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“ Let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the
face of the whole earth."
Ως αγαθον εστ' επωνυμιας πολλας εχειν.
sidered decisive on a disputed point of minute criticism, where there are neither established rules to lead to a right conclusion, nor sufficient evidence to decide positively on either side, then the opinion of the author of the “Curiosities of Literature would deserve to be placed very high in the rank of such a recognition, and carry conviction to the minds of those who had not previously adopted another theory.
The dispute on the orthography of the name of our national bard is in this position. Mr. D’Israeli’s opinion on the subject will therefore be considered by some an argument in itself.
“ While a drop of ink circulates in my pen,” exclaims the patriarch of English literature, “I shall ever loyally write the name of SHAKESPEARE.”
Mr. D'Israeli is supported in this opinion by Messrs. Collier, Dyce, and Hunter; and every one will admit that these are good authorities in any question connected with Shakespearian literature.
The authority of opinion will not, however, in the present enquiring age, be considered adequate to establish the truth of any roploua of this nature. The authority of tradition and of custom is of even inferior value, and it is perhaps better to leave their influence almost out of the scale, if we would judge correctly of the point at issue; and yet this constitutes the only evidence in support of one belief. We prefer confining ourselves to materials that are more easily determined by the usual criteria of error and truth.
Within the last two centuries the confidence which was formerly placed in the evidence of tradition has materially diminished, and in proportion as the necessity of having recourse to that method of communicating facts from age to age has decreased, so the accuracy with which that knowledge is preserved has declined. Numerous examples might be adduced in confirmation of this statement, and none would afford a more efficacious proof than the few traditional anecdotes which have been handed down to us respecting our great dramatic bard. For instance, there are very many who take for granted the alleged authenticity of Shakespeare's epitaph on Combe, the usurer; and yet a more palpable fabrication could scarcely have been committed, for the epitaph itself appeared in various collections, both before and after the time they were said to have been composed. There is every reason to believe that the epitaph in a more general form belongs to a much earlier period :-
“ Here lies ten in the hundred,
In the ground fast ramm'd ; 'Tis an hundred to ten,
But his soule is damm'd."
The epitaph said to have been written by Shakespeare is differently constructed :
“ Ten in the hundred lies here engravid,
The sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the usurer so that he never forgave it. But Combe's will is fortunately preserved in the Prerogative Office at Doctors' Commons, and affords most satisfactory proof to the contrary; for among the numerous legacies which he leaves is one " to Mr. William Shackspere, five poundes.” The following version of the tale differs from the common one, and may be partly correct; it is taken from MS. No. 38, in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford :
On John Combe a covetous rich man, Mr. Wm.
But being dead and making the poore his heiers, hee
Howere he lived, judge not.
Finis W. Shak."
The manuscript which contains this was not written long after the death of Shakespeare, and includes another anecdote respecting him, which we take the opportunity of inserting in this place :
“ Mr. Ben. Johnson and Mr. Wm. Shakespeare being merrye att a tavern, Mr. Jonson haveing begane this for his epitaph
Here lies Ben Johnson that was once one.
Who while hee lived was a sloe thinge,
We here see that Shakespeare's name is spelt in two different ways in the very same paragraph. No proof, indeed, is needed of the extreme licentiousness that was then admitted in the orthography, or rather cacography, of proper names. When Alexander Hume addressed his Treatise on Orthography (MS. Bib. Reg. 17 A. xi.) to King James, he saw “sik uncertentie in our men's wryting, as if a man wald indyte one letter to tuentie of our best wryteres, nae tuae of the tuentie without conference wald agree.' When spelling was in such a state of misrule, can the written documents of the period be fairly referred to as authorities by which we can regulate orthography at the present day?
In the literary metropolis the name of our dramatic bard was pronounced SHAKE-SPEARE. There are many evidences of this, and in many of the early editions of the plays, the name is printed with a hyphen between the two syllables. Bancroft thus alludes to him :
“ Thou hast so used thy pen, or shook thy speare;
That poets startle And we do not see that this example, which Mr. D’Israeli has given, is to be rejected, because it proceeds from a punster. One critic, indeed, says, that “ we might with as much reason contend, on the authority of a certain pictorial pun, that the new translator of Demosthenes de Corona was once my
Lord Broom ;" and we really think that, although a picture is of much inferior evidence in a question of this nature than even a pun, that this fact would afford some proof that his lordship's name was pronounced Broom. And this is what we wish to be admitted respecting the name of Shakespeare :—that by his educated contemporaries it was pronounced SHAKE-SPEARE.
“ The same surname,” says Fuller, " hath been variously altered in writing, because time teacheth new orthography ;” and we are so far from supporting the common method of spelling Shakespeare's name on account of the sanction which antiquity may give to it, that we should be quite willing to adopt the new system of writing it, provided it were not liable to cause a change in the pronunciation. The new * method of spelling it, viz. Shakspere, has this objection ; for although the alteration in the orthoepy will not necessarily produce a corresponding change in the pronunciation with those who have been accustomed to the old system; yet we cannot help thinking that there are many who receive their pronunciation from the orthography alone, and such persons will, undoubtedly, be liable to adopt the short and sharp pronunciation, if they depended upon the “ barbaric curt shock” of Shakspere. In the family documents at Stratford, the name is most frequently written Shackspere, and Shackspere's cl
• We say “ new," because Shakspere is generally considered to be an innovation only recently suggested. Such, however, is not the case, for the critics of the last century nearly exhausted the subject in question, and ultimately decided on the correctness of the old orthography. In Bell's edition of the works of Shakespeare, 1788, the odious cacography is adopted.