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By heaven's fair sun that breeds the fat earth's store,
DO Plausbly is with applause or with acclamation.
THE SO N N E T S
A LOVER'S COMPLAINT.
A BOOK called SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS" was entered at the Stationers' by Thomas Thorpe, on the 20th of May, 1609. In the course of the same year was issued a small quarto volume of forty leaves, with the following title-page : - Shakespeare's Sonnets. Never before imprinted. At London: By G. Eld for T. T., and are to be sold by William Aspley." The name of Thomas Thorpe in the entry at the Stationers' ascertains him to be the person meant by the initials T. T. in the title-page. It is remarkable that in some copies of the edition of 1609, the title-page bas “are to be sold by John Wright, dwelling at Christ Church gate." In all other respects, both the title-pages and the whole printing of the different copies of 1609 are exactly alike; which shows them to be all of one and the same edition. What may bave been the cause or purpose of the difference specified, is not known, nor is it of any consequence.
Thorpe stood somewhat eminent in his line of business, and his edition of the Sonnets was accompanied with a bookseller's dedication very quaint and affected both in the style of wording and of printing ; the printing being in small capitals witb a period afier each word, and the wording thus : “ To the only begeller of these ensuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H., all happiness, and that eternity promised by our everliving Poet, wisheth the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth, T. T.”
There was no other edition of the Sonnets till 1640, when they were republished by Thomas Coles, but in a totally different order from that of 1609, being cut up, seemingly at random, into seventyfour little poems, with a quaint heading to each, and with parts of The Passionate Pilgrim interspersed. This edition is not regarded as of any authority, save as showing that within tweuiy-four years after the Poet's death the Sonnets were so far from being thought to have that unity of cause, or purpose, or occasion, which has since been attributed to them, as to be set forth under an ar. rangement quite incompatible with any such idea.
Our Introduction to the Venus and Adonis quotes a passage from the Wil's Commonwealth of Francis Meres, speaking of the Poet's " sugared Sonnets among his privale friends." This ascer. tains that a portion, at least, of the Sonnels were written, and well knowo in private circles, hefore 1598. It naturally infers, also, that they were written on divers occasions and for divers persons, some of them being intended, perhaps, as personal compliments, and others merely as exercises of fancy. Copies of them were most likely multiplied, to some extent, in manuscript ; since this would naturally follow both from their intrinsic excellence, and from the favour with which the mention of them by Meres shows them to have been regarded. Probably the autbor added to the namber from time to time after 1598; and as be grew in public distinction and private acquaintance, there would almost needs have been a growing ambition or curiosity among his friends and admirers, to have each as large a collection of these little treasures as they could. What more natural or likely than that, among those to whom, in this course of private circulation, they became known, there should be some one person or more, perhaps of humbler pame, who took pride and pleasure in making or procuring transcripts of as many as he could hear of, and thus getting together, if possible, a full set of them ?
Two of the Sonnets, as we shall see hereafter, the CXXXVIII. and the CXLIV., were printed, with some variations, as a part of The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599. In the same publication, which was doubtless made ignorantly and without authority, there are also several others, especially the iv., vi., and 1x., which, if really Shakespeare's, have as much right to a place among the Sonnets as many tbat are already there. At all events, the fact of those Iwo being thus detached and appearing by themselves may be fairly held to argue a good deal as to the manner in which the Sonnels were probably written and circulated.
We have seen that Thorpe calls the “Mr. W. H.,” to whom he dedicates his edition, the only begetter of these ensuing Sonnets." The word begetter bas been commonly understood as meaning the person who was the cause or occasion of the Sonnets being written, and 10 whom they were originally addressed. The laking of the word in this sense bas caused a great deal of controversy, and exercised a vast amount of critical ingenuity, in endeavouring to trace a thread of continuity through the whole series, and to discover the person who had the somewhat equiv. ocal honour of begetting or inspiring them. And such, no doubt
is the natural and proper sense of the word; but what it might mean in the mouth of one so anxious, apparently, lo speak out of the common way, is a question not so easily scttled. That the Sonnets could nol, in this sense, have been all begotten by one person, has to be admitted ; for if it he certain that some of them were addressed to a man, it is equally certain that otbers were addressed to a woman. But the word begetter is found to have been sometimes used in the sense of obtainer or procurer; and such is clearly ibe only sense wbich, in 'Thorpe's affected language, it will bear, consistently with the internal evidence of the Sonnets themselves. As for the theories, therefore, which have mainly grown from taking Thorpe's only begetter to mean only inspirer, we shall set them all aside, and practically ignore them, as being totally impertinent to the subject. We have not the slightest doubt, that “the only begetter of these ensuing Sonnets” was simply the person who made or procured transcripts of them, and got them all together, either for his own use or for publication, and to whom Thorpe was indebted for his copy of them. The same view is taken by Knight and Collier.
