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CXXXVI. If thy soul eck thee that I come so near
The present Edition differs from that in the Parchment Series in having
fuller notes, and, Part II. of the Introduction, giving a survey of the
Literature of the Sonnets.
The best counsel to a reader of Shakspere is to cling close to the text of
plays and poems, and remain with it long. Notes are made to be used,
and then cast aside. But the careful student knows how presumptuous a
mistake it is to suppose that an offhand reader will always take up the
meaning rightly. The study of each line and each sentence on this side
and on that is like the preliminary posturings of wrestlers before the
grapple and the tug. To those unversed in the art it is foolishness ; but
others know the uses of the wary eye and slow approach.
No edition of Shakspere's Sonnets, apart from his other writings, with sufficient explanatory notes, has hitherto appeared. Notes are an evil, but in the case of the Sonnets a necessary evil, for many passages are hard to understand. I have kept beside me for several years an interleaved copy of Dyce's text, in which I set down from time to time anything that seemed to throw light on a difficult passage. From these jottings, and from the Variorum Shakspere of 1821,2 my annotations have been chiefly drawn. I have had before me in preparing this volume the editions of Bell, Clark and Wright, Collier, Delius, Dyce, Halliwell, Hazlitt, Knight, Palgrave, Staunton, Grant White; the translations of FrançoisVictor Hugo, Bodenstedt, and others; and the greater portion of the extensive Shakspere Sonnets literature,
| The poet's name is rightly written Shakespeare, rightly also Shakspere. If I err in choosing the form Shakspere, I err with the owner of the name.
? To which this general reference may suffice. I often found it convenient to alter slightly the notes of the Variorum Shakspere, and I have not made it a rule to refer each note from that edition to its individual writer.
English and German. It is sorrowful to consider of how small worth the contribution I make to the knowledge of these poems is, in proportion to the time and pains bestowed.
To render Shakspere's meaning clear has been my aim. I do not make his poetry an occasion for giving lessons in etymology. It would have been easy, and not useless, to have enlarged the notes with parallels from other Elizabethan writers; but they are already bulky. I have been sparing of such parallel passages, and have illustrated Shakspere chiefly from his own writings. Repeated perusals have convinced me that the Sonnets stand in the right order, and that sonnet is connected with sonnet in more instances than have been observed. My notes on each sonnet commonly begin with an attempt to point out the little links or articulations in thought and word which connect it with its predecessor or the group to which it belongs. I frankly warn the reader that I have pushed this kind of criticism far, perhaps too far. I have perhaps in some instances fancied points of connection which have no real existence; some I have set down which seem to myself conjectural. After this warning, I ask the friendly reader not to grow too soon impatient; and if, going through the text carefully, he will consider for himself the points which I have noted, I have a hope that he will in many instances see reason to agree with what I have said.
The text here presented is that of a conservative editor, opposed to conjecture, unless conjecture be a necessity, and desirous to abide by the Quarto (1609), unless strong reasons appear for a departure from it.
Sonnets by Shakspere are first mentioned in Meres's Palladis Tamia, 1598: “ The sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare, witnes ... his sugred Sonnets among his private friends.” In the following year, 1599, Sonnets CXXXVIII. and CXLIV. were printed in the bookseller Jaggard's surreptitious miscellany, The Passionate Pilgrim (see Notes on these Sonnets). Both of these refer to a woman beloved by the writer: the second is that remarkable poem beginning
Two loves I have of comfort and despair. For ten years we hear no more of the Sonnets. On May 20, 1609, A book called Shakespeares Sonnettes was entered on the Stationers' Register by Thomas Thorpe, and in the same year the Quarto edition appeared: Shake-speares Sonnets. Never before Imprinted. At London by G. Eld for T. T. [Thomas Thorpe] and to be solde by William Apsley. 1609.” 1 Edward Alleyn notes in that year that he bought a copy for fivepence. The Sonnets had not the popularity of Shakspere's other poems. No second edition was published until 1640 (printed 1639), when they formed part of “Poems: written by Wil. Shake-speare, Gent,” a volume containing many pieces not by Shakspere. Here the Sonnets are printed with small regard to their order in the edition of 1609, in groups, with the poems of The Passionate Pilgrim interspersed, each group bearing a fanciful title. The bookseller Benson introduced the Poems with an address to The Reader, in which he
1 Some copies instead of “William Apsley" have “ John Wright, dwelling at Christ Churchgate.”