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As victors, of my silence cannot boast ;
But when your countenance fil'd up bis line,
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
Thus bave I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
We cannot trace the connexion of the 121st Sonnet with what precedes and what follows it. It may stand alone—a somewhat impatient expression of contempt for the opinion of the world, which too often galls those most who, in the consciousness of right, ought to be best prepared to be indifferent to it :
'Tis better to be vile, than vile esteemid,
Unless this general evil they maintain,-
Lastly, of the Sonnets entirely independent of the other portions of the series, the following, already mentioned, furnishes one of the many proofs which we have endeavoured to produce that the original arrangement was in many respects an arbitrary one :
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
We have thus, with a labour which we fear may be disproportionate to the results, separated those parts of this series of poems which appeared to be manifestly complete in themselves, or not essentially connected with what has been supposed to be the “ leading idea " which prevails throughout the collection. It has been said, with great eloquence, “ It is true that, in the poetry as well as in the fictions of early ages, we find a more ardent tone of affection in the language of friendship than has since been usual; and yet no instance has been adduced of such rapturous devotedness, such an idolatry of admiring love, as the greatest being whom nature ever produced in the human form pours forth to some unknown youth in the majority of these Sonnets."* The same accomplished critic further speaks of the strangeness of “Shakspere's humiliation in addressing him (the youth) as a being before whose feet he crouched, whose frown he feared, whose injuries, and those of the most insulting kind--the seduction of the mistress to whom we have alluded -he felt and bewailed without resenting." We should agree with Mr. Hallam, if these circumstances were manifest, that, notwithstanding the frequent beauties of these Sonnets, the pleasure of their perusal would be much diminished. But we believe that these impressions have been, in a great degree, produced by regarding the original arrangement as the natural and proper one-as one suggested by the dependence of one part upon another, in a poem essentially continuous. Mr. Hallam, with these impressions, adds, somewhat strongly, “it is impossible not to wish that Shakspere had never written them.” Let us, however, analyse what we have presented to the reader in a different order than that of the original edition :
We have thus as many as 104 Sonnets which, if they liad been differently arranged upon their original publication, might have been read with undiminished pleasure, as far as regards the strangeness of their author's humiliation before one unknown youth, and have therefore left us no regret that he had written them. If we are to regard a few of these as real disclosures, with reference to a “dark-haired lady whom the poet loved, but over whose relations to him there is thrown a veil of mystery, allowing us to see little except the feeling of the parties—that their love was guilt," —we are to consider, what is so justly added by the writer from whom we quote, that “much that is most unpleasing in the circumstances connected with those magnificent lyrics is removed by the air of despondency and remorse which breathes through those which come most closely on the facts. *** But it must not be forgotten that, in an age when the Italian models of poetry were so diligently cultivated, imaginary loves and imaginary jealousies were freely admitted into verses which appeared to address themselves to the reader in the personal character of the poet. Regarsling a poem, whether a sonnet or an epic, essentially as a work of art, the artist was not careful to separate his own identity from the sentiments and situations which he delineated -any more than the pastoral poets of the next century were solicitous to tell their readers that their Corydons and Phyllises were not absolutely themselves and their mistresses. The · Amoretti' of Spenser, for example, consisting of eighty eight Sonnets, is also a puzzle to all those who regard such productions as necessarily autobiographical. These poems were published in 1996 ; in several passagès a date is tolerably distinctly marked, for there are lines which refer to the completion of the first six Books of the • Fairy Queen,' and to Spenser's appointment to the laureatship—“the badge which I do bear." And yet they are full of the complaints of an unrequited love, and of a disdainful mistress, at a period when Spenser was married, and settled with his family in Ireland. Chalmers is here again really with his solution of the difficulty. They were addressed, as well as Shakspere's Sonnets, to Queen Elizabeth. We believe that, taken as works of art, having a certain degree of continuity, the Sonnets of Spenser, of Daniel, of Drayton, of Shakspere, although in many instances they might shadow forth real feelings, and be outpourings of the inmost heart, were presented to the world as exercises of fancy, and were received by the world as such. The most usual form which such compositions assumed was that of love-verses. Spenser's' Amoretti' are entirely of this character, as their name implies. Daniel's, which are fifty-seven in number, are all addressed “To Delia;" Drayton's, which be calls “ Ideas," are somewhat more miscellaneous in their character. These were
* Edinburgh Review, vol. Ixxi , p. 466.
the three great poets of Shakspere's days. Spenser's “ Amoretti ' was first printed in 1595 ; Daniel's “Delia' in 1592; Drayton's ‘Ideas' in 1594. In 1593 was also published • Licia, or Poems of Love, in honour of the admirable and singular virtues of his Lady.' Here are fifty-two Sonnets, all conceived in the language of passionate affection and extravagant praise. And yet the author, in his Address to the Reader, says—“If thou muse what my Licia is, take her to be some Diana, at the least chaste, or some Minerva, no Venus, fairer far. It may be she is Learning's image, or some heavenly wonder, which the precisest may not mislike : perhaps under that name I have shadowed Discipline." This fashion of Sonnet-writing upon a continuous subject prevailed, thus, about the period of the publication of the · Venus and Adonis' and the . Lucrece,' when Shakspere had taken bis rank amongst the poets of his time-independent of his dramatic rank. He chose a new subject for a series of Sonnets; he addressed them to some youth, some imaginary person, as we conceive; he made this fiction the vehicle for stringing together a succession of brilliant images, exhausting every artifice of language to present one idea under a thousand different forms
“varying to other words ; And in this change is my invention spent." Coleridge, with his usual critical discrimination, speaking of the Italian poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and glancing also at our own of the same period, says, “In opposition to the present age, and perhaps in as faulty an extreme, they placed the essence of poetry in the art. The excellence at which they aimed consisted in the exquisite polish of the diction, combined with perfect simplicity."* This, we apprehend, is the characteristic excellence of Shakspere's Sonnets; displaying, to the careful reader, “ the studied position of words and phrases, so that not only each part should be melodious in itself, but contribute to the harmony of the whole." He sought for a canvas in which this elaborate colouring, this skilful management of light and shade, migbt be attempted, in an address to a young man, instead of a scornful Delia or a proud Daphne; and he commenced with an exhortation to that young man to marry. To allow of that energy of language which would result from the assumption of strong feeling, the poet links himself with the young man's happiness by the strongest expressions of friendship—in the common language of that day, love. We say, advisedly, the poet ; for it is in this character that the connexion between the two friends is preserved throughout; and it is in this character that the personal beauty of the young man is made a constantly recurring theme. With these imperfect observations, we present the continuous poem which appears in the first nineteen Sonnets :
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
* Biographia Literaria,' vol. ii. p. 27.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.-1.
This were to be new-made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feelst it cold.-2.
But if thou live remember'd not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.—3.
Thy unus'd beauty must be tomb'd with thee,
Which, used, lives thy executor to be.—4.