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Thou out of heaven's benediction com'st
Approach, thou beacon to this under globe,
Peruse this letter!-Nothing almost sees miracles,5
The saw alluded to, is in Heywood's Dialogues on Proverbs, Book II. chap. v:
"In your running from him to me, ye runne
Kent was not thinking of the king's being turned out of house and home to the open weather, a misery which he has not yet experienced, but of his being likely to receive a worse reception from Regan than that which he had already experienced from his elder daughter Goneril. Hanmer therefore certainly misunderstood the passage.
A quotation from Holinshed's Chronicle, may prove the best comment on it. "This Augustine after his arrival converted the Saxons indeed from Paganisme, but, as the proverb sayth, bringing them out of Goddes blessing into the warme sunne, he also imbued them with no lesse hurtful superstition than they did know before."
See also Howell's Collection of English Proverbs, in his Dictionary, 1660: "He goes out of God's blessing to the warm sun, viz. from good to worse." MALONE.
-Nothing almost sees miracles,] Thus the folio. The quartos read-Nothing almost sees my wrack. STEEVENS.
"I know, 'tis from Cordelia; &c.] This passage, which some of the editors have degraded as spurious to the margin, and others have silently altered, I have faithfully printed according to the quarto, from which the folio differs only in punctuation. The passage is very obscure, if not corrupt. Perhaps it may be read thus:
-Cordelia has been-informed
Of my obscured course, and shall find time-
Cordelia is informed of our affairs, and when the enormous care of seeking her fortune will allow her time, she will employ it in remedying losses. This is harsh; perhaps something better
Who hath most fortunately been inform'd
may be found. I have at least supplied the genuine reading of the old copies. Enormous is unwonted, out of rule, out of the ordinary course of things. JOHNSON.
So, Holinshed, p. 647: "The maior perceiving this enormous doing," &c. STEEVENS.
and shall find time
From this enormous state,-seeking to give
Losses their remedies:] I confess I do not understand this passage, unless it may be considered as divided parts of Cordelia's letter, which he is reading to himself by moonlight: it certainly conveys the sense of what she would have said. In reading a letter, it is natural enough to dwell on those circumstances in it that promise the change in our affairs which we most wish for; and Kent having read Cordelia's assurances that she will find a time to free the injured from the enormous misrule of Regan, is willing to go to sleep with that pleasing reflection uppermost in his mind. But this is mere conjecture.
Dr. Johnson's explanation of this passage cannot be right; for although in the old ballad from whence this play is supposed to be taken, Cordelia is forced to seek her fortune, in the play itself she is Queen of France, and has no fortune to seek; but it is more difficult to discover the real meaning of this speech, than to refute his conjecture. It seems to me, that the verb, shall find, is not governed by the word Cordelia, but by the pronoun I, in the beginning of the sentence; and that the words from this enormous state, do not refer to Cordelia, but to Kent himself, dressed like a clown, and condemned to the stocks,-an enormous state indeed for a man of his high rank.
The difficulty of this passage has arisen from a mistake in all the former editors, who have printed these three lines, as if they were a quotation from Cordelia's letter, whereas they are in fact the words of Kent himself; let the reader consider them in that light, as part of Kent's own speech, the obscurity is at an end, and the meaning is clearly this: "I know that the letter is from Cordelia, (who hath been informed of my obscured course,) and shall gain time, by this strange disguise and situation, which I shall employ in seeking to remedy our present losses."
Take vantage, heavy eyes, not to behold
Notwithstanding the ingenuity and confidence of Mr. M. Mason, (who has not however done justice to his own idea,) I cannot but concur with Mr. Steevens, in ascribing these broken expressions to the letter of Cordelia. For, if the words were Kent's, there will be no intimation from the letter that can give the least insight to Cordelia's design; and the only apparent purport of it will be, to tell Kent that she knew his situation. But exclusive of this consideration, what hopes could Kent entertain, in a condition so deplorable as his, unless Cordelia should take an opportunity, from the anarchy of the kingdom, and the broils subsisting between Albany and Cornwall, of finding a time, to give losses their remedies? Curan had before mentioned to Edmund, the rumour of wars toward, between these dukes. This report had reached Cordelia, who, having also discovered the situation and fidelity of Kent, writes to inform him, that she should avail herself of the first opportunity which the enormities of the times might offer, of restoring him to her father's favour, and her father to his kingdom. [See Act III. sc. i. Act IV. sc. iii.] HENLEY.
