6 W. H.,

sense of the verb to beget is there given to bring foorth. he continues, “ was the bringer forth of the Sonnets. Beget is derived by Skinner from the A. S. begettan, obtinere. Johnson adopts this derivation, and sense: so that begetter, in the quaint language of Thorpe, the Bookseller, Pistol, the ancient, and such affected persons, signified the obtainer ; as to get, and getter, in the

present day, means obtain, and obtainer, or to procure, and the procurer.”

We must, infer, therefore, from this explanation of the word, that Mr. W. H. had influence enough to obtain the manuscript from the poet, and that he lodged it in Thorpe's hands for the purpose of publication, a favour which the bookseller returned, by wishing him all happiness and that eternity which had been promised by the bard, in such glowing colours, to another, namely, to one of the immediate subjects of his sonnets.

That this is the only rational meaning which can be annexed to the word “promised,” will appear, when we reflect that for Thorpe to have wished W. H. the eternity which had been promised him by an ever-living poet, would have been not only superfluous, but downright nonsense: the eternity of an ever-living poet must necessarily ensue, and was a proper subject of congratulation, but not of wishing or of hope. It appears

also that this dedication was understood in the same light by some of the earlier editors of the sonnets. Cotes, it is true, republished them in 1640 without a commentary; but when Gildon re-printed them in 1710, he gives it as his opinion that they were all of them in praise of his mistress ; and Dr. Sewell, when he edited them in 1728, had embraced a similar idea, for he tells us, in reference to our author's example, that “ A young muse must have a mistress, to play off the beginning of fancy ; nothing being so apt to elevate the soul to a pitch of poetry, as the passion of love.” *

The conclusion of these editors remained undisputed for more than half a century, when Mr. Malone, in 1780, published his Sup

* Preface to his revised and corrected edition of Shakspeare's Works, p. 7.

I 2

plement to the Edition of Shakspeare's Plays of 1778, which includes the Sonnets of the poet, accompanied by his own notes, and those of his friends. Here, beside the opinion which he has himself

vowed, he has given the conjectures of Dr. Farmer, and Mr. Tyrwhitt, and the decision of Mr. Steevens.

All these gentlemen concur in believing, that more than one hundred of our author's sonnets are addressed to a male object. Dr. Farmer, influenced by the initials in the dedication, supposes, that Mr. William Harte, the poet's nephew, was the object in question ; but a reference to the Stratford Register completely overturns this hypothesis, for it there appears, that William, eldest son of William Harte, who married Shakspeare's Sister Joan, was baptized August 28th, 1600, and consequently could not be even in existence when the greater part of these compositions were written.

Mr. Tyrwhitt, founding his conjecture on a line in the twentieth sonnet, which is thus printed in the old


6 A man in hew all Hews in his controlling,"

conceives that the letters W. H. were intended to imply William Hughes. If we recollect, however, our bard's uncontrollable passion for playing upon words; that hew frequently meant, in the


of his time, mien and appearance, as well as tint, and that Daniel, who was probably his archetype in these pieces, has spelt it in the same way, and once, if not oftener, for the sake of emphasis, with a capital *, we shall not feel inclined to place such reliance on this supposition.

When Mr. Steevens, in 1766, annexed a reprint of the sonnets to Shakspeare's plays, from the quarto editions, he hazarded no observations on their scope or origin ; but in Malone's Supplement, he ventured, in a note on the twentieth sonnet, to declare his conviction that it was addressed to a male object. +

* See his “ Queen's Arcadia.”

+ Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 596,


Lastly, Mr. Malone, in the Supplement just mentioned, after specifying his concurrence in the conjecture of Mr. Tyrwhitt, adds “ To this person, whoever he was, one hundred and twenty of the following poems are addressed; the remaining twenty-eight are addressed to a lady.” *

Thus the matter rested on the decision of these four celebrated commentators, who were uniform in asserting their belief, that Shakspeare had addressed the greater part of his sonnets to a man, when Mr. George Chalmers in 1797, in his “ Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare Papers," attempted to overturn their conclusion, by endeavouring to prove that the whole of the Sonnets had been addressed by Shakspeare to Queen Elizabeth ; a position which he labours to strengthen, by additional research, in his “

Supplemental Apology” of 1799 !

