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Tyrwhitt has suggested that it seems to have been originally a mistaken translation of the French la mort. Shakspeare has it in King Richard II. :—
This and much more, much more than twice all this,
Act iii. Sc. I.
And again in King Henry V., Act iv. Sc. 1, 'Where they feared the death, they have borne life away.' The usage is a curious one. (See Appendix, p. 360.)
2. The use of the Indefinite Article prefixed to plural substantives, especially nouns of number, is also one which admits of similar illustration. In S. Luke ix. 28, we read, 'It came to pass about an eight days after these sayings.' The questionable expression 'an eight days' has been retained from Tyndale's translation in 1534. In like manner we find in the Apocryphal Book, 1 Macc. iv. 15, 'There were slain of them upon a three thousand men.' The same use of the indefinite article is to be met with more than once in Shakspeare. Thus in King Richard III., Act iii. Sc. 7, Buckingham describes Lady Grey, afterwards married to King Edward IV., as
A care-crazed mother to a many sons.
See also Merchant of Venice, Act iii. Sc. 5, a many fools;' and King Henry V., Act iv. Sc. 3, 'a many of our bodies.'
3. To pass on from the Article to the Noun. I am not aware that our translators of the Bible afford any example of an anomaly, or, to speak more plainly, a
false concord, not unfrequent in Shakspeare,* whereby plural substantives are constructed as if singular, and vice versa, except in the cases of means,' 'alms,' and 'news' the first of which, perhaps on account of the biblical authority in its favour, is so employed to the present day. We certify the king,' write the adversaries of the Jews in the Book of Ezra, iv. 16, 'that if this city be builded again . . . by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.' Johnson, under the word 'mean,' remarks, 'It is often used in the plural, and by some not very grammatically with an adjective singular, as by this means. So, too, Shakspeare and the Bible use 'alms' indifferently both as singular and plural. In like manner the two nouns of similar meaning, 'tidings' and 'news,' are used by our Poet as of both numbers. Thus we find in him, 'It is a tidings,' and this tidings,' as well as 'these tidings;' also, This news,' and' These news;' and even in the same passage, 'The news was told,' and he that brought them;' 1 King Henry IV., Act these news,' 1 Kings
i. Sc. I.
Prov. xxv. 25; but
'tidings' occurs only as plural, e.g., these glad tidings,' Luke i. 19.†
4. The formation of our genitive case, originally by the addition of the syllable 'is,' as 'God is grace,'
* As our remedies . . lies' in Romeo and Juliet, ii. 3; urges,' in King Lear, v. 3; scope.. allow,' in Hamlet, i. 2. See the critics upon Cymbeline, ii. 3.-Varior. Ed., Vol. xiii. p. 70 sq.
+ Onriches,' as sing., see Appendix, p. 360.
afterwards shortened into the letter 's' with an apostrophe, as God's grace,' has led to a corruption with which our printers seem most unwilling to part—I mean the transformation of 'is' into 'his.' Thus in Gen. xvii. title, Abram his name' and 'Sarah her name;' Deut. x. title, 'Moses his suit;' S. Mark v. title, 'Jairus his daughter,' Ibid. x. title, 'Bartimæus. his sight. And it is a curious instance of the arbitrariness or incomplete accuracy which is apt to prevail in such matters, that while these three examples (and perhaps others) of the corruption in question are allowed still to remain in our Bible, two other examples which Bishop Lowth pointed out, viz., 'Asa his heart,' 1 Kings xv. 14, and Mordecai his matters,' Esth. iii. 4, have been set right. The same usage occurs at the end of the Prayer for all conditions of men in the Prayer Book ;- and this we beg for Jesus Christ His sake.' In the Variorum Shakspeare I have noticed six examples; all, except one, after words ending in s three in King Henry VI., 1st Part, one in King Henry V., and one in Troilus and Cressida. It is not a little remarkable that so great a master of the English language as Addison, and at a date so late as 1711, should have been under the impression that 'his' in these cases is correct, and intended to represent the pronoun. See Spectator, No. 135. If this were so, how could we account for our genitives plural, as 'children's bread,' and genitives singular of females. or feminine
names, as 'Persia's king?' See Lowth's Grammar, p. 42, note; who further observes that 'the direct derivation of this case from the Saxon genitive is sufficient of itself to decide the matter.' In one of the three examples in King Henry VI., Bowdler has very improperly altered the text 'France his sword' into France's sword,' not considering, probably, that France is there to be understood not of the country, but of the French king. to be made in one instance, it should be made in all. (See Appendix, p. 361.)
Besides, if the alteration is
5. Proceeding to the Pronouns, I notice first the elliptic use, still common in many phrases, of the dative case of the personal pronouns; e.g., 'me,' ' us,' instead of for me,' 'for us.' Thus in 2 Sam. xix. 26, 'I will saddle me an ass,' i.e., for myself; where the idiom in question represents the force of the middle. verb in Greek. So also in Deut. x. I. 'Make thee an ark;' in Josh. xxii. 26, 'Let us now prepare to build us an altar;' and ibid. 16, 'Ye have builded an altar; in Judges vi. 2, The children of Israel
made them the dens which are in the mountains.'
Go with me to a notary; seal me there
Act i. Sc. 3.
And Pandulf, in King John, Act iii. Sc. 4, 'John lays you plots.'* But our poet has examples of the idiom still more peculiar. Thus Shylock again in the speech quoted below, p. 65 :—
The skilful shepherd peeled me certain wands.
The ambiguity to which such a manner of speaking may give rise, has been taken advantage of in the humorous scene between Petruchio and his servant Grumio at the door of Hortensio, in Taming of the Shrew:
Petruchio. Here, sirrah Grumio; knock, I say.
has rebused your worship?
Petruchio. Villain, I say, knock me here soundly.
Is there any man
Grumio. Knock you here, sir? Why, what am I, sir, that I should knock you here, sir?
Petruchio. Villain, I say, knock me at this gate, And rap me well, or I'll knock your knave's pate.
Act i. Sc. 2.
6. Formerly 'it,' the neuter pronoun of the third person, besides borrowing the form 'thereof' to supply the possessive case, was indebted for its declension to the pronouns masculine and feminine of the same person, and instead of its,† his and hers were used
* See the elegant volume upon Shakspeare and his Birthplace, by Mr. Wise, who gives other instances, and speaks of it as an idiom still current in Warwickshire, p. 112 sq.
† Dean Alford, in his Plea for the Queen's English, informs us that 'its' never occurs in the English version of the Bible (but see Levit. xxv. 5), and that it is said only to occur three times in Shakspeare; but it occurs ten times. See Bible Word Book.