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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 “
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 misprint 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
Notes and Queries, Dec. 2, 1865. 2 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.
volunteers in the days of Elizabeth and James, who embarked on naval enterprises, hoping to make their fortunes by discovery or conquest; so he with good wishes took his risk on the sea of public favour in this light venture of the Sonnets.1
The date at which the Sonnets were written, like their origin, is uncertain. Individual sonnets have been indicated as helping to ascertain the date.
1.—It has been confidently stated that CVII., containing the line,
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured, must refer to the death of Elizabeth (1603), the poet's Cynthia; but the line may well bear another interpretation. (See Notes.)
II.—Mr. Tyler (Athenæum, Sept. 11, 1880) ingeniously argues that the thought and phrasing of lines in Sonnet LV. are derived from a passage in Meres's Palladis Tamia, 1598, where Shakspere among others is mentioned with honour: “ As Ovid saith of his worke:
Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec ignis,
Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetustas :
Exegi monumentum aere perennius,
i See Dr. Grosart's Donne, vol. ii. pp. 45, 46.
So say I severally of Sir Philip Sidney's, Spenser's, Daniel's, Drayton's, Shakespeare's, and Warner's worke:
Nec Jovis ira, imbres, Mars, ferrum, flamma, senectus, Hoc opus unda, lues, turbo, venena ruent.
Et quanquam ad pulcherrimum hoc opus evertendum tres illi Dii conspirabunt, Chronus, Vulcanus, et Pater ipse gentis ;
Nec tamen annorum series, non flamma, nec ensis,
III.—The last line of Sonnet xciv.,
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds,
occurs also in the play King Edward III. (printed 1596), in a part of the play ascribed by some critics to Shakspere. We cannot say for certain whether the play borrows from the sonnet, or the sonnet from the play. The latter seems to me the more likely supposition of the two.
The argument for this or that date from coincidences in expression between the Sonnets and certain plays of Shakspere has no decisive force. Coincidences may
. often be found between Shakspere's late and early plays. But the general characteristics of style may lead us to believe that some Sonnets, as I.-XXIV., belong to a period not later than Romeo and Juliet; others, as LXIV.-LXXIV., seem to echo the sadder tone heard in Hamlet and Measure for Measure. I cannot think that any of the Sonnets are earlier than Daniel's Delia