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Surely annotators of this stamp will make their unfortunate Text say anything they please. Such Notes are worse than a mockery.
It must have been in 1819 or 20, when the writer of these lines, being suffering under a painful illness, which made his sleep very uneasy, used to place a volume of Shakspere on a table with a light, near his bed, that, when awaking in distress, he might get up and endeavour to relieve himself by reading. It happened that once, at about two o'clock in the morning, the sufferer opened the book at the beginning of Othello. The passage above quoted, which had long puzzled him, presented itself to his eyes, when he suddenly was struck with what he still believes to be the true sense of unbonneted. That word expresses without vulgarity the common expression cap in hand, the attitude of a suitor approaching a lady for courtship. The meaning of the much tortured passage is merely this : “My merits may well court a fortune as proud as this that I have reached.” This manner of turning familiar phrases into others more poetical, appears frequently in our poet's works, as any attentive reader will easily discover. So, for instance (Hamlet, Act II, Scene I) :
“ It seems, it is as proper to our age-(namely old age)
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions,
To lack discretion.” Where, we are persuaded, the words to cast beyond ourselves, is a paraphrase of to overreach ourselves.
It is indeed surprising with what degree of perverseness Commentators will find obscurity where there is none. Shakspere puts the two following verses in the mouth of Capulet, when inviting Paris to the Masquerade :
“At my poor house look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.” The Editor of the Pictorial Shakspere gives this Note at the bottom of page 17:4
“ Earth-treading stars, &c.-Warburton calls this line nonsense, and would read,
'Earth-treading stars that make dark even light.' Monck Mason would read,
“Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven's light.' That is, stars that make the light of heaven appear dark in comparison with them. It appears to us unnecessary to alter the original reading, and especially as passages in the masquerade scene would seem to indicate that the banquetting room opened into a garden-as
• Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night.'"
But, with great deference, the passage appears to us so plain as to require no comment. Capulet, alluding to the Beauties whom he expected to form the main attraction of his feast that night, represents them as stars walking upon earth, and lighting up “ dark heaven”_heaven darkened by night, the time when they were to display their beauty at the masquerade.
In concluding, be it allowed to suggest an interpretation and reading to an important passage in King John (Act III, Scene I). In that beautiful conclusion of the scene where Salisbury seems ready to compel Constance to go to meet John, her mortal enemy, and the French king, who had, a few moments before, betrayed her and her unfortunate son, the messenger says resolutely,
“Pardon me, madam, I may not go without you to the kings.” Constance answers in a fit of sublime despair,
“ Thou may’st, thou shalt, I will not go with thee :
I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud, and makes his owner stoop.” The second half of the last verse has, with great reason, raised dissatisfaction with the reading. A note of the Pictorial Shakspere informs us that, instead of stoop Hanmer introduced stout into the text, where that strange emendation keeps its place in all editions except Malone's. The Note gives an explanation of the Reading, “ For grief is proud, and makes his owner stoop," which does not quite satisfy us. We think the meaning to be,“I will teach my sorrows to be proud, for, though grief makes its owner, i. e. the afflicted one, stoop, yet grief itself is proud. We readily anticipate the objection that this interpretation does violence to the line, “For grief is proud, and makes its owner stoop.” But suppose the grammatical construction should admit its being read,
“For grief is proud, though makes its owner stoop;" the natural meaning would be obvious. But can the omission of the pronoun it after though he justified? Let Shakspere answer for us. In Romeo and Juliet, Act I, last Scene, Juliet says :
“Saints do not move, though grant for prayer's sake.” We hope to submit a few observations on some of our particular favourites among Shakspere's plays, when they come out in the charming edition which we again and again take the liberty of recommending to our Readers' notice
J. B. W.
ART. III. – REPORT OF A COMMITTEE OF THE
HOUSE OF COMMONS, appointed to examine into the best means of promoting Education among the poorer Classes in the large Towns of England and Wales. 1838.
