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country lass in the "Faerie Queene," and is said, in the "Epithalamion," to live near the sea. Critics differ with regard to the poetic value of these "Amoretti." Hunt, who greatly admired Spenser, disparages them. "The title is good; but, compared with what was to be expected of them, these little loves,'-not to speak it irreverently, are rather a set of dull, middleaged gentlemen, images of the author's time of life and of the commonplace sufferings which he appears to have undergone from a young and imperious mistress." Christopher North says, on the contrary, that they overflow with love's tenderest fancies. "All those in which joy is subdued by serious thought, and in which he looks with conjugal eyes and a conjugal heart on his betrothed, are beautiful exceedingly." They do not particularly impress me, except with their melodious versification, and when I remember that they celebrate a creature of flesh and blood, I cannot but wonder at the temperate time kept by the pulse of the poet. The form of these sonnets, of which I have already spoken, and which consists of stanzas in alternate rhymes, of which the first line of the second rhymes with the last line of the first, and the first line of the third with the last line of the second, may have been invented by Spenser when he was experimenting with the stanza in which he cast the "Faerie Queene," although he may have received a hint for it from the terza rima of the Italian poets.*
Spenser's sonnets are poetical, in spite of the conceits with which they are disfigured, but they are not very quotable. The last of the "Amoretti" is as good, perhaps, as any in the collection, so I give it, merely stating
*I am the first, I believe, to question Spenser's claim to the invention of this measure, which depends upon the date at which the "Visions written. They read to me like very early productions; and that he set little or no value upon them is evident from the statement of his printer, who assured the gentle reader that they were dispersed abroad in sundry hands, and not easy to be come by by himself (Spenser), and that some of them had been diversely embezzled and purloined from him
since his departure over sea, i. e., to Ireland, whither he is supposed to have gone in 1580. They were first published in 1591, seven years after the appearance of "The Essayes of a Prentice in the Divine Art of Poesie," by his Majesty King James of Scotland, which contained, among other pedantic trifles, twelve "Sonnets of Invocation to the Goddes," and five dedicatory sonnets by contemporary Scottish poets, all of which are in this measure. The honor, then, such as it is, must be divided between Spenser and King James.
that the bird mentioned in the opening line is the dove, and that the verb "hove," at the end of the ninth line, is the Spenserian form of "hover":
"Like as the culver on the bared bough
Ne joy of aught that under heaven doth hove
Other sonneteers who bestowed their
tediousness upon English readers in the last decade of the sixteenth century, were Robert Barnefeilde, who published a number of sonnets in a miscellany entitled "Cynthia " (1595); William Smith, who, in his "Chloris; or, The Complaint of a Passionate Shepherd" (1596) inscribed a half century of amorous sonnets to Spenser as the "deere and most entire patron of these maiden verses"; and B. Griffin, who in the same year published sixty-two sonnets, addressed to "Fidessa, more Chaste than Kind." Griffin's chief claim to remembrance is that the third of these sonnets was printed three years later as Shakspere's, in "The Passionate Pilgrim,"
"Venus, and yong Adonis sitting by her." The same doubtful honor was paid in this collection to one of Barnefeilde's sonnets,
"If musick and sweet poetry agree," as well as to one of his best lyrics,
"As it fell upon a day,"
which is not unworthy of the Master. A favorite "poet's corner" (if I may call it such), in which the minor Elizabethan poets displayed their dexterity and good will, was among the commendatory verses with which it was the fashion to usher new volumes of poetry, or new editions The of old volumes, into the world. dramatists of the period, who with scarcely an exception were hack-writers, were not so ready to indorse their fellows, and were not addicted to sonnets. I find none in Greene, Peele, Nash, Lily, and Marlowe. An exhaustive catalogue of early
sonneteers would include the names of Gascoigne and Lodge, the latter, indeed, occupying the earliest place after Sidney, his "Scillaes Metamorphosis" (1589) containing a Sidneian sonnet in Alexandrines; his "Euphues' Golden Legacie" (1592) six; and his "Margarite of America" (1596) twelve. There was now in London, whither he had come about the year that Sidney died, a young man from Stratford-on-Avon, where he had left a wife and three children, the eldest of whom, a daughter, was in her fourth year. He left home to better his tunes, and gaining a foothold in the metropolis, he obtained employment at the Globe and Bankside theaters, for which he touched up and worked over dramatic works belonging to the players, and for which he produced original plays of his own. The dense obscurity which shrouds the career of this young man does not enable us to state when his plays were written, nor the order in which they followed each other. He never printed them, nor was privy to their printing by others, contenting himself with the publication of two narrative poems, "Venus and Adonis" (1593), and "The Rape of Lucrece" (1594). These were his literary contributions to the poetry of his day; his plays were vocal contributions to the entertainment of the theater-loving Londoners. He was disliked by his contemporary dramatists, who accused him of pilfering from them; he was an upstart crow beautified with their feathers. They did not dream that he was the greatest of living poets, not merely in tragedy and comedy, but in the lesser art of writing son nets. If" Love's Labor's Lost was written in 1592, as Dyce supposes, Shakspere at once and easily surpassed Daniel, with whose sonnets I believe him to have been familiar. Longaville reads a sonnet, as the students of Shakspere will remember, in the third scene. of the fourth act of this comedy,
