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Earl of Southampton, inverted (" Shakespeare and his Times," vol. ii. p. 62); and of late years Boaden, with great ingenuity, has contended that W. H. meant William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke'. This last notion seems too much taken for granted by Mr. C. Armitage Brown, in his very clever and, in many respects, original work, Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems," 8vo, 1838 ; but we own that we cannot accord in that, or in any other theory that has yet been advanced upon the point. We have no suggestion of our own to offer, and acquiescence in one opinion or in another in no way affects any position regarding them which we might be disposed to take up; but it seems to us the very height of improbability that a bookseller in the year 1609, when peculiar respect was paid to nobility and station, would venture to address an Earl and a Knight of the Garter merely as "Mr. W. H.?” However, notwithstanding the pains taken to settle the dispute, we hold it to be one of comparatively little importance, and it is certainly one upon which we are not likely to arrive at a final and satisfactory decision. To the desperate speculation of Chalmers, that not a few of the Sonnets were addressed to Queen Elizabeth, though maintained with considerable ability and learning, it is hardly necessary even to advert.
It is evident that the Sonnets were written at very different periods of Shakespeare's life, and under very different circumstances -some in youth, some in more advanced age; some when he was hopeful and happy, and some when he was desponding and afflicted at his own condition in life, and place in society. In many there are to be found most remarkable indications of self-confidence, and of assurance in the immortality of his verses, and in this respect the author's opinion was constant and uniform. He never scrupled to express it, and perhaps there is no writer of ancient or of modern times who, for the quantity of such writings left behind him, has so frequently or so strongly declared his firm belief that what he had written, in this department of poetry, "the world would not wil. lingly let die." This conviction seems hardly reconcileable with the carelessness he appears to have displayed for the preservation of his dramatic writings. We know from Francis Meres that Shakespeare's Sonnets were scattered among his friends in 1598, and no doubt he continued to add to them from year to year; but it was left to a bookseller in 1609, perhaps, to cause them to be collected, and to be printed in a separate volume.
1 In a small pamphlet, entitled, “ On the Sonnets of Shakespeare, identifying the Person to whom they were addressed, and elucidating several points in the Poet’s History. By James Boaden.” 8vo. 1838. The whole substance of the tract had been published in 1832 in a periodical work. We differ from Mr. Boaden with the more reluctance, because it appears that his notion was supported by the opinion of Mr. B. Heywood Bright, well known for his acuteness and learning, who, without any previous communication, had fallen upon the same conjecture before it was broached by Boaden.
? Upon this particular point we concur with Mr. Peter Cunningham, in a note to his excellent edition of Mr. T. Campbell's “Specimens of British Poets,” (Essay, p. lxxi.) but we can by no means follow him in thinking that Shakespeare's Sonnets have been "over-rated,” or that the Earl of Pembroke could not have been addressed in them, because he was only nine years old in 1598. Shakespeare had written sonnets at that date, according to the undoubted testimony of Meres, but those in which the Earl has been supposed to be addressed may have been produced at a considerably later period. Still, at the early age of eighteen or nineteen, which the Earl reached in 1609, it does not seem likely that Shakespeare would have thought it necessary, with so much vehemence, to urge him to marry.
It is with reference to this circumstance that we understand Thorpe to address " Mr. W. H.," in the dedication, as "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets. Boswell quoted a passage from Dekker's “Satiromastix," 1602, (and many other instances might be adduced) to prove that “ begetter” only meant obtainer or procurer; and as Thorpe had been under some obligation to W. H., for collecting Shakespeare's scattered sonnets from various parties, for this reason, perhaps, he inscribed them to him. There is no doubt that “Mr. W. H.” could not be “the only begetter” of the sonnets in any other sense, for it is indisputable that many of them are addressed to a woman; and though a male object might have been the cause of some of them, and particularly of the first twenty-six, he could not have been the cause of the last twenty-seven sonnets.
We have already mentioned Mr. Brown's work, “Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems,” which, with a few errors and inconsistencies of little moment, contains the best solution of various difficulties arising out of these Sonnets yet published. He contends that Shakespeare used the form of the sonnet as Spenser and many others employed stanzas of various descriptions, and that 152 of the 154 sonnets are divisible into six distinct poems. His arrangement of them is the following; and we think with him, that if they be read with this key, much will be intelligible which upon any other supposition must remain obscure :
First Poem. Sonnets 1 to 26. To his friend, persuading him to marry.
