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I did commend your highness' letters to them, ". Ere I was risen from the place that show'd My duty kneeling, came there a reeking post, Stew'd in his haste, half breathless, panting forth From Goneril his misress, salutations; Deliver'd letters, spite of intermission, Which presently they read : on whose contents, They summon'd up their meiny,2 straight took horse; Commanded me to follow, and attend
i Deliver'd letters, spite of intermission,] Intermission, for another message, which they had then before them, to consider of; called intermission, because it came between their leisure and the Steward's message. Warburton.
Spite of intermission is without pause, without suffering time to intervene. So, in Macbeth:
“ gentle heaven,
“ Cut short all intermission,” &c. Steevens. Spite of intermission, perhaps means in spite of, or without regard. ing, that message which intervened, and which was entitled to precedent attention.
Spite of intermission, however, may mean, in spite of being obliged to pause and take breath, after having panted forth the salutation from his mistress. In Cawdrey's Alphabetical Table of hard Words, 1604, intermission is defined, "foreslowing, a pawsing or breaking off.”
2 They summon'd up their meiny,] Meiny, i. e. people. Pope.
“ if she, or her sad meiny,
“ Be towards sleep, I'll wake them.” Again, in the bl. 1. romance of Syr Eglamoure of Artoys, no date :
“ Of the emperoure took he leave ywys,
“ And of all the meiny that was there.” Again:
“ Here cometh the king of Israel,
“ With a fayre meinye.” Steevens. So, in Lambard's Archeion, 1635, p. 2: --whilest all the world consisted of a few householders, the elder (or father of the family) 'exercised authoritie over his meyney.” Reed.
Though the word meiny be now obsolete, the word menial, which is derived from it, is still in use. On whose contents, means the contents of which. M. Mason.
Menial is by some derived from servants being intra mania, or domesticks An etymology favoured by the Roman termination of the word. Many, in Kent's sense, for train or retinue, was used so late as Dryden's time: “ The many rend the skies with loud applause."
Ode on Alexander's Feast. H. White.
The leisure of their answer; gave me cold looks:
Do make their children blind;
Shall see their children kind.
Ne'er turns the key to the poor.But, for all this, thou shalt have as many dolours5 for thy daughters, as thou can'st tell in a year.
Lear. O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
3 Having more man than wit about me, drew;] The personal pronoun, which is found in the preceding line, is understood before the word having. The same licence is taken by our poet in other places. See Act IV, sc. ïi : “ — and amongst them felld him dead;" where they is understood. So, in Vol. XI, p. 224:
" which if granted,
• Have put his knife into him.” where he is understood before would. See also Hamlet, Act II, sc. ii: " -- whereat griev'd, -sends out arrests.”—The modern editors, following Sir Thomas Hanmer, read-1 drew. Malone.
4 Winter 's not gone yet, &c.] If this be their behaviour, the king's troubles are not yet at an end. Johnson.
This speech is omitted in the quartos. Steevens. 5- dolours – ] Quibble intended between dolours and dollars.
Hanmer. The same quibble had occurred in The Tempest, and in Measure for Measure. Steevens.
6 for thy daughters,] i. e. on account of thy daughters' ingratitude. In the first part of the sentence dolours is understood in its true sense ; in the latter part it is taken for dollars. The modern editors have adopted an alteration made by Mr. Theobald,—from instead of for; and following the second folio, read--thy dear daughters.
Malone. 70, how this mother &c.] Lear here affects to pass off the swelling of his heart ready to burst with grief and indignation, for the dis
Hysterica passio! down, thou climbing sorrow,
Kent. With the earl, sir, here within.
Follow me not; Stay here.
[Exit. Gent. Made you no more offence than what you speak
of? Kent. None. How chance the king comes with so small a train ?
Fool. An thou hadst been set i’ the stocks for that question, thou hadst well deserved it.
Kent. Why, fool?
ease called the Mother, or Hysterica Passio, which, in our author's time, was not thought peculiar to women only. In Harsnet's Decla. ration of Popish Impostures, Richard Mainy, Gent. one of the pretended demoniacks, deposes, p. 263, that the first night that he came to Denham, the seat of Mr. Peckham, where these impostures were managed, he was somewhat evill at ease, and he grew worse and worse with an old disease that he had, and which the priests persuaded him was from the possession of the devil, viz. “ The disease, I spake of was a spice of the Mother, wherewith I had bene troubled ... before my going into Fraunce: whether I doe rightly term it the Mother or no, I knowe not ... When I was sicke of this disease in Fraunce, a Scottish doctor of physick then in Paris, called it, as I remember, Vertiginem Capitis. It riseth .... of a winde in the bot. tome of the belly, and proceeding with a great swelling, causeth a very painfull collicke in the stomack, and an extraordinary giddiness in the head.”
