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Kent. Why, fool ?
Fool. We'll set thee to school to an ant“, to teach thee 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. Let go thy hold, when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it
. 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" have been shaken down, and who by“ one winter's brush" has been left “ open and bare for every storin that blows." Malone.
s 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.] The word twenty refers to the noses of the blind men, and not to the men in general. STEVENS.
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 th 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 follow 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 Ay 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 “being muddy'd in fortune's mood, smells somewhat strongly of her displeasure." You need not therefore be surprised at Lear's coming with so small a train. The quartos read-among a hundred. MALONB. VOL, X.
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 thee 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.
And let' the wise man fly:
The fool no knave, perdy.
Kent. Where learn'd you this, fool ?
Re-enter LEAR, with GLOSTER.
they are weary ?
6 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. 7 But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let, &c.] I think this passage erroneous, though both the copies concur. The sense will be mended if we read:
“ But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
“And let the wise man fy;
“ 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.
They have travell'd hard to-night ? Mere fetches;
My dear lord,
LEAR. Vengeance! plague! death! confusion !
so. LEAR. Inform’d them! Dost thou understand
me, man ? Glo. Ay, my good lord. LEAR. The king would speak with Cornwall ;
the dear father Would with his daughter speak, commands her ser
vice : Are they inform’d of this?? My breath and
blood !Fiery? the fiery duke ?- Tell the hot duke, that? No, but not yet:-may be, he is not well : Infirmity doth still neglect all office, Whereto our health is bound; we are not ourselves, When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind To suffer with the body : I'll forbear; And am fallen out with my more headier will,
* Quartos, What fiery quality ? 8 Mere fetches ;] Though this line is now defective, perhaps it originally stood thus :
“Mere fetches all " Steevens. 9 Glo. Well, &c.] This, with the following speech, is omitted in the quartos. STEEVENS. * Are they inform’d of this ?] This line is not in the quartos.
MALONE. ? - Tell the hot duke, that -] The quartos read-Tell the hot duke, that Lear- Steevens.
To take the indispos'd and sickly fit
[Looking on Kent.
3- This act persuades me,] As the measure is here defective, perhaps our author wrote:
" This act almost persuades me-," STEEVENS. 4 —this REMOTION-] From their own house to that of the Earl of Gloster. Malone...
s Is Practice only.] Practice is, in Shakspeare, and other old writers, used commonly in an ill sense for unlawful artifice.
Johnson. 6 Till it cry-SLEEP TO DEATH.] This, as it stands, appears to be a mere nonsensical rhapsody. Perhaps we should read-Death to sleep, instead of Sleep to death. M. Mason.
The meaning of this passage seems to be I'll beat the drum till it cries out-Let them awake no more ;-Let their present sleep be their last. Somewhat similar occurs in Troilus and Cressida :
“- the death tokens of it
“ Cry-No recovery." The sentiment of Lear does not, therefore, in my opinion, deserve the censure bestowed on it by Mr. M. Mason, but is, to the full, as defensible as many other bursts of dramatick passion.
STEEVENS. 7 — the cockNEY —] It is not easy to determine the exact power of this term of contempt, which, as the editor of The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer observes, might have been originally borrowed from the kitchen. From the ancient ballad of The Turnament of Tottenham, published by Dr. Percy, in his second volume of Ancient Poetry, p. 24, it should seem to signify a cook :
the eels, when she put them i' the paste & alive; she rapp'd 'em' o' the coxcombs with a stick, and
“ At that feast were they served in rich array;
“ Every five and five had a cokeney." i. e. a cook, or scullion, to attend them.
Shakspeare, however, in Twelfth-Night, makes his Clown say “I am afraid this great lubber the world, will prove a cockney." In this place it seems to have a signification not unlike that which it bears at present; and, indeed, Chaucer, in his Reve's Tale, ver. 4205, appears to enploy it with such a meaning :
“And when this jape is tald another day,
" I shall be halden a daffe or a cokenay.” Meres, likewise, in the Second part of his Wit's Commonwealth, 1568, observes, that “many cockney and wanton women are often sick, but in faith they cannot tell where." Decker, also, in his Newes from Hell, &c. 1606, has the following passage : “ 'Tis not their fault, but our mother's, our cockering mothers, who for their labour made us to be called cockneys." See the notes on the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, vol. iv. p. 253, where the reader will meet with more information on this subject.
STEEVENS. Cockenay, as Dr. Percy inagines, cannot be a cook or scullion, but is some dish which I am unable to ascertain. My authority is the following epigram from Davies :
“ He that comes every day, shall have a cock-nay,
WHALLEY. Mr. Malone expresses his doubt whether cockney means a scullion, &c. in The Turnament of Tottenham; and to the lines already quoted from J. Davies's Scourge of Folly, adds the two next :
“ But cocks that to hens come but now and then,
“ Shall have a cock-nay, not the fat hen.” I have been lately informed, by an old lady, that during her childhood, she remembers having eaten a kind of sugar pellets called at that time cockneys. STEEVENS.
8 – the efls, when she put them i' THE PASTE -] Hinting that the eel and Lear are in the same danger. Johnson.
The Fool does not compare Lear himself to the eels, but his rising choler. M. Mason.
This reference is not sufficiently explained. The paste, or crust of a pie, in Shakspeare's time, was called a coffin. Henley.
9-she RAPP'D 'em -) So the quartos. The folio reads she knapt 'em. MALONE.