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The mind I sway by, and the heart I bear,
Enter a Servant.
Sery. There is ten thousand
Soldiers, sir. Macb. Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver'd boy. What soldiers, patch?
5 Sball never sagg with doubt,] To sag, or swag, is to sink down by its own weight, or by an overload. See Junius's Etymologicon. It is common in Staffordshire to say,
a beam in a building sags, or has sagged.” Tollet. So, in the 16th Song of Drayton's Polyolbion :
“ This said, the aged Street sag'd sadly on alone.” Drayton is personifying one of the old Roman ways. Again, in The Misfortunes of Arthur, 1587 : “'The more his state and tottering empire sagges.
Steevens. Again, in Wits, Fits, and Fancies, 1595: “ He tooke exceptions to his traveller's bag, which he wore sagging down his belly before ”
loon!!] At present this word is only used in Scotland, and signifies a base fellow. So, in Mariowe's tragedy of King Edward II, 1598:
“ For shame subscribe! and let the lowne depart.” Again, in Decker's H nest Whore, second part, 1630 :
“ The sturdy beggar, and the lazy lowne."
Steevens: 7 Where gotst thou that goose look ?] So, in Coriolanus :
ye souls of geese,
lily-liver'd boy.] Chapman thus translates a passage in the 20th Iliad:
his sword that made a vent for his white liver's
blood, " That caus'd sucb pitiful effects Again, Falstaff says, in The Second Part of King Henry IV:
left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusilla. nimity and cowardice.” Steevels.
- patch?] An appellation of contempt, alluding to the pied, parche'l
, or particoloured coats ancientiy worn by the foots belonging to noble families. Steevens.
Death of thy soul! those linen cheeks of thine
Serv. The English force, so please you.
those linen cheeks of thine Are counsellors to fear.) The meaning is, they infect others who see them, with cowardice. Wurburton. In King Henry V, his Majesty says to the Conspirators
“Your cheeks are paper.” Steevens.
whey-face?] So, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, 4to. edit. 1619: “ and has as it were a whey-coloured beard."
Steevens. 3 — or disseat me now.] The old copy reads disseat, though modern editors have substituted disease in its room. The word disseat occurs in The Two Noble Kinsmen, by Fletcher and Shakspeare, scene the last, where Perithous is describing the fall of Arcite from his horse :
seeks all foul means
“ His lord that kept it bravely.” Dr. Percy would read:
“ Will chair me ever, or disseat me now.' It is still, however, possible, that disease may be the true reading. Thus, in N. Breton's Toyes of an idle Head, 1577:
6. My ladies maydes too I must please,
“But chiefely Mistress Anne,
“ Me vyly now and than.”
4 I have liv'd long enough: my way of life &c.] As there is no relation between the way of life, and fallen into the srar, I am inclined to think that the W is only an M inverted, and that it was originally written:
my May of life. I am now passed from the spring to the autumn of my days: but I am without those comforts that should succeed the sprightli. ness of bloom, and support ine in this melancholy season.
The author has May in the same sense elsewhere. Johnson.
An anonymous writer (Dr. Johnson, whose Remarks on this tragedy were originally published, without his name, in 1745,] would have it:
my May of life: But he did not consider that Macbeth is not here speaking of his rule or government, or of any sudden change; but of the
s fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf:
gradual decline of life, as appears from that line :
“ And that, which should accompany old age.” And way is used for course, progress. Warburton.
To confirm the justness of May of life for way of life, Mr. Colman quotes from Much Ado about Nothing :
“May of youth and bloom of lustyhood." And King Henry V :
My puissant liege is in the very May-morn of his
youth.” Langton. So, in Sidney's Astropbel and Stella, stanza 21 :
“ If now the May of my ears much decline." Again, in The Spanish Curate of Beaumont and Fletcher:
you met me “ With equal ardour in your May of blood.” Again, in The Sea Voyage, by the same authors;
“ And in the May of youth,” &c. Again, in The Guardian of Massinger:
“ I am in the May of my abilities,
“ And you in your December.” Again, in The Renegado of the same author:
“ Having my heat and May of youth, to plead
" In my excuse.” Again, in Claudius Tiberius Nero, 1607 :
“ Had I in this fair May of all my glory," &c. Again, in King John and Matilda, by R. Davenport, 1655: “ Thou art yet in thy green May, twenty-seven sum.
mers," &c. Steevens. I have now no doubt that Shakspeare wrote May, and not way. It is observable, in this very play, that the contrary error of the press has happened from a mistake of the same letters :
“ Hear not my steps which may they walke.” Besides, that a similarity of expression in other passages of Shakspeare, and the concinnity of the figure, both unite to support the proposed emendation. Thus, in his Sonnets :
“ Two beauteous springs to yellow autumns turn'd.” Again, in King Richard II:
"He that hath suffered this disorder'd spring,
“ Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf.” The sentiment of Macbeth I take to be this: The tender leaves of hope, the promise of my greener days, are now in my autumn, withered and fruitless : my mellow bangings are all shook down, and I am left bare to the weather. Henley.
