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But in terms the most emphatic and explicit does he point to his object, in the sonnet which we are about to quote entire, distinctly marking the sex, the dignity, the rank, and moral virtue of his friend:
“ O TRUANT Muse, what shall be thy amends,
For thy neglect of TRUTH IN BEAUTY DY'D ?
for it lies in thee
Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
To whom can this sonnet, or indeed all the passages which we have quoted apply, if not to Lord Southampton, the bosom-friend, the munificent patron of Shakspeare, the noble, the elegant, the brave, the protector of literature and the theme of many a song. And let it be remembered, that if the hundreth and first sonnet be justly ascribed to Lord Southampton, or if any one of the passages which we have adduced, be fairly applicable to him, the whole of the hundred and twenty-six sonnets must necessarily apply to the same individual, for the poet has more than once affirmed this to have been his plan and object :
Why write I still all one, ever the same
« all alike my songs, and praises be
still such and ever so."
may be objected, that the opening and closing sonnet of the collection which we conceive to be exclusively devoted to Lord Southampton, admit neither of reconcilement with each other, nor with the hypothesis which we wish to establish. This discrepancy,
however, will altogether vanish, if we compare the import of these sonnets with that of two others of the same series.
It will be allowed that the expressions, “ the world's fresh ornament,” the “ only herald to the gaudy spring,” and the epithets “ tender churl,” in the first sonnet, may with great propriety be applied to a young nobleman of twenty-one, just entering on a public and splendid career ; but, if it be true, that these sonnets were written at various times, between the years 1594 and 1609, how comes it, that in the hundred and twenty-sixth, the last addressed to his patron, he still uses an equally youthful designation, and terms him “
my lovely boy," an appellation certainly not then adapted to His Lordship, who, in 1609, was in his thirty-sixth year ?
That the sonnets were written at different periods, he tells us in an apology to his noble friend for not addressing him so frequently as he used to do at the commencement of their intimacy, assigning as a reason, that as he was now the theme of various other poets, such addresses must have lost their zest:
“ Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue,
The mystery arising from the use of the juvenile epithets, he completely clears up in his hundred and eighth sonnet, where he says, that having exhausted every figure to express his patron's merit and his own affection, he is compelled to say the same things over again; that he is determined to consider him as young as when he first hallowed his fair name; that friendship, in fact, weighs not the advance of life, but adheres to its first conception, when youth and beauty clothed the object of its regard. In pursuance of this deter
mination, he calls him, in this very sonnet, “sweet boy;" but it will be more satisfactory to copy the entire poem, in order to show, that our interpretation is not, in the smallest degree, strained :
“ WHAT's in the brain that ink may character,
Which hath not figur'd to thee my true spirit ?
Finding the first conceit of love there bred,
In conformity with this resolution of considering his friend as endowed whilst he lives with perpetual youth, he closes his sonnets to him, not only with the repetition of the juvenile epithet “ boy,” but he positively assures him that he has time in his power, that he grows by waning, and that nature, as he goes onward, still plucks him back, in order to disgrace time. The conceit is somewhat puerile,
ough clearly explanatory of the systematic intention of the poet :
“ O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold time's fickle glass, his fickle hour;
He terminates this sonnet, however, and his series of poetical addresses to Lord Southampton, with a powerful corrective of all flattery, in reminding him that although nature“ may detain,” she cannot “ keep her treasure," and that he must ultimately yield to death.
“ worser spirit,” his “ female evil,” and his " bad angel ;" well might he tell her, notwithstanding the colour of her
“ Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place;
In nothing art thou black, save in thy deeds.”
“ For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”
Well might he blame his pliability of temper, his insufficiency of judgment and resolution, well might he call himself “ past cure, and “ frantick-mad,” when, addressing this profligate woman, he exclaims,
6 Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
If thy unworthiness rais'd love in me,
Now, weighing, what almost every other personal event in our author's life establishes, the general moral beauty of his character, and reflecting, at the same time, that he was at this period a husband, and the father of a family, we cannot but feel the most entire conviction, that these sonnets were never directed to a real object : but that, notwithstanding they appear written in his own person, and two of them, indeed, (Sonnets 135. and 136.) a perpetual pun on his Christian name, they were solely intended to express, aloof from all individual application, the contrarieties, the inconsistencies, and the miseries of illicit love. Credulity itself, we think, cannot suppose
* That this series of sonnets, as well as the preceding, should be considered by Mr. Chalmers as addressed to Queen Elizabeth, is, indeed, of all conjectures, the most extraordinary ! VOL. II.