Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.
Wrote Charles Dickens.
Where does that phrase “heart of hearts” come from?
It’s a perversion of Shakespeare’s heart of heart, which appears in Hamlet (Act 3, scene 2, 71-74):
Hamlet: Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, aye, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
Shakespeare — a breathtakingly levelheaded fellow whose similes and metaphors are almost always grounded in reality — coined the phrase “heart of heart” and meant it to be essentially synonymous with “heart’s core.”
Like the heart of an artichoke — like my heart — the “heart of heart” is the most tender part. And this most tender part is the part that Hamlet reserves for those who are ruled by reason, like his friend Horatio, and not by passion, as the melancholy Dane is himself, perhaps.
The bastardization of Shakespeare’s delicately rendered phrase probably comes from the equally delicate “vanity of vanities,” which we find in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Ecclesiastes, however, a very beautiful and Pagan-like book, lists a number of different vanities from which negative things flow — whereas, conversely, one does not in reality possess a number of hearts.
Shakespeare always preferred the apposite metaphor to the inapposite, and that is one of the primary reasons “the verbal poetical texture of Shakespeare is the greatest the world has ever known“:
He anchored his abstractions in concretes, a lead we as writers would do well to follow.