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He had none: His fight was madness: When our actions do not, Our fears do make us traitors. Rosse.
You know not, Whether it was his wisdom, or his fear. L. MACD. Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave
his babes, His mansion, and his titles, in a place From whence himself does fly? He loves us not; He wants the natural touch: } for the poor wren, The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
. Our fears do make us traitors.] i. e. our flight is considered as an evidence of our guilt. STEEVENS.
3 — natural touch :) Natural sensibility. He is not touched with natural affection. Johnson,
So, in an ancient MS. play, intitled The Second Maiden's Tragedy:
“ How she's beguil'd in him!
STEEVENS the poor wren, &c.] The fame thought occurs in the third part of K. Henry VI:
“ 'doves will peck, in safety of their brood.
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
My dearest coz',
ther: But cruel are the times, when we are traitors, And do not know ourselves; “ when we hold rumour From what we fear, yet know not what we fear;
5 The firs o'the season.] The fits of the feafon should appear to be, from the following passage in Coriolanus, the violent disorders of the season, its convulsions :
" but that
STEEVENS. Perhaps the meaning is,--what is most fitting to be done in every conjuncture. ANONYMOUS. 6- when we are traitors,
And do not know ourselves;] i. e. we think ourselves innocent, the government thinks us traitors; therefore we are ignorant of ourselves. This is the ironical argument. The Oxford editor alters it to,
And do not know't ourselves : But sure they did know what they said, that the state esteemed them traitors. WARBURTON.
Rather, when we are considered by the state as traitors, while at the same time we are unconscious of guilt: when we appear to others so different from what we really are, that we seem not to know ourselves. MALONE. 7 when we hold rumour
From what we fear,] To hold rumour fignifies to be governed by the authority of rumour. WARBURTON.
I rather think to hold means, in this place, to believe, as we say, I hold such a thing to be true, i. e. I take it, I believe it to be jo. Thus, in K. Henry VIII:
“ Did you not of late days hear, &c.
But float upon a wild and violent sea,
[Exit Rosse. L. MACD.
Sirrah, your father's dead ; And what will you do now? How will you live?
Son. As birds do, mother.
The sense of the whole passage will then be: The times are cruel when our fears induce us to believe, or take for granted, what we hear rumoured or reported abroad; and yet at the same time, as we live under a tyra:inical government where will is substituted for law, we know not what we have to fiar, because we know not when we offend. Or: When we are led by our fears to believe every rumour of danger we hear, yet are not conscious to ourselves of any crime for which we should be disturbed with those fears. A passage like this occurs in K. John:
“ Possess’d with rumours, full of idle dreams,
“ Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear." This is the best I can make of the passage. STEVENS.
8 Each way, and move.-] Perhaps the poet wrote-And each way move. If they floated each way, it was needless to inform us that they moved. The words may have been casually transposed, and erroneously pointed. Steevens.
9 Sirrah, your father's dead;] Sirrah in our author's time was not a term of reproach, but generally used by masters to servants, parents to children, &c. So before, in this play, Macbeth says to his servant, “ Sirrah, a word with you: attend those men our pleasure?"
L. Macd. Poor bird ! thou’dst never fear the net,
nor lime, The pit-fall, nor the gin. Son. Why should I, mother? Poor birds they
are not set for. My father is not dead, for all your saying. L. MacD. Yes, he is dead; how wilt thou do for
a father? Son. Nay, how will you do for a husband ? L. Macd. Why, I can buy me twenty at any
market. Son. Then you'll buy 'em to sell again. L. MacD. Thou speak’st with all thy wit; and
Son. Was my father a traitor, mother?
L. MACD. Every one that does so, is a traitor, and must be hang’d.
Son. And must they all be hang'd, that swear and lie?
L. MACD. Every one.
Son. Then the liars and swearers are fools : for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men, and hang up them.
L. Macd. Now God help thee, poor monkey! But how wilt thou do for a father?
Son. If he were dead, you'd weep for him: if you would not, it were a good sign that I should quickly have a new father,
L. MACD. Poor prattler! how thou talk'st!
Enter a Messenger. Mess. Bless you, fair dame! I am not to you
known, Though in your state of honour I am perfect. I doubt, fome danger does approach you nearly: If you will take a homely man's advice, Be not found here ; hence, with your little ones. To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage; To do worse to you, were fell cruelty, Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve
you! I dare abide no longer, [Exit Messenger.
2 in your state of honour I am perfect.] i. e. I am per fefily acquainted with your rank of honour. So, in the old book that treateth of the Lyfe of Virgil, &c. bl. 1. no date : " which when Virgil faw, he looked in his boke of negromancy, wherein he was perfit.” Again, in The Play of the four P's, 1569:
“ Pot. Then tell me this : Are you perfit in drinking ?
STEEVENS. 3 To do worse to you, were fell cruelty,] To do worse is to let her and her children be destroyed without warning. Johnson.
Mr. Edwards explains these words differently. “ To do worse to you (says he) signifies,—to fright you more, by relating all the circumstances of your danger; which would detain you so long that you could not avoid it.” The meaning, however, may be, To do worse to you, not to disclose to you the perilous situation you are in, from a foolish apprehension of alarming you, would be fell cruelty. Or the messenger may only mean, to do more than alarm you by this disagreeable intelligence,-to do you any actual and bodily harm, were fell cruelty. MALONE.