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Retaliation, XXXVIII., LXXIX.; Sunset, LXXIII., LXXVII.; A Monument to Fame, cvii., CVIII. ; Perjury, CLI., CLII.; Cupid's Treachery, CLIII., CLIV.
I. B.'s, that is the bookseller Benson's, curious address “To the Reader," is as follows:
“I here presume (under favour) to present to your view some excellent and sweetly composed Poems, of Master William Shakespeare, Which in themselves appeare of the same purity, the Authour himselfe then living avouched; they had not the fortune by reason of their Infancie in his death, to have the due accomodation of proportionable glory, with the rest of his ever-living Workes, yet the lines of themselves will afford you a more authentick approbation than my assurance any way can, to invite your allowance, in your perusall you shall find them Seren, cleere and eligantly plaine, such gentle straines as shall recreate and not perplexe your braine, no intricate or cloudy stuff to puzzell intellect, but perfect eloquence, such as will raise your admiration to his praise : this assurance I know will not differ from
your acknowledge ment. And certaine I am, my opinion will be seconded by the sufficiency of these ensuing Lines ; I have been some what solicitus to bring this forth to the perfect view of all men; and in so doing glad to be serviceable for the continuance of glory to the deserved Author in these his Poems."
Reprints.—In the editions of Shakspere's works published in 1709–10 (Rowe's ed. ; in the vol. of Poems with remarks by Gildon), 1714, 1725, in Ewing's Dublin
· Perhaps referring to the obscurity of the reigning “ metaphysical ” school of poetry.”
edition (1771), and those published at Boston, U.S.A., 1807, 1810.
In the editions of Shakspere's Poems (Bell), 1774 ; (Murden, etc.) ? about 1780; (Chapple) 2 vols., 1804.
HISTORY OF OPINION ON THE SONNETS DURING
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
[From Shakspeare and his Times. By Nathan Drake. 2 vols. 1817.
Vol. ii. pp. 59–61.]
When Gildon reprinted the Sonnets in 1710, he gives it as his opinion that they were all of them in praise of his [Shakspere's] mistress ;1 and Dr. Sewell, when he edited them in 1728, had embraced a similar idea, for he tells us, in reference to our author's example, that “A young muse must have a mistress, to play off the beginning of fancy; nothing being so apt to elevate the soul to a pitch of poetry as the passion of love." 2
The conclusion of these editors remained undisputed for more than half a century, when Mr. Malone, in 1780, published his Supplement to the Edition of Shakspeare's Plays of 1778, which includes the Sonnets of the poet, accompanied by his own notes and those of his friends. Here, besides the opinion which he has himself avowed, he has given the conjectures of Dr. Farmer and Mr. Tyrwhitt, and the decision of Mr. Steevens.
1 Rowe writes (1709):." There is a Book of Poems publish'd in 1640, under the name of Mr. William Shakespeare, but as I have but very lately seen it without an opportunity of making any judgment upon it, I won't pretend to determine whether it be his or no.”
2 Preface to his revised and corrected edition of Shakspeare's Works,
All these gentlemen concur in believing that more than one hundred of our author's sonnets are addressed to a male object. Dr. Farmer, influenced by the initials in the dedication, supposes that Mr. William Harte, the poet's nephew, was the object in question ; but a reference to the Stratford Register completely overturns this hypothesis, for it there appears that William, the eldest son of William Harte, who married Shakspere's sister Joan, was baptized August 28th, 1600, and consequently could not be even in existence when the greater part of these compositions was written.
Mr. Tyrwhitt, founding his conjecture on a line in the twentieth Sonnet, which is thus printed in the old copy,
A man in hew all Hews in his controlling,
conceives that the letters W. H. were intended to imply William Hughes. When Mr. Steevens, in 1766, annexed a reprint of the Sonnets to Shakspere's plays, from the quarto editions, he hazarded no observations on their scope or origin;1 but in Malone's Supplement he ventured, in a note on the Twentieth Sonnet, to declare his conviction that it was addressed to a male object.
Lastly, Mr. Malone, in the Supplement just mentioned, after specifying his concurrence in the conjecture of Mr. Tyrwhitt, adds :—“To this person, whoever he was, one hundred and twenty-six of the following poems are addressed; the remaining twenty-eight are addressed to a
Steevens's remark that an Act of Parliament could not compel the perusal of the Sonnets is indignantly commented on by Wordsworth.
2 Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 579.
Thus the matter rested on the decision of these four celebrated commentators, who were uniform in asserting their belief that Shakspeare had addressed the greater part of his Sonnets to a man, when Mr. George Chalmers in 1797, in his “ Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare Papers,” attempted to overturn their conclusion, by endeavouring to prove that the whole of the Sonnets had been addressed by Shakspere to Queen Elizabeth; a position which he labours to strengthen by additional research in his “Supplemental Apology” of 1799! [“ I mean to prove,” writes Chalmers (Supplemental Apology, p. 21), “1st, that Spenser addressed his Amoretti to Elizabeth ; 2ndly, that Shakspeare was ambitious of emulating Spenser; and 3rdly, that Shakspeare was thus induced to address his Sonnets to the same Queen."]
[Poems, 1815. Essay supplementary to the Preface. Vol. i. p. 353.]
There is extant a small volume of miscellaneous poems, in which Shakspeare expresses his own feelings in his own person. It is not difficult to conceive that the editor, George Steevens, should have been insensible to the beauties of one part of that volume, the Sonnets; though in no part of the writings of this poet is found, in an equal compass, a greater number of exquisite feelings felicitously expressed. But, from regard to the critic's own credit, he would not have ventured to talk of an 1
1 This flippant insensibility was publicly reprehended by Mr. Coleridge in a course of Lectures upon Poetry given by him at the Royal Institution.
Act of Parliament not being strong enough to compel the perusal of those little pieces, if he had not known that the people of England were ignorant of the treasures contained in them; and if he had not, moreover, shared the too common propensity of human nature to exult over a supposed fall into the mire of a genius whom he had been compelled to regard with admiration, as an inmate of the celestial regions—“there sitting where he durst not soar.”
[Shakespeare and his Times. 2 vols. 4to. London, 1817.
Lord Southampton is the subject of the Sonnets 1.CXXVI. They are addressed to a man; in the age of Shakspere the language of love and friendship was mutually convertible (“love” and “lover” = friend). The language of the Lucrece Dedication to Southampton and that of part of the 26th Sonnet are almost precisely the same (see notes on the 26th Sonnet); the language of both is amatory. To whom except Southampton could the 101st and 110th Sonnets be addressed ? But why should Shakspere urge marriage on Southampton, who from 1594 to 1599 was the lover of Elizabeth Vernon? Drake believes there is reason to think the Earl's engagement was twice given up to please the Queen. Southampton, when the
For the various merits of thought and language in Shakspeare's Sonnets see Numbers XXVII., XXIX., XXX., XXXII., XXXIII., LIV., LXIV., LXVI., LXVIII., LXXIII., LXXVI., LXXXVI., XCI., XCII., XCIII., XCVII., XCVIII., CV., CVII., CVIII., CIX., CXI., ' CXIII., CXIV., CXVI., CXVII., CXXIX., and many others (Wordsworth’s note).