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Thou hast pass'd by the ambush of young days,
If some suspect of ill mask'd not thy show,
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
O, lest the world should task you to recite
For I am sham'd by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.—72. That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do bang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou seest the twilight of such day As after sunset fadet' in the west, Which by and by black night doth take away, Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou seest the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire, Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strorg To love that well which thou must leave ere long.--73.
But be contented : when that fell arrest
My life hath in this line some interest,
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes,—even in the mouths of men.–81. Thirteen of these stanzas, the 62nd to the 74th, follow in their original order. The first of the fifteen, the 22nd Sonnet, stands quite alone, although its idea is continued in the 62nd. The last of the series, the 81st, not only stands alone, but actually cuts off the undoubted connexion between the 80th and the 82nd Sonnets. The 71st to the 74th Sonnets seem bursting from a heart oppressed with a sense of its own unworthiness, and surrendered to some overwhelming misery. There is a line in the 74th which points at suicide. We cling to the belief that the sentiments here expressed are essentially dramatic. In the 32nd Sonnet, where we recognise the man Shakspere speaking in his own modest and cheerful spirit, death is to come across his “ well-contented day." The opinion which we have endeavoured to sustain of the probable admixture of the artificial and the real in the Sonnets, arising from their supposed original fragmentary state, necessarily leads to the belief that some are accurate illustrations of the poet's situation and feelings. It is collected from these Sonnets, for example, that his profession as a player was disagreeable to him; and this complaint is found amongst those portions which we have separated from the series of verses which appear to us to be written in an artificial character ; it might be addressed to any one of his family, or some honoured friend, such as Lord Southampton :
“O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
But if from his professional occupation his nature was felt by him to be subdued to what it worked in,-if thence his name received a brand,-if vulgar scandal sometimes assailed him,-he had high thoughts to console him, such as were never before imparted to mortal. This was probably written in some period of dejection, when his heart was ill at ease, and he looked upon the world with a slight tinge of indifference, if not of dislike. Every man of high genius has felt something of this. It was reserved for the highest to throw it off,“ like dewdrops from the lion's mane." But the profound self-abasement and despondency of the 74th Sonnet, exquisite as the diction is, appear to us unreal, as a representation of the mental state of William Shakspere ; written, as it most probably was, at a period of his life when he revels and luxuriates (in the comedies which belong to the close of the sixteenth century) in the spirit of enjoyment, gushing from a heart full of love for his species, at peace with itself and with all the world.
We have thus, if we have not been led away by imaginary associations, connected the verses addressed to
" the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,” in a poem, or poems, of fifty stanzas, written upon a plan by which it is obviously presented as a work of fiction, in which the poet displays his art in a style accordant with the existing fashion and the example of other poets. The theme is the personal beauty of a wonderful youth, and the strong affection of a poet. Beauty is to be perpetuated by marriage, and to be immortalized in the poet's verses. Beauty is gradually to fade before Time, but is to be still immortalized. Beauty is to yield to Death, as the poet himself yields, but its memory is to endure in “ eternal lines.” Separating from this somewhat monotonous theme those portions of a hundred and fifty-four Sonnets which do not appear essentially to belong to it, we separate, as we believe, more or less, what has a personal interest in these compositions from what is meant to be dramatic—the real from the fictitious. Our theory, we well know, is liable to many objections ; but it is based upon the unquestionable fact that these one hundred and fifty-four Sonnets cannot be received as a continuous poem upon any other principle than that the author had written them continuously. If there are some parts which are acknowledged interpolations, may there not be other parts that are open to the same belief? If there are parts entirely different in their tone from the bulk of these Sonnets, may we not consider that one portion was meant to be artificial and another real,—that the poet sometimes spoke in an assumed character, sometimes in a natural one? This theory we know could not hold if the poet had himself arranged the sequence of these verses; but as it is manifest that two stanzas have been introduced from a poem printed ten years earlier,—that others are acknowledged to be out of order, and others positively dragged in without the slightest connexion,-may we not carry the separation still further, and, believing that the “ begetter "—the getter-up—of these Sonnets had levied contributions upon all Shakspere's “private friends," — assume that be was indifferent to any arrangement which might make each portion of the poem tell its own history? There is one decided advantage in the separation which we bave proposed—the idea with which the series opens, and which is carried, here and there, in the original, through the first hundred and twenty-six Sonnets, does not now over-ride the whole of the series. The separate parts may be read with more pleasure when they are relieved from this strained and exaggerated association.
