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My soul doth tell my body that he may
In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn,
Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep :
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
The little love-god, lying once asleep,
ILLUSTRATION OF THE SONNETS.
THE original edition of this collection of poems bore the following title : “Shake-speare'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 I. to CLIV., and they follow in their numerical order, as in the text we have presented to our readers. But, although this arrangement of the Sonnets is now the only one adopted in editions of Shakspeare's Poems, another 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. Shake-speare, 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 departed 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 this 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 Shakspeare'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 Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare: 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, in this place, to examine that question with proportionate care. The Sonnets of Shakspeare 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.
The first seventeen Sonnets contain a “leading idea" under every form of “variation.” They are an exhortation to a friend, a male friend, to marry. Who this friend was has been the subject of infinite discussion. Chalmers maintains that it was Queen Elizabeth, and that there was no impropriety in Shakspeare 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 Wriothesly. But Mr. Boaden and Mr. Brown have recently affirmed that “W. H.” is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who, in his youth and his rank, exactly corresponded 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