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and dissipated character to dazzle and lead the
young lord astray. There was another and more creditable bond of union between them—both being Cambridge
Marlowe was born in Feb., 1564, and took his degree of A.M. in 1587; and Southampton, in 1589. Marlowe, though only two months older, became a celebrity before Shakspere: having produced Tamburlaine the Great before 1587, which was the first successful experiment in blank verse on the public stage.
It is pleasing to see, that Shakspere respected the genius of his great competitor; and, no doubt, Bacchus took the good-humoured quizzing of Horace all for gospel, as a just tribute of respect due to his allpowerful muse; soon afterwards Marlowe died, having done his work,-improved the stage and corrupted our love,----who then broke the spell of the enchantress, setting his poor lover free to go onwards in his course, the mighty conqueror in the realms of thought.
As Marlowe died in June, 1593, the date of the first portion of the sonnets may be fixed in 1591-2, which supposition is corroborated by the 29th Sonnet, in which the poet says, he has been acquainted with his friend three years. As the young Earl took his degree at St. John's, Cambridge, in 1589, et. sixteen, he may have been a frequenter of the theatre and acquainted with Shakspere previously to Christmas of that year; and it is very probable, he may have been in Loudon for a short time during the summer, in
which case this sonnet may have been written as early as June, 1592; and the first twenty sonnets presented to his lordship on his birthday in Oct., 1591, æt. 18, at which age Shakspere married. In the 87th he describes himself unmistakably as a young man looking several years older than he actually is; the 88th is merely a continuation of the 87th; and it seems to me beyond a doubt, that the strong expressions about “tann'd antiquity, crush'd and o'erworn, and age's steepy night,” are merely the exaggerations of a young poet “writing for effect;" the 95th has always been regarded as a proof, that the poet was at least in middle age, and had probably reached his fortieth
That time of year thou may'st in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
Let us analyse it
" In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
I presume, he means us to understand by the glowing
embers on the ashes of his youth, that he is in early manhood-his youth just passed-in weakly health, and likely soon to die; divide life into three stages-youth, manhood, and old age; youth might extend to the twenty-fifth year, manhood to the fiftieth, and old age might claim the rest; he cannot, then, he regarded as older than æt, 32, since he is only kept alive by some youthful blood still flowing in his veins; and he is, under the circumstances, fully justified in depicting himself as in the twilight of his day, his sun set fast sinking into night; for had he shortly afterwards died, he would have uttered not only a poetical, but a literal truth.
“In me thou seest the glowivg of such fire,”
“ In me thou seest the twilight of such day." But he does not say,
“ That time of year thou 'dost' but thou may'st.” He does not assert, that he actually is in the autumn of his life, but that he looks so. These sonnets, therefore, prove, that the poet is really a young man, but looking old for his years; in the 87th and 88th, in good health and spirits; but in the 95th, despondent, in bad health, anticipating an early death.
|I therefore believe, that the sonnets extend over the period from 1591 to the spring of 1596 at latest, when the Earl went to Spain in his twenty-third year, and Shakspere was just vet. 32.
Having thus settled the date of the sonnets, we way now examine, how far the first 1261 form a
1 Edition 1609.
continuous poem, or are more or less connected together.
From the 1st to the 14th stanza, the poet urges his friend, under various images, to marry and transmit a copy of his beautiful face to posterity; or else, “I prognosticate, thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.” In the 15th he says, “I engraft you new," the first gentle whisper of “my immortal lines.” » In the 16th, “But wherefore do not you, &c., than in my barren rhyme," still very gentle. In the 17th the breeze rises, “Who will believe,” &c. In the 18th, “Shall I compare," &c.
"So long as man can breathe or eye can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
Nothing more about marriage and a son. In the 19th his enthusiasm carries him away, “Devouring Time, blunt thou,” &c.; “My love shall in my verse ever live young"; and I should like to know how his love was to live for ever young, unless he described him; so, in the 20th, the poet gives us the unrivalled description of his love.
Thus, these seven last stanzas, of which I have merely pointed out the connecting links, form la masterpiece of poetic art, worked up with consummata skill, a labour of love.
Twenty years afterwards the same hand wrote, au the same heart poured forth the following burst of feeling :
" Ant.-0, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers !
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
Julius Cæsar, act iii. sc. 1.
Probably, some writers may say, these lines are not consecutive, but merely continuous, being held together by a “leading idea,” and wound up to the climax of a hyperbolical passion ; certainly they do not appear to me to be so consecutive, so dependent one upon the other, as the seven sonnets, which, rising in successive order one above the other, resemble the harble steps ascending to a Grecian temple, the 20th the god within.
From this point, the reader, affected by the exquisite pathos of various passages, wanders uncertain on through confused and unconnected stanzas, till, like the bursting out of sunshine, or the memory of young and happy days, suddenly strike on his delighted