That Mr. Chalmers, however, notwithstanding all his industry and ingenuity, has failed in establishing his point, must be the acknowledgment of every one who has perused the sonnets with attention. Indeed the phraseology of Shakspeare so positively indicates a male object, that, if it cannot, in this respect, be reposed on, we may venture to assert, that no language, however explicit, is entitled to confidence. Nothing but extreme carelessness could have induced Gildon and Sewell to conceive that the prior part of these sonnets was directed to a female, and even Mr. Chalmers himself is compelled to convert his Queen into a man, before he can give any plausibility to his hypothesis. That Elizabeth, in her capacity of a sovereign, was frequently addressed in language strictly applicable to the male sex, is very true, and such has been the custom to almost every female sovereign ; but that she should be thus metamorphosed, for the express purpose of wooing her by amatory sonnets, is a position which cannot be expected to obtain credit.

The question then returns upon us, To whom are these sonnets addressed? We

agree with Farmer, Tyrwhitt, Steevens, and Malone,

[ocr errors]

* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 579.

in thinking the object of the greater part of the sonnets to have been of the male sex ; but, for the reasons already assigned, we cannot concede that either Harte or Hughes was the individual.

If we may be allowed, in our turn, to conjecture, we would fix upon LORD SOUTHAMPTON as the subject of Shakspeare's sonnets, from the first to the hundredth and twenty-sixth, inclusive.

Before we enter, however, on the quotation of such passages as are calculated to give probability to our conclusion, it will be necessary to show that, in the age of Shakspeare, the language of love and friendship was mutually convertible. The terms lover and love, indeed, were as often applied to those of the same sex who had an est eem for each other, as they are now exclusively directed to express the love of the male for the female. Thus, for instance, Ben Johnson subscribes himself the lover of Camden, and tells Dr. Donne, at the close of a letter to him, that he is his “ ever true lover ;" and with the same import, Drayton, in a letter to Drummond of Hawthornden, informs him, that Mr. Joseph Davis is in love with him. Shakspeare, in his Dramas, frequently adopts the same phraseology in expressing the relations of friendship: Portia, for example, in the Merchant of Venice, speaking of Antonio, says,

“ this Antonio, Being the bosom lover of my lord:”

and in Coriolanus, Menenius exclaims,

“ I tell thee, fellow, Thy general is my lover ;" *

but it is to his Poems that we must refer for a complete and extensive proof of this perplexing ambiguity of diction, which will gradually unfold itself as we proceed to quote instances in support of Lord Southampton's being the subject of his muse.

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. vii. p. 331, and vol. xii. p. 219.


That Shakspeare was, at the same time, attached by friendship, and by love ; that, according to the fashion of his age, he employed the same epithet for both, though, in one instance, at least, he has accurately distinguished the sexes, positively appears from the opening stanza of a sonnet in the Passionate Pilgrim of 1599:

6 Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman, colour'd ill.” *

That this better angel was Lord Southampton, and that to him was addressed the number of sonnets mentioned above, we shall now endeavour to substantiate.

Perhaps one of the most striking proofs of this position, is the hitherto unnoticed fact, that the language of the Dedication to the Rape of Lucrece, and that of part of the twenty-sixth sonnet, are almost precisely the same.

The Dedication runs thus :—“ The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end ;— The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. . What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours ; being part in all I have devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would shew greater.”

The Sonnet is as follows:

« Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it.”

Here, in the first place, it may be observed, that in his prose, as well as in his verse, our author uses the same amatory language; for

* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 698.

« VorigeDoorgaan »