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Brown, and Hallam ; with Furnivall, Spalding, Rossetti, v and Palgrave, I believe that Shakspere's Sonnets expressie his own feelings in his own person." To whom they were addressed is unknown. We shall never discover the name of that woman who for a season could sound, as no one else, the instrument in Shakspere's heart from the lowest note to the top of the compass. To the eyes of no diver among the wrecks of time will that curious talisman gleam. Already when Thorpe dedicated these poems to their “only begetter,” she perhaps was lost in the quickmoving life of London, to all but a few in whose memory were stirred, as by a forlorn, small wind, the grey ashes of a fire gone out. As to the name of Shakspere's youthful friend and patron, we conjecture on slender evidence at the best. Setting claimants aside on whose bebalf the evidence is absolutely none, except that their Christian name and surname begin with a W and an H, two remain whose pretensions have been supported by accomplished advocates. Drake (1817), a learned and refined writer, was the first to suggest that the friend addressed in Shakspere's Sonnets was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis was dedicated in 1593, and in the following year Lucrece, in words of strong devotion resembling those of the twenty-sixth Sonnet.1 B. Heywood Bright (1819) and James Boaden (1832) in dependently arrived at the conclusion that the Mr. W. H.
indebted for some valuable notes. See his Articles in Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, 1878—9.
1 Drake did not, as is sometimes stated, suppose that Mr. W. H. was Southampton. He took “begetter” to mean obtainer, and left Mr. W. H. unidentified. Others hold that “ W. H.” are the initials of Southampton's names reversed as a blind to the public.
of the dedication, the “ begetter or inspirer of the Sonnets, was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to whom with his brother, as two well-known patrons of the great dramatist, his fellows Heminge and Condell dedicated the First Folio. Wriothesley was born in 1573, nine years after Shakspere; Herbert in 1580. Wriothesley at an early age became the lover of Elizabeth Vernon, needing therefore no entreaties to marry (I.-XVII.); he was not beautiful; he bore no resemblance to his mother (III. 9); his life was active, with varying fortunes, to which allusions might be looked for in the Sonnets, such as may be found in the verses of his other poet, Daniel. Further, it
appears from the punning Sonnets (CXXXV. and CXLIII., see Notes), that the Christian name of Shakspere's friend was the same as his own, Will, but Wriothesley's name was Henry. To Herbert the punning Sonnets and the “ Mr. W. H.” of the dedication can be made to apply. He was indeed a nobleman in 1609, but a nobleman might be styled Mr.; Lord Buckhurst is entered as M. Sackville in England's Parnassus (Minto); or the Mr. may have been meant to disguise the truth. Herbert was beautiful ; was like his illustrious mother; was brilliant, accomplished, licentious; "the most universally beloved and esteemed,” says Clarendon, “of any man of his age.” Like Southampton, he was a patron of poets, and he loved the theatre. In 1599 attempts were unsuccessfully made to induce him to become a suitor for the hand of the Lord Admiral's daughter. So far the balance leans towards Herbert. But his father lived until 1601 (see XIII. and Notes); Southampton's father died while his son was a boy; and the date of Herbert's birth (1580), taken in connection with Meres's mention of Sonnets, and the “Two loves” of the Passionate Pilgrim Sonnet (1599), CXLIV., may well cause a doubt.
A clue, which promises to lead us to clearness, and then deceives us into deeper twilight, is the characterisation (LXXVIII.-LXXXVI.) of a rival poet who for a time supplanted Shakspere in his patron's regard. This rival, the “better spirit” of Lxxx., was learned (LXXVIII); dedicated a book to Shakspere's patron (LXXXII. and Notes); celebrated his beauty and knowledge (LXXXII.); in “hymns” (Lxxxv.); was remarkable for the full proud sail of his great verse” (LXXXVI., Lxxx.); was taught“ by spirits” to write "above a mortal pitch;" was nightly visited by "an affable familiar ghost,” who “gulled him with intelligence” (LXXXVI.). Here are allusions and characteristics which ought to lead to identification. Yet in the end we are forced to confess that the poet remains as dim a figure as the patron.