The sonnets of Shakspere extend over a considerable period, but most of them were written, I think, in his early manhood. The conceits with which they abound, and a certain crude richness of diction, wherein maturity and immaturity struggle for mastery, determine their date. They are magnificent first drafts. Their reputation was noised abroad eleven years before they were published, when they were mentioned by Meres in his" Palladis Tamia" (1598), where the soul of Ovid was defor-clared to live in the mellifluous and honeytongued Shakspere,-" witness his 'Venus and Adonis,' his Lucrece,' and his sugared sonnets among his private friends." Who were the friends of Shakspere, and who was the one friend to whom a large number of them appear to be addressed,—the “ Mr. W. H." to whom the publisher dedicated them as their only begetter? "What songs the syrens sang, and what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond conjecture." Conjecture, puzzling long, has persuaded itself that the "lovely youth" of these syren songs was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. I have forgotten the ground of this belief, which merely engrafts a known historic name upon these enigmatical initials, nor does it matter, since it would not help us to a better understanding of the sonnets themselves. They were not written to, or for, one friend, but to, or for, friends; that is, if they were seriously written to, or for, anybody at all. To read them appreciatively, we need only read them as exercises of fancy,-as poems, the fact or fiction of which does not concern us. Disbelief in the actual existence of the lovely youth does not disturb our belief in his ideal existence, nor our enjoyment of the fanciful arguments by which he is urged to marry. Dyce, who is second to no Shaksperean, expresses my opinion, so far as I have one, in regard to these remarkable productions. productions. "I have long felt convinced," he writes, "after repeated perusals of the 'Sonnets,' that the greater number of them was composed in an assumed character, and at different times, for the amusement, and probably at the suggestion, of the author's intimate associates. While, therefore, I contend that allusions scattered through these pieces should not be hastily referred to the personal circumstances of Shakspere, I am willing to grant that one or two 'Sonnets' have an individual application to the poet, as, for instance, the CX. and the CXI., in
"Did not the heavenly rhetorick of thine eye"; the curate, Sir Nathaniel, recites another (a Sidneian sonnet in Alexandrines) in the preceding scene,
"If love make me forsworn"; and a third is embedded in the conversation of Biron in the first scene of the first act,
"Study me how to please the eye indeed," the general versification of which may be described as sonnetary.
"With this key Shakspere unlocked his heart."
which he expresses his sense of the degradation that accompanied the profession of the stage. Augustus Schlegel is of opinion that sufficient use has not been made of them as important materials for Shakspere's biography; but, even if we regard them as actual transcripts of his genuine feelings, what a feeble and uncertain light would they throw on the history of his life!"
One can persuade himself, if he is determined to, that certain of Shakspere's sonnets are of a biographical character, or, more strictly speaking, that they were somewhat colored by his personal feelings at the time of writing. Mr. Dyce has indicated two, which, he thinks, have a personal application; let me add to these two others (LXXI. and LXXIII.), which are as beautiful as they are sad:
"No longer mourn for me when I am dead
"That time of year thou may'st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
To love well that which thou must leave ere long."
Shakspere is at his highest, I think-objectively, if not poetically-in his one hundred and sixteenth sonnet, which leaves but little to be said about love. It is a masterpiece:
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
That looks on tempests and is never shaken :
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
The sonnets of Shakspere were very much underrated formerly. Steevens pronounced them inferior to those of Watson (which are not sonnets at all, but poems of eighteen lines each, i. e., three elegiac stanzas with couplets added), and sneeringly declared that an Act of Parliament would be necessary to make them read. The order in which they stand in the original edition (1609) is by many considered an arbitrary one, though others maintain that it is nearly, if not quite, correct. Others, again, think that they are not so much sonnets as parts of an integral poem, the unities of which they believe they have discovered. Charles Armitage Brown, the friend of Keats, was of opinion that they were divisible poems in the sonnet stanza, similar to Spenser's "Visions of Petrarch," "Visions of BelIn lay," and others already mentioned. the first poem (1-26) Shakspere addresses his friend, whom he tries to persuade to marry in the second (27-55) he accuses him of robbing him of his mistress: in the third (56-77) he complains of his coldness: in the fourth (78-101) he complains that he prefers another poet's praises in the fifth (102-126) he excuses himself for having been for some time silent: and in the sixth (127-152) he charges his mistress with infidelity. Mr. Brown, if I apprehend him rightly, understands these sonnet-poems literally. Mr. W. H. was William Herbert, who robbed Shakspere of his mistress, and was forgiven by him. "Continually has it been lamented that we know almost nothing of our poet's life; yet here we have an event in it on which we can rely, described by his own hand, with many attending circumstances, every one of which exemplifies his character; and together they form a tale of interest, the like of which, among the biographies of other great men, poets or not, we may seek in vain. This is fresh from the well-spring of truth in his own bosom." If poetry is to be turned into biography in this way, who shall 'scape calumny ? Another writer, whose name is unknown to me, but who in 1859 re-arranged and divided the sonnets into four parts, or poems, identifies Marlowe as the poet whose praises were preferred to Shakspere's. Nor does he stop there; for branching off from the sonnets
Antony and Cleopatra," he identifies Marlowe with Lepidus, Herbert with Pompeius, Southampton with Enobarbus, Shakspere with Antony, his mistress with Cleopatra, and Mrs. Shakspere with Octavia. "It is not probable that Miss Anne Hathaway ever dreamt of being the sister of Cæsar and the wife of a greater than Cæsar." If the force of biographical fooling can go further than this, it can only be within the walls of a lunatic asylum.
