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easy to show that it is quite fanciful and unfounded; and what he
many other passages.
Nobler, trisyllable. Coriol. Act III. Sc. II. You do the nobler. Cor. I muse my
mother — TYRWHITT,
The learned and respectable writer of these observations is now unfortunately no more; but his opinions will not on that account have less influence with the readers of Shakspeare : I am therefore still at liberty to enforce the justice and propriety of my own sentiments, which I trust I shall be found to do with all possible delicacy and respect toward the memory and character of the truly ingenious gentleman from whom I have the misfortune to differ. I humbly conceive that, upon more mature consideration, Mr. Tyrwhitt would have admitted, that, if the proposed method of printing the words in question were once proved to be right, it would be of little consequence whether the discovery had ever
adopted before,” or could“ be followed in the pronunciation of them, without the help of an entire new system of spelling :” which, in fact, is the very object I mean to contend for; or rather for a system of spelling, as I am perfectly confident we have none at present, or at least I have never been able to find it. We are not to regard the current or fashionable orthography of the day, as the result of an enquiry into the subject by men of learning and genius ; but rather as the mechanical or capricious efforts of writers and printers to express by letters, according to their ear, the vulgar speech of the country, just as travelers attempt that of Chicksaws or Cherokees, without the assistance of grammar, and utterly ignorant or regardless of consistency, principle, or system. This was the case in Caxton's time, when a word was spelled almost as many different ways as it contained letters, and is no otherwise at this day ; and, perhaps, the prejudices of education and habit, even in minds sufficiently expanded and vigorous on other subjects, will always prevent' a reform, which it were to be wished was necessary to objects of no higher importance. Whether what I call the right method of printing these words be “ such as was never adopted before by any mortal,” or not, does not seem of much consequence; for, reasoning from principle and not precedent, I am by no means anxious to avail myself of the inconsistencies of an age in which even scholars were not always agreed in the orthography of their own name; a sufficient number of instances will, however, occur in the course of this note to shew that the remark was not made with its author's usual deliberation ; which I am the rather disposed to believe, from his conceiving that this method could not “ be followed in pronunciation ;” since were it universally adopted, pronunciation neither would nor possibly could be affected by it in any degree whatever. “ Fanciful and unfounded” too as my supposed canon may be, I find it laid down in Ben Jonson's Grammar, which expressly says that “the second and third person singular of the present are made of the first by adding est and eth, which last is sometimes shortened into s." And afterward, speaking of the first conjugation, he tells us that “it fetcheth the time past from the present by adding ed.” I shall have reason to think
myself peculiarly unfortunate, if, after my hypothesis is “allowed in its utmost extent,” it will not prove what it was principally formed to do, viz. that Shakspeare has not taken a liberty in extending certain words to suit the purpose of his metre. But, surely, if I prove that he has only given those words as they ought to be written, I prove the whole of my position, which should cease, of course, to be termed or considered an hypothesis. A mathematical problem may, at first sight, appear “ fanciful and unfounded” to the ablest mathematician, but his assent is ensured by its demonstration. I may safely admit that the words in question are more frequently used” by our author's contemporaries, and by himself," without the additional syllable ;” as this will only shew that his contemporaries and himself have “ more frequently” taken the liberty of shortening those words, than written them at length. Such a word as alarm’d, for instance, is generally, perhaps constantly, used by poets as a dissyllable; and yet, if we found it given with its full power a-larm-ed, we should scarcely say that the writer had taken the liberty of lengthening it a syllable. Thus too the word diamond is usually spoken as if two syllables, but it is certainly three, and is so properly given by Shakspeare :
Sir, I must have that diamond from you.” Hadst is now a monosyllable, but did our author therefore take a liberty in writing Hadest?
“ Makes ill deeds done. Hadest thou not been by.” Not only this word, but mayest, doest, doeth, and the like, are uniformly printed in the Bible as dissyllables. Does Butler, to serve his rhyme, stretch out the word brethren in the following passage?
