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portions of the dialogue instead of those of the dramatis persona. Mr Knight, in noticing this circumstance, observes that it shows very clearly the text of the Play in which it occurs (Much Ado About Nothing) to have been taken from the play-house copy, or what is called the prompter's book.* But the fact is that the scene in question is given in the same way in the previous Quarto edition of the Play, published in 1600 ; so that here the printers of the Folio had evidently no manuscript of any kind in their hands, any more than they had any one over them to prevent them from blindly following their printed copy into the most transparent absurdities. The Quarto, to the guidance of which they were left, had evidently been set up from the prompter's book, and the proof-sheets could not have been read either by the author or by any other competent person. In the case of how many more of the Plays the Folio in like manner may have been printed only from the previously published separate editions we cannot be sure. But other errors with which the volume abounds are evidence of something more than this. In addition to a large number of doubtful or disputed passages, there are many readings in it which are either absolutely unintelligible, and therefore certainly corrupt, or, although not purely nonsensical, yet clearly wrong, and at the same time such as are hardly to be sufficiently accounted for as the natural mistakes of the compositor. Sometimes what is evidently the true word or expression has given place to another having possibly more or less resemblance to it in form, but none in signification; in other cases, what is indispensable to the sense, or to the continuity and completeness of the dramatic narrative, is altogether omitted. Such errors and deficiencies can only be explained on the supposition that the compositor had been left to depend upon a manuscript which was imperfect, or which could not be read. It is remarkable that deformities of this kind are apt to be found accumulated at one place; there are as it were nests or eruptions of them; they run into constellations ; showing that the manuscript had there got torn or soiled, and that the printer had been obliged to supply what was wanting in the best way that he could by his own invention or conjectural ingenuity.*
* Library Shakspere, II. 366.
Of the other Folio Editions, the Second, dated 1632, is the only one the new readings introduced in which have ever been regarded as of any authority. But nothing is known of the source from which they may have been derived. The prevailing opinion has been that they are nothing more than the conjectural emendations of the unknown editor. Some of them, nevertheless, have been adopted in every subsequent reprint.
The manuscript of Henry the Fourth (belonging to Sir Edward Dering, Bart., of Surrenden in Kent) is curious and interesting, as being certainly either of Shakespeare's own age or close upon it, and as the only known inanuscript copy of any of the Plays of nearly that antiquity. But it appears to have been for the greater part merely transcribed from some printed text, with such omissions and modifications as were deemed expedient in reducing the two Plays to one. The First Part of
* I have discussed the question of the reliance to be placed on the First Folio at greater length in an article on The Text of Shakespeare, in the 40th No. of the North British Review (for February 1854). It is there shown, from an examination of the First Act of Macbeth, that the number of readings in the First Folio (including arrangements of the verse and punctuations affecting the sense) which must be admitted to be either clearly wrong or in the highest degree suspicious probably amounts to not less than twenty on an average per page, or about twenty thousand in the whole volume. Most of them have been given up and abandoned even by those of the modern editors who profess the most absolute deference to the general authority of the text in which they are found.
+ I am informed by a friend, upon whose accuracy I can rely, that a collation of a considerable portion of the MS. with the Quarto of
Henry the Fourth had been printed no fewer than five times, and the Second Part also once, in the lifetime of the author. The Dering MS., however, exhibits a few peculiar readings. One of them is remarkable.
For the lines, in the speech by the King with which the First Part opens, commonly given as
“No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood” we have in the MS.
“No more ye thirsty bosome of this land
Shall wash her selfe in her owne childrens bloud." Here are in the compass of two lines no fewer than five variations ;-bosom for entrance, land for soil, wash for daub, self for lips, in for with,—the last being, moreover, a correction deliberately interlined over an erasure of the other reading.
The substitution of wash for daub is not without importance, the more especially as daub is commonly assumed to be the old reading, whereas it is really, I believe, nothing more than a modern conjectural emendation of the damb (or damp ?) of the early copies.
But the most important variation is that of bosom for entrance. Now, in the first place, although entrance is the reading of the First and Second, and, I believe, also of the Third Folio, another reading, entrails, is not, as has been sometimes supposed, the conjecture of Mr Douce, but is found in the Fourth Folio. I confess, however, that I can make nothing of entrance, and, if possible, still less of entrails. We are told that the
entrance of this soil” means the mouth of this soil. If a single instance can be produced from any writer, not confessedly insane, in which the mouth either of a real person, or of something represented as a living person, is 1613 leaves no doubt of that being the printed edition on which it was formed.
styled his, her, or its entrance, I shall be satisfied. Such a mode of expression, it appears to me, would at once destroy the personification. We speak, indeed, of the entrance of a cavern, for the mouth of a cavern; but here we are not calling a mouth an entrance, but an entrance a mouth : the proper prosaic name of the aperture by which we enter the cave is its entrance, which, when we animate the cave, we change into its mouth; but the opposite process is, I apprehend, unknown either in prose or in verse, in written eloquence or in the loosest colloquial speech. Any one who should talk of the entrance of a man, or of a lion, or of a dog, meaning the mouth, would not be understood. So in Latin we have the entrance to a river
very often called its os, but nowhere the mouth of any living creature, or of any poetical personification, ever spoken of as its ostium.*
Nothing, also, can be more indisputable than that the two hers—"her lips” (or herself) and“ her own children's blood”-must have the same reference. This is what syntax and common sense alike imperatively demand. Steevens's notion, therefore, that by “her lips" may be meant the lips of peace, mentioned four lines before, would be untenable, were there no other objection to it than that it would, apparently, give the her of “ her lips” one reference and the her of “ her own children" another.
The lips and the children must plainly be understood to be either those of the soil, or those of that, whatever it may have been, the designation of which has given rise to the various readings, entrance, entrails, entrants, as proposed by Steevens, bosom, &c. One's first inclination is to suppose some personage animating or presiding over the soil; and hence such conjectures as that of Monk Mason, -"the thirsty Erinnys of this soil,"—which has been adopted in many editions, and which might mean that the Spirit of Discord should no more daub either her own lips with the blood of her own children, or the lips of the soil with the blood of the children of the soil. The circumstance of the word Erinnys being a Shakespearian araç deyóuevov, or not elsewhere found, would make it more likely to have been mistaken by the printer. So also might be interpreted “the thirsty Genius of this soil,” as proposed in the First Edition of the present work.
* The only interpretation of entrance having the least plausibility appears to me to be that thrown out by Theobald :-“I sense is, 'blood-thirsty invasion of this country shall no more stain it with its own children's gore.' But is this idea conveyed by thirsty entrance ?” Letter to Warburton, dated 13 January 1730, in Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, II. 402.
But to both these readings there is this objection, which I apprehend must be held to be fatal. On the one hand, the epithet thirsty, standing where it does, seems clearly to bind us to understand that the lips described as to be no more daubed, or moistened, were those, not of the soil, but of the imaginary personage (the Erinnys or the Genius) to whom the performance of the act of daubing is attributed; on the other, the people could not be called the children of either the one of these personages or the other. And I do not think it would be
possible to find any other mythological personage who could, more than either of these two, be represented as at once the owner of the lips and the parent of the children. It may be added that against “ the thirsty Genius” this objection is of double force; inasmuch as, Genius being always conceived to be a male, the “her lips” (as well as “her own children”) would in that case have of necessity to be understood as signifying the lips (and children) of the soil,—which would leave the epithet “thirsty" without meaning
I do not think, therefore, that there is any other known reading which can compete with that of the Dering MS. The bosom of the soil, or ground, or earth, is one of the commonest and most natural forms of figurative expression, and is particularly natural and appropriate