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gins, the extensive cultivation of the explanation, because no discussion of English sonnet. It interests us, never- the sonnet is possible without undertheless, by its preface, which is not standing its strict Italian form. The only well written and judicious, but English form to which Shakespeare puts forward at least one view we has given his name (though the Earl have long entertained.
of Surrey seems to have invented it) The sonnet is, of course, an essential- is far simpler. It consists of three ly artificial form, and (80 far as we can quatrains (or sets of four lines each) trace it with certainty) of Italian ori- rhyming alternately—a fresh set of gin. It is not only artificial, but com- rhymes for each quatrain; with a plexly artificial. Limited to fourteen rhyming couplet to conclude the whole lines, in its Italian or Petrarchan form (a couplet, need we say, being two lines (the recognized classical form), those rhyming together?). Such, in the clearfourteen lines are divided by an intri- est explanation we can give, are the cate arrangement of rhymes. The first chief rival forms, the Petrarchan and eight lines (the octave) are divided into the Shakespearean. And Mr. Nichol two portions of four lines each; the contends that the Shakespearean is the first and last lines of each quatrain (or more satisfactory for English use. four lines) rhyming together, while the Coventry Patmore (the passage is middle two lines rhyme with each quoted in his "Life") contemned the other. Moreover, there are but two Petrarchan or Italian sonnet altogethrhymes throughout the octave (or first er, largely for reasons connected with portion of eight lines); the first and last its metrical structure. Without enterlines of the two quatrains being all on ing into questions so subtle, we are the one rhyme, while the middle coup- disposed to think it over-valued for lets of the two quatrains are all on the English purposes-whatever may be same secondary rhyme. Represented said of it for Italian purposes. It is by letters, the rhyme-scheme is: a b consecrated in men's eyes by Milton b a; a b b a. To correspond with this and Wordsworth, who employed it exrhyme-construction, there should be a clusively; since when in the language certain pause or division in the sense of Pear's soap) poets have used no between the two quatrains (not neces- other-or seldom any other form. The sarily a complete pause, that is, a full- Miltonic sonnet (as Mr. Nichol remarks, stop); and a complete pause at the end following Mr. Bridges) is an Horatian of the octave. Indeed, the octave ode in little, so to speak. Milton atshould exhaust and bring to a close tained this majestic and unified qualone aspect of the single idea or feeling ity by neglecting the prescribed pauses, which forms the subject-matter of ev- not only betwen the quatrains, but ery sonnet.
A second and closing as- even between octave and sestet, and pect is taken up in the last six lines making the sense continuous, at pleas(the sestet). This sestet, or last six ure, throughout the sonnet. Wordslines, the poet can rhyme as he pleases; worth imitated his licence with greater save that the Italians (who should be licence; sometimes adding besides a the best judges) objected to their clos- third rhyme in the middle couplet of ing with a couplet. It gives too epi- the second quatrain. They attained grammatic a character to the sonnet; noble effect. But why adopt a strucwhich should rather die gravely and ture in form, merely to violate it in collectedly away, after reaching its essence? Why not adopt a form which climax in the close of the octave. shall frankly accord with your design,
At the risk of pedantry we make this instead of one you must wrest to your
design? The reason of the form being Surrey not much; Raleigh's sonnet is gone, it becomes meaningless; nay, the somewhat overrated; Spenser never so form means one thing, the internal little found himself as in this medium; structure another—they are contradic- we cannot share Mr. Nichol's admiratory. It is like the violation of the tion for most of Henry Constable's see pause prescribed by the heroic couplet, cred sonnets; Daniel is surely an am80 painful in "Endymion.” The defi. bler with fine lines (though it be treaance of the sonnet-form is no whit son to say so); vigorous Drayton has more reputable because the intricacy yet (like Daniel) but one quite fine of that form prevents the ear's swift sonnet, though others have partial recognition of the defiance.
power; Jonson, and Herrick, and HerBut, say you, that is past; we can bert fail in this who do not fail in now write true Italian sonnets; there other things; Habington is naught; the is Rossetti. There is Rossetti. At bis eighteenth century all but barren; and best he triumphs, this beef-fed Italian. so we reach Wordsworth. The great But at other times, even with him, the names (apart from writers of an odd rhyme is apt to be unpleasantly prom- good sonnet or so) can be reckoned on inent. With native-born poets it is the fingers: Sidney (we do not admire often prominent, and one has a general Mr. Nichol's selection from him), sense of difficulty overcome which one Shakespeare, Drummond of Hawthornshould not have. The English muse den, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats. Add does not breathe freely in the form. to these Mrs. Browning and Rossetti It has too much whalebone for her in our day, and you exhaust the listlarge movements. The Shakespearean not a long one for our opulently poeti. form, without the Italian's crafty com- cal England. One of the surprises of pletion for its chosen aims, is simpler, the book to the average reader, by the native, capable both of sweetness and way, will be two excellent sonnets by majesty; a better instrument, we think, Thomas Russell. Individual sonnets for our English muse. As Mr. Nichol are not wanting. Two of Constable's observes, Keats ended by using it, are good; there are fine ones by Sylthough he began with the Petrarchan vester and William Browne; others of model; and Keats had instinct.
his and one of Campion's are like Throughout the greater portion of dainty lyrics more than sonnets. her career, indeed (until, that is, the Donne's are well known and ruggedly Victorian period), the English muse strong. Gray and Egerton Brydges has not taken kindly to the sonnet. have each a fine and known sonnet. At That is the reflection which comes to least one of Lamb's, Blanco White's, one in glancing through this little book. one of Shelley's, and one or two of There is a disappointingly small pro- Hood's outstand from the book. And portion of first-rate merit, apart from that, if we have any judgment, is all. its interest as experiment in an origi. Surely, we are driven to repeat, the nally foreign form. A selection of lyric,
sonnet is ill-suited to English genius. or narrative, or any other manner of The present day tells a different tale, poems, during the like period would to
extent. Yet we question pan out far richer in pure gold. Wyat whether a simpler form be not needed; (speaking always from the austere po- and we ask, with Mr. Nichol, why not etic standpoint) Wyat is nothing, and the Shakespearean?