PARLIAMENTARY Committees are admirable inventions for throwing dust in the People's eyes. They are invaluable for all purposes, except the one for which they are professedly appointed. To a Minister who wishes to stave off the consideration of a perplexing question, they furnish the surest means of evasion and delay. To a Government desirous of shifting from its own shoulders the responsibility of an unpopular and indefensible enactment, they are inestimable accomplices, by recommending the very measure which it has been pre-determined to commit. To the Legislator whose object is to procure for some cherished crotchet the appearance of an authoritative and unbiassed sanction, Parliamentary Committees are ready and manageable instruments. But for the attainment of ample, accurate, impartial information to enlighten Senatorial ignorance, a more cumbrous, expensive, inefficient machinery could scarcely be devised. They do nothing with more pomp and apparatus than would be required for doing every thing. The motto prefixed to each of their Corpulent folio reports should be the dying words of the great and good Grotius
“Vitam perdidi, operosè nihil agendo.” The facts which justify these remarks are too numerous and too notorious to need citation. The causes are various. In the first place, many of the Enquiries relate to matters of local interest, in which the investigation can only be effectively carried on upon the spot, where witnesses can be indiscriminately summoned, and a number of circumstances observed and recorded, which are essential to the due understanding of the evidence. Secondly, Parliamentary Committees of Enquiry are generally in the hands of one or two persons, who select their witnesses, often from motives of personal convenience or partial design, are acquainted with their evidence before-hand, and elicit, by leading questions, exactly what they wish for, and nothing more;—while the other Members of the Committee either do not attend, or are mere passive recipients of what they hear; and end by signing a report, of the accuracy of which they have no means of judging. By this sort of proceeding anything, not physically impossible, may be proved ;-and accordingly we find that physical impossibility has been the only boundary to the assertions of Parliamentary Committees. In the third place, a very large proportion of the questions put, are framed to elicit not facts which the witness has observed, but opinions which the witness may have formed. Hence the published evidence of these Committees often consists of a mere medley of conflicting prejudices, and opposite absurdities. Yet the labours of these bodies generally form the alleged, and often the actual groundwork of legislation which is to last for ages, and to influence the interests of millions.
The vast superiority of regularly-appointed Commissions has been amply established in the only cases in which they have yet been employed,-viz. The Factory Commission, the Poor Law Commission, and the Irish Church Commission; all of which have furnished voluminous details for the Statistician, and accurate information for the Legislator. Indeed no elaborate reasoning is required to show that full and correct knowledge will be better collected by men to whom it is an appointed duty, than by men to whom it is a morning pastime ;-by men who go to seek for it, than by men who sit still, and expect it to come to them. As long therefore, on the great subject of Popular Education, as Government content themselves with appointing Parliamentary Committees, and sending Circular queries round the Country, we shall take the liberty to conclude that they are insincere upon the subject, and are paltering with the awakened feelings of the Nation ;-and we shall hail the appointment of an efficient and well-chosen Commission of Enquiry, as the first symptom of earnestness, and serious intention.
The Report before us confirms many of our remarks on the general character of such productions, and contradicts none. The information it conveys is vague and incomplete; and its concluding resolutions are equally at variance with the evidence adduced, with the expectations of the Country, and with the necessity of the case.
From the composition of the Committee, few could augur favourably of the result of its labours. The active Members were, Mr. Slaney, the Chairman, a Liberal and a Churchman, sincerely devoted to the cause ;-Lord Sandon, Mr. Gladstone, Lord Ashley, and Sir Stratford Canning, Churchmen and Tories; Sir A. Verney, a Whig and an Evangelical Churchman ;-Mr. Wood, a Dissenter and a Liberal --Mr. Wyse, a Liberal and a Roman Catholic; and Mr. Acland and Mr. Pusey, Tories and Oxford Catholics.
The Committee sat ten days, and examined nine individuals. These were the Secretaries of the National and the British and Foreign School Society; the agents employed by the London and Manchester Statistical Societies in their educational enquiries; Dr. Kay, who, as an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, has paid great attention to the condition and constitution of existing Schools; and four other gentlemen, who appear to have been examined solely because they chanced to be in London at the time. In addition to the evidence obtained from these gentlemen, the Committee appear to have relied much on the published Reports of the two great School Societies, and also upon those emanating from the Statistical Society of Manchester, of the value and accuracy of which they speak in high terms. So far their materials appear to have been well chosen, but why are they so scanty? Why did they not summon the well-informed Author of “ Schools for the Industrial Classes ?” Why did they not summon some of the common schoolmasters, that they might prove their own incompetency to perform the duties of their profession? Above all why did they summon no intelligent operatives, who might have given a fair account of their own wants and wishes on this momentous matter, and could have afforded positive evidence on many points respecting which the other witnesses could only speak conjecturally? It appears, from the proceedings of the Committee, that after the abovementioned nine witnesses had been disposed of, “ many weeks elapsed, during which no one was offered to be summoned," and the Committee therefore determined to report forthwith to the House. But we may fairly ask, how came so important an enquiry to be conducted in so easy and negligent a manner ? How came the Committee, to whom was delegated the examination of a question involving the deepest interests of their countrymen, to rest satisfied with the testimony of nine individuals; and then to draw up resolutions contradicted by every page of their published evidence? Had it been a Committee to inquire into the practice of Banking, or into the effects of the Malt Tax, or into the operation of the Corn Laws, this could not have been the case. The Committee Room would have been crowded with witnesses, and the Investigation would have lasted through the Session. But when it is a question whether a large, turbulent, and powerful population shall be left in a state of besotted ignorance, or shall be trained, by early discipline, to the habits and the feelings of sober, peaceful, and respectable citizens; whether the condition of popular education shall continue the opprobium, or shall become the glory of our country ; whether England shall in this respect be the first or the last of European nations ;-the progress of the investigation is languid and dawdling, and the conclusion worse than impotent.