Page images
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Gaunt on a couch ; the DUKE OF York, and others standing by him.

Gaunt. Will the king come? that I may breathe my last

In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth.
York. Vex not yourself, nor strive not with your breath ;

For all in vain comes counsel to his ear.
GAUNT. O, but they say, the tongues of dying men

Enforce attention, like deep harmony:
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain ;
For they breathe truth, that breathe their words in pain.
He, that no more must say, is listen'd more

Than they whom youth and ease have taught to glose;
More are men's ends mark'd, than their lives before;

The setting sun, and music at the close,

(As the last taste of sweets is sweetest,) last,
Writ in remembrance, more than things long pasta;

Though Richard my life's counsel would not hear,

My death's sad tale may yet undeaf his ear.
YORK. No; it is stopp'd with other flattering sounds,

As praises of his state: then, there are found
Lascivious metres ; to whose venom sound
The open ear of youth doth always listen:
Report of fashions in proud Italy;
Whose manners still our tardy apish nation
Limps after in base imitation.
Where doth the world thrust forth a vanity,
(So it be new, there's no respect how vile,)
That is not quickly buzz'd into his ears ?
Then all too late comes counsel to be heard,
Where will doth mutiny with wit's regard.
Direct not him, whose way himself will choose;

'T is breath thou lack'st, and that breath wilt thou lose. GAUNT. Methinks I am a prophet new inspir'd;

And thus, expiring, do foretell of him:
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last;
For violent fires soon burn out themselves ;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short;
He tires betimes, that spurs too fast betimes;
With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder:
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise ;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war;
The ordinary reading of this passage is as follows:-

“ The setting sun, and music at the close,

As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last;

Writ in remembrance more than things long past." We have adopted the change in the punctuation which was suggested by Monck Mason; by which slight alteration the word last, at the end of the second line, is read as a verb, of which the sun and music form the nominative case.

All the ancient copies read infection. In ‘England's Parnassus' (1600), where the passage is quoted, we read intestion. Farmer suggested the substitution of infestion, which Malone has adopted. Infestion is taken, by Malone, to be an aðbreviation of infestation, in the same way that, in Bishop Hall, acception is used for acceptation. Infestation appears to have designated those violent incursions of an enemy, those annoying, joy-depriving (infestus) ravages—to which an unprotected frontier is peculiarly exposed; and from which the sea," as a moat defensive to a house," shut out “this scepter'd isle." Still, infection, being a word of which there can be no doubt of the meaning, is to be preferred, if we can be content to receive the idea in a limited sense--that the sea in some sort kept out pestilence, though not absolutely.

This happy breed of men, this little world ;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands ;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This purse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous for their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
(For Christian service, and true chivalry,)
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's son:
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas'd out, (I die pronouncing it)
Like to a tenement, or pelting a farm :
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky sbore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds;
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself :
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

Enter King RICHARD and QUEEN; AUMERLE, Busey, GREEN, Bagot,


YORK. The king is come: deal mildly with his youth ;

For young hot colts, being rag'd, do rage the more.
QUEEN. How fares our noble uncle, Lancaster?
K. Rich. What comfort, man? How is 't with aged Gaunt?
GAUNT. O, how that name befits my composition!

Old Gaunt, indeed; and gaunt in being old :
Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
And who abstains from meat, that is not gaunt ?
For sleeping England long time have I watch'd ;
Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt:

Pelting. Whatever doubts there may be as to the origin of this word, its application is perfectly clear. It invariably means something petty-of little worth. The " pelting farm" in this passage, and “the poor pelting villages" of Lear, would leave no doubt as to its use. In 'Measure for Measure' we have,

« Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet,
For every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder.”

The pleasure that some fathers feed upon
Is my strict fast,—I mean my children's looks ;
And, therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt;
Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave,

Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones.
K. Rich. Can sick men play so nicely with their names ?
GAUNT. No, misery makes sport to mock itself:

Since thou dost seek to kill my name in me,

I mock my name, great king, to flatter thee.
K. RICH. Should dying men flatter with those that live?
GAUNT. No, no; men living flatter those that die.
K. Rich. Thou, now a-dying, say'st thou flatterest me.
GAUNT. Oh! no; thou diest, though I the sicker be.
K. RICH. I am in health, I breathe, and see thee ill.
GAUNT. Now, He that made me knows I see thee ill;

Ill in myself to see, and in thee seeing ill.
Thy death-bed is no lesser than the land
Wherein thou liest in reputation sick:
And thou, too careless patient as thou art,
Committ'st thy anointed body to the cure
Of those physicians that first wounded thee.
A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown,
Whose compass is no bigger than thy head;
And yet, incaged in so small a verge,
The waste is no whit lesser than thy land.
O, had thy grandsire, with a prophet's eye,
Seen how his son's son should destroy his sons,
From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame,
Deposing thee before thou wert possess'd,
Which art possess'da now to depose thyself.
Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world,
It were a shame to let this land by lease :
But, for thy world, enjoying but this land,
Is it not more than shame to shame it so?
Landlord of England art thou, and not kingb:
Thy state of law is bondslave to the law;

K. RICH. And thou a lunatic lean-witted fool,

Presuming on an ague's privilege,

Possess'd. The second possess'd in this sentence is used in the same way in which Maria speaks of Malvolio, in 'Twelfth Night:'_“He is, sure, possessed, madam."

This is the reading of the folio of 1623. . So the folio. The first quarto reads thus:4 Gaunt. And thou

- a lunatic lean-witted fool.”

K. Ri

Dar'st with thy frozen admonition
Make pale our cheek; chasing the royal blood,
With fury, from his native residence.
Now by my seat's right royal majesty;
Wert thou not brother to great Edward's son,
This tongue, that runs so roundly in thy head,

Should run thy head from thy unreverend shoulders.
Gaust. O, spare me not, my brother Edward's son,

For that I was his father Edward's son;
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapp'd out, and drunkenly carous'd :
My brother Gloster, plain well-meaning soul,
(Wþom fair befal in heaven 'mongst happy souls !)
May be a precedent and witness good,
That thou respect'st not spilling Edward's blood :
Join with the present sickness that I have;
And thy unkindness be like crooked age,
To crop at once a too-long wither'd flower.
Live iu thy shame, but die not shame with thee ! -
These words hereafter thy tormentors be!
Convey me to my bed, then to my grave :
Love they to live, that love and honour have.

[Exit, borne out by his Attendants. K. Rich. And let them die, that age and sullens have;

For both hast thou, and both become the grave.
YORK. I do beseech your majesty, impute his words

To wayward sickliness and age in him:
He loves you, on my life, and holds you dear

As Harry duke of Hereford, were he here.
K. Rich. Right; you say true : as Hereford's love, so his :

As theirs, so mine; and all be as it is.


NORTH. My liege, old Gaunt commends him to your majesty.
K. Rich. What says he ?

Nay, nothing; all is said :
His tongue is now a stringless instrument;

Words, life, and all, old Lancaster bath spent. YORK. Be York the next that must be bankrupt so!

Though death be poor, it ends a mortal woe.

Crooked age. It has been suggested that age here means T'ime; and that crooked age is not bendling age, but Time armed with a crook, by which name a sickle was anciently called. The na. tural meaning of the passage seems to be, like bent old age, which crops the flower of life.

« PreviousContinue »