The old reading should not have been discarded, as the fol. lowing passages prove that it was a mode of expression in use at that time, as course of life is now. In Massinger's Very Woman, the Doctor says
“ In way of life I did enjoy one friend."
And that which should accompany old age,
Again, in The New Way to pay old Debts, Lady Allworth says
“ If that when I was mistress of myself,
.“ And in my way of youth,” &c. M. Mason. Again, in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1609, Act I, sc. i:
“Thus ready for the way of life or death,
“I wait the sharpest blow?" Steevens. The meaning of this contested passage, I think, is this. I bave lived long enough. In the course or progress of life, I am arrived at that period when the body begins to decay; I have reached the autumn of my days. Those comforts which ought to accompany old age, (to compensate for the infirmities naturally attending it) I have no title to expect; but on the contrary, the curses of those I have injured, and the hollow adulation of mortified dependants. I have lived long enough. It is time for me to retire.
A passage in one of our author's Sonnets, (quoted by Mr. Steevens, in a subsequent note) may prove the best comment on the present:
" That time of year in me thou may'st behold,
" When yellow leaves or none or few do hang
“Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang." Are not these lines almost a paraphrase on the contested part of the passage before us? He who could say that you might behold the autumn in bim, would not scruple to write, that be was fallen into the autumn of his days (i. e. into that decay which always accompanies autumn); and how easy is the transition from this to saying that “ the course or progress of bis life had reached the autumnal season?” which is all that is meant by the words of the text, “ My way of life," &c.
The using “ the sear, the yellow leaf,” simply and absolutely for autumn, or rather autumnal decay, because in autumn the leaves of trees turn yellow, and begin to fall and decay, is certainly a licentious mode of expression; but it is such a license as may be found in almost every page of our author's works. It would also have been more natural for Macbeth to have said, that, in the course or progress of life, be had arrived at his autumn, than to say, that the course of his life itself had fallen into autumn or decay; but this too is much in Shakspeare's
With respect to the word fallen, which at first view seems a very singular expression, I strongly suspect that he caught it from the language of conversation, in which we at this day often say that this or that person is "fallen into a decay;" a phrase that might have been current in his time also. It is the very idea here conveyed. Macbeth is fallen into bis autumnal decline.
In King Henry VIII, the word way seems to signify, as in the present passage, course or tenour :
The way of our profession is against it.”
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
And in King Richard 11, “ the fall of leaf " is used as in the passage before us, simply and absolutely for bodily decay:
“ He who hath suffer'd this disorder'd spring,
“ Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf When a passage can be thus easily explained, and the mode of expression is so much in our poet's general manner, surely any attempt at emendation is not only unnecessary, but danger
However, as a reading which was originally proposed by Dr. Johnson, and has been adopted in the modern editions,
- my May of life,” has many favourers, I shall add a word or two on that subject.
By his “ May of life having fallen into the yellow leaf,” that is, into autumn, we must understand that Macbeth means either, that being in reality young, he is, in consequence of his cares, arrived at a premature old age;-or that he means simply to assert, that in the progress of life he has passed from May or youth to autumn or old age; in other words, that he is now an old man, or at least near being one.
If the first interpretation be maintained, it is sufficient to say, (I use the words of my friend Mr. Flood, whose ingenious comment on this passage I published some years ago) that “ Macbeth, when he speaks this speech, is not youthful. He is contemporary to Banquo, who is advanced in years, and who hath a son upon the scene able to escape the pursuit of assassins and the vigilance of Macbeth.” I may likewise add that Macbeth, having now sat for seventeen years on the throne of Scotland, cannot with any probability be supposed to be like our author's Henry V, “in the May morn of his youth.” We must there. fore understand these words in the latter sense; namely, that he means only, that in the ordinary progress he has passed from the spring to the autumn of life, from youth to the confines of age. What then is obtained by this alteration? for this is precisely the meaning of the words as they stand in the old copy.
There is still another very strong objection to the proposed emendation. It is alleged that in this very play may is printed instead of way, and why may not the contrary error have happened here? For this plain reason; because May (the month) both in manuscript and print always is exhibited with a capital letter, and it is exceedingly improbable that a compositor at the press should use a small w instead of a capital M.
But, without going further into this subject, it is sufficient for our purpose, thať the text, as it is exhibited in the ancient copy, affords an obvious, easy sense, without any emendation whatsoever. Malone
-the sear,] Sear is dry. So, in Beaumont and Fletcher's Monsieur Thomas, 1639: