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he observes, “ it seems as if he had considered himself as more a poet than when he wrote plays; he was the manager of a th tre, and he viewed the drama as his business; on it he exer all his intellect and power; but when he had feelings inter and secret to express, he had recourse to a form of writing, w which his habits had rendered him familiar.
It is strange delightful to scrutinize, in these short effusions, the character Shakespeare. For the right understanding of even his dramat works, these lyrics are of the greatest importance; they show that in his dramas he very seldom speaks according to his ow thoughts or feelings, but according to his knowledge.” This also the opinion of his celebrated brother Augustus Willia Schlegel, and I take up a strong position when I shelter myse under such authorities*. Mr. Thomas Campbell, however, ha expressed his surprise that the last mentioned critic,
one of th most brilliant and acute spirits of the age,” should have mad this so
erroneous over-estimate of the light derivable from thes poems respecting the poet's history.” He contends that th facts attested by the sonnets can be held in a nut-shell ;” tha they do not unequivocally paint the actual situation of the poet nor make us acquainted with his passions; nor contain any confession of the most remarkable errors of his youthful years. He does not deny that some slight hints of a personal nature may be gathered from a careful perusal, but he considers these to be grossly exaggerated by the German critic.
* “ It betrayed an extraordinary deficiency of critical acumen in the commentators on Shakespeare, that none of them, as far as we know, have ever thought of availing themselves of his Sonnets for tracing the circumstances of his life. These sonnets paint most unequivocally the actual situation and sentiments of the Poet; they enable us to become acquainted with the passions of the man ; they even contain the most remarkable confessions of his youthful errors.” Lectures on Dramatic Literature, by Augustus William Schlegel. The remarks of Frederic Schlegel, are extracted from his Lectures on the History of Literuture, Ancient and Modern.
Malone and Dr. Drake, are of opinion that the sonnets of Daniel were the prototype of Shakespeare's; andt hough their observations on this subject are not without weight, I am inclined to think that Shakespeare had studied all the sonnet compositions of his predecessors, without constructing his own after any particular standard. Daniel's system is not peculiar to himself; there were other writers, both before and after him, who adopted the same form. As to his turn of expression, though in some respects similar to Shakespeare's, it is not more so than that of his other contemporaries. It was the diction and idiom of the
age. Shakespeare not being an Italian scholar, and not therefore acquainted with the strict models, chose the system that was most popular at the time, and which was certainly the most easy to construct, and perhaps the most agreeable to his own ear. That the forın of three elegiac quatrains, concluding with a couplet, is infinitely less difficult than the Petrarchan sonnet, and is capable of being rendered highly musical and agreeable in skilful hands, no critic would be willing to dispute ; but it is not entitled to the name of sonnet. In the legitimate sonnet, the first eight lines should have but two rhymes, and the concluding six lines should have either two or three rhymes arranged alternately. Shakespeare's fourteen-line effusions are very exquisite little poems, but they are not sonnets, and I only call them such to distinguish them from his longer pieces, and because they are generally recognized by that title.
Some writers have a ridiculous habit of calling every short poem a sonnet, without reference to its precise number of lines or its general construction. They might just as well call a didactic poem an ode; a blank-verse poem a song; or an elegy an epigram. It is uncritical and injudicious to confound the different orders of verse by inappropriate titles.
Many people disapprove entirely of the system of the sonnet as too arbitrary and confined, and compare it to the bed of Pro
crustes*, which the limbs of the victims laid thereon were made to fit by being either stretched or amputated, as the case required. They object to its being limited to a precise number of lines; as if the same objection might not be made to every other form of verse.