It is at least very probable, that Shakspeare would not have thought of making Lear affect to have the Hysterick Passion, or Muther, if this passage in Harsnet's pamphlet had not suggested it to him, when he was selecting the other particulars from it, in order to furnish out his character of Toon of Bedlam, to whom this demoniacal gibberish is admirably adapted. Percy.
In p. 25 of the above pamphlet it is said “ Ma: Maynie had a spice of the Hysterica passio, as seems, from his youth, he himselfe termes it the Moother.” Ritson.
8 We'll set thee to school to an ant, &c.] “ Go to the ant, thou sluggard, (says Solomon) learn her ways, and be wise ; which having no guide, over-seer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
By this allusion more is meant than is expressed. If, says the Fool, you had been schooled by the ant, you would have known that the king's train, like that sagacious animal, prefer the summer of prosperity to the colder season of adversity, from which no profit can be derived; and desert him, whose “ mellow hangings's hare been
there's no labouring in the winter. All that follow their noses are led by their eyes, but blind men ; and there's not a nose among twenty, but can smell him that's stinking.9 Let go thy hold, when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following it; but the great one that goes up the hill, let him draw thee after. When a wise man gives theel better counsel, give me mine again: I would have none but knaves follow it, since a fool gives it.
That, sir, which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
And leave thee in the storm.
shiaken down, and who by “one winter's brush” has been left "open and bare for every storm that blows." Malone.
9 All that follow their noses are led by their eyes, but blind men; and there's not a nose among twenty, but can smell him that 's stinking. 1
The word twenty refers to the noses of the blind men, and not to the men in general. Steevens.
Mr. M. Mason supposes we should read sinking. What the Fool, says he, wants to describe is, the sagacity of mankind, in finding out the man whose fortunes are declining. Reed.
Stinking is the true reading. See a passage from All's Well that Ends Well, which I had quoted, before I was aware that it had likewise been selected by Mr. Malone, for the same purpose of illustration, in the following note. Mr. M. Mason's conjecture, however, may be countenanced by a passage in Antony and Cleopatra:
« Our fortune on the sea is out of breath,
" And sinks most lamentably.” Steevens. Mankind, says the Fool, may be divided into those who can see and those who are blind. All men, but blind men, though they fol. low their noses, are led by their eyes; and this class of mankind, seeing the king ruined, have all deserted him: with respect to the other class, the blind, who have nothing but their noses to guide them, they also fly equally from a king whose fortunes are declining; for of the noses of twenty blind men there is not one but can smell him, who “heing muddy'd in fortune's mood, smells somewhat strongly of her displeasure.” You need not therefore be surprized at Lear's coming with so small a train.
The quartos read-among a hundred. Malone.
1 When a wise man gives thee &c.] One cannot too much commend the caution which our moral poet uses, on all occasions, to prevent his sentiment from being perversely taken. So here, having given an ironical precept in commendation of perfidy and base desertion of the unfortunate, for fear it should be understood seriously, though delivered by his buffoon or jester, he has the precaution to add this beautiful corrective, full of fine sense"I would have none but knaves follow it, since a fool gives it." Warburton.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly:
The fool no knave, perdy.
Re-enter LEAR, with GLOSTER.
My dear lord,
Lear. Vengeance! plague! death! confusion !
Glo. Well, my good lord, I have inform'd them so.
2 But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let &c.] I think this passage erroneous, though both the co. pies concur. The sense will be mended if we read:
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
The knave no fool, That I stay with the king is a proof that I am a fool; the wise men are deserting him. There is knavery in this desertion, but there is no folly. Johnson.
3 Mere fetches ;] Though this line is now defective, perhaps it originally stood thus :
Mere fetches all ; -, Steevens. 4 Glo. Well, &c.] This, with the following speech, is omitted in the quartos. Steevens. 5 Are they inform’d of this?] This line is not in the quartos.