There are three points connected with the opinion we have formed with regard
to the entire series of Sonnets, which we must briefly notice before we leave the subject.
The first is, the inconsistencies which obviously present themselves in adopting the theory that the series of Sonnets--or at least the first hundred and twenty-six Sonnets-are addressed to one person. It is not our intention to discuss the ques. tion to whom they were addressed, which question depends upon the adoption of the theory that they are addressed to one. Drake's opinion that they were addressed to Lord Southampton rests upon the belief that Shakspere looked up to some friend to whom they point, “ with reverence and homage." The later theory, that William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was their object, is supported by the facts, derived from Clarendon and others, that he was “a man of noble and gallant character, though always of a licentious life.” W. H. is held to be William Herbert; and Mr. Hallam says, “ Proofs of the low moral character of · W. H.' are continual." We venture to think that the term “ continual ” is somewhat loosely applied. The one " sensual fault,” of which the poet complains, is obscurely hinted at in the 33rd, 34th, 35th, 40th, 41st, and 42nd stanzas; and the general faults of his friend's character, from which the injury proceeded, are summed up in the 94th, 95th, and 96th. We shall search in vain throughout the hundred and fifty-four Sonnets for any similar indications of the “ low moral character” of the person addressed. But the supposed continuity of the poem implies arrangement, and therefore consistency, in the author. In the 41st stanza the one friend, according to this theory, is reproached for the treachery which is involved in the indulgence of his passions. The poet says “ thou mightst
“chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Again, in the 95th stanza we have these lines :
“ How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame,
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
“0, what a mansion have those vices got,
Which for their habitation chose out thee! "
Here are not only secret “vices," but “shame," defacing the character. “Tongues" make “ lascivious comments” on the story of his days. Is it to this person that in the 69th Sonnet we have these lines addressed ?
“Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend." Is it to this person that the 70th Sonnet is devoted, in which are these remarkable words?
“ Thou present'st a pure unstained prime. Thou hast pass'd by the ambush of young days, Either not assaild, or victor being charg'd."
These lines, be it remembered, occur between the first reproof for licentiousness in the 41st stanza, and the repetition of the blame in the 95th. Sure if the poem is to be taken as continuous, and as addressed to one person, such contradictions would make us believe that the whole is based on unreality, and that the poet was
satisfied to utter the wildest inconsistencies, merely to produce verses of exquisite beauty, but of“ true no-meaning."
The second point to which we would briefly request attention is the supposed date of the series of Sonnets. The date must, it is evident, be settled in some measure according to the presiding belief in the person to whom they are held to be addressed. Mr. Hallam, who thinks the hypothesis of William Herbert sufficiently proved to demand our assent, says, “ Pembroke succeeded to his father in 1601; I incline to think that the Sonnets were written about that time, some probably earlier, some later.” Pembroke was born in 1580. Now, in the earlier Sonnets, according to the hypothesis, he might be called “ beauteous and lovely youth," or “ sweet boy ;" but Southampton could not be so addressed unless the earlier Sonnets were written even before the dedication of the " Venus and Adonis' to him, in 1593, for Southampton was born in 1573. Further, it is said that, whilst the person addressed was one who stood“ on the top of happy hours," the poet who addressed him was
“Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity,"
as in the 62nd Sonnet ;
“ With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'erworn," as in the 63rd; and approaching the termination of his career, as so exquisitely described in the 73rd :
“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
all in rest.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong
Most distinctly in this particular portion of the Sonnets the extreme youth of the person addressed is steadily kept in view. But some are written earlier, some later ; time is going on. In the 104th Sonnet the poet says that three winters, three springs, and three summers have passed
" Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green."
But, carrying on the principle of continuity, we find that in the 138th Sonnet the poet's “ days are past the best ;" and he adds
“ And wherefore say not I that I am old ? "
That Sonnet, we have bere to repeat, was published in “The Passionate Pilgrim' when the poet was thirty-five. But let us endeavour to find one more gleam of light amidst this obscurity. In one of the Sonnets in which the poet upbraids his friend with his licentiousness, the 94th, we have these lines :