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No night is now with hymn or carol blest:4—
oldest woman in England never heard of the death of a Fairy. Human mortals is, notwithstanding, evidently put in opposition to fairies who partook of a middle nature between men and spirits.” It is a misfortune, as well to the commentators as to the readers of Shakspeare, that so much of their time is obliged to be employed in explaining and contradicting unfounded conjectures and assertions. Spenser in his Fairy Queen, B. II, c. X, says, (I use the words of Mr. Warton ; Observations on Spenser, Vol. I, p. .55,) “ That man was first made by Prometheus, was called Elfe, who wandering over the world, at length arrived at the gardens of Adonis, where he found a female whom he called Fay. The issue of Elfe and Fay were called Fairies, who soon grew to be a mighty people, and conquered all nations. Their eldest son Elfin governed America, and the next to him, named Elfinan, founded the city of Cleopolis, which was enclosed with a golden wall by Elfinine. His son Elfin overcame the Gobbelines; but of all fairies, Elfant was the most renowned, who built Panthea of crystal. To these succeeded Elfar, who slew two brethren giants; and to him Elfinor, who built a bridge of glass over the sea, the sound of which was like thunder. At length, Elficleos ruled the Fairy-land with much wisdom, and highly advanced its power and honour: he left two sons, the eldest of which, fair Elferon, died a premature death, his place being supplied by the mighty Oberon ; a prince, whose 'wide memorial still remains ; who, dying, left Tanaquil to succeed him by will, she being also called Glorian or Gloriana.” I transcribe this pedigree, merely to prove that in Shakspeare's time the notion of Fairies dying was generally known. Reed.
Mr. Reed might here have added the names of many divines and philosophers, whose sentiments coincide with his own position on this subject: “ post prolixum tempus moriuntur omnes:" i. e. aerial and familiar spirits, &c. were all mortal. See Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, edit. 1632, p. 42. Steevens.
4 No night is now with hymn or carol blest:] Since the coming. of Christianity, this season, (winter,] in commemoration of the birth of Christ, has been particularly devoted to festivity. And to this custom, notwithstanding the impropriety, hymn or carol blest certainly alludes. Warburton.
Hymns and carols, in the time of Shakspeare, during the season of Christmas, were sung every night about the streets, as a pretext for collecting money from house to house. Steevens.
5 That rheumatick diseases do abound :] Rheumatick diseases signified in Shakspeare's time, not what we now call rheumatism, but distillations from the head, catarrhs, &c. So, in a paper en. titled “ The State of Sir H. Sydney's bodie, &c. Feb. 1567 ;"
And thorough this distemperature, we see
Sydney's Memorials, Vol. I, p. 94: " - he hath verie much distempered diverse parts of his bodie, as namely, his hedde, his stomach, &c. and thereby is always subject to coughes, distillations, and other rumatic diseases." Malone.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods, &c.] The repeated adverb therefore, throughout this speech, I suppose to have constant reference to the first time, when it is used. All these irregularities of season happened in consequence of the disagree. ment between the king and queen of the fairies, and not in con. sequence of each other. Ideas crouded fast on Shakspeare; and, as he committed them to paper, he did not attend to the distance of the leading object from which they took their rise. Mr. Malone concurs with me on this occasion.
That the festivity and hospitality attending Christmas, de. creased, was the subject of complaint to many of our ludicrous writers. Among the rest to Nash, whose comedy called Summer's Last Will and Testament, made its first appearance in the same year with this play, viz. 1600. There Christmas is introduced, and Summer says to him:
“ Christmas, how chance thou com’st not as the rest,
Thy ancestors have us'd it heretofore.” “ Christmas. Ay, antiquity was the mother of ignorance,” &c. and then proceeds to give reasons for such a decay in mirth and house-keeping
The confusion of seasons here described, is no more than a poetical account of the weather, which happened in England about the time when the Midsummer Night's Dream was written. For this information I am indebted to chance, which furnished me with a few leaves of an old meteorological history.
The date of the piece, however, may be better determined by a description of the same weather in Churchyard's Charitie, 1595, when, says he, “a colder season, in all sorts, was never seene." He then proceeds to say the same over again in rhyme :
- A colder time in world was neuer seene:
“ Because we have displeasde the Lord of Light.” Let the reader compare these lines with Shakspeare's, and he will find that they are both descriptive of the same weather and its consequences.
Churchyard is not enumerating, on this occasion, fictitious but real misfortunes. He wrote the present poem to excite Charity on his own behalf; and among his other sufferings, very natu
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
rally dwelt on the coldness of the season, which his poverty had rendered the less supportable.
