페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

Hardly a page or two of any good edition, when carefully read, but will

furnish an example. Thus :-—

"When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it shines."-Hamlet, I. I.

"Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportioned thought his act.”—Ibid. I. 3.
"The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;

But, if that flower with base infection meet,

The basest weed outbraves his dignity."-Sonnet xciv.

"Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;

For it no form delivers to the heart

Of bird, of flower, or shape, which it doth latch :

Of his quick objects hath the mind no part

Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch."-Sonnet cxiii. "Since nature cannot choose his origin."-Hamlet, I. 4.

There are also instances in Shakespeare of her where we should now use its, though these are rarer, and in some of them one may detect a tinge of that personifying mode of thought which might suggest her now in similar cases: e.g.

"Let virtue be as wax,

And melt in her own fire."-Hamlet, iii. 4.

"For holy offices I have a time; a time
To think upon the part of business which

I bear i' the state; and nature does require

Her times of preservation."-Henry VIII., iii. 2.

Some instances of its have been produced, I believe, from Bacon; and it has been found in Sylvester's Du Bartas (1605), and not unfrequently in Ben Jonson, and the dramatists and other popular writers of the reigns of James and Charles I. I have myself come upon it easily enough in the prose and verse of Drummond of Hawthornden between 1616 and 1630, sometimes in cases where a contemporary southern writer would pretty surely have used his; I have, on the whole, an impression that the northern writers and speakers of that time used it more frequently than the southern; but, as I have found it in the title of a London book of 1651 in so emphatic a form as this, "England's Deliverance from the Northern Presbyter compared with itt's deliverance from the Roman Papacy," and as I have also found it apparently quite at home in Sir Henry Vane's mystical treatise "The Retired Man's Meditations," published in 1655, and in other writings of that date, I cannot doubt that the word was quite an acceptable one in London in the middle of the seventeenth century.

VOL. I.

f

The exact position of the word in England in the beginning of Charles's reign is perhaps best indicated in Butler's English Grammar of 1633. There it distinctly figures as a recognised word; for Butler, in his table of the Possessives of the three Personal Pronouns, at p. 40, gives them, in due form, thus :-(1) Sing. MY, Plur. OUR; (2) Sing. THY, Plur. YOUR; (3) Sing. HIS, HER, ITS, Plur. THEIR. Yet the reader is staggered by Butler's own practice in the pages of this very Grammar. Thus, speaking of the letter W, he writes, "W hath taken his name, not of his force, as other letters, but of his shape, which consisteth of two U's." Again he writes, "A vowel hath a perfect sound, without the help of another letter: and therefore his only force or sound is his name." So one of his sections is headed "Of a Verb: 1, Of His Cases and other Accidents." I have indeed met in his Grammar the phrase "What an eas and certainti it woolde bee, both to the readers and writers, that every letter were content with its own sound;" and there may be other such examples: but certainly his came more naturally to him than its.

What of Milton? By diligent search one may come, here and there, on an its in his prose-writings; but that even in his prose he disliked and avoided the form seems proved by such passages as the following in his Elementary Latin Grammar entitled Accedence Commenc't Grammar (published in 1669, though doubtless written long before) :-"The "Superlative exceedeth his Positive in the highest degree, as duris66 simus, hardest ; and it is formed of the first case of his Positive that "ends in is, by putting thereto simus"; "There be three Concords or Agreements: The first is of the Adjective with his Substantive; The "Second is of the Verb with his Nominative Case; The Third is of "the Relative with his Antecedent." Here, it will be observed, Milton exactly conforms to Butler in 1633, or is even more resolute for the use of his as a true neuter possessive than Butler had been. Let us pass, however, from Milton's prose to his poetry.

66

In Milton's poetry, I believe, it has been definitely ascertained, he uses the word its only three times, viz. Od. Nat. 106, Par. Lost, I. 254, and Par. Lost, IV. 813. Here are those three memorable passages :

"Nature that heard such sound

Beneath the hollow round

Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,

Now was almost won

To think her part was don,

And that her raign had here its last fulfilling ;

She knew such harmony alone

Could hold all Heav'n and Earth in happier union."-Od. Nat. 101-108.

"Hail horrours, hail

Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell

Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings

A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."-Par. Lost, I. 250—255.

[blocks in formation]

Three times, therefore, in his whole life did Milton use the word its in his poetry-once about Christmas-day 1629, when he was one-andtwenty years of age; and twice between 1658 and 1665, when he was between his fiftieth year and his fifty-seventh. If the passages are studied, it will be seen that there was a certain necessity for using its in each case. Her in the first passage would have been ambiguous between "Nature" and "reign;" and, though his might have passed, hardly well. In the second passage his would have been ambiguous between the speaker, Satan, and "mind"; and, though her might have passed, it would have been with a loss of the emphasis implied in its. In the third passage, his would again have been ambiguous between the person, Satan, and the abstract noun "falsehood"; and, though her might have passed, it would have personified "falsehood" rather incongruously with the occasion-which is Satan's return to his own shape, not a feminine one, at the touch of Ithuriel's spear.-The only wonder is that a similar stress of meaning and context did not oblige Milton to write or dictate its much more frequently.

