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bachelor Lord Mountjoy, by whom she had a family, and who died broken-hearted because he could not honourably espouse her. Mr Massey chooses, as ungallantly as unwarrantably, to rake up the ashes of this frail lady—the Cleopatra of the Court, as she is called, with her strange conjunction of black eyes and golden-tawny hair-and to detail her intimate relations with
Lord Southampton and William Herbert. And for what reason, or on what grounds ? None whatever, except on those of the veriest fancy. As far as Mr Massey can tell us, Lady Rich was true to her adopted lover, and was otherwise a most loveable and estimable woman.
Only, it happens that in Mr Massey's Theory of the Sonnets” an exigency occurs
an exigency occurs--a dark, bad, intriguing woman is wanted; so poor Lady Rich is selected to fill up the gap as the evil genius of two of Shakspere's friends—dragged out of her grave two centuries and a half after her burial, simply because she is required to play a part assigned to her by a litterateur of the nineteenth century who has a theory to support! Yet it must be admitted that the exigency was great and pressing, because the whole scheme of the Sonnets in their new aspect would fall to pieces, unless a suitable player were found to fill a particular part. Otherwise, we should have had the ancient joke realised of enacting the play of “Hamlet” without the hero. But this device, in spite of Mr Massey's ingenuity, will not stand examination.
In one of the groups of Sonnets in which Mistress Vernon is supposed to address her lover, the Earl, and Lady Rich, her (presumed) rival, she gets the following put into her mouth as an address to the Earl on his passion for the other lady (Sonnet 42) :
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone. This is from one of the ambiguous Sonnets, which, coming directly from Shakspere in his own proper person, has been held to imply some moral backsliding on his part. Mr Massey, in pursuance of his plan to clear Shakspere at all hazards, will have the lines to be written by Mistress Vernon; but if the matter is only to be mended by imagining one woman to be so great a fool as to congratulate another on taking from her her plighted lover's affections, the verses would assuredly have been better left as they
The position reaches the very acme of absurdity when it becomes absolutely necessary to believe that the man who does this is no other than Shakspere himself-he who, in all the relationships of life, is so uniformly true to nature and the workings of the human heart. As to the fittingness of this style of treatment, another example may be adduced from the series devoted' to William Herbert's imagined passion for Lady Rich. This series is dated by Mr Massey 1599-1600, and in it the following lines are supposed to be addressed by Herbert to his mistress (Sonnet 138):
When my love swears that she is made of truth,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be. And, addressing Lady Rich, Herbert is made further to say (Sonnet 96):
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness ;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport. Here we have Herbert speaking of himself as being old, and of Lady Rich as being young-the real truth being, according to the dates supplied by Mr Massey himself, that at the period the above lines were supposed to have been sent to the lady, Herbert was of the mature age of twenty, and Lady Rich “ getting on towards forty !” —the exact reverse of the position imagined in the Sonnets. And the truthloving and upright Shakspere is called on to homologate all this folly and dense absurdity!
It serves to show still further the dilemma into which Mr Massey has got by his theory that he is constrained to throw overboard some of the Sonnets as not written by Shakspere at all. Four of them he believes to have been the composition of William Herbert; and, particularly as to the 151st, he holds it as a “ matter of moral certainty" that this is not Shakspere’s ; " it is irrecognisable as his by any light flashed from his spirit or reflected in his works.” Now, we ask any reader conversant with Shakspere to take a look at this Sonnet, and then to say whether or not it can be paralleled in sentiment half-a-dozen times in the course of the works. The indelicacy of expression involved in the piece is what alone prevents us from performing this task, and thus giving another example of the “ distressful state" to which Mr Massey has been reduced in working out his elaborate hypothesis.