Second Poem. Sonnets 27 to 55. To his friend, forgiving him for having robbed him of his mistress.
Third Poem. Sonnets 56 to 77. To his friend, complaining of his coldness, and warning him of life's decay.
3 The following are the words Meres uses :-“ As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare : witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c.”—Pallaudis Tumia, 1598, fo. 281, b.
Fourth Poem. Sonnets 78 to 101. To his friend, complaining that he prefers another poet's praises“, and reproving him for faults that may injure his character.
Fifth Poem. Sonnets 102 to 126. To his friend, excusing himself for having been some time silent, and disclaiming the charge of inconstancy.
Sixth Poem. Sonnets 127 to 152. To his mistress, on her infidelity.
Mr. Brown asserts, and goes far to prove, that the sonnets in the first five of these divisions are consecutive, following up the same thought, and working out the same purpose. With regard to the “sixth poem,” as he terms it, he contends that the sonnets have been confused, and that they are not, like the others, to be read in the order in which they were printed in the edition of 1609. He rejects the last two sonnets as no part of any of the six poems, and they are unquestionably somewhat incongruous.
Many years ago, long before the appearance of Mr. Brown's volume, it had occurred to us, as a mode merely of removing some of the difficulties attending this portion of the works of Shakespeare, that it was possible that he had consented to write some of them, not in his own person, but for individuals who asked his assistance. We entirely abandon that supposition, notwithstanding we are aware that such was not an uncommon practice in Shakespeare's age. Gascoigne, who died in 1577, mentions that he had been frequently so employed : the author of "The Forest of Fancy," 1579, tells us that he had written many of the poems it contains for persons had occasion to crave his help in that behalf;" and Sir John Harington, in his Epigrams, written probably about 1591, states expressly,
“ Verses are grown such merchantable ware,
That now for Sonnets sellers are and buyers.” Marston, in his Satires, 1598, accuses “Roscio the tragedian” of 4 This is the poet whom Shakespeare (Son. Ixxx.) calls “a better spirit,” and of whom he also speaks in Son. lxxxiii. lxxxv. &c. Some have supposed that he meant Spenser, others Daniel ; but Mr. P. Cunningham has pointed out an apparent allusion to Drayton, (and to his collection of Sonnets, published in 1594 under the title of “ Idea's Mirror”) in Shakespeare's twenty-first Sonnet, in these lines :
“ So is it not with me, as with that muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse," &c. It may be doubted whether in these, and the succeeding lines, Shakespeare had any individual reference. Drayton's “Idea's Mirror” has only been discovered of late years; and it seems not improbable that, like his “Endymion and Phoebe,” (see the Bridgewater Catalogue, p. 108) he, for some reason, suppressed it. Only a single copy of each has been preserved.
having written some love-verses for Mutio, and he adds elsewhere that “absolute Castilio” had supplied himself in a similar manner, in order that he might pay acceptable court to his mistress. Therefore, if Shakespeare had now and then condescended to supply the wants of his friends in this way, who thus became possessed of his “sugred sonnets," as Meres calls them, it would, at all events, not have been without precedent.
Thorpe's edition of “Shakespeare's Sonnets” is a well printed volume, although not perhaps so good a specimen of the typography of that time, as Field's impressions of " Venus and Adonis" and “ Lucrece." It is remarkable, that while most of Shakespeare's plays came from the press in the quarto editions in so slovenly and uncorrected a state, his minor poems have been handed down to us, perhaps, more accurately printed than those of any poets of the time, with the exception of Daniel and Drayton, who seem generally to have bestowed great pains upon their productions. At the end of the “Sonnets" is a poem, called "A Lover's Complaint;" and here, although it has no fresh title-page, we are assured that it is "by William Shake-speare." There could in fact be no doubt respecting the authorship of it; but on what occasion, or for what purpose it was written, we have no information.
The ensuing sonnets, with other poems, were reprinted in 1640, 8vo, with a frontispiece of the author, engraved by Marshall. It is an edition of no authority: it repeats and multiplies the errors of the previous separate impressions, and includes productions with which Shakespeare had no concern.
Our text is that of the 4to, 1609, in every case where a reason is not assigned for deviating from it. In all modern reprints various errors have been committed in consequence of carelessness of collation, or because one editor copied the mistakes of another : of these our notes will contain a sufficient indication.
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
This were to be new made, when thou art old,