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112. Your friendship and pity make amends for what vulgar scandal has stamped upon me. I am deaf to critic or flatterer, so you palliate my bad, and allow my good.
113. Since I left you, everything, in my mind's eye, has appeared in your shape.
114. Has my eye been flattered, or has it seen truly? O, it was flattery! Yet, in this instance, I have a kingly love for it.
115. Was I wrong in saying from the first-Now I love you best!-thus subduing the tyranny of Time, by proclaiming a certainty over uncertainty?
116. Let me not admit impediments to the union of true minds. Friendship is insincere, if capable of change when it meets with change. O no! it is fixed, never shaken, a guiding star, and not the fool of Time.
117. Accuse me of having been remiss in my duty by not calling on you, say I have frequented others' company instead of yours, record my wilfulness and errors, and add surmise to proof; but hate me not for putting your constancy and the virtue of your friendship to trial.
118. As we stimulate our appetites by compounds, or as we make ourselves sick with physic to avoid a worse sickness, such was the policy of my friendship. I find, however, that the drugs I took for your sake are considered poison.
119. What wretchedness was once mine when I thought we were separated for ever! O benefit of ill! now I find that which was more than good may be bettered by evil, and renewed friendship is stronger and greater than it was at first.
120. Your former unkindness befriends me now, and I must bow under my transgression, occasioned by the sorrow I then felt. For if you were shaken by my unkindness, as I by your's, you have passed a hell of time. I have never sought to canvass the crime you committed.
O that I had then thought otherwise than I did! soon mutually exchanged forgiveness, and we are the richer for it.
121. A man that is slandered, is in a worse state than if his enemies spoke the truth; inasmuch as he does not enjoy those advantages, which, according to them, his bad conduct has acquired. Why should slanderers count bad what I think good? No; I am that I am! and they who point out my defects, betray their own.
122. Your gift of tablets I bestowed on another, because I stood not in need of anything to keep you in my memory.
123. Time, with his pyramids, which are but deceptions on us, because our lives are short, shall not boast of my change.
124. If my dear friendship were but the child of state, it might be called fortune's bastard, subject to circumstances, and built on accident; but it is neither affected by smiling pomp, nor by misfortune. It fears not policy; it stands alone, unbiassed, and is itself, in the grand sense, politic.
125. How should I have profited by obsequiousness, laying a wrong foundation for fame? Have I not seen courtiers lose all, and more, by paying too much? No! let my unmixed and artless homage be to your heart, and your heart be mine in exchange. Hence, thou suborned calumniator of my sincerity! A true soul, when most impeached, stands least in thy power.
"O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
If nature, sovereign mistress, over wrack,
The task of interpreting the sense of all these stanzas, has been effected carefully and honestly. Indeed, this is no self-praise, as they contain nothing adverse to my explanation, no temptation to strain the meaning of a single sentence. My purpose is not to set forth and uphold an ingenious theorya mere opinion,-but to bring forward undeniable proofs, enforcing conviction.
At the same time, I am far from believing that every person will precisely coincide in all the interpretations I have given. Better readings, though unimportant to the whole, may be made of some of the passages. It would be strange if no one disagreed with me on so many minor disputable points. But allowing every objection of that nature, I contend that the main points must remain undisturbed, which are these:
First; The Sonnets, as they have hitherto been called, up to the 126th inclusive, evidently ought to form five distinct poems in the sonnet-stanza.
Secondly; Each poem terminates at the place I have indicated, with its proper Envoy.
Thirdly; Each stanza is connected with the preceding and the following ones, so as to produce con
secutive sense and feeling throughout, as much, or more, as will be usually found in any poetical, or even any prose epistle.
Fourthly; They are all addressed to one person; and that person must have been very young, and of high rank; if not Master William Herbert, some other of his age in 1597 or 8, and of his condition.
Fifthly; Each poem is entitled to the description or argument prefixed to it.
Our poet's lovers, once convinced on these several points, which is my aim, will readily understand and enjoy this neglected portion of his works. While proceeding in the explanation, my endeavour has been, far as the nature of the poems permitted, to make them a comment on the author's character. In doing this, however, I have omitted to notice numerous touches, because they must be observable to every attentive reader.
Taking a general view of the poems, the predominant peculiarity is in the variety, ingenuity, and almost ideal painting displayed in their lengthened strain of elegant compliment; and this question inevitably intrudes itself, is it probable that he wrote all, as he asserts, in the spirit of honest truth? Granting that this high-born youth was eminently beautiful, as well as kind-hearted and true, at least in Shakespeare's belief, with one exception, which was forgiven, at the commencement of their friendship, we shall find that, amidst all this continued praise, he is not endowed by the poet with any quality beyond beauty, kindness, and truth,—“ fair, kind, and true," being the burthen of the song throughout. No prophecy of the future
excellence of his mind is admitted; his birth and wealth are scarcely mentioned, never celebrated; the hopes of the nation are faintly and indirectly hinted at, not assured; all these have ever been the common themes for flattery of the great, and were very common in those days: Shakespeare avoids them all. It may be argued that so much praise of personal beauty, whether merited or not, amounts to flattery; and the answer may be,-if merited, there was no flattery, as I have already endeavoured to prove. But the question ought to resolve itself into this consideration; either the youth is to be regarded simply as a friend, or as a patron. If as a friend, we cannot find fault with him for celebrating the most worthy qualities he perceived; first, truth, and, next to that, personal beauty. If as a patron, the poet was assuredly a wretched courtier, openly reproving the noble youth for having committed the "crime," such is the plain term, of treachery to his friend; for having been addicted to licentious conversation; and for having delighted in the "gross painting" of another poet, in preference to honest praise :
"Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend."
It must follow that, if Shakespeare, with all his knowledge of the human heart, intended to flatter a patron, he betrayed more ignorance of the means to accomplish his end than the dullest slave. Such a conclusion is an absurdity.