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But if the passage which we have previously quoted from 'The Poetaster' be, as Gifford so plausibly imagined, intended for Shakspere, it is decisive as to Jonson's own opinion of his great friend's acquirements: it is the opinion of every man, now, who is not a slave to the authority of the smallest minds that ever undertook to measure the vast poetical region of Shakspere with their little tape, inch by inch :—
"His learning savours not the school-like gloss That most consists in echoing words and terms,
And soonest wins a man an empty name." The verses of Jonson, prefixed to the folio of 1623, conclude with these remarkable lines:
"Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage, Or influence, chide, or cheer, the drooping stage;
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light."
From 1616, the year of Shakspere's death, to 1623, the date of the first edition of his collected works, Jonson himself had written nothing for the stage. Beaumont had died the year before Shakspere; but Fletcher alone was sustaining the high reputation which he had won with his accomplished associate. Massinger had been in London from 1606, known certainly to have written in conjunction with other dramatists before the period of Shakspere's death, and, without doubt, assisting to fill the void which he had left; for 'The Bondman' appears in the list of the Master of the Revels in 1623. The indefatigable Thomas Heywood was a writer for the stage from the commencement of the seventeenth century to the suppression of the theatres. Webster was a poet of Shakspere's own theatre, immediately after his death, and a leading character in 'The Duchess of Malfi' was played by Burbage. Rowley produced some of his best works at the same period. Chapman had not ceased to write. Ford was known as a rising poet. Many others were there of genius and learning who at this particular time were struggling for the honours of the drama, and some with
great success. And yet Jonson does not hesitate to say, that since the death of Shakspere the stage mourns like night. Leonard Digges, writing at the date of the publication of the folio, says of Shakspere's dramas,
"Happy verse, thou shalt be sung and heard, When hungry quills shall be such honour barr'd.
Then vanish, upstart writers to each stage, You needy poetasters of this age!" This man speaks authoritatively, because he speaks the public voice. But it is not with the poetasters only that he compares the popularity of Shakspere; he tells us that the players of the Globe live by him dead; and that prime judgments, rich veins,
The worst with this deceased man compared;" and he then proceeds to exhibit the precise character of the popular admiration of Shakspere :—
"So have I seen, when Cæsar would appear, And on the stage at half-sword parley were Brutus and Cassius, O, how the audience Were ravish'd! with what wonder they went thence !
When, some new day, they would not brook a line
Of tedious, though well-labour'd, Catiline;
Their author's merit with a crown of bays,
Hal, Poins, the rest,-you scarce shall have a room,
All is so pester'd: Let but Beatrice
Whose sound we would not hear, on whose worth look:
Like old-coin'd gold, whose lines in every page
Shall pass true current to succeding age."
We have said enough, we think, to show how inconsiderate is the assertion, that Shakspere's "pre-eminence was not acknowledged by his contemporaries." Should this fact, however, be still thought to be a matter of opinion, we will place the opinion of a real critic, not the less sound for being an enthusiastic admirer, against this echo of
the babble of the cold and arrogant school of criticism that has still some small disciples and imitators: "Clothed in radiant armour, and authorised by titles sure and manifold as a poet, Shakspere came forward to demand the throne of fame, as the dramatic
poet of England. His excellences compelled throne, although there were giants in those days even his contemporaries to seat him on that contending for the same honour."*
* Coleridge's' Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 53.
THE original edition of this collection of poems bore the following title: Shakespeare'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 collection the Sonnets are numbered from 1 to 154. Although the arrangement of the Sonnets in this first edition is now the only one adopted in editions of Shakspere's Poems, another order 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. Shakespeare, 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 de
parted 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 Cotes' 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 Shakspere'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 Pytha
goras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives | friend was has been the subject of infinite
in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare: witness his 'Venus and Adonis,' his 'Lucrece,' his sugared 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, to examine that question with proportionate care.
The Sonnets of Shakspere 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 frequently 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 ". 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.
discussion. Chalmers maintains that it was Queen Elizabeth, and that there was no impropriety in Shakspere addressing the queen by the masculine pronoun, because a queen is a prince; as we still say in the Liturgy, our queen and governor." 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 Wriothesley. But Mr. Boaden and Mr. Brown have subsequently affirmed that "W. H." is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who, in his youth and his rank, exactly corre sponded 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?" When Meres printed his 'Palladis Tamia,' in 1598, there can be no doubt that Shakspere'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 Shakspere, 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 138 and 144 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, the one numbered 144, 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 Shakspere had passed the middle period of life. For example, in the 73rd 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 strictly connected with those published in 1609, of which they also form a part; and they lead to the conclusion that they were obtained for publication out of the scattered leaves floating about amongst "private friends." The publication of 'The Passionate Pilgrim' was unquestionably unauthorised and piratical. 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-were 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 connexion 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
aggerated 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 Shakspere, 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 Shakspere. 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 falsehood. There is nothing in all this which might not have been written essentially as a work of fiction,-received as a work of fiction,-handed about amongst "private friends" without the slightest apprehension that it would be regarded as an exposition of the private relations of two persons separated in rank as they probably were in their habitual intimacies,—of very different ages, the one an avowedly profligate boy, the other a matured man. But this supposition does not exclude the idea that the poet had also, at various times, composed, in the same measure, other poems, truly expressing his personal feelings, with nothing inflated in their tone, perfectly simple and natural, offering praise, expressing love to his actual friends (in the language of the time "lovers"), showing regret in separation, dreading unkindness, hopeful of continued affection. These are also circulated amongst "private friends." Some "W. H." collects them together, ten, or twelve, or fifteen years after they have been written; and a publisher, of course, is found to give to the world any productions of a man so eminent as Shakspere. But who
arranged them? Certainly not the poet himself for those who believe in their continuity must admit that there are portions which it is impossible to regard as continuous. In the same volume with these Sonnets was published a most exquisite narrative poem, ‘A Lover's Complaint.' form of it entirely prevents any attempts to consider it autobiographical. The Sonnets, on the contrary, are personal in their form; but it is not therefore to be assumed that they are all personal in their relation to the author. It is impossible to be assumed that they could have been printed with the consent of the author as they now stand. If he had meant in all of them to express his actual feelings and position, the very slightest labour on his part-a few words of introduction either in prose or verse-would have taken those parts which he would have naturally desired to appear like fiction, and which to us even now look like fiction, out of the possible range of reality. The same slight labour would, on the other hand, have classed amongst the real, apart from the artificial, those Sonnets which he would have desired to stand apart, and which appear to us to stand apart, as the result of genuine moods of the poet's own mind.
It is our intention, without at all presuming to think that we have discovered any real order in which these extraordinary productions may be arranged, to offer them to the reader upon a principle of classification, which, on the one hand, does not attempt to reject the idea that a continuous poem, or rather several continuous poems, may be traced throughout the series, nor adopt the belief that the whole can be broken up into fragments; but which, on the other hand, does no violence to the meaning of the author by a pertinacious adherence to a principle of continuity, sometimes obvious enough, but at other times maintained by links as fragile as the harness of Queen Mab's chariot :
"Her traces of the smallest spider's web,
Her collars of the moonshine's watery beams." The reader will have the ordinary text before him in every modern edition of Shak