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Of the sonnets of Watson, which were published about 1581, we have given an opinion, at some length, in the preceding chapter, and shall merely add here, that neither in their structure, nor in their diction or imagery, could they be, or were they, models for our author; and are indeed greatly inferior, not only to the sonnets of Shakspeare, but to those of almost every other poet of his day.
The sonnets of Sidney, which appeared in 1591 under the title of Astrophel and Stella, exhibit a variety of metrical arrangement; a few which rival, and several which nearly approach, the most strict Petrarcan form. The octant in Sidney is often perfectly correct, while the sextant presents us with the structure which, though not very common in Italian, has been, since his time, adopted more frequently than any other by our own poets; that is, where the first line and the third, the second and fourth, the fifth and sixth, rhime together; with this difference, however, that the moderns, in their division of the sextant, have more usually followed the example of Surrey just quoted, in forming their minor system of a quatrain and a couplet, while Sidney more correctly distributes it into terzette.
On this arrangement is by far the greater portion of Sidney's sonnets constructed; but the most pleasing of his metrical forms, and which has the merit too of being built after the Italian cast, consists in the Octant, of two tetrachords of disjunct alternate rhime, the last line of the first stanza rhiming to the first of the second; and in the Sextant, of a structure in which the first and second, the fourth and fifth, and the third and sixth verses rhime. Thus has he formed the following exquisite sonnet, which will afford no inaccurate idea of his powers in this province of the art :
“ O kisse, which doest those ruddie gemmes impart,
Or gemmes, or fruits of new-found Paradise,
O kisse, which soules, even soules, together tyes
By linkes of Love, and only Nature's art:
But she forbids; with blushing words, she sayes,
She builds her fame on higer-seated praise:
Then since, deare life, you faine would have me peace,
And I, mad with delight, want wit to cease,
In 1592, Daniel produced his Delia, including fifty-seven sonnets, of which only two follow the Italian standard; the remainder consisting of three elegiac stanzas and a closing couplet. They display many beauties, and, being a model of easy imitation, have met with numerous copyists.
Of the Diana of Constable, a collection of sonnets in eight decades, we have already, if we consider their mediocrity, given a sufficiently copious notice. They were published in 1594, and were eclipsed by the Amoretti of Spenser, a series of eighty-eight sonnets, printed about the year 1595. These, from the singularity of their construction, which not only deviates from the Italian costume, but has seldom found an imitator, require, independent of their poetic value, peculiar notice. The Spenserian sonnet, then, consists of three tetrachords in alternate rhime; the last line of the first tetrachord rhiming to the first of the second, and the last of the second to the first of the third, and the whole terminated by a couplet. That this system of rhythm often flows sweetly, and that it is often the vehicle of chaste sentiment and beautiful imagery must, in justice, be conceded to this amiable poet ; but, at the same time, it is necessary to add, that it is occasionally the medium of quaintness and far-fetched conceit. A specimen, however, shall be subjoined, of which, if the first stanza be slightly tainted with affectation, the remainder will be pronounced, as well in melody and simplicity as in moral beauty, nearly perfect.
66 The doubt which ye misdeeme, fayre Love, is vaine,
That fondly feare to lose your liberty;
Sweet be the bands, the which true Lore doth the
There Fayth doth fearless dwell in brazen tou re,
Between the sonnets of Spenser, and those of Drayton, a period of ten or eleven years, many minor baruls, such as Percy, Barnex, Barnefielde, Griffin, Smith, &c. the titles of whose works will be found in the table of our preceding chapter, were induced to cultivate, and sometimes with tolerable success, this difficult little poem; nor are there wanting, during this period, some elegant examples of the sonnet interspersed through the works of writers of a higher rank, as, for instance, Googe, Gascoigne', Ralvigh, Breton, and Logne; but we shall close this criticism with a few remarks on the sonnets of the once popular poet whose productions of this kind immediately preceded the collection of Shakspeare in 1609.
The sonnets of Drayton which, in number sixty-three, were published under the title of “ Ideas,” in 1605, 8vo., are, for the most part, written on the plan of Daniel. Fifty-two exhibit three four-lined stanzas, in alternate rhime, completed by a couplet ; and eleven consist of three quatrains with two verses of immediate, interposed between two verses of disjunct, rhime, and a terminating couplet. The versification of Drayton in these pieces is sufficiently smooth, and the sentiment is sometimes natural and pleasing, though too often injured by an ill-judged display of wit and point. With the exception, also, of two sonnets addressed to the River Anker, they possess little of what can be termed descriptive poetry.
It now remains to ascertain to which of these writers of the sonnet Shakspeare chiefly directed his attention, in choosing a model for his own compositions. Dr. Sewell and Mr. Chalmers contend that, in emulation of Spenser, he took the Amoretti of that poet for his
guide * ; but, though we admit that he was an avowed admirer of the Fairy Queen, and that the publication of the Amoretti in 1595 might still further strengthen his attachment to this species of lyric poesy, yet we cannot accede to their position. The structure, indeed, of the Spenserian sonnet is, with the exception of a closing couplet, totally different from Shakspeare's; nor are their style and diction less dissimilar.
If we revert, however, to the sonnets of Daniel, which were published in 1592, we shall there find, as Mr. Malone had previously remarked, the prototype of Shakspeare's amatory verse.
Indeed no doubt can arise, when we recollect, that all Daniel's sonnets, save two, are composed of three quatrains in alternate rhime and a couplet, and that all Shakspeare's, one hundred and fifty-four in number, are,
if we except a single instance t, of a similar description. There is, also, in Daniel, much of that tissue of abstract thought, and that reiteration of words, which so remarkably distinguish the sonnets of our bard. Of this no greater proof can be adduced than the sonnet we shall now subjoin, and which, in all its features, may be said to be truly Shakspearean :
" And whither, poor forsaken, wilt thou go,
and thine own distress?
But yet what comforts shall I hereby gain?
* Chalmers's Supplemental “Apology, pp. 40-43.
+ Sonnet 126. It should be observed, however, that Sonnet 145, though in alternate verse, and terminated by a couplet, is in the octo-syllabic measure.
7.2.16 * tu suppone that none of Shakspeare's sonnets were m loon bv te the appearance of Daniel's “ Delia.” A few in the Vgamemna plynu atin, 1% hath been observed, to have been sugpotensi medients that composition of the Venus and Adonis, and were miesty'! Breakfast in the interval elapsing between the publication of . am* 1782, and of the Venus and Adonis in 1593; for, though
Windstill love tonnets, they are still cast in the very mould which
I ora 16, Bandeins, however, which attend the ascertainment of Shakople atti * well in these compositions, are nothing when compared to 19,6pit. when allround the enquiry as to the person to whom they are wishes and of An almost impenetrable darkness rests on the question, stond posso flood bonus bitherto, in the smallest degree, tended to disperse rock Holmes
When I loomas Thorpe published our author's sonnets in 1609, he med 1 som journir a them with the following mysterious dedication :
" To The Only Begetter Of These Ensuing Sonnets,
All I lappiness
tin dhe format perusal of this address, the import would seem to be, Wheth M, WiII, had been the sole object of Shakspeare's poetry, and of Hol millor many promised by the bard. But a little attention to the lanHvor land thens mes in which it was written, will induce us to correct Hledat ons hordhoni for as a part of our author's sonnets is most certainly while we all is a bimake, it is evident that W. H. could not be the only de sitio web dhean in the sense which primarily suggests itself. For the love top of the word we are indebted to Mr. Chalmers, who where you, pou wanthority of Minsheu's Dictionary of 1616, that one