L'Allegro, and il Penseroso, will naturally impute one incident to different causes. Shakspeare, in prime of life and success, fancifully ascribes this distemperature of seasons to a quarrel between the playful rulers of the fairy world; while Churchyard, broken down by age and misfortunes, is seriously disposed to represent the same inclemency of weather, as a judgment from the Almighty on the offences of mankind. Steevens.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods, &c.] This line has no immediate connection with that preceding it, as Dr. Johnson seems to have thought. It does not refer to the omission of hymns or carols, but of the fairy rites, which were disturbed in consequence of Oberon's quarrel with Titania. The moon is, with peculiar propriety, represented as incensed at the cessation-not of the carols, (as Dr. Warburton thinks) nor of the heathen rites of adoration, (as Dr. Johnson supposes) but of those sports, which have been always reputed to be celebrated by her light.
As the whole passage has been much misunderstood, it may be proper to observe, that Titania begins with saying:
“And never, since the middle summer's spring,
“ But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport." She then particularly enumerates the several consequences that have flowed from their contention. The whole is divided into four clauses:
1. “ Therefore the winds, &c.
“ That they have overborne their continents :
“The ploughman lost his sweat ;
“ No nigbt is now with hymn or carol blest;
“ That rheumatic diseases do abound:
and the 'mazed world,
“ From our debate, from our dissention.” In all this there is no difficulty. All these calamities are the consequences of the dissention between Oberon and Titania; as seems to be sufficiently pointed out by the word therefore, so often repeated. Those lines which have it not, are evidently put in apposition with the preceding line, in which that word is found.
Malone. this distemperature,] Is, this perturbation of the elements.
Steevens, By distemperature, I imagine is meant, in this place, the per
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;7
turbed state in which the king and queen had lived for some time past. Malone.
Perhaps Mr. Malone has truly explained the force of the word in question. So, in Romeo and Juliet:
“ Thou art up-rous'd by some distemperature.” Steevens. 7 Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;] To have “snow in the lap of June,” is an expression used in Northward Hoe, 1607; and Shakspeare himself, in Coriolanus, talks of the “consecrated snow that lies on Dian's lap:” and Spenser, in his Fairy Queen, B. II, c. ii, has:
“ And fills with flow'rs fair Flora's painted lap.” Steevens. This thought is elegantly expressed by Goldsmith, in his Traveller : “ And winter lingering chills the lap of May.” M. Mason.
Hyems' chin,] Dr. Grey, not inelegantly, conjectures, that the poet wrote:
on old Hyems' chill and icy crown. It is not indeed easy to discover how a chaplet can be placed on the chin. Steevens.
I believe this peculiar image of Hyems' chin must have come from Virgil, (Æneid iv, 253,) through the medium of the translation of the day:
tum flumina mento
Precipitant senis, et glacie riget horrida barba.” S. W. Thus translated by Phaer, 1561:
and from his hoary beard adowne, “ The streames of waters fall; with yce and frost his face
doth frowne.” This singular image was, I believe, suggested in our poet by Golding's translation of Ovid, Book II:
“ And lastly, quaking for the colde, stood Winter all forlorne, “ With rugged head as white as dove, and garments all to
torne, “ Forladen with the isycles, that dangled up and downe Upon his gray and horie beard, and snowie frozen crown.
Malone. I should rather be for thin, i. e. thin-hair'd. Tyrwhitt. So, Cordelia, speaking of Lear:
to watch, poor perdu! “ With this thin helm.” Again, in King Richard II:
“ White-beards have arm’d their thin and hairless scalps
“ Against thy majesty; -—" Steevens. Thinne is nearer to chinne (the spelling of the old copies) than chill, and therefore, I think, more likely to have been the author's word. Malone.
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Obe. Do you amend it then; it lies in you:
9 The childing autumn,] Is the pregnant autumn, frugifer au
So, in Heywood's Brazen Age, 1613:
“ Fifty in number childed all one night.” Again, in his Golden Age, 1611:
“ I childed in a cave remote and silent." Again, in his Silver Age, 1613:
“ And at one instant he shall child two issues." There is a rose called the childing rose. Steevens.
Again, in Tasso's Godfrey of Bulloigne, by Fairfax, B. XVIII, st. 26:
“ An hundreth plants beside (even in his sight)
“ Childed an hundreth nymphes so great, so dight.” Childing is an old term in botany, when a small flower grows out of a large one; “ the childing autumn,” therefore, means the autumn which unseasonably produces flowers on those of summer. Florists have also a childing daisy, and a childing scabious.
Holt White. 1 By their increase,] That is, By their produce. Johnson. So, in our author's 97th Sonnet :
- The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
“ Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime.” The latter expression is scriptural: “ Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, and God, even our God, shall give us his blessing.” Psalm lxvii. Malone.
- henchman.] Page of honour. This office was abolished by Queen Elizabeth. Grey.
This office might be abolished at court, but probably remained in the city. Glapthorne, in his comedy called Wit in a Constable, 1640, has this passage:
- I will teach his hench-boys,
- The city all that charges.” So, again:
“ When she was lady may’ress, and you humble