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gard, and the (as I suppose) spurious edition of the sonnets was dedicated to two initials, W. H. preceded by a Mr. and published by T. T. (Thomas Thorpe), who I suspect was a bookseller of “no very good repute.”
It may be thought by some readers that I have entered into this discussion rather too minutely, but I confess that I have reluctantly checked myself from entering into a still more elaborate consideration of what I esteem a highly interesting literary question.
It is, I think, pretty evident, notwithstanding the extreme neglect which has hitherto attended these sonnets, that they are now gradually emerging from their long obscurity. Within these last eight years, several new editions have been published. In 1825, Mr. Pickering published an edition of Shakespeare's Poems, but without a single note or comment or a single line of preface, and the typography is not particularly correct. Some time, in 1831, Mr. Moxon (a young and enterprising publisher of great taste, and himself a writer of sonnets), published an edition of Shakespeare's and Milton's sonnets together in one volume. This is said to be a beautiful edition, very handsomely printed (one sonnet on each page,) but I have not seen a copy. I believe it is without notes. Mr. Pickering, besides his edition of 1823, published in 1832, an edition which is included in the Aldine edition of the British Poets, a very tasteful collection. This last edition of Shakespeare's poems is finely printed on good paper, but the sonnets are inelegantly crowded, and in consequence of the glossarial foot notes of various length, are very unequally divided, which is particularly objectionable in the appearance of so short and compact a form of verse. This defect is not in keeping with the general elegance of the Aldine editions,
Shakespeare himself had a high opinion of his own sonnets, which he appears to have thought would secure to himself and
the several objects of them an immortal fame. And this is another reason why it is improbable that he had any concern in their publication, for as it is clear that he intended to immortalize his friends, he would never have arranged the sonnets in so obscure a style as to leave the objects of them to be guessed at.
Shakespeare somewhere styles the sonnet the " deep-brained sonnet.” Wordsworth says,
“ Scorn not the sonnet, Critic; you have frowned
Mindless of its just honours ; with this key
Throughout the whole series of sonnets our great poet makes not a single allusion to his dramas.
He edited two separate volumes of his poems, but not one edition of his plays. In fact he was best known by his minor poems, which were very popular. His first two poems went through six editions in thirteen years, while during the same period, Romeo and Juliet (his most popular play) passed through the press but twice.
The following are the conclusions I have arrived at in my own mind. The sonnets were incorrectly arranged by an ignorant bookseller—they were addressed to several individuals, male and female, in some cases real and in others imaginary-some of them were possibly written in the character of Lord Southampton to the “ faire Mrs. Vernon,” (afterwards his wife,) and some in the character of that lady to her lover-some were written in the poet's own character*, and perhaps the two or three of them which it must be admitted are in many respects objectionable, were not the production of Shakespeare, but of some unknown and inferior author.
The passages that I have quoted as illustrative of the poet's circumstances and feelings, are, I think, amongst those that are written in his own character.
Since the first edition of the Literary Leaves, and the appearance of the article by J. B. in the Gentleman's Magazine, Mr. Charles Armitage Brown has published a work on Shakespeare's Sonnets. He has divided the whole series, which he looks upon rather as connected Stanzas than as separate Sonnets, into six different poems; and as they contain incidental revelations of the poet's own condition, he has called them Shakespeare's Auto-Biographical Poems, which forms the leading title of his book. This original fancy at first surprized and interested me exceedingly, but on turning again to the Sonnets to see how far the matter and manner corresponded with Mr. Brown's divisions, I confess that I could discover more boldness and ingenuity in his arrangement than accuracy or truth. The following is the order of the Sonnet-poems according to Mr. Brown's scheme.
First Poem.-Stanzas 1 to 26.— To his friend, persuading him to marry.
Second Poem.-Stanzas 27 to 55.— To his friend, who had robbed the poet of his mistress, forgiving him.
Third Poem.-Stanzas 56 to 77.- To his friend, complaining of his coldness, und wurning him of life's decay.
Fourth Poem.-Stanzas 78 to 101.- To his friend, complaining that he prefers another poet's praises, and reproving him for faults that may injure his character.
Fifth Poem.-Stanzas 102 to 126.- To his friend, excusing himself for having been some time silent, and disclaiming the charge of inconstancy.
Sixth Poem.-Stanzas 127 to 152.- To his mistress, on her infidelity.
Now only the first seventeen Sonnets of the first division have any allusion whatever to the subject of marriage. The remaining nine are merely general expressions of admiration and regard. The 20th Sonnet is one of the most painful and perplexing I ever read. It is a truly disagreeable enigma. If I have caught any glimpse of the real meaning, I could heartily wish that Shakespeare had never written it ; but the Sonnets are so involved in mystery with respect to the object of them, that it would be presumptuous and unreasonable to speak disrespectfully of such a man as Shakespeare, on account of any thing that may wear an objectionable aspect in such very uncertain indications of his moral character.
I can discover no greater break or suspension between the 26th and 27th Sonnet than there is between any two of the last nine of the first division. Certainly the 27th does not look like the commencement of a fresh series, nor does it include any allusion whatever to the poet's having been “ robbed of his mistress." It is of the same general tenor as the nine immediately preceding Sonnets. In the sixth division Mr. Brown acknowledges, that there are two Sonnets that are not in keeping with the rest, and very coolly tells us that “these two Stunzus should be erpunged from the poem.”
But though Mr. Brown has not, I think, succeeded, in proving that the Sonnets should be divided as he proposes, he has shown a continuity of subject and sentiment in a great number that was probably never before observed ; and his book is altogether an interesting performance, and well worthy of the respectful attention of all admirers of Shakespeare. I should not omit to mention that Mr. Brown is of the same opinion as Mr. Heywood Bright and J. B. in the Gentleman's Magazine, to neither of whom, however, he makes any allusion, and it is therefore to be presumed that he had not heard of their labours in the same field. Perhaps the most striking part of his publication is the attempt to show from the internal evidence of his plays, that the great poet must have visited Italy. Nothing, however, is absolutely proved, though much pleasing speculation is very ingeniously supported. It is perhaps too late to look out for the discovery of any new facts in the history of Shakespeare. We are still obliged to confess with Steevens, that all that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakespeare, is, that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avonmarried and had children there-went to London, where he commenced actor and wrote poems and plays-returned to the place of his birth — made his will-died and was buried.
THE RETURN FROM EXILE.
As memory pictured happier hours, home sickness seized my
heart, I never thought of English land but burning tears would start; The faces of familiar friends would haunt me in my sleep, I clasped their thrilling hands in mine—then woke again to
At last my spirit's fevered dreams so wrought upon my frame, That life itself uncertain seemed as some worn taper's flame, 'Till o'er the wide blue waters borne, from regions strange and
far, I saw dear Albion's bright cliffs gleam beneath the morning star!
That radiant sight redeemed the past, and stirred with trans
I paced the swift bark's bounding deck, light-hearted as a child;
The shining golden butter-cup-the daisy's silver crest-