Is it Spenser? He was learned, but what ghost was that which gulled him ? Is it Marlowe ?
His verse was proud and full, and the creator of Faustus may well have had dealings with his own Mephistophelis; but Marlowe died in May, 1593, the year of Venus and Adonis. Is it Drayton, or Nash, or John Davies of Hereford ? Persons in search of an ingeniously improbable opinion may chose any one of these. Is it Daniel ? Daniel's reputation stood high; he was regarded as a master by Shakspere in his early poems; he was brought up at Wilton, the seat of the Pembrokes, and in 1601 he inscribed his Defence of Ryme to William Herbert; the Pembroke family favoured astrologers, and the ghost that gulled Daniel may have been the same that gulled Allen, Sandford, and Dr. Dee, and through them gulled Herbert. Here is at least a clever guess, and Boaden is again the guesser. But Professor Minto makes a guess even more fortunate. No Elizabethan poet wrote ampler verse, none scorned “ignorance” more, or more haughtily asserted his learning, than Chapman. In The Tears of Peace (1609), Homer as a spirit visits and inspires him : the claim to such inspiration may have been often made by the translator of Homer in earlier years. Chapman was pre-eminently the poet of Night. The Shadow of Night, with the motto, Versus mei habebunt aliquantum Noctis, appeared in 1594; the title-page describes it as containing “two poeticall Hymnes." In the dedication Chapman assails unlearned“ passion-driven men,” “ hidebound with affection to great men's fancies,” and ridicules the alleged eternity of their “idolatrous platts for riches.” “Now what a supererogation in wit this is, to think Skill so mightily pierced with their loves, that she should prostitutely show them her secrets, when she will scarcely be looked upon by others, but with invocation, fasting, watching; yea, not without having drops of their souls like a heavenly familiar.” Of Chapman's Homer a part appeared in 1596 : dedicatory sonnets in a later edition are addressed to both Southampton and Pembroke.
Mr. W. H., the only begetter of the Sonnets, remains unknown. Even the meaning of the word “ begetter" is in dispute. “I have some cousin-germans at court," writes Decker in Satiromastix, “shall beget you the reversion of the master of the king's revels,” where beget evidently means procure. Was the “ begetter” of the Sonnets, then, the person who procured them for Thorpe? I cannot think so. There is special point in the choice of the word “ begetter,” if the dedication be addressed to the person who inspired the poems and for whom they were written. Eternity through offspring is what Shakspere most desires for his friend. If he will not beget a child, then he is promised eternity in verse by his poet -in verse“ whose influence is thine, and born of thee" (LXXVIII.). Thus was Mr. W. H. the begetter of these poems, and from the point of view of a complimentary dedication he might well be termed the only begetter.
I have no space to consider suggestions which seem to me of little weight—that W. H. is a mispriut for W. S., meaning William Shakspere (Ingleby); that “ W. H. all” should be read “ W. Hall” (J. Forsyth); that W. H. stands for William Hammond (F. S. Ellis, Hazlitt), or Henry Walker the godson of Shakspere, or William Houghton the dramatist, or William Hewes the musician;2 that a full stop should be placed after “wisheth,” making Mr. W. H., perhaps William Herbert or William Hathaway, the wisher of happiness to Southampton, the only begetter (Ph. Chasles and Bolton Corney); nor do I think we need argue for or against the supposition of a painful German commentator (Barnstorff), that Mr. W. H. is none other than Mr. William Himself. When Thorpe uses the words “ the adventurer in setting forth,” perhaps he meant to compare himself to one of the young
1 Notes and Queries, Dec. 2, 1865.
? See Mr. C. Elliott Browne's letters in The Athenæum, 1873, ii. p. 277 and p. 336, who however does not maintain that this William Hewes was Mr. W. H.