ePub 版

the sentiment often disguised in conceits. The fourth is far less objectionable; but the fifth is full of varied, rich, and energetic poetry. As we know that three years had elapsed between the first and the fifth, it is highly interesting to observe his improvement in rhymed versification, and his gradual abandonment of the fashion of the day. Few will differ from me when I say it is to be regretted that he ever departed from blank verse in his plays. He himself was doubtless of this opinion, for he seldom penned even a couplet in his latest plays. Ease, harmony, strength, and pregnancy of meaning, all so wonderfully his attributes, often seemed to forsake him when he wrote in rhyme, at least in the heroic measure.

He opens this poem with an elegant apology for his silence. The stanza is one of the best he has written.

"My love is strengthen'd, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandised, whose rich esteeming
The owner's tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer's front doth sing,

And stops her pipe in growth of riper days :
Not that the summer is less pleasant now

Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night, But that wild music burthens every bough,

And sweets, grown common, lose their dear delight. Therefore, like her, I sometimes hold my tongue, Because I would not dull you with my song."

As he had been accused, in addition to his silence,

of giving a preference to new acquaintances, he exults in these evidences of the youth's friendship, repeatedly calling him "fair, kind, and true," and declaring his own sincerity. He talks more than usual of himself, as if he were assured of the youth's being interested in him, and even calls to mind their old quarrel as a matter of triumph to both parties.

For some time I was baffled in discovering the meaning of stanza 121; the only real difficulty I have encountered in these poems. He there mentions he had been accused of something "vile;" complains that on his "frailties" there have been "frailer spies," and strenuously rebuts the charge. The word frailties naturally sent my thoughts on his mistress, but as he says, speaking of his calumniators:

“Which in their wills count bad what I think good," of course he had not her in his mind, as, in other passages, he condemns himself for having had any acquaintanceship with her. It follows then it must have been something else which was esteemed "vile;" and, connecting the stanza with the preceding and following ones, we find he had been pronounced guilty of the vileness of frailty in friendship,-a phrase used in the same sense also in stanza 109. His reasoning on this subject is likewise obscure, and might be mistaken to his discredit:

"'Tis better to be vile, than vile esteem'd :

When not to be receives reproach of being;
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deem'd,
Not by our feeling, but by others' seeing."

My interpretation will be seen. He owns he had been long absent, that he had "frequent been with unknown minds," and that he had "forgot upon his dearest love (friend) to call," but still contends he was heartily attached to him. After reminding him of the cordiality of their reconciliation in times past, he utterly denies that he had been so "vile" as to be fickle in friendship. Immediately after this stanza, he acknowledges having given his present of a memorandum book, "thy gift, thy tables," to another, (which, we may suppose, was ranked among his offences) and handsomely excuses himself for having parted with it. Then he exclaims:

"No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change !"

and continues in the same strain to the end of the poem.

Nothing appears to have distressed him more than evil tongues. We have seen how sensitively he warned his friend, in his light conversation, to beware of them. His hatred of the profession of a player is grounded on the reproach cast on it by the world. This is bitterly and powerfully expressed in these


"Alas! 'tis true I have gone here and there, And made myself a motley to the view, Gored mine own thoughts."****

"O for my sake, do thou with fortune chide, The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,

That did not better for my life provide,

Than public means, which public manners breeds.

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.
Pity me then." *

"Your love and pity do the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,

So you o'ergreen my bad, my good allow?
You are my all-the-world, and I must strive

To know my shames and praises from your tongue."

Had he been the best actor of his day, he might have found a sufficient consolation in making himself a "motley to the view;" and we may readily imagine that his regret was mingled with some indignation at players not being worthily esteemed; which at the present day they are, by inheritance from him, as well as on their own account. We are told that, on the stage, he was "excellent in the qualitie he professed," and "an actor of good account in the companie;" by which we may understand he was an excellent actor of second-rate parts. His name stands in the list of the principal tragedians to Ben Jonson's Sejanus, performed in 1603; but it appears in no list of a later date. This was thirteen years before his death. It is probable that he gradually withdrew his person from the stage, as the fame and profits of his works increased.

As he had given in this poem a reason for not addressing more verses to his young friend, the Envoy, without actually bidding him farewell, seems to take a poetical leave of him; and, to mark it the more, it is written, not in the sonnet-stanza, but in half-a-dozen couplets.

Stanza 102. My friendship is far from being disproved by silence. When we first knew each other, I wrote in your praise; and if I sometimes now refrain, it is because your praise is become common, and I would not make you weary of my verse.

103. O blame me not if should write no more, since

your merits exceed the power of my muse.

104. To me, fair friend, you will always appear the same as when first I saw you fresh in youth, you that are yet young. Beauty fades unperceived; therefore I would celebrate it betimes.

105. Let not my friendship be called idolatry, since my beloved friend is fair, kind, and true to me.

106. Old chroniclers, in their descriptions of human beauty, did but prefigure you.

107. No consideration can controul my true friendship. In spite of death itself, I shall live in this verse, and it shall be your enduring monument.

108. What can I say more than I have already said in your praise? Nothing, dear boy; but still it must, like prayers divine, be repeated daily, so that our friendship may seem always young.

109. O never say that absence made me fickle. I return unchanged. Never believe anything against me so preposterous.

110. Alas! it is true I have gone here and there, a public player, goring my own thoughts; and it is most true that I have formed new acquaintances, but not to your injury; nor shall my conduct again try the patience of an older friend.

111. O for my sake chide guilty fortune for not having provided me with better means that those which depend on the public. Thence is my name disgraced, my and nature is well nigh humiliated to my situation. But if you pity me, dear friend, I shall find comfort.

« 上一頁繼續 »