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"SHAKE-SPEARE's Sonnets" were printed under that title, and with the name of the poet in unusually large capital letters, in 1609. No Christian name is to be found until we arrive at "A Lover's Complaint," but "Shake-speare's Sonnets" is repeated at the head of the first of the series. Hence we may possibly be warranted in assuming that they were productions well known to have been for some time floating about among the lovers and admirers of poetry, and then collected into a volume. The celebrity of the author seems proved, if any proof of the kind were wanting, by the manner in which his " Sonnets," from the press of G. Eld, were put forth to the world.
There is one fact connected with the original publication of "Shakespeare's Sonnets" which has hitherto escaped remark, none of the commentators, apparently, being aware of it; viz. that although there were not two editions of them in 1609, there is an important difference in the title-pages of some copies of the impression of that year, which shows that a bookseller, not hitherto connected with the publication of any of our poet's works, was in some way concerned in the first edition of his "Sonnets"." The usual imprint informs us, that they were printed "by G. Eld, for T. T." and were to be sold by William Aspley (without any address); but the Bodleian Library possesses a copy which states that they were to be sold, not by William Aspley (who had been one of the partners in "Much Ado about Nothing," 1600, 4to, and "Henry IV., Part II.," 1600, 4to.), but by "John Wright, dwelling at Christ Church Gate." The date of the year has there been accidentally cut away, but Professor Mommsen, of Oldenburg, met with a second copy with the date of 1609, and with the same peculiarity in the imprint, in the dispersed Bentinck Library at Varel. Wright perhaps wished to have his name and address appended to the copies he sold, but Aspley might think that he
1 John Wright was the publisher of the edition, in 1605, of the old anonymous "King Leir," which had preceded Shakespeare's tragedy.
2 A third copy, with the name of John Wright and the date of 1609, was, we believe, among the books of the late Mr. Heywood Bright.
was so well known to the ordinary buyers of such books, that it was unnecessary to state the place where he carried on business.
The application of the initials T. T., on the title-page, is ascertained from the Registers of the Stationers' Company, where the subsequent entry is found:
“20 May 1609.
Tho. Thorpe] A booke called Shakespeare's Sonnets." Thorpe was a bookseller of considerable eminence, who usually put his name at full length upon his title-pages, and why he did not do so in this instance, and also subscribed only T. T. to the dedication of the Sonnets, is a matter we should consider of little or no consequence, if it related to the productions of any author but Shakespeare. It sometimes happened of old, that if it were suspected that a work might contain any thing publicly or personally objectionable, the printer or the stationer only allowed their initials to appear in connexion with it: that such was the case in this instance, there is no sufficient ground for believing; and Eld avowed himself the printer, and Aspley the seller of “Shakespeare's Sonnets," while Thomas Thorpe made himself responsible for the expense of typography.
A question has arisen, and has been much disputed of late years, who was the individual to whom Thorpe dedicated these sonnets, and whom, in a very unprecedented and peculiar form, he addresses as Mr. W. H.” That form is precisely as follows, on a separate leaf immediately succeeding the title-page :
To. ThE. ONLIE. BEGETTER. OF.
THESE. INSVING. SONNETS.
OUR, EVER-LIVING. POET.
T. T. We are not aware that there is another instance in our language, at that period, of a dedication of a similar kind, and in a similar style. It was not at all uncommon for booksellers to subscribe dedications; but it more frequently happened after the death of an author than during his life, and never, that we recollect, in a manner so remarkable. The discussion has been carried on with some pertinacity on the question, what person was addressed as “Mr. W. H.?" and various replies have been made to it. Farmer conjectured wildly, that W. H. might be William Hart, the poet's
nephew, who was only born in 1600: Tyrwhitt guessed from a line in one of the sonnets (Son. 20) that the name was W. Hughes, or Hews:
“A man in hue, all hues in his controlling," which is thus printed in the 4to, 1609:
"A man in hew all Hews in his controwling." Although the word “hue" is repeatedly spelt hew in the old edition, this is the only instance in which it is printed in Italic type, and with a capital letter, exactly the same as Will, in Sonnets 135, 136, and 143, where the author plays upon his own
Dr. Drake imagined that the initials W. H. were those of Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, inverted (“Shakespeare and his Times,” Vol. ii. p. 62); and of later years Boaden, with great ingenuity, contended that W. H. meant William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke”. This last notion seems too much taken for granted by Mr. C. Armitage Brown, in his very clever, and, in many respects, original work, “Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems,” 8vo, 1838 ; but we own that we cannot accord in that, nor in any other theory that has yet been advanced upon the point. We have no suggestion of our own to offer, and acquiescence in one opinion, or in another, in no way affects any position regarding them which we might be disposed to take up; but it seems to us the very height of improbability, that a bookseller in the year 1609, when peculiar respect was paid to nobility and station, would venture to address an Earl and a Knight of the Garter merely as "Mr. W. H.'" However, notwithstanding the pains taken to settle the dispute, we hold it to be one of comparatively little importance, and it is certainly one upon which we are not likely to arrive at a final and satisfactory decision. To the desperate speculation of Chalmers, that not a few of the Sonnets were addressed to Queen Elizabeth, though maintained with considerable ability and learning, it is hardly necessary even to advert.