The sonnet is one stanza of fourteen lines, as the Spenserian measure is one stanza of nine lines. Some poems have been constructed entirely of sonnet-stanzast. Though the Spenserian stanza is much shorter, it is generally complete in itself, and the sound and sense are wound up together by the concluding Alexandrine, in a way that fully satisfies both the ear and the mind. Even in eight and four line stanzas there is usually a certain unity and completeness both of thought and music. These laws of verse are not arbitrary or casual, but depend on certain fixed principles, discovered by the intuitive taste and discrimination of genius. Capel Lofft has ingeniously insisted on the perfection of the sonnet construction, and its analogy to music; and has remarked that it is somewhat curious that the two Guidi or Guittonni, both of Arrezzo, the birth-place of Petrarch, were the fathers, the one of the sonnet, and the other of the modern system of musical notation and solmization. He has proved, at least to my satisfaction, that the sonnet is as complete and beautiful a form of verse as any that has been yet invented. I of course allude to the strict Petrarchan or Guidonian sonnet. The little poems of Bowles and Charlotte Smith are merely elegiac four line stanzas, with a concluding couplet; and though very pretty and pleasing compositions, possess not the charm which they would have acquired by a more rigid adherence to the Italian model. Of later years a more intimate acquaintance with Italian literature
* It was Ben Jonson who first made use of this now stale comparison; “ He cursed Petrarch for redacting verses into sonnets, which he said was like that tyrant's bed, where some who were too short were racked, others too long cut short.” But Ben Jonson's taste was not intallible. According to Drummond's report of his conversations“ Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter," while, “ for some things, he esteemed Doune the first poet in the world.” + Spenser's “ Ruines of Rome," and " Visions of Petrarch,” &c. are examples.
has opened the eyes of our poets to the superior beauty of the legitimate construction. The true Italian sonnet is a labyrinth of sweet sounds. It has all the variety of blank-verse, with the additional charm of rhyme. There is no precise limit to the number or position of the pauses, and the lines may so run over into each other, that the cloying effect of a too frequent and palpable recurrence of the same terminations need never be experienced, if the poet turn his skill and taste to a proper account. The sonnet is not adapted to all subjects, but to those only which may be treated in a small compass. A single sentiment or principle may be expressed or illustrated within its narrow limits with exquisite and powerful effect, but it is not adapted for continuous feeling or complex thought. Pastorini's celebrated sonnet to Genoa, and the equally celebrated sonnet to Italy, by Filicaja, are examples of the capability of the sonnet to give effect to a single burst of feeling or to one pervading idea, suggested by a single scene, or circumstance. Wordsworth, who is the most legitimate and by far the finest sonnet-writer in the English language, since Milton, has produced several perfect specimens of the force and unity of this species of composition. I content myself with adducing one beautiful example.
COMPOSED ON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE.
Earth has not any thing to show more fair :
sublime concluding image, that there is no want of an a line or an additional illustration. Both the ear and satisfied. The music of thought and the music of exquisitely blended, and seem to arrive together at termination. It reminds me of the Portuguese aph the sonnet ought to be shut with a golden key. say that it should be a body of sweetness with a stir they do not mean that its tenderness or beauty into an actual epigram, but that it should end v spirit. When a sonnet fails to exhibit a unity a the fault of the artist. The question put by Geor allusion to Shakespeare's sonnets of " what have to do with sonnets ?" is scarcely worthy of an and nature are not confined to any particula and may be as well embodied in the 14-line other; they depend on the poet's genius, and of metre.
It is true that the sonnet imposes many pe the poet, but it is his glory to overcome th find that bad sonnets necessarily contain 14 lines of bad blank verse*.
* In the notice of Robert Walpole's poetical tr Spanish, and Italian, in the Edinburgh Review, (1 species of composition has been called by an excell jewel of the Muses. With us it has never been con and Gray, who have cultivated it with most succe streams of Italy, where a single sonnet can give i the longer poems of his contemporaries are buried i strict laws of the sonnet ought not to be depart “ Gray has observed them scrupulously.” I can notice of Gray as a sonnet-writer. He wrote onl Chalmer's collection! Though a very good son extraordinary. Milton's sonnets are unquest and possess a severe dignity that may be refer the vulgar notion, that this form of verse is conceits or maudlin sentiment.