In the old copies these words are printed in the same character as the rest of the speech. I have adhered to them, not conceiving that they form any part of Cordelia's letter, or that any part of it is or can be read by Kent. He wishes for the rising of the sun, that he may read it. I suspect that two half lines have been lost between the words state and seeking. This enormous state means, I think, the confusion subsisting in the state, in consequence of the discord which had arisen between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall; of which Kent hopes Cordelia will avail herself. He says, in a subsequent sceneThere is division, "Although as yet the face of it be cover'd
"With mutual cunning, 'twixt Albany and Cornwall." In the modern editions, after the words under globe, the following direction has been inserted: "Looking up to the moon.' Kent is surely here addressing, not the moon, but the sun, which he has mentioned in the preceding line, and for whose rising he is impatient, that he may read Cordelia's letter. He has just before said to Gloster, "Give you good morrow!" The comfortable beams of the moon, no poet, I believe, has mentioned. Those of the sun are again mentioned by Shakspeare in Timon of Athens:
"Thou sun, that comfort'st, burn!" MALONE.
This shameful lodging.
A Part of the Heath.
EDG. I heard myself proclaim'd; And, by the happy hollow of a tree, Escap'd the hunt. No port is free; no place, That guard, and most unusual vigilance, Does not attend my taking. While I may scape, I will preserve myself: and am bethought To take the basest and most poorest shape, That ever penury, in contempt of man, Brought near to beast: my face I'll grime with
filth; Blanket my loins; elf all my hair in knots;"
My reason for concurring with former editors in a supposition that the moon, not the sun, was meant by the beacon, arose from a consideration that the term, beacon, was more applicable to the moon, being, like that planet, only designed for nightservice.
As to the epithet-comfortable, it suits with either luminary; for he who is compelled to travel, or sit abroad, in the night, must surely have derived comfort from the lustre of the moon.
The mention of the sun in the preceding proverbial sentence is quite accidental, and therefore ought not, in my opinion, to have weight on the present occasion.-By what is here urged, however, I do not mean to insinuate that Mr. Malone's opinion is indefensible. STEEVENS.
elf all my hair in knots;] Hair thus knotted, was vulgarly supposed to be the work of elves and fairies in the night. So, in Romeo and Juliet:
And with presented nakedness out-face
plats the manes of horses in the night,
"Of Bedlam beggars,] Randle Holme, in his Academy of Arms and Blazon, B. III. c. 3, has the following passage descriptive of this class of vagabonds: "The Bedlam is in the same garb, with a long staff, and a cow or ox-horn by his side; but his cloathing is more fantastick and ridiculous; for, being a madman, he is madly decked and dressed all over with rubins, feathers, cuttings of cloth, and what not? to make him seem a mad-man, or one distracted, when he is no other than a dissembling knave."
In The Bell-man of London, by Decker, 5th edit. 1640, is another account of one of these characters, under the title of an Abraham-Man: " he sweares he hath been in Bedlam, and will talke frantickely of purpose: you see pinnes stuck in sundry places of his naked flesh, especially in his armes, which paine he gladly puts himselfe to, only to make you believe he is out of his wits. He calls himselfe by the name of Poore Tom, and comming near any body cries out, Poor Tom is a-cold. Of these Abraham-men, some be exceeding merry, and doe nothing but sing songs fashioned out of their own braines: some will dance, others will doe nothing but either laugh or weepe: others are dogged, and so sullen both in loke and speech, that spying but a small company in a house, they boldly and bluntly enter, compelling the servants through feare to give them what they demand."
Again, in O per se 0, &c. Being an Addition &c. to the Bellman's Second Night-walke &c. 1612: "Crackers tyed to a dogges tayle make not the poore curre runne faster, than these Abram ninnies doe the silly villagers of the country, so that when they come to any doore a begging, nothing is denied them."
To sham Abraham, a cant term, still in use among sailors and the vulgar, may have this origin. STEEVENS.
-wooden pricks,] i. e. skewers. So, in The Wyll of the Deuill, bl. 1. no date: "I give to the butchers, &c. pricks inough to set up their thin meate, that it may appeare thicke and well fedde." STEEVENS.