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Why so large cost, having so short a lease ?”
My heart doth plead, that thou in him dost lie,
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
The clear eye's moiety."
After reading such lines in the poems of a young man, if critics should hesitate at coming to the conclusion that he had been employed in the office of a lawyer, unless the lines bore the semblance of being imitatively and not spontaneously written, my faith in all internal evidence will be shaken. But, believing that none will differ from me in this point, I assume that Shakespeare, while in the country, was in such an office. Thus the above quotations, the one from Nashe, as aimed at Shakespeare, and the deduction from the lines extracted, prove each the other. Now, relying on the settlement of the question respecting the purpose of Nashe, and that he, which is highly probable, wrote on good information, since his design was to identify his object by known facts, we arrive at two circumstances in the life of our poet, which are valuable :
First, Hamlet, in its original state, however crude, was brought on the stage with applause sufficient to excite envy against the author, when he was about four-and-twenty. This will be found important in the second period of his life.
Second, Shakespeare, while in a lawyer's office,
"busied himself in the endeavours of art," " by candle light," in giving being to his dramatic powers, assisted by an "English Seneca." A translation of
Seneca was published in 1581;-that is, when he was seventeen. Such an account, describing his young efforts at fame, his industry at a period of life not often voluntarily industrious, and the means he pursued for the developement of his mind, is most interesting, and congenial to my view of his character.
The ordinary knowledge, possessed by every one, of human nature, has always appeared to me baffled and contradicted by the early life, as it has been given to us, of Shakespeare. It is in vain to say his extraordinary powers must be at variance with all ordinary knowledge. Though gifted far beyond us, he was a human being formed like ourselves, subject to the same feelings and passions, for good and for evil, or he could not have described ours so accurately and intensely; and he was excited to exertion by the love of fame, or by necessity, like others, with faculties, which, similiar to his own corporeal being, must have been infantine before they grew into a giant's strength. Those faculties also must have been aptly exercised while he was young, or they could not have become so wonderfully strong. As soon could I believe that his body grew in one day from puling childhood to healthy manhood, or without the benefit of exercise, as that his mind lay dormant, (so we are told, with the exception of a paltry ballad, which I consider spurious, on Sir Thomas Lucy) till he had been some years in London, when his genius burst forth in a sudden blaze. The nearer we judge of
him as a fellow being, the more likely are we to form a correct judgment of him, and the greater honour will be paid to his memory. Instead of regarding him as a young idle vagabond,-for such has ever been the implication,-one who heeded not self-improvement, one who did nothing to benefit himself, but on whom nature, unnaturally bounteous, bestowed unsought the choicest gifts that ever mortal owned; instead of these unphilosophical, inconceivable notions, let us feel disposed to believe, and we may readily believe, he was industrious, prudent, earnest, grasping from his boyhood at all knowledge within his reach, and feeding his mind into vigour by exertion, while he strove to imitate his "English Seneca," or while he wrote his Venus and Adonis.
This poem, dedicated to the Earl of Southampton in 1593, and specially designated by him," the first heir of my invention," I suppose to have been written, together with the Rape of Lucrece, at Stratford. The expressions in the dedication, "if your honour seem but pleased, I can account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour;" and "if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest ;" these are not necessarily to be understood as relating to works for the stage, but rather to poems, of higher estimation in those days, for private reading. There is no direct authority, whereon I can ground the supposition that these two poems were written before his arrival in London; it rests solely on likelihood,
which may not influence another, nor is it absolutely requisite that it should. Still one who, however much he has read, has studied nothing but Shakespeare for thirty years, has reason to think his mere opinion may be acceptable to many, while it can offend none, unless he dogmatically founds a theory upon it. Were it my wish to act in this manner, I should refrain, well aware of the futility of such a course.
My opinion is formed respecting the early composition of these poems; first, on the fact bequeathed to us by the jealousy of Nashe; secondly, on the complexion of the works themselves; and lastly, on the improbability of our poet having had "the advantage of idle hours," after he became an actor and a dramatic writer.
First, a lad enamoured of literature, so as to devote his leisure hours, away from his profession, to the study of Seneca, would, as all other such lads have done, and ever will do, attempt something himself in literature. Why his attempt was not dramatic is obvious, if we consider that the younger we are the more ambitious are our pursuits; and plays were then, and till he made them otherwise, in low regard, except for public amusement, compared to other kinds of poetry. The lurking genius within him, therefore, might have prompted him to Seneca, while his ambition perforce directed him to narrative, and that in its most approved form at the time, which was classic or mythological. With this literary ambition, partly proved and partly presumed, I think he wrote Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece before he was one-and-twenty. Secondly, both bear the appearance
of having been written by a very young man. Were two similar poems now brought to me, in spite of their numerous passages of beauty and their descriptive power, I should certainly conclude they were the works of a youth; and by no means of so great promise of future excellence as the Endymion of Keats, which was the work of a youth of about twenty. The picture drawn of the horse of Adonis, of "the timorous flying hare," of the wounded hounds, as they are met by Venus, and of the various objects of fresh rural beauty, if not of the highest order, is delightful. How many passages might be brought forward to prove that the writer was a genuine poet ! But among so many delicate touches, the want of breadth, of bold expression; the constant recurrence to outward description, leaving the inward feeling no more than hinted at, or couched in general termsan inevitable fault attending inexperience in the workings of the human heart; the prevailing ́imitation of the great poet of the time, Spenser, for we begin by imitation of what we most enjoy; all these together, to my mind, stamp the poem of Venus and Adonis with the character of youth. The same observations, allowing for the difference of subject, may be applied to the Rape of Lucrece. Tarquin's desire struggling with remorse, as uttered by himself, like the lovepleading of Venus, is more in the manner of an observer of outward symptoms, than of one who inwardly descries the heavings and the throes of passions in violent contention. The after agony of Lucrece is declamatory or argumentative, not pathetic; while her death, and the grief of her husband and