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In a copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr. Gabriel Harvey, this physician, the noted opponent of Nash, has inserted the following remarks: “ The younger sort take much delight in Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis ; but his Lucrece, and his tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort, 1598.” *
Meres, also, in his “ Wit's Treasury,” published in the same year with the above date, draws a parallel between Ovid and Shakspeare, resulting from the composition of this piece and his other minor poems.
“ As the soule of Euphorbus,” he observes, “ was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred sonnets among his private friends, &c." op
A third tribute, and of a similar kind, was paid to the early efforts of our author in 1598, by Richard Barnefield, from which it must be inferred that the versification of Shakspeare was considered by his contemporaries as pre-eminently sweet and melodious, a decision for which many stanzas in the Venus and Adonis might furnish sufficient foundation :
“ And Shakspeare thou, whose honey-flowing vein,
(Pleasing the world,) thy praises doth contain,
at least in fame live ever!
That singularly curious old comedy, “ The Returne from Parnassus," written in 1606, descanting on the poets of the age,
introduces Shakspeare solely on account of his miscellaneous poems, a
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 2. note by Steevens.
striking proof of their popularity; and, like his predecessors, the author characterises thurn by the sweetness of their metre:
" Why loves Adonis love, or Lucre's
Ilis starter ver ni aty edes hurt robbmg lili,
appear-, likewise, from this <*r.11341, and will further appear from two subenquent quration that the meretricious tendency of the lenus und Edens did 49 '16, about 30 pe the notice or the censure
" I A 146944 m. po 4. bore is 192 the munits of Shakspeare's first production issued 91036 the press in 1907, in a poem composed William Parksud, wd entitlust, Mirrhu the Mother of Adonis ; or Luster Prodigies, of which the concluding lines thus appreciate the value of his modd :
“ But stay, my Muse, in thine owl confines keep,
And wave not warre will so deere lov'd a neighbour ;
Preserve thy small tame, and his greater lavor.
A parquinade on the literature of his times was published by John Davies of Hereford in 1611; it first appeared in his “ Scourge of Fully," under the title of " A Scourge for Paper-Persecutors,” and
other objects of his satire Paper, bere personified, is represatu as complaining of the pruriency of Shakspeare's youthful fancy.
" Awther like, burde happe) mee vilifies
With art of love, and how to subtilize,
* Ancient British Drama, vol. 1, p. 19. col. 2.
The charge of subtilizing which this passage conveys, may certainly be substantiated against the minor poetry of our bard: no small portion of it is visible in the Venus and Adonis ; but the Rape of Lucrece is extended by its admission to nearly a duplicate of what ought to have been its proper size.
To the quotations now given, as commemorative of Shakspeare's primary effort in poetry, we shall add one, whose note of praise is, that our author was equally excellent in painting lust or continency:
66 Shakspeare, that nimble Mercury thy brain
Lulls many-hundred Argus' eyes asleep,
At the horse-foot fountain thou hast drunk full deep.
Who loves chaste life, there's Lucrece for a teacher :
True model of a most lascivious lecher." +
From the admiration thus warmly expressed by numerous contemporaries, even when connected with slight censure, it will, of course,
* Censura Literaria, vol. vi. p. 276. A second edition of this satire was published separately, in 4to. 1625.
+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 197, 198. — Many passages, I believe, might be added to those given in the text, which point out the great popularity of our author's earliest effort in poetry. Thus, in the Merrie Conceited Jests of George Peele, an author who died in or before 1598, the Tapster of an Inn in Pye-corner is represented as “much given to poetry: for he had ingrossed the Knight of the Sunne, Venus and Adonis, and other pamphlets." - Reprint, p. 28.
Again in the Dumb Knight, an Historical Comedy, by Lewis Machin, printed in 1608, one of the characters, after quoting several lines from Venus and Adonis, concludes by saying,
• Go thy way, thou best book in the world. " Veloups. I pray you, sir, what book do
“ President. A book that never an orator's clerk in this kingdom but is beholden unto; it is called, Maid's Philosophy, or Venus and Adonis.”
