Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

venerable bard owes many obligations, will induce us to rely with greater confidence on the simple truth, as developed in the letter of Heywood, -that Shakspeare, as soon as he was made acquainted with the fraudulent attempt of Jaggard, expressed the warmest indignation at his conduct.

On the poetical merit of the Passionate Pilgrim, it will not be necessary to say much; for, as the best and greater part of it consists of pieces in the sonnet form, and these are but few, the skill of the bard in this difficult species of composition will more properly be discussed when we come to consider the value of the large collection which he has bequeathed us under the appellation of Sonnets. One, however, of the pieces which form the Passionate Pilgrim, we shall extract, not only for its beauty as a sonnet, though this be considerable, but as it makes mention of his great poetical contemporary, Edmund Spenser, for whose genius, as might naturally be expected, he appears to have entertained the most deep-felt admiration ;

66 If music and sweet poetry agrec,

As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
Then must the love be great 'twixt thee and me,
Because thou lov'st the one, and I the other.
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense ;
SPENSER to me, whose deep conceit is such,
As passing all conceit, needs no defence.
Thou lov'st to hear the sweet melodious sound,
That Phoebus' lute, the queen of music, makes ;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drown'd,
Whenas himself to singing he betakes.

One god is god of both, as poets feign;
One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.”

The expression, deep conceit,seems to allude,"

remarks Mr. Malone. “ to the Faery Queen. If so, these sonnets were not written till after 1590, when the first three books of that poem were published * ;” a conjecture which is strongly corroborated by two

* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 714,

н

VOL. II.

year, in

lines from Barnefield's “ Remembrance of some English Poets,” where the phrase is directly applied to the Fairy Queen :

" Live Spenser ! ever, in thy Fairy Queene;

Whose like (for deep conceit) was never seene.” * The remaining portion of Shakspeare's Poems includes the SONNETS and A Lover's COMPLAINT, which were printed together in 1609. At what period they were written, or in what year of the poet's life they were commenced, has been a subject of much controversy. That some of these sonnets were alluded to by Meres in 1598, when he speaks of our author's “sugred Sonnets among his private friends,” and that a few of these very sonnets, as many, at least, as Jaggard could obtain, were published by him the following

in consequence of this notice, appears to be highly probable; but that the entire collection, as published in 1609, had been in private circulation anterior to Meres's pamphlet, is a position not easily to be credited, and contrary, indeed, to the internal evidence of the poems themselves, which bear no trifling testimony of having been written at various and even distant periods; and there is reason to think in the space elapsing between the years 1592 and 1609, between the twenty-eighth and forty-fifth year of the poet's age.

. That some of them were early compositions, and produced before the author had acquired any extended reputation, may be inferred from the subsequent passages.

In the sixteenth sonnet, with reference to his own poetry, he adopts the expression “ my pupil pen;" and in the thirty-second he petitions his mistress to “ vouchsafe” him “ but this loving thought,"

6 Had my friend's muse grown with this growing age,

A dearer birth than this his love had brought

To march in ranks of better equipage.A small portion of the fame and property which he afterwards

* Printed at the end of his “ Lady Pecunia, 4to. London, 1605.” This very sonnet, however, has been attributed to Barnefield himself, and is, in all probability, another evidence of the incorrectness or the fraud of Jaggard.

+ 6 Shakspeare's Sonnets, never before imprinted, quarto, 1609, G. Eld, for T. T.”

enjoyed, could have fallen to his share when he composed the thirty-. seventh sonnet, the purport of which is to declare, that though

made lame by fortune's dearest spite,

he is rich in the perfections of his mistress, and having engrafted his love to her abundant store, he adds,

66 So then I am not lame, poor, nor despis’d.

There is much reason to conclude, however, that by far the greater part of these sonnets was written after the bard had passed the meridian of his life, and during the ten years which preceded their publication ; consequently, that with the exception of a few of earlier date, they were the amusement of his leisure from his thirty-fifth to his forty-fifth year. We have been led to this result from the numerous allusions which the author has made, in these poems, to the effects of time on his person ; and though these may be, and are without doubt, exaggerated, yet are they fully adequate to prove that the writer could no longer be accounted young. It is remarkable that the hundred and thirty-eighth sonnet, which was originally printed in the Passionate Pilgrim contains a notice of this kind :

66 Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,

Although she knows my days are past the best ;

an expression which well accords with the poet's then period of life ; for when Jaggard surreptitiously published the minor collection, Shakspeare was thirty-five years old.

