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II. Greek and Latin Literature
III. Greek and Latin Mythology
HE tragedy of ‘Hamlet' was written in or about
1586, but not printed until 1603. In this first draft of the play we find a letter, written by
the prince to Ophelia, in which she is told she may doubt any proposition whatever, no matter how certain it may be, but under no circumstances must she doubt the writer's love. From this letter, which is partly in verse, we quote:
“Doubt that in earth is fire,
But do not doubt I love." — ii. 2. Among the certainties here specified, which Ophelia was at liberty to question before she could question the writer's love, is the doctrine of a central fire in the earth. “Doubt that in earth is fire.” The belief in the existence of a mass of molten matter at the centre of the earth was then, as it is now, universal; but for some reason the author of the play changed his mind in regard to it within one year after the play was published. The second edition of Hamlet' came from the press in 1604, and then the first line of the stanza, quoted above, was made to read as follows:
“ Doubt that the stars are fire."
1 See infra, pp. 67–70.
The doctrine of a central fire in the earth was thus taken out of the play some time between the appearance of the first edition in 1603 and that of the second in 1604. How can this be accounted for? Was there another person known to fame in all the civilized world at that time, besides the author of 'Hamlet,' who entertained a doubt as to the condition of the earth's interior? Yes, there was one, and perhaps one only. Francis Bacon wrote a tract, entitled Cogitationes de Natura Rerum, assigned to the latter part of 1603 or the early part of 1604. Mr. Spedding, the last and best editor of Bacon's works, thinks it was written before September, 1604. In this tract, evidently a fresh study of the subject, Bacon boldly took the ground that the earth is a cold body, cold to the core, the only cold body, as he afterwards affirmed, in the entire universe, all others, sun, planets, and stars, being of fire.
It appears, then, that Bacon adopted this new view of the earth's interior at precisely the same time that the author of 'Hamlet' did; that is to say, according to the record, in the brief interval between the appearance of the first and that of the second editions of the drama, and, furthermore, against the otherwise unanimous opinion of physicists throughout the world.
Coincidence number one.
II The second line of the stanza in this extraordinary loveletter is also significant. In the first edition it runs as follows:
“Doubt that the stars do move." 1603. 1 "The heaven, from its perfect and entire heat and the extreme extension of matter, is most hot, lucid, rarefied, and moveable; whereas the earth, on the contrary, from its entire and unrefracted cold, and the extreme contraction of matter, is most cold, dark, and dense, completely immoveable. . . . The rigors of cold, which in winter time and in the coldest countries are exhaled into the air from the surface of the earth, are merely tepid airs and baths, compared with the nature of the primal cold shut up in the bowels thereof."
Bacon's De Principiis atque Originibus.