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ance of such a sense of it always coming in the way to spoil or prevent any other use he might have made of it. The modern practice is the last of three distinct stages through which the language passed as to this matter in the course of less than a century. First, we have his serving for both masculine and neuter; secondly, we have his restricted to the masculine, and the neuter left with hardly any recognized form; thirdly, we have the defect of the second stage remedied by the frank adoption of the heretofore rejected its. And the most curious thing of all in the history of the word its is the extent to which, before its recognition as a word admissible in serious composition, even the occasion for its employment was avoided or eluded. This is very remarkable in Shakespeare. The very conception which we express by its probably does not occur once in his works for ten times that it is to be found in any modern writer. So that we may say the invention, or adoption, of this form has changed not only our English style, but even our manner of thinking.
The Saxon personal pronoun was, in the Nominative singular, He for the Masculine, Heó for the Feminine, and Hit for the Neuter. He we still retain ; for Heó we have substituted She, apparently a modification of Seó, the Feminine of the Demonstrative (Se, Seó, Thaet); Hit we have converted into It (though the aspirate is still often heard in the Scottish dialect). The Genitive was Hire for the Feminine (whence our modern Her), and His both for the Masculine and the Neuter. So also the modern German has ihr for the Feminine, and only one form, sein, for both the Masculine and the Neuter. But in the inflection of this single form the two genders in our ancient English were distinguished both in the Nominative and in the Accusative, whereas in German they are distinguished in the Accusative only. They are the same in the Genitive and Dative in both languages.
It is to be understood, of course, that the its, however convenient, is quite an irregular formation : the t of it (originally hit) is merely the sign of the neuter gender, * which does not enter into the inflection, leaving the natural genitive of that gender (hi, hi-s) substantially identical with that of the masculine (he, he-s, hi-s).
[Its and its are both found before the end of the 16th century, though infrequently. Spontaneamente, willingly, naturally, for its owne sake.
Florio, A Worlde of Wordes, 1598. The same writer uses it's in “ The Epistle Dedicatorie” of his translation of Montaigne's Essays, and several times in other parts of the work.
In Shakespeare (Folio, 1623) its occurs but once, in the passage from Measure for Measure, quoted by Craik. It's is found nine times. The instances not given above are the following:
Tempest, i. 2.
Tempest, i. 2.
2 Henry VI. iii. 2.
* [Some philologists - Prof. Key among the number, I believe — are disposed to consider the -t as belonging to the root.]
Each following day Became the next dayes master, till the last Made former Wonders, iťs.
Henry VIII. i. 1. It, or yt, possessive, is found in the Folio of 1623, in fourteen passages. The following are not mentioned by Craik:
But Nature should bring forth
Tempest, ii. 1. It hath it originall from much greefe;
2 Henry IV. i. 2. And all her Husbandry doth lye on heapes, Corrupting in it owne fertilitie.
Henry V. v. 2. And yet I warrant it had vpon it brow, etc.
Romeo and Juliet, i. 3.
Feeling in it selfe
Timon of Athens, v. 1.
This doth betoken
Hamlet, v. I.
Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 7. Of it owne colour too. Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 7. The Handmaides of all Women, or more truely Woman it pretty selfe.
Cymbeline, iii. 4. This possessive it is found in Udal's Erasmus, 1548, and in the form hit even earlier, as in the Anturs of Arther:
For I wille speke with the sprete,
Gif that I may hit bales bete.
White, in a note on " it's folly," etc., Winter's Tale, i. 2 (vol. v. p. 385 of his edition of the poet), says, “ It appears that the possessive pronoun its, in its consolidated form, was not known in Shakespeare's time, and the extended form it's was only just coming into use.” In vol. i. (the last volume published), Preface, p. xiii., after remarking that "no edition is worthy of confidence, or, indeed, to be called an edition, the text of which has not been compared, word by word, with that of the Folio of 1623 and the precedent Quarto copies ;” and that.“ a notice of even the slightest deviation from the text of 1623 in this edition has been deemed obligatory;" and that 66
as a guarantee of accuracy the indication of these trifling variations has its value ; ” he goes on
“ Careful literal conformity to the old text, except in its corruptions and irregularities, has, however, a greater value than this of being a guarantee of exactness. For instance, in these passages in Hamlet (the two with it possessive given above), and in this from Lear (“The hedge-sparrow,' etc.), the use of it in the possessive sense is not only a trait of the time, but, even if there were no other evidence, is enough to show that Hamlet and Lear were written before The Winter's Tale, in which we find ' iťs folly and iťs tenderness, and before Henry VIII., in the first scene of which we have, made former wonders its.' The last passage affords the earliest instance known, I believe, of the use of the neuter possessive pronoun without the apostrophe. And yet, until the appearance of the present edition of Shakespeare's works, its was given indiscriminately throughout the text of all editions."
If White's variations from the Folio of 1623 in the case of this little word its or its are to be judged by the rule which he himself lays down,* his edition is not “ worthy of confidence.” He has its in seven places where the Folio of 1623 has either it's or it (Temp. i. 2, bis; R. & 7. i. 3; A. & C. ii. 7, bis; Hen. V. y. 2; 2 Hen. VI. iii. 2), but in the passage from Henry VIII., quoted in his Preface as the earliest instance of its, he has its, which is correct. In Meas. for Meas. (i. 2), the date of which he makes ten years earlier than Henry VIII., he has its, which is also correct. As we have seen, this last is the one instance of its in the Folio. In Temp.ii. 1, also, White has its, but corrects it in the “Additional Notes” prefixed to his last (First) volume.
I hardly need add that no argument in regard to the date of the different Plays can be based upon
the occurrence of these various forms of the possessive its. We find all three in some of the earliest Plays, two different forms in the very same Play, and its in Henry VIII., which, according to White, is the latest of the Plays. The simple fact is, that Shakespeare wrote in the early part of that transitional period when its was beginning to displace his and her as the possessive of it, and that just at that time the forms it and it's were more common than its, though this last was occasionally used even before the end of the sixteenth century.
* [I do not think that they should be thus judged; and I am very sure that accidental variations from the text of 1623 are by no means so frequent in White's Shakespeare as one might infer from the examples here quoted. Nor are the notes on this word to be taken as a fair sample of the general character of White's annotations, which, with rare exceptions, deserve, I doubt not, all the commendation they have received from critics “older in practice, abler than myself to make conditions."]