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ILLUSTRATION OF THE SONNETS.
The original edition of this collection of poems bore the following title : “Shake-speare's Sonnets. Never before imprinted. At London, by G. Eld, for T. T., and are to be sold by John Wright, dwelling at Christ Church-gate. 1609.” The volume is a small quarto. In addition to the Sonnets, it contains, at the end, " A Lover's Complaint. By William Shake-speare." In this col. lection the Sonnets are numbered from 1. to cliV., and they fol. low in their numerical order, as in the text we have presented to our readers. But, although this arrangement of the Sonnets is now the only one adopted in editions of Shakspeare's Poems, another occasionally prevailed up to the time of the publication of Steevens's fac-simile reprint of the Sonnets in 1766. An interval of thirty-one years elapsed between the publication of the volume by T. T. (Thomas Thorpe) in 1609, and the demand for a reprint of these remarkable Poems. In 1640 appeared “ Poems, written by Wil. Shake-speare, Gent. Printed at London by Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by John Benson.” This volume, in duodecimo, contains the Sonnets, but in a totally different order, the original arrangement not only being departed from, but the lyrical poems of The Passionate Pilgrim scattered here and there, and sometimes a single Sonnet, sometimes two or three, and more rarely four or five, distinguished by some quaint title. No title includes more than five. In the editions of the Poems which appeared during a century afterwards, the original order of the Sonnets was adopted in some that of the edition of 1640 in
others. Lintot's, in 1709, for example, adheres to the original; Curll's, in 1710, follows the second edition. Cotes, the printer of the second edition, was also the printer of the second edition of the plays. That the principle of arrangement adopted in this edition was altogether arbitrary, and proceeded upon a false conception of many of these poems, we can have no hesitation in believing; but it is remarkable that within twenty-four years of Shakspeare's death an opinion should have existed that the original arrangement was also arbitrary, and that the Sonnets were essentially that collection of fragments which Meres described in 1598, when he wrote, “ As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare : witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugаred Sonnets among his private friends.” Upon the question of the continuity of the Sonnets depend many important considerations with reference to the life and personal character of the poet; and it is necessary, therefore, in this place, to examine that question with proportionate care.
The Sonnets of Shakspeare are distinguished from the general character of that class of poems by the continuity manifestly existing in many successive stanzas, which form, as it were, a group of flowers of the same hue and fragrance. Mr. Hallam has justly explained this peculiarity :
“ No one ever entered more fully than Shakspeare into the character of this species of poetry, which admits of no expletive imagery, no merely ornamental line. But, though each Sonnet has generally its proper unity, the sense — I do not mean the grammatical construction — will sometimes be found to spread from one to another, independently of that repetition of the leading idea, like variations of an air, which a series of them frcquently exhibits, and on account of which they have latterly been reckoned by some rather an integral poem than a collection of Sonnets. But this is not uncommon among the Italians, and belongs, in fact, to those of Petrarch himself.”
But, although a series may frequently exhibit a “ repetition of the leading idea, like variations of an air,” it by no means follows that they are to be therefore considered “ rather an integral poem than a collection of Sonnets.” In the edition of 1640 the 66 variations” were arbitrarily separated, in many cases, from the "air;" but, on the other hand, it is scarcely conceivable that in the earlier edition of 1609 these verses were intended to be presented as “an integral poem." Before we examine this matter, let us inquire
into some of the circumstances connected with the original publication.
The first seventeen Sonnets contain a leading idea” under every form of “ variation.” They are an exhortation to a friend, a male friend, to marry. Who this friend was has been the subject of infinite discussion. Chalmers maintains that it was Queen Elizabeth, and that there was no impropriety in Shakspeare addressing the queen by the masculine pronoun, because a queen is a prince; as we still say in the Liturgy,
gov. ernor.” The reasoning of Chalmers on this subject, which may be found in his “Supplementary Apology,” is one of the most amusing pieces of learned and ingenious nonsense that ever met our view. We believe that we must very summarily dismiss Queen Elizabeth. But Chalmers, with more reason, threw over the idea that the dedication of the bookseller to the edition of 1609 implied the person to whom the Sonnets were addressed. T. T., who dedicates, is, as we have mentioned, Thomas Thorpe, the publisher. W. H., to whom the dedication is addressed, was, according to the earlier critics, an humble person. He was either William Harte, the poet's nephew, or William Hews, some unknown individual ; but Drake said, and said truly, that the person addressed in some of the Sonnets themselves was one of rank ; and he maintained that it was Lord Southampton. “W. H.,” he said, ought to have been H. W.- Henry Wriothesly. But Mr. Boaden and Mr. Brown have recently affirmed that “ W. H.” is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who, in his youth and his rank, exactly corresponded with the person addressed by the poet. The words “ begetter of these Sonnets,” in the dedication, must mean, it is maintained, the person who was the immediate cause of their being written - - to whom they were addressed. But he was “the only begetter of these Sonnets.” The latter portion of the Sonnets are unquestionably addressed to a female, which at once disposes of the assertion that he was the only begetter, assuming the “begetter” to be used in the sense of inspirer. Chalmers disposes of this meaning of the word very cleverly : “ W. H. was the bringer forth of the Sonnets. Beget is derived by Skinner from the Anglo-Saxon begettan, obtinere. Johnson adopts this derivation and sense ; so that begetter, in the quaint language of Thorpe, the bookseller, Pistol, the ancient, and such affected persons, signified the obtainer; as to get and getter, in the present day, mean obtain and obtainer, or to procure and the procurer.” But then, on the other hand, it is held, that when the
bookseller wishes Mr. W. H. “ that eternity promised by our ever. living poet," he means promised him. This inference, we must think, is somewhat strained. Be this as it may, the material question to examine is this: Are the greater portion of the Sonnets, putting aside those which manifestly apply to a female, or females, addressed to one male friend? Or are these the “sugared Sonnets" scattered among many “private friends”?
