‘Most busy-less when I do it,’
and his supposed emendation
has ever since been taken as the
text; even Capell adopted it. I am happy in having Mr. Amyot’s
concurrence in this restoration.”
Mr. Knight adopts Theobald’s reading, and Mr. Dyce approves it in the following words:—
“When Theobald made the emendation, ‘Most busy-less,’ he observed that ’the corruption was so very little removed from the truth of the text, that he could not afford to think well of his own sagacity for having discovered it.’ The correction is, indeed, so obvious that we may well wonder that it had escaped his predecessors; but we must wonder ten times more that one of his successors, in a blind reverence for the old copy, should re-vitiate the text, and defend a corruption which outrages language, taste, and common sense.”
Although at an earlier period of life I too adopted Theobald’s supposed emendation, it never satisfied me. I have my doubts whether the word busyless existed in the poet’s time; and if it did, whether he could possibly have used it here. Now it is clear that labours is a misprint for labour; else, to what does “when I do it” refer? Busy lest is only a typographical error for busyest: the double superlative was commonly used, being considered as more emphatic, by the poet and his contemporaries.
Thus in Hamlet’s letter, Act ii. Sc. 2.:
“I love thee best, O most best.”
and in King Lear, Act ii. Sc. 3.:
“To take the basest and most poorest shape.”
The passage will then stand thus:—
“But these sweet thoughts, do even
refresh my labour,
Most busiest when I do it.”
The sense will be perhaps more evident by a mere transposition, preserving every word:
“But these sweet thoughts, most
busiest when I do
My labour, do even refresh it.”
Here we have a clear sense, devoid of all ambiguity, and confirmed by what precedes; that his labours are made pleasures, being beguiled by these sweet thoughts of his mistress, which are busiest when he labours, because it excites in his mind the memory of her “weeping to see him work.” The correction has also the recommendation of being effected in so simple a manner as by merely taking away two superfluous letters. I trust I need say no more; secure of the approbation of those who (to use the words of an esteemed friend on another occasion) feel “that making an opaque spot in a great work transparent is not a labour to be scorned, and that there is a pleasant sympathy between the critic and bard—dead though he be—on such occasions, which is an ample reward.”
Mickleham, Aug 30. 1850.
* * * * *
PUNISHMENT OF DEATH BY BURNING.