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ACT THE SECOND.
(a)-Non compos mentis.
The scraps of Latin, which we find scattered throughout our author's works, do not, in my opinion, furnish us with any substantial proof of his acquaintance with the learned languages : for it is certain that Ben Jonson, with whom he was once upon terms of the closest intimacy, not only furnished him with all the Latin he required, but even translated into English such Latin passages as accidentally came in his way. This is incontrovertibly proved by the following anecdote :
“Our poet was god-father to one of Ben Jonson's “ children; and, after the christening, being in deep “study, Jonson came to cheer him up, and asked him
“why he was so melancholy ? - No 'faith, Ben,' “ says he, 'not I; but I have been considering a great “ while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow “upon my god-child, and I have resolved at last,'-—'I “pr’ythee what ?' says he. "I'faith, Ben, I'll give him “some Latin spondees, AND THOUSHALT TRANS“LATE THEM.”
The circumstance of his desiring Jonson to translate the Latin spondees is conclusive as to his want of learning, and requires no comment.
In support of his favorite hypothesis, Dr. Farmer has produced an anecdote, but (no doubt unintentionally) with an egregious mistake. The fact is, that the gift was not some Latin spondees, but a dozen good latten spoons ; it being the custom for sponsors at christenings to present spoons to the child: whence the appellation. Nothing more was intended than a quibble, or pun: 'I cannot,' says our poet, give them of silver ; but I will give him a dozen spoons of good latten (tinned iron so called); and (alluding to Jonson's latinity) thou shalt translate them, i. e. thou shalt turn them into silver.' So much for Dr. Farmer's “incontrovertible proof.”
(6)-He's up to snuff.
To snuff up is to scent.
This is highly figurative. Guildenstern says,
- he knows well enough “The game we're after : ’Zooks, he's up to snuff :”.
that is, he has got scent of the game we are in pursuit of. The metaphor, which is striking and apposite, is borrowed from the Chase.
Without having recourse to a far-fetched explanation, I choose to understand the passage in its common acceptation: The game we're after means nothing more than the trick by which we are endeavouring to worm from him his secret; but which, as he is up to snuff, i. e. as he is a knowing one, he will, assuredly, render inefficacious.
(c)—I fear he'll bite.
The late abrupt visit of Hamlet to Ophelia was cer. tainly sufficient to impress her with an idea of his madness, powerful and terrific; but whether there was any physical cause for her apprehension of a dentifrical attack, is not very evident. During the exauctoration of the mental powers, a dog will bite; a cat will claw and expectorate ; a bull, with an impulsion of its head, sudden and violent, will commit the miserable victim of its fury, to the air ; but man, destitute of their weapons, or, possessing them, impotent and ineffective, would do neither ; prudently resorting to the arms with which nature has furnished him, his attack would be either manual or pedestrious.
This opinion of Dr. Johnson is sanctioned by the authority of one of our later poets :
“ To kick is human, but to bite, canine."
(d)-RECITATIVE (accompaniea) and DUETT.
This, and all that follows to the end of the scene, is, in almost all the old copies, (for what reason I know not,) omitted. By restoring it, I remove the languor under which, destitute of a pathetic love-scene, the play has hitherto laboured.