“private friends ”? When Meres printed his “ Palladis Tamia,” in 1598, there can be no doubt that Shakspeare's Sonnets, then existing only in manuscript, had obtained a reputation in the literary and courtly circles of that time. Probably the notoriety which Meres had given to the
sugared Sonnets ” excited a publisher, in 1599, to produce something which should gratify the general curiosity. In that year appeared a collection of poems bearing the name of Shakspeare, and published by W. Jaggard, entitled “The Passionate Pilgrim.” This little collection contains two Sonnets which are also given in the larger collection of 1609. They are those numbered cxxxvIII. and cxliv. in that collection. In the modern reprints of The Passionate Pilgrim it is usual to omit these two Sonnets without explanation, because they have been previously given in the larger collection of Sonnets. But it is essential to bear in mind the fact, that in 1599 two of the Sonnets of the hundred and fifty-four published in 1609 were printed ; and that one of them especially, that numbered cxliv., has been held to form an important part of the supposed " integral poem.” We may, therefore, conclude that the other Sonnets which appear to relate to the same persons as are referred to in the 144th Sonnet were also in existence. Further, the publication of these Sonnets in 1599 tends to remove the impression that might be derived from the tone of some of those in the larger collection of 1609 — that they were written when Shakspeare had passed the middle period of life. For example, in the 73d Sonnet the poet refers to the autumn of his years, the twilight of his day, the ashes of his youth. In the 138th, printed in 1599, he describes himself as past the best"
as “old.” He was then thirty-five. Dante was exactly this age when he described himself in the midway of this our mortal life.” In these remarkable particulars, therefore, the mention of two persons, real or fictitious, who occupy an important position in the larger collection, and in the notice of the poet's age, — the two Sonnets of The Passionate Pilgrim are st ictly connected with those published in 1609, of which they also fu in a part; and they lead to the conclusion that they were
obiained for publication out of the scattered leaves floating about amongst “private friends.” The publication of The Passionate Pilgrim was unquestionably unauthorized and piraticai The publisher got all he could which existed in manuscript; and he took two poems out of Love's Labour's Lost, which was printed only the
year before. In 1609, we have no hesitation in believing that the same process was repeated ; that without the consent of the writer the hundred and fifty-four Sonnets some forming a continuous poem, or poems; others isolated, in the subjects to which they relate, and the persons to whom they were addressed
weie collected together without any key to their arrangement, and given to the public. Believing as we do that “ W. H.," be he who he may, who put these poems in the hands of “ T. T.,” the publisher, arranged them in the most arbitrary manner, (of which there are many proofs,) we believe that the assumption of continuity, however ingeniously it may be maintained, is altogether fallacious. Where is the difficulty of imagining, with regard to poems of which each separate poem, sonnet, or stanza is either a “ leading idea," or its “ variation,” that, picked up, as we think they were, from many quarters, the supposed connection must be in many respects fanciful, in some a result of chance, mixing what the poet wrote in his own person, either in moments of elation or depression, with other apparently continuous stanzas that painted an imaginary character, indulging in all the warmth of an exaggerated friendship, in the complaints of an abused confidence, in the pictures of an unhallowed and unhappy love; sometimes speaking with the real earnestness of true friendship and a modest estimation of his own merits; sometimes employing the language of an extravagant eulogy, and a more extravagant estimation of the powers of the man who was writing that eulogy? Suppose, for example, that in the leisure hours, we will say, of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and William Shakspeare, the poet should have undertaken to address to the youth an argument why he should marry. Without believing the earl to be the W. H. of the Dedication, we know that he was a friend of Shakspeare. There is nothing in the first seventeen Sonnets which might not have been written in the artificial tone of the Italian poetry, in the working out of this scheme. Suppose, again, that in other Sonnets the poet, in the same artificial spirit, complains that the friend has robbed him of his mistress, and avows that he forgives the false. hood. There is nothing in all this which might not have been written essentially as a work of fiction, received as a work of VOL. VIII.