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Massey, the pioneer sonnet-critic, much important evidence has recently been brought to light, so that his Drama of the Sonnets is no longer “up to date" with modern criticism and research. I have found, in following some of his clues to their historical source, much that is new in this connection, contained in documents so old as to be often contemporary with Shakespeare himself.
Should my grouping of the sonnets seem audacious, it may be remembered that their first publisher only claimed to give the public a large number of Shakespeare's minor poems, as they reached his hands (probably from three distinct sources). I disclaim, in altering Thorpe's arrangement, any attempt to alter Shakespeare.
In my judgment, every lover and student of these poems has as good a right to change the order in which they are printed as their first piratepublisher, even a better right, if by so doing their interest is enhanced and their meaning clarified.
I am the more emboldened to set down the sonnets according to my own views, because on broad general lines they concord with the opinions of Professor Dowden, Mr. Acheson, and Mrs.
Stopes. I believe that the present arrangement will be found satisfactory to the amateur, as it is founded on the rules of simplicity and common sense, which place a reconciliation after, and not before, a quarrel.
Mr. Acheson has had the great kindness to offer me his own arrangement, which is divided into seven books, each of which should contain twenty sonnets. My best thanks are due to him not only for this, but also for a most interesting and valuable correspondence, and the immense moral support of his commendation.
Mr. Acheson has promised us his own version of the sonnets later, for which he will give those “reasons of settled gravity” that his mastery of Elizabethan literary history entitles him to pronounce with an authority far other than I could pretend to.
When facts are quoted, it may be understood that they are sanctioned by Sir Sidney Lee, whose clear exposition and scholarly research have made his Life the generally accepted authority on the time of Shakespeare.
Older authorities are named, when cited in the
text. They are long since gone beyond the reach of any rash censure, or gratitude that could be here expressed.
To the director and staff of the Congressional Library at Washington for their generous courtesy, and most especially to Charles Coleman, Esq., of the reading-room, whose sympathy and zeal in the search for elusive texts have been invaluable to me, I should like to render my appreciative thanks. I take also this opportunity of mentioning my indebtedness to Eugene F. Bliss, Esq., of Cincinnati, for his critical counsel and useful help.
CLARA LONGWORTH DE CHAMBRUN.
ROOKWOOD, October 2, 1913.