How does he get on without it? Marvellously well. In the first place, the very idea or peculiar mental turn or act involved in the word its or its equivalents (of it, thereof, &c.) was somehow far rarer in the writing of Milton's time than it is in writing now. Mr. Craik's remark

on this subject is both true and acute. "The most curious thing of all in the history of the word its," he says, "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." What Mr. Craik here says of Shakespeare is true of Milton. Perhaps it is even truer of Milton. That he was much more chary of the use of the word its than Shakespeare had been appears from the fact that, though Shakespeare had used the word ten times before 1616, Milton in his literary life, stretching from 1625 to 1674, used it in his poetry but three times. But even of the substitutes or equivalents he is charier than Shakespeare. The odd possessive form it, found in Shakespeare fifteen times, is not found in Milton's poetry once. The word thereof, if Todd's verbal index is to be trusted, occurs but seven times, all in Paradise Lost. In not one of these occurrences, however, does the word stand for our possessive its, but only for "of it" in a different sense from its; and indeed six of them are mere quotations

[ocr errors]

of the Scripture text, "In the day that thou eatest thereof." In short, for the expression of our conception its in a single word, when he did want to express it, Milton confined himself, even more strictly than Shakespeare, to the alternative of his or her.

On the whole, her seems to have been Milton's favourite. Here are a few examples :

[blocks in formation]

Wants not her hidden lustre, Gemms and Gold.”—P. L., II. 271.
"If I that Region lost,

All usurpation thence expell'd, reduce

To her original darkness."-P. L., II. 984.

But, though Milton uses her for our its (sometimes with an approach to personification, but not always) in cases where Shakespeare would have used his, Mr. Craik is wrong, I think, in saying that his personifications by his are rare, and still more wrong in saying he "never uses his in a neuter sense. Surely, the grammatical terms Superlative, Adjective, Verb, and Relative, are neuter enough; and yet to each of these, as we have seen, Milton fits the word his. But take a few examples from his poetry :

:

"The Thunder,

Wing'd with red Lightning and impetuous rage,
Perhaps hath spent his shafts.”—P. L., I. 176.
"Southward through Eden went a River large,
Nor chang'd his course."-P. L., IV. 224.
"the neather Flood,

Which from his darksom passage now appeers."—Ibid. 232.
"There stood a Hill not far whose griesly top
Belch'd fire and rowling smoak; the rest entire
Shon with a glossie scurff, undoubted sign
That in his womb was hid metallic Ore,
The work of Sulphur."-P. L., I. 673.

"It was a Mountain at whose verdant feet

A spatious plain outstretch't in circuit wide

Lay pleasant; from his side two rivers flow'd."—P. R., "Error by his own arms is best evinc't."-P. R., IV. 235.

III. 255.

Here is a passage in which his and her, both in a neuter sense, are companions:

"O that torment should not be confin'd

To the bodies wounds and sores

With maladies innumerable

In heart, head, brest, and reins;

But must secret passage find

To th' inmost mind,

There exercise all his fierce accidents,

And on her purest spirits prey!"—S.A. 612, 613.

This little Essay on the history of the word Its in connexion with Milton may be concluded with a practical application.

In the Library of the British Museum there is a copy of the tiny First (1645) edition of Milton's Minor Poems, on the blank page at the end of which some old possessor of the volume has left written, in minute handwriting, the following piece of verse. We print it in our present spelling:

"AN EPITAPH.

He whom Heaven did call away
Out of this hermitage of clay
Has left some relics in this urn
As a pledge of his return.
Meanwhile the Muses do deplore
The loss of this their paramour,
With whom he sported ere the day
Budded forth its tender ray.
And now Apollo leaves his lays,
And puts on cypress for his bays;
The sacred sisters tune their quills
Only to the blubbering rills,

And while his doom they think upon
Make their own tears their Helicon,
Leaving the two-topt mount divine
To turn votaries to his shrine.

Think not, reader, me less blest,
Sleeping in this narrow cist,
Than if my ashes did lie hid
Under some stately pyramid.
If a rich tomb makes happy, then
That bee was happier far than men
Who, busy in the thymy wood,
Was fettered by the golden flood,
Which from the amber-weeping tree
Distilleth down so plenteously;
For so this little wanton elf
Most gloriously enshrined itself—
A tomb whose beauty might compare
With Cleopatra's sepulchre.

In this little bed my dust
Incurtained round I here intrust,
While my more pure and nobler part
Lies entombed in every heart.

Then pass on gently, ye that mourn
Touch not this mine hollowed urn.
These ashes which do here remain
A vital tincture still retain ;

A seminal form within the deeps
Of this little chaos sleeps ;
The thread of life untwisted is

« 이전계속 »