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ORIGINAL STORY OF KING LEAR.
The world has long been aware that Shakspeare, transcendent as were his powers both of invention and execution, contented himself in the case of nearly the whole of his plays, with adopting the plots presented to him by the historians, romancers, and dramatists of preceding days, More particularly did he adhere to truth in his historical compositions, the very words of the old chroniclers being frequently used by him, with only such alterations as were necessary to cast them into blank verse.
This fact, properly viewed, ought only to add to our estimation of the poet, indicating his consciousness that art could never excel nature, nor the human fancy conceive imaginary events and language more fit to purge the soul by pity and by terror, or more provocative of laughter, than the realities disclosed in the authentic annals of our kind.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, it is usually supposed, told for the first time the story of King Llyr and his daughters, on which Shakspeare based the inimitable tragedy of Lear. It is related, however, in a Welsh manuscript history of earlier date, entitled the Chronicle of the Kings, and written by a bishop of Wales named Tysilio. This work was composed at the close of the seventh century, and several copies of it are in existence. It thus tells the story of Llyr, or Lear, the eleventh king, according to the account, of Britain-a term then confined in a great measure to Wales :
After Bleiddud came Llyr, his son, to be king, and he governed in peace and tranquillity for five-and-twenty years; and he built a city upon the river Soram, which he called Caer Llyr, and in another language, Leir Cestyr.*
* Most probably Leicester, which Nennius, in his Historia Brittonum, calls Caer Lleirou-a name not unlike the one hero used,
And he had no son, but three daughters, whose names were Goronilla, Regan, and Cordeilla ;* and their father had excessive fondness for them, yet he loved the youngest daughter more than the other two. Thereupon, he considered how he might leave his dominions amongst his daughters after him. Wherefore he designed to prove which of his daughters loved him the most in particular, so that he might bestow upon that one the best part of the island. And he called to him Goronilla, his eldest daughter, and asked her how much she loved her father. Whereupon, she swore to heaven, and to the earth, that she loved her father dearer than she loved her own soul; and he believed, then, that
; this was true, and bequeathed to her the third part of the island, and the man she should most prefer in the isle of Britain to be her husband. After that he called to him Regan, his second daughter, and asked her how much she loved her father; and she, too, swore by the powers of heaven and earth, that she could not, by her tongue, declare how much she loved her father. He then believed this to be the truth, and left to her the third part of the isle of Britain, together with the man she should choose in the island for her husband. And then he called to him Cordeilla, his youngest daughter, and whom he loved the most of all, and he asked her how much she loved her father-to which she answered: “I do not think there is a daughter who loves a father more than she ought ; and I have loved thee through life as a father, and will love thee still. And, sir, if thou must know how much thou art loved, it is according to the extent of thy power, and thy prosperity, and thy courage.” And thereat he was moved with anger, and said: “ Since it is thus that thou hast despised my old age, so as not to love me equally with thy sisters, I will adjudge thee to have no share of the isle of Britain.” Thereupon, without delay, he gave to his two eldest daughters the two princes
* Shakspeare has softened these names into Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia.
namely, the Prince of Cornwall and that of Scotland *. and half the kingdom with them, whilst the king lived; and after his death, the island in two parts between them. And when the rumour of this was spread over the face of the countries, Aganippus, king of France, heard of the wisdom of Cordeilla, and of her form and beauty ; he therefore sent ambassadors to the isle of Britain, to demand of the king Cordeilla, his daughter, to be his wife. And he promised her, and declared to the ambassadors, that he should not have any territory or other wealth with her from the isle of Britain. And Aganippus said, that he was not in want of his territory or his riches, but of his noble and illustrious daughter, to beget of her honourable heirs; but there was no delay before Aganippus took the maid in marriage, and no one in that age beheld a maid so fair and so wise as she.