But Thorpe wishes to his Mr. W. H. “ that eternity promised by our ever-living Poet.” Promised hy the Poet to whom? To
Mr. W. H.," or to himself, or to some one else? For aught appears to the contrary, it may be to either one, or perhaps two, of these ; for in some of the Sonnets, as the xvii. and xix., the Poet promises an eternity of youth and fame both to his verse and to the person he is addressing. Here may be the proper place for remarking, that in a line of the xx..-"A man in hue, all hues in bis controlling," - the original prints hues in Italic and with a capital, Hews, just as Will is printed in the cxxxv. and cxXXVI., where the author is evidently playing upon bis own name. It was not uncommon for hues to be spelt hews and printed with a capital, Herrs. Tyrwhill, however, conjectured that in this case a play was intended on the name of Hughes, and that W. Hughes was the “Mr. W. H.” of Thorpe's dedication, and the person ad. dressed in the Sonnets. If the Sonnet in question were meant to be continuous with that which precedes, the Poet certainly perpetrated a very palpable anticlimax in the writing of it. Knight, as will be seen by our notes, groups it along with the LIII., LIV., and Lv., as forming a cluster or little poem by themselves. Whether this grouping be right, seems very questionable ; but it is barely possible that the xx. and those belonging with it may have been addressed to a personal friend of the Poet's, named W Hughes, who was the procurer of the whole series for publication : we say barely possible, and that seems the most that can be said about it.
Great effort has been made, to find in the Sonnets some deeper or other meaning than meets the ear, and to fix upon them, gen. erally, a personal and autobiographical character. It must indeed be owned that there is in several of them an earnestness of tone
and in some few a subdued pathos, which strongly argues them to re expressions of the Poet's real feelings respecting himself, his condition, and the person or persons addressed. This is particu larly the case with ibe series of thirteen, beginning with the cux. in our numbering, the 72d. Something the same may be said of the xxvi. and ibe other two which Knight groups with it, in oor numbering the 24th, 25th, and 26th, where we find a striking resembiance to some expressions used in the dedications of the Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece. But, as to the greater part of the Sonnets, we grow more and more persuaded that they were intended mainly as flights or exercises of fancy, thrown into the form of a personal address, and written, it may be, in some cases at the instance or in compliment of the Poet's personal friends, and perhaps mingling an element of personal inierest or allusion, merely as a matter of art; whatsoever there is personal in them being thus kept subordinate and incidental to poetical beauty and effect. For example, in the cxXXVIII., than which few have more appearance of being autobiographical, the Poet speaks of bimself as being old, and says his “ days are past the best ;" yet this was printed in 1599, when he was but thirty-five years of age. Surely, in that case, his reason for using such language must have been, that it suited his purpose as a poet, not that it was true of his age as a man.
Much light is brown on these remarkable effusions by the general style of sonne!eering then in vogue, as exemplified in the Sonnels of Spenser, Drayton, and Daniel. In these, too, though unquestionably designed mainly as studies or specimens of art, the authors, while speaking in the form of a personal address, and as if revealing their own actual thoughts and inward history, are continually using language and imagery that clearly had not and could not have any truth or fitness save in reference to their pur. pose as poets. In proportion to the genius and art of the men, inese Sonnets have, as much as Shakespeare's, the appearance of being autobiographical, and of disclosing the true personal sentiments and history of the authors; except, as already mentioned, in some few cases where Wordsworth is probably right in saying of the Sonnet, that “ with this key Shakespeare unlock'd his heart.” We have spoken of the strong confidence which Shakespeare expresses repeatedly in the Sonnets, that his lines would both possess and confer an eternity of youth and fame. It is remarkable that all three of the other poets named use language of precisely the same import in their Sonnels, and use it repeatedly It seems, indeed, to bave been at that time a sort of stereotyped matter in sonnet-writing. Thus in Spenser's 75th Sounet :
"My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,