where the influences from external things would be suitable to his purposes. This This is not a fit scene, says he, for audience of the thing I was about to say: "the sun is in the heavens." Transfer yourself to a scene of the night and darkness, a place where you hear the great bell of a church tolling in the depth of midnight, and imagine that you are pacing the churchyard in the dark midnight amidst the graves of the many dead, and where spirits are sometimes said to wander. Think of yourself as a man much injured by the world, and as given up to an habitual melancholy.

The mere striking of the church clock, whether once, or with twelve times repeated strokes, is a weak, puerile, incongruous conception: but the continuous tolling of the bell

not have been a long and critical student in these writings, with an affluence of materials prepared beforehand for the purpose, when he ventured on the arduous task of preparing an edition which was to claim to be ranked among the standard editions of this great author. It is to be hoped that this edition will not be taken, either as to text or illustration, as an exhibition of the state of Shakesperian knowledge in the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, although the circumstance of Mr. Collier being the Director of the Shakespeare Society, in which so many respectable names are found, may seem to give it that degree of consequence. And with this protest I leave it, recurring to it hereafter as little as may be, either to confirm my own judgments or for the purpose of correcting its misapprehensions.

at midnight, which was what Shakespeare meant, adds greatly to the impressiveness of a night scene; and this especially when we recollect on what occasions it was that the church bell would be heard "sounding on " in the darkness of midnight. It might be as a passing-bell, a soul just then taking its flight; but it is more probable that the poet had in his mind the tolling at a midnight funeral, and that the full conception of the passage is this: that Hubert is to be transported in thought to the grave-ground at the foot of some lonely tower, from which is heard the heavy tones of the bell tolling through the darkness of night, while, in the distance, are occasionally discerned the torches about the hearse of some eminent person, who is being borne along to be laid in the vault of his ancestors. In such a scene there was everything to feed melancholy, and put the mind of Hubert into a frame favourable to the King's purposes ;-every thing to stir up in his mind thoughts which the sun should not look upon.

This then, I conceive, to be the true explanation of the passage. "Sound on "Sound on " is the common phrase in Shakespeare for continuous or repeated blasts of a trumpet, just as here it is for the continuous or repeated strokes of the bell-clapper. "Into the drowsy race of night," if it required any justification, as meaning the step or course of night, would receive it by comparison with the two following passages from other plays,―

And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night,

Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp

So tediously away.-King Henry the Fourth, Chorus to Act iv.

This palpable gross play hath well beguiled

The heavy gait of night.-M. N. D. Act v. sc. 1.

Shakespeare also, it may be observed, has shewn elsewhere that he was sensible to the use which might be made of the

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