Ancient British Drama, vol.ii. p. 146.
you read ?
be inferred that the demand for re-impressions of the Venus and Adonis would be frequent; and this was, indeed, the fact. In the year following the publication of the editio princeps, there is reason to conclude that the second impression was printed; for the poem appears again entered in the Stationers' books on the 23d of June, 1594, by Harrison, sen. ; unless this entry be merely preliminary to the edition of 1596, which was printed in small octavo, by Richard Field, for John Harrison. * Of the subsequent editions, one was published, in 1600, by John Harrison, in 12mo. ; another occurs in 1602, and, in 1607, the Venus and Adonis was reprinted at Edinburgh, “ which must be considered,” remarks Mr. Beloe, “ as an indubitable proof, that at a very early period the Scotch knew and admired the genius of Shakspeare.” † The title-page of this edition has the same motto as in the original impression; beneath it is a Phænix in the midst of flames, and then follows“ Edinburgh. Printed by John Wreittoun, are to bee sold in his shop, a little beneath the Salt Trone. 1607."
It is highly probable, that between the period of the Edinburgh copy, and the year 1617, the date of the next extant edition, an intervening impression may have been issued; Venus and Adonis, it should be noticed, is entered in the Stationers' Register, by W. Barrett, Feb. 16. 1616; and the next entry is by John Parker, March 8. 1619, preparatory perhaps to the edition which appeared in 1620. In 1630, another re-print was called for, which was again repeated in 1640, and in the various subsequent editions of our author's
poems. The same favourable reception which accompanied the birth and progress of the Venus and Adonis attended, likewise, the next
poem which our author produced, THE RAPE OF LUCRECE. This was printed in quarto, in 1594, by Richard Field, for John Harrison, and has a
* It is the more probable that the entry of 1594 indicates a separate edition, as an entry of the impression of 1596 appears in the Stationers' Register, by W. Leake, dated June 23. 1596.-Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii.
Beloe's Anecdotes, vol. i. p. 363. This copy is in the possession of Mr. Chalmers.
copious Argument prefixed, which, as Mr. Malone remarks, is a curiosity, being, with the two dedications to the Earl of Southampton, the only prose compositions of our great poet (not in a dramatic form) now remaining.
The Rape of Lucrece is written in stanzas of seven lines each ; the first four in alternate rhyme; the fifth line corresponding with the second and fourth, and the sixth and seventh lines forming a couplet. To this construction it is probable that Shakspeare was led through the popularity of Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond, which was published in 1592, and exhibits the same metrical system.
If we had just reason for condemning the prolixity of Venus and Adonis, a still greater motive for similar censure will be found in the Rape of Lucrece, which occupies no less than two hundred and sixtyfive stanzas, and, of course, includes one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five lines, whilst the tale, as conducted by Oyid, is impressively related in about one hundred and forty verses !
From what source Shakspeare derived his fable, whether through a classic or a Gothic channel is uncertain. The story is of frequent occurrence in ancient writers; for, independent of the narrative in the Fasti of the Roman poet, it has been told by Dionysius Halicarnassensis, by Livy, by Dion Cassius, and Diodorus Siculus. “ I learn from Coxeter's notes,” says Warton, “ that the Fasti were translated into English verse before the year 1570. If so,
many little pieces now current on the subject of Lucretia, although her legend is in Chaucer, might immediately originate from this source.
In 1568, occurs a Ballett called, • The grevious complaynt of Lucrece.' And afterwards, in the year 1569, is licenced to James Robertes, · A ballet of the death of Lucryssia.' There is also a ballad of the legend of Lucrece, printed in 1576. These publications might give rise to Shakspeare's Rape of Lucrece, which appeared in 1594. At this period of our poetry, we find the same subject occupying the atten
* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 469. note.