“ And fierce auxiliary men,
“ That came to aid their brethren." Or does he not rather give it as he found it pronounced, and as it ought to be printed? The word idly is still more to the purpose: It is at present a dissyllable; what it was in Shakspeare's time may appear from his Comedy of Errors, 1623 :
“ God helpe poore soules how idely doe they talk :" or, indeed, from any other passage in that or the next edition, being constantly printed as a trisyllable. So, again, in Spenser's Fairy Queene, 1609, 1611 :
“ Both staring fierce, and holding idlely." And this orthography, which at once illustrates and supports my system, appears in Shelton's Don Quixote, Sir T. Smith's Commonwealth, Goulart's Histories, Holinshed's Chronicle, and numberless other books; and consequently proves that the word was not stretched out by Spenser to suit the purpose of his metre, though I am aware that it is misspelled idely in the first edition, which is less correctly printed. But the true and established spelling might have led Mr. Seward and Dr. Farmer to a better
reading than gentily, in the following line of Beaumont and Fletcher:
“ For when the west wind courts her gently.” Proved, I suppose, is rarely found a dissyllable in poetry, if even pronounced as one in prose; but, in the Articles of Religion, Oxford, 1728, it is spelled and divided after my own heart :
whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be prove-ed thereby, &c.” The words observation and affection are usually pronounced, the one as consisting of three, the other of four syllables, but each of them is in reality a syllable longer, and is so properly given by our author :
“ With observation, the which he vents :
“ Yet have I fierce affections, and think.” Examples, indeed, of this nature would be endless ; I shall therefore content myself with producing one more, from the old ballad of The Children in the Wood :
“ You that executors be made,
“ And overseers eke." In this passage the word overseers is evidently and properly used as a quadrisyllable; and, in one black letter copy of the ballad, is accurately printed as such, overseeers; which, if Shakspeare's orthography should ever be an editor's object, may serve as a guide for the regulation of the following line :
“ That high all-seer that I dallied with.” Of the words quoted by Mr. Tyrwhitt, as instances of the liberty supposed to have been taken by Shakspeare, those which I admit to be properly a syllable shorter, certainly obtained the same pronunciation in the age of this author which he has annexed to them. Thus, country, monstrous, remembrance, assembly, were not only pronounced, in his time, the two first as three, the other as four syllables, but are so still ; and the reason, to borrow Mr. Tyrwhitt's words, “ must be obvious to every one who can pronounce the language.” Henry was not only usually pronounced, (as indeed it is at present,) but frequently written as a trisyllable; even in prose. Thus, in Dr. Hutton's Discourse on the Antiquities of Oxford, at the end of Hearne's Textus Roffensis : “ King Henery the eights colledge.” See, upon this subject, Wallisii Grammatica, p. 57. That Mr. Tyrwhitt should have treated the words angry, humbler, nobler, used as trisyllables, among those which could “receive no support from the supposed canon,” must have been owing to the obscure or imperfect manner in which I attempted to explain it; as these are, unluckily, some of the identical instances which the canon, if a canon it must be, is purposely made to support, or, rather, by which it is to be supported: an additional proof that Mr. Tyrwhitt, though he might think it proper to reprobate my doctrine as “ fanciful and unfounded,” did not give himself the trouble to understand it. This canon, in short, is nothing but a most plain and simple rule of English grammar, which has, in substance, at least, been repeated over and over :-Every word, compounded upon the principles of the English or Saxon language, always preserves its roots unchanged: a rule which, like all others,
may be liable to exceptions, but I am aware of none at present. Thus humbler and nobler, for instance, are composed by the adjectives humble, noble, and er, the sign of the comparative degree ; angry of the noun anger, and y the Saxon adjective termination 13. In the use of all these, as trisyllables, Shakspeare is most correct; and that he is no less so in England, which used to be pronounced as three syllables, and is so still, indeed, by those who do not acquire the pronunciation of their mother tongue from the books of purblind pedants, who want themselves the instruction they pretend to give, will be evident from the etymology and division of the word, the criteria or touchstones of orthography. Now, let us divide England as we please, or as we can, we shall produce neither its roots nor its meaning; for what can one make of the land of the Engs or the gland of the Ens? but write it as it ought to be written, and divide it as it ought to be divided, Engle-land, (indeed it will divide itself, for there is no other way,) and you will have the sense and derivation of the word, as well as the origin of the nation, at first sight; from the Saxon Engla landa, the land or country of the Engles or Angles : just as Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Lapland, which neither ignorance nor pedantry has been able to corrupt, design the country of the Scot, the Ine, the Fin, and the Lap: and yet, in spite of all sense and reason, about half the words in the language are in the same aukward and absurd predicament, than which nothing can be more distorted and unnatural ; as, I am confident it must have appeared to Mr. Tyrwhitt, had he voluntarily turned his attention that way, or actually attempted, what he hastily thought would be very easy, to shew that this “supposed canon was quite fanciful and unfounded;” or, in short, as it will appear to any person, who tries to subject the language to the rules of syllabication, or in plainer English to spell his words; a task which, however useful, and even necessary, no Dictionary-maker has ever dared to attempt, or, at least, found it possible to execute. Indeed, the same kind of objection which Mr. Tyrwhitt has made to my system, might be, and, no doubt, has, by superficial readers, been frequently made to his own, of inserting the final syllable in the genitives Peneus's, Theseus's, Venus's, ox's, ass's, St. James's, Thomas's, Wallis's, &c. and printing, as he has done, Peneuses, Theseuses, Venuses, oxes, asses, St. Jameses, Thomases, Wallises; an innovation neither less singular, nor more just, than the one I am contending for, in the conjugation, or use in composition, of resemble, wrestle, whistle, tickle, &c. But, as I am conscious that I burn day-light, so my readers are probably of opinion that the game is not worth the candle: I shall, therefore, take the hint;