3 In a small pamphlet, entitled, “On the Sonnets of Shakespeare, identifying the Person to whom they were addressed, and elucidating several points in the Poet's History. By James Boaden.” 8vo, 1838. The substance of the tract had been published in 1832 in “ The Gentleman's Magazine."
* Upon this particular point we concur with Mr. Peter Cunningham, in a note to his excellent edition of Mr. T. Campbell's “ Specimens of British Poets (Essay, p. lxxi), but we can by no means follow him in thinking that Shakespeare's Sonnets have been “over-rated,” or that the Earl of Pembroke could not have been addressed in them, because he was only nine years old in 1598. Shakespeare had written sonnets at that date, according to the undoubted testimony of Meres, but those in which the Earl has been supposed to be addressed may have been produced at a considerably later period. Still, at the early age of eighteen or nineteen, which the Earl reached in 1609, it does not seem likely that Shakespeare would have thought it necessary, with so much vehemence, to urge him to marry.
It is evident that the Sonnets were written at very different periods of Shakespeare's life, and under very different circumstances—some in youth, some in more advanced age; some when Shakespeare was hopeful and happy, and some when he was desponding and afflicted at his own condition in life, and place in society. In many there are to be found most remarkable indications of self-confidence, and of assurance in the immortality of his verses, and in this respect the author's opinion was constant and uniform. He never scrupled to express what T. T. put in two emphatic words—that he was an "ever-living poet;" and perhaps there is no writer of ancient or of modern times who, for the quantity of such writings left behind him, has so frequently or so strongly declared his firm belief, that what he had produced, in this department of poetry, "the world would not willingly let die.” This conviction seems hardly reconcileable with the carelessness Shakespeare appears to have displayed for the preservation of his writings. We know from Francis Meres that Shakespeare's Sonnets were scattered among his private friends in 1598', and no doubt he continued to add to them from
but it was left to a bookseller in 1609, perhaps, to cause them to be collected, and to be printed in a separate volume.
It is with reference to this circumstance that we understand Thorpe to address "Mr. W. H.," in the dedication, as "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets.” Boswell quoted a passage from Dekker's “Satiromastix,” 1602 (and many other instances might be adduced), to prove that “ begetter” only meant obtainer or procurer; and as Thorpe had been under some obligation to W. H., for collecting Shakespeare's scattered sonnets from various parties, for this reason, perhaps, he inscribed them to him. There is no doubt that “Mr. W. H.” could not be “the only begetter" of the sonnets in any other serse, for it is indisputable that many of them are addressed to a woman; and though a male object might have been the cause of some of them, and particularly of the first twenty-six, he could not have been the cause of the last twenty-seven sonnets.
We have already mentioned Mr. Brown's work, “Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems,” which, with a few errors and inconsistencies of little moment, contains the best solution of various difficulties arising out of these Sonnets yet published. He contends that Shakespeare used the form of the sonnet, as Spenser and many others employed stanzas of various descriptions, and that 152 of the 154 sonnets are divisible into six distinct poems. His arrangement of them is the following; and we think with him, that if they be read with this key, much will be intelligible which upon any other supposition must remain obscure
5 The following are the words Meres uses :-“ As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare: witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c."- Palladis Tamia, 1598, fo. 281, b. We do not find that any other contemporary refers particularly, and by name, to the “ Sonnets."
First Poem. Sonnets 1 to 26. To his friend, persuading him
Second Poem. Sonnets 27 to 55. To his friend, among other things, forgiving him for having robbed him of his mistress.
Third Poem. Sonnets 56 to 77. To his friend, complaining of his coldness, and warning him of life's decay.
Fourth Poem. Sonnets 78 to 101. To his friend, objecting that he prefers another poet's praises, and reproving him for faults that may injure his character.
Fifth Poem. Sonnets 102 to 126. To his friend, excusing himself for having been some time silent, and disclaiming the charge of inconstancy.
Sixth Poem. Sonnets 127 to 152. To his mistress, censuring her for infidelity.
Mr. Brown asserts, and goes far to prove, that the sonnets in the first five of each of these divisions are consecutive, following up the same thought, and working out the same purpose. With regard to the "sixth poem,” as he terms it, he contends that the sonnets have been confused, and that they are not, like the others, to be read in the order in which they were printed in the edition of 1609. He rejects the last two sonnets as no part of any of the six poems, and they are unquestionably somewhat incongruous.
Many years ago, long before the appearance of Mr. Brown's volume, it had occurred to us, as a mode merely of removing some of the difficulties attending this portion of the works of Shakespeare, that it was possible that he had consented to write some
6 This is the poet whom Shakespeare (Son. 80) calls a "better spirit,” and of whom he also speaks in Son. 83. 85, &c. Some have supposed that he meant Spenser, others Daniel ; but Mr. P. Cunningham has pointed out a doubtfull allusion to Drayton (and to his collection of Sonnets, published in 1594, · under the title of “ Idea's Mirror'') in Shakespeare's twenty-first Sonnet, in these lines :
“ So is it not with me, as with that muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse," &c. It may be disputed whether in these, and the succeeding lines, Shakespeare had any individual reference. Drayton's " Idea's Mirror" has only been discovered of late years ; and it seems not improbable that, like bis Endymion and Phoebe" (see the “ Bridgewater Catalogue," p. 108), he, for some reason, suppressed it. Both have recently been reprinted by the Roxburghe Club, in a collection which comprises other rare pieces by Drayton.