William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

304.

Walter Whiter, Shakespeare’s mental associations

1794

From A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare. Containing I. Notes on As You Like It. II. An Attempt to explain and illustrate Various Passages, on a New Principle of Criticism, derived from Mr. Locke’s Doctrine of The Association of Ideas (1794).

Walter Whiter (1758-1832), an undergraduate and subsequently Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, from 1783 to 1797, spent the remainder of his life as rector of Hardingham, Norfolk. He was a lifelong friend of Richard Porson. Whiter also published Etymologicon Magnum, a universal etymological dictionary on a new plan (1800: part 1 only), Etymologicon Universal (3 vols, 1811, 1822, 1825), and A Dissertation on the Disorder of Death, or that State called suspended Animation (1819). Whiter’s work on Shakespeare was not well received by contemporary reviewers, who found the associationist method old-fashioned, and held that he made too great claims for his discoveries. But it has been vindicated in our time by the work of such critics as E.E. Kellett, Caroline Spurgeon, E.A. Armstrong and Kenneth Muir. For further references see the valuable edition (which includes Whiter’s later additions from a manuscript now in Cambridge University Library) by Alan Over, completed by Mary Bell (1967).

[From Part II]

The Association of Ideas is a fruitful and popular theme in the writings of metaphysicians; and they have supplied us with innumerable examples, which prove at once the extent and the activity of its influence. They have taught us that our modes of reasoning, our habits of life, and even the motions of our body are affected by its energy; and that it operates on the faculties by a kind of fascinating controul, which we sometimes cannot discover, and

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