Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

TO
THE AUTHOR.

“ Come farfalla, che la luce attira,

Alla vorace fiamma abbrucia e spira,
Cosi, dell'arte al sacro fuoco, anch io
M’incendio tutto, per fatal desio!

“Per te Massey la sorte è ben diversa !

L'istinto che ti sprona non t'avversa. Andranne la salma, sepolta e pesta, Ma con l'opere tue, il Genio resta !

TOMMASO SALVINI.”

A BRIEF PRELIMINARY ACCOUNT

OF THE

SONNETS.

Only Twice does Shakspeare speak to us in prose outside of his Plays.

The first time is when he dedicates the poem of Venus and Adonis, as the First heir of his Invention, to Henry Wriothesley, Eirl of Southampton, and says, “ If your Honour seem but pleased I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour.” In the year following this promise was fulfilled. To the same friend the Poet offered the fruit of his “graver labour" in the poem of Lucrece. In the second dedication he again looks forward and speaks of literary work to be done in the future. “What I have done is yours," he says. “What I have to do is yours,-being part in all I have devoted yours.” “What I have to do is yours” implies future work; all future work will be a continuation of all past work, and both are included in the inclusive “all I have devoted yours," i.e. all which I have devoted to you.

Now, whether the work thus spoken of had been done in the past, or is being done in the present, or is to be done in the future according to an agreement or understanding, Shakspeare himself here tells us that such past, present, and future work was wholly and solely devoted to his young friend, the Earl of Southampton. So stands the record in Shakspeare's own writing when he makes another promise more emphatic than the one he had just fulfilled, and again pledges himself by another reference to work in hand, more express in meaning than was his primary dedication. From this personal record we learn that he has work in hand which is pre-dedicated at the time of writing to the same friend. This second and more serious promise given publicly had vo fulfilment, unless the work devoted to Southampton was the Sonnets of Shakspeare, known four years later to be circulating amongst the poet's “ Private Friends.” But, as Mrs. Cowden Clarke observed in a letter addressed to me (July 25, 1866),

" Shakespeare was not the man to write lightly and meaninglessly such words as The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end,' and what I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours ; being part in all I have devoted yours !' Shakespeare was not the man to write thus to his friend Southampton cvertly, and to write to his friend of the Sonnets as he there does, unless they were one and the same person."

The earliest notice we have of Shakspeare's Sonnets yet identified by name is from the pen of Francis Meres, Master of Arts of both Universities, in his work entitled 'Palladis Tamia ; Wit's Treasury, being the second part of Wit's Commonwealth,' which was published in the year 1598. Meres at that date

« PreviousContinue »