• After a length of time had elapsed, and Llyr was beginning to be feeble from age, his sons-in-law came with his two daughters, and subdued the island from one sea to the other, and they divided the island and the government between them two. This was after the deluge, 1460 years. Thereupon Maglon, Prince of Scotland, took the king to him, with forty knights in his train, to be maintained at his own charge. But two years were scarcely concluded, before Goronilla grew displeased on account of her father's retinue ; and she came to him, and desired that he would dismiss the whole of such retinue except twenty knights, observing, that that number was sufficient for a person who was not concerned in wars or any weighty affairs. Thereupon, Llyr became enraged with his daughter for slighting him to such a degree, and he quitted the court of Maglon, and repaired to that of Henwyn, Prince of Cornwall, expecting to have his dignity and rank better supported there than in the court of Maglon. And Henwyn received him joyfully, and treated him honourably, as he ought. But a year and a month had not quite elapsed before Regan, his daughter, grew angry with him on account of the greatness of his train, and desired him send away the whole thereof, except five knights, and declared that she would maintain only so many in his retinue, and which she deemed sufficient. After he had been obliged to dismiss his knights, he became grieved for the loss of his former dignity, and he returned a second time to his eldest daughter, expecting that she would have compassion on him, and would preserve him his dignity. But she declared, that she would maintain only one knight with him, and that was enough for her to do, as the knights of her lord were at his command. Finding he could obtain nothing by his entreaties, he sent away all his knights excepting one, who continued with him. Then, after meditating upon his former rank, which he had lost, he became oppressed with cares, and sorrowful almost unto death. The words of his daughters and their professions came upon his mind, and thereupon he knew that what was said to him by Cordeilla his daughter was true ; and according to his prosperity, his power, and his courage, would he be beloved.
* The Welsh name for Scotland, used in the original, is Alban, whence came the Albany of Shakspeare. The name of the prince, however, as appears from the sequel, was Maglon, and the Prince of Cornwall was named Henwyn.
On this he bethought himself that he would visit Cordeilla his daughter, to implore her mercy, and to see if he could obtain any kind of assistance from her towards recovering his dominion. And after he had gone off to sea with three attendants, bewailing his affliction and wretchedness, he exclaimed, with weeping and groaning, after this manner :-“O heavens! why did you exalt me to the summit of honour, since it is more painful to remember honour after it is lost, than to suffer want without the experience of prosperity! Gods of heaven and earth! let the time yet arrive when I may be able to retaliate upon the persons who have reduced me to this distress. Ah, Cordeilla ! my beloved daughter, how truly didst thou say to me-as my power, and my possessions, and my wealth might be, so should I be respected ; and for what thou didst speak I became offended with
thee. Oh, my beloved daughter! in what way shall I be able, for shame, to approach thee now, after having suffered thee to go away from the isle of Britain so destitute as I have done?” Continuing to lament his pain and wretchedness in this manner, he came near to Paris, the city wherein his daughter was; and he sent a messenger to her, to announce that he was coming, a poor weak, afflicted man, to implore her mercy to see her. When she heard this, she wept, and inquired how many knights there were with him. The messenger declared there was but one squire : she then wept more bitterly than before, and sent him gold and silver, desiring that he should go privately as far as Amiad,* or to some other city that he might think proper—to take perfumes, and baths, and precious ornaments, and to change his condition, his ornaments and garments, and to take with him forty knights, in the same dress as himself. And when they should be completed and ready, he was to send a messenger to Aganippus, king of France, to announce to him his coming, after having been disgracefully expelled, by his two sons-in-law, from the isle of Britain; and to implore his aid to regain possession of his dominions.
All that did Llyr do, as Cordeilla his daughter had desired him. And when the messenger came to announce to the king that Llyr was coming to have an interview with him, he was rejoiced ; and he came to meet him with a fair and splendid retinue to a great distance from the city, proceeding till Llyr met him; and thereupon they alighted, and embraced affectionately, and proceeded to Paris. And there they dwelt together for a long time happily and joyfully. When the disgrace of Llyr in the isle of Britain was told to Aganippus, he was greatly affected; and thereupon it was agreed in council, to assemble the armies of France, and to subdue the island again. And then Aganippus gave the government of France to Llyr, whilst he should be assembling the
* It seems doubtful what town is here meant, unless it be Amiens.