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Shakspere’s Text.–Suetonius Unravelled
by [?]

To the Editor of ‘Titan’.

Dear Sir,–A year or two ago,[1] I received as a present from a distinguished and literary family in Boston (United States), a small pamphlet (twin sister of that published by Mr Payne Collier) on the text of Shakspere. Somewhere in the United States, as here in England, some unknown critic, at some unknown time, had, from some unknown source, collected and recorded on the margin of one amongst the Folio reprints of Shakspere by Heminge & Condell, such new readings as either his own sagacity had summarily prompted, or calm reflection had recommended, or possibly local tradition in some instances, and histrionic tradition in others, might have preserved amongst the habitues of a particular theatre. In Mr P. Collier’s case, if I recollect rightly, it was the First Folio (i. e., by much the best); in this American case, I think it is the Third Folio (about the worst) which had received the corrections. But, however this may be, there are two literary collaborateurs concerned in each of these parallel cases–namely, first, the original collector (possibly author) of the various readings, who lived and died probably within the seventeenth century; and, secondly, the modern editor, who stations himself as a repeating frigate that he may report and pass onwards these marginal variations to us of the nineteenth century.

[Footnote 1: Written in 1856. H. ]

COR. for Corrector, is the shorthand designation by which I have distinguished the first; REP. for Reporter designates the other. My wish and purpose is to extract all such variations of the text as seem to have any claim to preservation, or even, to a momentary consideration. But in justice to myself, and in apology for the hurried way in which the several parts of this little memorandum are brought into any mimicry of order and succession, I think it right to say that my documents are all dispersed into alien and distant quarters; so that I am reduced into dependence upon my own unassisted memory.

[THE TEMPEST. Act I. Scene 1.

‘Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad, and play’d
Some tricks of desperation.’

COR. here substitutes, ‘But felt a fever of the mind:’ which substitution strikes me as entirely for the worse; ‘a fever of the mad’ is such a fever as customarily attacks the delirious, and all who have lost the control of their reasoning faculties.

[Ibid.

‘O dear father,
Make not too rash a trial of him; for
He’s gentle, and not fearful.’

Upon this the Reporter’s remark is, that ‘If we take fearful in its common acceptation of timorous, the proposed change renders the passage clearer;’ but that, if we take the word fearful in its rarer signification of that which excites terror, ‘no alteration is needed.’ Certainly: none is needed; for the mistake (as I regard it) of REP. lies simply in supposing the passive sense of fearful–namely, that which suffers fear–to be the ordinary sense; which now, in the nineteenth century, it is; but was not in the age of Shakspere.

[MACBETH. Scene 7.

‘Thus even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.’

COR. proposes, Returns the ingredients of, etc. and, after the word returns is placed a comma; which, however, I suppose to be a press oversight, and no element in the correction. Meantime, I see no call for any change whatever. The ordinary use of the word commend, in any advantageous introduction of a stranger by letters, seems here to maintain itself–namely, placing him in such a train towards winning favour as may give a favourable bias to his opportunities. The opportunities are not left to their own casual or neutral action, but are armed and pointed towards a special result by the influence of the recommender. So, also, it is here supposed that amongst several chalices, which might else all have an equal power to conciliate notice, one specially–namely, that which contains the poison–is armed by Providence with a power to bias the choice, and commend itself to the poisoner’s favour.