Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/383

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integrity of full nervous susceptibility. And probably there was never a time when there were so many persons as now who are disposed, by conviction and by a desire for a stalwart physical independence, to refuse to fix any habit that holds the nervous system;

But, taking the world and its discomforts as we find them, it must be granted that the thralldom of tea is comparative physical freedom, and we can gladly give voice to those who praise these comfortable beverages. "Near the fire," says De Quincey, "paint me a tea-table—place only two cups and saucers upon it-and beside them paint me an eternal tea-pot. . . . For tea," he says, "will always be the favorite beverage of the intellectual, and for my part I would have joined Dr. Johnson against any impious person who should presume to disparage it."


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THE ANATOMY OF AN OLD ANECDOTE.

By WILLIAM W. BILLSON.

IT is a matter of common knowledge that Shakespeare's story of the bond for a pound of flesh is not of his own invention, but is merely a modern and dramatic version of a very old tale which, with slight but frequently significant variations in form, had already become the common property of many nations, East and West.

Even though these legendary antecedents of the drama had never been actually discovered, their existence could nevertheless with great confidence be affirmed; for in no other manner can we account for the singular and unconscious fidelity with which the anecdote illustrates legal conceptions highly characteristic of primitive ages, but alien to that in which Shakespeare lived.

The scientific value of a good story as a clew to the institutions, the intellectual and social life of the people among whom it originated, or in whose hands it has undergone modification, is now so well understood that to collect, anatomize, and interpret recently despised folklore, romances, anecdotes, and ballads, is a recognized function of modern scholarship.

The story of the bond is not only one of great inherent interest and scientific value it is rendered doubly attractive as an object of study by the fact that a correct apprehension of its original meaning constitutes an excellent preparation if not an indispensable condition to a sound analysis of Shakespeare's play; to a discovery of the motives through which, as poet and playwright, he was led to select the story for the purposes of his art, and to a correct understanding of the many passages by which with admirable skill he sought to conceal or evade the annoying discrepancy between the ideas out of which, in the barren soil of a very remote antiquity, the story originally grew,