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I find it possible to go on without interruption from 1. to XXXII.; from XXXIII. to XLII.; from XLIII. to LXXIV.; from Lxxv. to XCVI.; from XCVII. to xcix.; from c. to CXXVI.
I do not here attempt to trace a continuous sequence in the Sonnets addressed to the dark-haired woman (CXXVII.CLIV.); I doubt whether such continuous sequence is to be found in them; but in the Notes some points of connection between sonnet and sonnet are pointed out.
If Shakspere “unlocked his heart” in these Sonnets, what do we learn from them of that great heart? I cannot answer otherwise than in words of my own formerly written. “In the Sonnets we recognise three things : that Shakspere was capable of measureless personal devotion; that he was tenderly sensitive, sensitive above all to every diminution or alteration of that love his heart so eagerly craved; and that, when wronged, although he suffered anguish, he transcended his private injury, and learned to forgive. ...
.. The errors of his heart originated in his sensitiveness, in his imagination (not at first inured to the hardness of fidelity to the fact), in his quick consciousness of existence, and in the self-abandoning devotion of his heart. There are some noble lines by Chapman in which he pictures to himself the life of great energy, enthusiasms, and passions, which for ever stands upon the edge of utmost danger, and yet for ever remains in absolute security :
Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea
Perhaps there is a break at LVIII. The most careful studies of the sequence of the Sonnets are Mr. Furnivall’s in his preface to the Leopold Shakspere, and Mr. Spalding's in The Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1878.
Even till his sail-yards tremble, his masts crack,
Such a master-spirit, pressing forward under strained canvas, was Shakspere. If the ship dipped and drank water, she rose again ; and at length we behold her within view of her haven, sailing under a large, calm wind, not without tokens of stress of weather, but if battered, yet unbroken by the waves.” The last plays of Shakspere, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, Henry VIII., illuminate the Sonnets and justify the moral genius of their writer.
I thank Professor Atkinson for help given in reading the proof-sheets of my Introduction ; Mr. W. J. Craig, for illustrations of obsolete words; Mr. Furnivall, for hints given from time to time in our discussion by letter of the grouping of the Sonnets; Mr. Edmund Gosse and Dr. Grosart, for the loan of valuable books; Mr. HalliwellPhillipps, for a note on the date of Lintott's reprint; Prof. Hales and Mr. Hart, for several ingenious suggestions; and Mr. L. C. Purser, for translations of the Greek epigrams connected with Sonnets CLIII., CLIV.
While reading or glancing through various books, review articles, and scattered fragments of criticism on the Sonnets, I made notes of their contents. These, being now put together, form a history of opinion respecting Shakspere's Sonnets as curious and perhaps as edifying as a history of opinion respecting the Apocalyptic number 666 might be. My notes may at least serve the useful purpose of helping students to avoid certain false guides. But it will be seen that among the writers on the Sonnets are several both learned and judicious.
I do not attempt a Bibliography of the Editions of the Sonnets, for with the materials at my disposal such a bibliography would be far from complete. Nor do my notes give a view of the entire critical literature of the subject. Still, they do not omit a great deal, and I fear they are amply sufficient to exhaust the patience of a well-disposed reader who should try to make his way straight through them, and not use them (as I have hoped that they may be used) rather for the purpose of reference.
1 Mr. Swinburne, in his “ full and heightened style,” writes : “Upon the Sonnets such a preposterous pyramid of presumptuous commentary has long since been reared by the Cimmerian speculation and Beotian • brain-sweat' of Sciolists and Scholiasts, that no modest man will hope, and no wise man will desire, to add to the structure or subtract from it one single brick of proof or disproof, theorem or theory.”
Among books or pamphlets which I have not seen are the following :-Albert (Rev. John Armstrong), Sonnets from Shakespeare, 8vo, 1791 ; Alger (W. R.), Shakespeare's Sonnets and Friendship; Donnelly (I.), The Sonnets of Shakspeare; Hillard (K.), The Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets ; Richardson (D. L.), Literary Leaves ; Shakspeare's Sonnets (American Review, 1847). I shall be glad if any reader will favour me with notes on any of these or other studies unknown to me which illustrate the Sonnets, and should this book reach a second edition, I will make use of such information.
Tieck's novel (1829), Der Dichter und sein Freund, and the romance by H. König (1839), William's Dichten und Trachten, I have not read.
Of translations of the Sonnets my knowledge is very imperfect. I have selected for notice two as distinguished for high literary merits—that of Bodenstedt into German, and that of F. Victor-Hugo into French. I am not able to furnish a complete list of translations, but I may mention the French translation by Lafont (1856), and those in German by Lachmann (1820), Wagner (1840), Jordan (1861), Gelbcke (1867), Simrock (1867), H. von Friesen (1869), Tschischwitz (1870), Gildemeister (1871), Krauss (1872), Neidhardt (no date on title-page). Gildemeister in the main agrees with Delius in his view of the Sonnets; Krauss and Gelbcke follow Massey. The Sonnets have been translated into Dutch by Professor Burgersdijk (1879).
I have to acknowledge my obligations to Mr. Justin Winsor's Bibliography of the Earlier Editions of Shakespeare's Poems (Cambridge, Mass., 1879); and to Mr. Hubbard's valuable Catalogue of Works relating to William Shakespeare and his Writings, in the Barton Collection, Boston Public Library.
THE SONNETS BEFORE 1609.
The first mention of sonnets by Shakspere occurs in the Palladis Tamia of Francis Meres, 1598. “ As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to liue in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid liues in mellifluous and honytongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his priuate friends." In the following year (1599) the bookseller Jaggard published The Passionate Pilgrim. By W. Shakespeare —a surreptitious collection, of which few pieces are by Shakspere. It opens with two sonnets, those numbered CXXXVIII. and cxliv. in the edition of 1609. In one of these sonnets occur the words, “I know my years are past the best." Both refer to a woman beloved by the writer. The second is that remarkable sonnet opening with the
Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
My worser spirit a woman colour'd ill. The text of these Sonnets varies slightly from that of the edition of 1609; the variations will be found in my notes on Sonnets cxXXVIII. and CXLIV.
In Stationers' Register, January 3, 1599-1600, we find, “Entred for his copye under the handes of the Warden