We shall not risk wearying out the patience of the reader by pointing out more of such incongruities, a complete list of which would require probably a volume as large as that of Mr Massey's for exhaustive statement and exposure. With
. out doubt, his theory of the Sonnets completely breaks down at various points. Some of the links hold together exceedingly well; and his success in clenching these has led him astray into the belief that he could forge a chain which would bind together the whole of the Sonnets-a sad mistake, ending in unquestionable failure, and a great waste of time. That Mr Massey was so far right in the theory with which he started we honestly believe. Only, it has happened that he has been misled by the will-o'-the-wisp notion that he was able to identify all the characters. Having admitted four interlocutors—including Shakspere himself-we see no reason in the world for stopping at this particular point. Was Shakspere not likely to have many other friends to whose service in love and other affairs he might be willing occasionally to give up his facile pen? The practice of doing so was a common one in the age in which he lived, as admitted by Mr Massey himself, although he chooses to shut his eyes to the inevitable deduction :
It was by no means uncommon for a poet to write in character on behalf of a patron and act as a sort of secretary in his love affairs, the letters being put into the shape of sonnets. In Shakspeare's plays we meet with allusions to courting by means of “Wailful sonnets whose composed rhymes should be full fraught with serviceable vows." Thurio, in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona,' goes into the city to seek a gentleman who shall set a sonnet to music for the purpose of wooing Sylvia. Gascoigne, who died in 1577, tell us, many years before Shakspeare wrote in this way for his young friend, he had been engaged to write for others in the same fashion. The author of the “Forest of Fancy,” 1579, informs us that many of the poems were written for “persons who had occasion to crave his help in that behalf.” Marston, in his “ Satyres,” 1598, accuses Roscio (Burbage), the tragedian, of having written verses for Mutio, and he tells us that "absolute Castilio had furnished himself in like manner in order that he might pay court to his mistress.”
But the objection may occur to some readers, that having admitted the essentially dramatic nature of the Sonnets, there should remain as good grounds for attempting some elucidation of the personal peculiarities of Shakspere from this source as from the Dramas themselves. Our answer is that there are, properly speaking, no characters developed in the Sonnets-no real embodiments of humanity, either
male or female. All that appears in these productions are only scenes and incidents of life--at times firmly, at times very faintly shadowed forth-suggestions of character rather than descriptions. The interlocutors of the Dramas are most of them full-length portraits, whose every lineament stands forth instinct with life and passion; in the Sonnets, we can only hear voices-voices of varying sound, melodious and discordant, high and low, the speakers themselves, whoever they were, remaining hidden in a depth of obscurity which we have no hope will ever be penetrated.
CHAPTER THIRD-SHAKSPERE'S LIFESPECIAL BELIEFS AND PECULIARITIES OF OPINION.
I.-THE FACTS OF HIS LIFE.
The few ascertained facts of the great poet's history may be summed up almost with a single dash of the pen ; and this it is which during the last century has lent intensity to the search after new facts, and, in default of forthcoming verities, to the invention of forgeries and the substitution of imaginations for realities. Ireland's daring and ingenious impositions, given to the public in 1796, have from time to time been succeeded by others equally unprincipled if on a less scale of magnitude. Books called "Lives” of Shakspere exist in profusion; but the sober analyst must reject them as almost wholly the products of mere fancy. For example, that Shakspere fled from his native village to avoid the consequences of deer-stealing; that he gained a livelihood for some time in London by taking charge of gentlemen's horses at the door of a theatre; that he indulged in 66 wit combats" with Ben Jonson and others in London taverns; and that he died of a fever contracted by hard drinking consequent on a visit to Stratford of some of his old boon companions—these and such-like stories rest on no authority worthy of credence. Unfortunately, to tell the simple truth, the brief summary of Shakspere’s life, given by Steevens more than a century ago, is nearly as applicable as ever :-“ All that is known, with any degree of certainty, concerning Shakspere is, that he was born at Stratfordupon-Avon, married, and had children there; went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays; returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried.” Of the man himself we know nothing, or next to nothing, through any direct source. Ben Jonson-and he alone-gives us the slightest possible sketch, and we are