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aware that the tampering, be it ever so slight, with a favourite passage cannot but cause at first an unpleasant jar to the sensibility of those who are familiar with the words, I venture to doubt whether any real injury has been done to the unspeakable grace and beauty either of the character or of the language of Portia by those two deviations from the common text, to which, after full deliberation, and not without anticipation of sundry taunts and gibes, I thought it, upon the whole, desirable to have recourse : and, in the meantime, till a fuller verdict has been obtained, I am reluctant to undo the deed — simply upon the ground that what was utterly inoffensive in Shakspeare's day in the mouth even of the most modest matron, is not equally inoffensive now.
In short, it was not merely the word, but the application of the word, from which it seemed to me that a nice sense of propriety, as we now conceive it, would be inclined to shrink; and if so, the alteration stands
upon the same common ground as that of others which have been made “on the score of indelicacy." Professor Dowden will not need to be reminded that the Shakspearian use of the word "spouse” has better authority than that of Pistol in reference to "the quondam Quickly," or that the repetition of the word “wife" had lost its value when the word “harlot” was rejected. To Professor Campbell I reply, that between Portia telling her husband that he treats her as “his harlot,” and Coriolanus contemplating himself as possessed by "some harlot's spirit”—words which I have allowed to stand—when he yields to solicitations which his own disposition " utterly condemns, there is, to my mind, a very wide distinction. Moreover, Dr Schmidt interprets that passage (Cor., iii. 2. 133) as one instance, among others, of the word being applied to a man, in the sense of a rascallion. I must not omit to add, in all frankness, that Shakspeare found both the expressions which I have altered in his North's Plutarch. So much for that pair of alterations.
The cases of excision for which restitution has been claimed, are only, so far as I am aware, these following Cor., i. 3. 40.
The breasts of Hecuba,
My note upon that place is : “Of the four lines there omitted, on the score of delicacy, the last has the further objection of an uncertain text. See Dyce's note.” Perhaps this “ further objection” (which, I still feel, is not inconsiderable) weighed with me more than it need have done; otherwise, this “maternal flourish of Volumnia,” for which Professor Dowden pleads, might have held its place, though, I confess, to my taste it savours of bombast as little pleasing as it is excessive, even with all due allowance for the character of the speaker.
Ibid., 9. 11. Yet cam'st thou to a morsel of this feast,
Having fully dined before.
My critic in the 'Scotsman' regrets the omission of those words. The question, as I regard it, is not merely whether any sense can possibly be extracted out of them, but also whether the supposed sense be not such that its absence from the passage is a gain rather than a loss. Nor do I see that the reference to Cominius's speech at Rome, ii. 2. 122-131, helps the matter. Rather I think it does the reverse.
Ibid., iv. 7. 53. And power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair,
Let it not be supposed that in omitting these words I acted hastily, or trusted merely to my own judgment. In my note upon them I referred to Steevens, who wrote: “ The passage and the comments upon it are, to me at least, equally unintelligible ;” and to Dyce, whose words are: “A very dark (or rather, a manifestly corrupted) passage, on which the comments in the Variorum Shakspeare, and elsewhere, are alike unsatisfactory;” and then he proceeds to give no less than five widely different conjectural emendations. Nevertheless, my critic last referred to considers that the words are too fine to be omitted, and are quite intelligible, as explained by Mr A. Wright.” Of that explanation I have given my reader the full benefit in the same note. To me the main objection against the passage is, that, even as explained, it conveys a sentiment which, however just and striking in itself, does not seem to fit in with the facts of the case, or the purpose of the speaker. Coriolanus was undoubtedly proud and arrogant, but he was not a self-commender or extoller of his own actions—quite the contrary.
K. John, i. 1. 95-7. I have already stated in the Preface to vol. ii. p. xix, in acknowledgment of a remark of my Whitehall Reviewer, that the necessary curtailment of that scene was, by oversight at that point,
carried further than it need have been, and that it is my intention to restore those three lines in any future edition.
That the critics who brought forward the above examples in support of their objections to my use of the editorial pruning-knife might not have been able to produce more, it would, of course, be unfair to conclude; but it is not, I think, unreasonable to presume that no others were to be found of greater weight. It will be for the reader to say whether, taken at their utmost value, they detract materially from the confessed recommendations of this edition in other respects.
It has been felt, I believe, by some, that a portion of the remarks in the Preface to my first volume was calculated to
cause alarm." If it were so, it is no little satisfaction to be assured, even by Professor Dowden, who would seem to have shared in the alarm, that it
"needless.” Moreover, both he and Professor L. Campbell have been so good as to admit, without reserve, that the licence which, out of regard to the special character and purposes of this edition, I ventured to claim in that Preface, I have used “very sparingly.” On the other hand, it has also been found easy to decry the notion, as too presumptuous or too chimerical, of endeavouring to rehabilitate the text of Shakspeare, in the interests of justice to the poet himself, in passages where, from causes only too easily accounted for, he has manifestly suffered wrong.
But when a first-class critic, such as Johnson, can confess that, in K. Rich. 2, act
See my note, vol. ii. p. 104, and Pref. to vol. i.
iv. sc. 1, he has restored eight lines, “in humble imitation of former editors,” though, as he believes, “ against the mind of the author;” and again, at act i. sc. 3. 267 of the same play, can declare that, in his belief, the seven lines there restored by Theobald and Pope, and retained by all subsequent editors, “ were expunged in the revision by the author"; 1 and when, in K. Rich. 3, act v. sc. 3. 217, Steevens can avow his opinion that a passage, extending to twenty-two lines, “had been crossed out by Shakspeare himself, and afterwards restored by the original but tasteless editor” of that play ;—when things like these can be said by the most competent judges, surely the attempt to vindicate our author from the tradition of such presumptuous licence is not itself licence and presumption ; and so far from being resented, ought rather to be welcomed, provided it be made not rashly, not arrogantly or dictatorially, but with all due deference to whatever may be urged by competent judges on the other side. In support of this remark, and in further corroboration of that portion of my Preface now referred to, it will not be out of place to introduce here the following paragraph, which forms a separate section (lxxxvi) in Walker's Critical Examination,' vol. ii. p. 189:
“Note of Malone's, Var. Shakspeare, vol. xix. p. 81 -corresponding, in part at least, with my own observations—'I have stated this matter particularly, because it confirms an observation that I have more than once had occasion to make in revising these plays—viz., that there is reason to suspect that many of the difficulties
See my note, vol. ii. p. 97, and Pref. to vol. i. p. xxiv.