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“ 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. “ l'faith, Ben, I'll give him some Latin spondees, AND THOU SHALT TRAXSLATE 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 goud 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.
This is highly figurative. To snuff up is to scent. 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 certainly 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 (accompanied) 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.
(e) As one may meet with in a summer's day.
This is surely no flattering compliment to Horatio: it is branding him, in unequivocal language, with the opprobrious appellation of a fair-weather friend. Our author meant, and I have no doubt wrote, “ in a sombre day;" a dark, dreary day.
I cannot assent to Mr. Theobald's emendation. A summer's day is correct, and is here opposed to a day in winter, not as it is fairer, but as it is longer. The poet's meaning is, 'You are as tight a lad as one may meet with, amongst the vast number of men that it is likely one may encounter, in the course of a summer-day's journey, when the days are at their extreme length, and reckoning from sun-rise to sun-set.'
(f)-That's all gammon.
It is probable that the author intended game, man! By game may be understood fudge, or blarney. When we recollect that many of our author's plays were taken down in writing during the performance, and consider that the copyists may have been misled by the indistinct articulation of the actors, the error may be easily accounted for.
The passage, as it stands, is correct, and, to me, appears perfectly intelligible: that's all gammon is equivalent to
• that's all my eye.' Mr. Pope, not readily understanding the passage, seems willing to plunge it still deeper into an abyss of unintelligibility: like him who, deprived of the organs of vision, excludes the light from his chamber, and immerses it in impenetrable tenebrosity, in order that his visitors may partake of, and be involved in, that obscurity, under which he himself is doomed to suffer.
(g) Since I could tell a dray-horse from a poney.
By this passage we are enabled to form a tolerably accurate idea of the time of the commencement of Hamlet's intimacy with Horatio. Children of a very early age are acquainted with objects only in the general: to them, the stallion, the gelding, and the mare, the racer, the dray-horse, and the back, are known only by the general term of horse ; it is through the medium