Among the allusions of this nature in his “ Sonnets,” the selection of a few will answer our purpose.

The first occurs in the twentysecond sonnet:

" My glass shall not persuade me I am old,

So long as youth and thou are of one date.”

The two next are still more explicit :

H 2

“ But when my glass shows me myself indeed,

'Bated and chopp'd with tan’d antiquity :"

Son. 62.

s Against my love shall be, as I am now,

With time's injurious hand crush'd and o’erworn :

Son. 63.

and the last that we shall give completes the picture, which, though overcharged in its colouring, must be allowed, we think, to reflect some lineaments of the truth:

“ That time of year thou may’st in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
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 sun-set fadeth in the west
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie.”

Son. 73.

The comparison instituted in these lines between the bare ruined choir of a cathedral, and an avenue at the close of autumn, has given origin to a short but very elegantly written note from the pen of Mr. Steevens. “ This image,” he remarks,“ was probably suggested to Shakspeare by our desolated monasteries. The resemblance between the vaulting of a Gothic isle, and an avenue of trees whose upper branches meet and form an arch over-head, is too striking not to be acknowledged. When the roof of the one is shattered, and the boughs of the other leafless, the comparison becomes yet more solemn and picturesque.”

On the principal writers of this minor but difficult species of lyric poetry, to which Shakspeare could have recourse in his own language, it will be necessary to enter into some brief criticism, in order to ascertain the progress and merit of his predecessors, and the models on which he may be conceived to have more peculiarly founded his own practice.

" *

Malone’s Supplement, vol. i. p. 640.

The rapid introduction of Italian poetry into our country, during the reign of Henry the Eighth, very early brought with it a taste for the cultivation of the sonnet. Before 1540, Wyat had written all his poems, many of which are sonnets constructed nearly on the strictest form of the Italian model ; the octant, or major system being perfectly correct, while the sextant, or minor system, differs only from the legitimate type by closing with a couplet. The poetical value of these attempts, however, does not, either in versification or imagery, transcend mediocrity, and are greatly inferior to the productions, in the same department, of his accomplished friend, the gallant but unfortunate Surrey. The sonnets of this elegantly romantic character, which were published in 1557, deviate still further from the Italian structure, as they uniformly consist of three quatrains in alternate or elegiac verse, and these terminated by a couplet ; a secession from the laws of legitimacy which is amply atoned for by virtues of a far superior order, by simplicity, purity, and sweetness of expression, by unaffected tenderness of sentiment, and by vivid powers of description. To this unexaggerated encomium we must add, that the harmony of his metre is often truly astonishing, and even, in some instances, fully equal to the rhythm of the present age. That the assertion wants not sufficient evidence, will be acknowledged by the adduction of a single specimen :

[ocr errors]

SONNET.
66 Set me whereas the sunne doth parche the grene,

Or where his beames do not dissolve the ise :
In temperate heate where he is felt and sene :
In presence prest of people madde or wise :
Set me in hye, or yet in low degree;
In longest night, or in the shortest daye:
In clearest skie, or where cloudes thickest be;
In lusty youth, or when my heeres are graye:
Set me in heaven, in earth, or els in hell,
In hyll or dale, or in the foming flood,
Thrall, or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sicke or in health, in evill fame or good :
Hers will I be, and onely with this thought
Content my self, although my chaunce be nought,”

:

« VorigeDoorgaan »