I have no theory in regard to the sonnets of Shakspere, which I read simply as poems. Strictly speaking, they are not sonnets, but quatorzains, consisting of three elegiac stanzas and a couplet. They are full of faults, but with all their faults there is not one which does not betray the hand of a great poet. Felicitous phrases and sinewy lines are frequent, and their intellectual intention, despite the conIceits with which it is beset, is masculine. "Next to the dramas of Shakspere," says Dyce," they are by far the most valuable of his works. They contain such a quantity of profound thought as must astonish every reflecting reader; they are adorned by splendid and delicate imagery; they are sublime, pathetic, tender, or sweetly playful; while they delight the ear by their fluency, and their varied harmonies of rhythm."
I pass without mention several minor English poets, who indulged in the writing. of sonnets, and come to two poets who are generally classed together, partly because both were sonneteers, but more, I think, because both contributed to the poetic literature of Scotland. The elder was William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Sterline, the younger William Drummond, better known as Drummond of Hawthornden. If to have loved and suffered was to be poetical, they were poets. We have to take their love and suffering for granted, for neither authenticates itself in their sonnets, which are as unimpassioned as those of Daniel or Drayton. The fair mistress of Alexander is the merest shadow. She was his first love, we are told, which appears probable, if she excited the tender passion in his breast when he was but fifteen, and a very obdurate first love he found her. She was punished, however, for she "matched her morning to one in the evening of his age (in other words, married an old man), and he was consoled, after a short courtship, with the hand and fortune of another. Drummond was nearly twice the age of
Alexander when he met his fate in the person of Mary Cunningham, daughter of the laird of Barns, whose seat was on the side of the Firth of Forth opposite that on which Hawthornden stands. "He met with suitable returns of chaste love from her, and fully gained her affections; but when the day for the marriage was appointed, and all things ready for the solemnization of it, she took a fever, and was suddenly snatched away by it, to his great grief and sorrow." He retired to Hawthornden, where, among his beloved books, he devoted himself to melancholy musings. At length he was consoled, as Alexander had been, consolation coming in the shape of Elizabeth Logan, a minister's daughter, who proved a prolific mother.
Drummond embalmed the memory of his first love in several sonnets, of which the following is a fair example. It was addressed to his fellow-amorist, Alexander:
The sonnets of Alexander, which were published in 1604, under the title of "Aurora," are studied and artificial. They are Petrarchian, in that they are interspersed with songs, elegies, and madrigals, but of irregular construction; only twenty-three out of the whole one hundred and six conforming to the law of the legitimate sonnet. I have not been able to interest myself in them, though I have succeeded in reading the Monarchicke Tragedies of their courtly author, whom his Majesty King James was pleased to call a philosophical poet. The sonnets of Drummond are of a higher order than those of Alexander, and judged, as they should be, by the standard prevailing when they were written, are entitled to great praise. They are less artificial than Daniel's, for example, and are more poetical; their most distinguishing quality is elegance of expression,-a tender pensiveness of sentiment, and a vein of meditation that
bespeaks a serious thinker. Hunt considers him the next best sonnet-writer to Shakspere. "Drummond's sonnets," he says, "for the most part, are not only of the legitimate order, but they are the earliest in the language that breathe what may be called the habit of mind observable in the best Italian writers of sonnets: that is to say, a mixture of tenderness, elegance, love of country, seclusion, and conscious sweetness of verse. We scent his 'musked eglantines,' and catch glimpses of the 'sweet hermitress' whose loss he deplores." The best of them were published in a volume of his miscellaneous poems in 1616, the year that Shakspere died.
The great names of Shakspere and Drummond were not powerful enough to preserve the fashion of sonnet-writing. Ben Jonson wrote but four, two of which were prefixed to volumes of verse by other poets, the third being addressed to the Lady Mary Wroth, a daughter of the Earl of Leicester, and the fourth to the household of Charles the First. The first and second bear the dates of 1600 and 1604, the fourth of 1630. If any can be said to be good, it is the last, which is an indignant demand for the tierce of canary to which he was entitled as laureate. One would hardly expect to find sonnets among the poems of such harsh and unmusical writers as Donne and Herbert, whose literary art was of the slightest, but they are there, nevertheless. Donne wrote twenty-nine sonnets, the first seven of which form a single poem, the last line of one being repeated as the first line of another, a poetic artifice which was first employed, I believe, by Daniel. With but one exception they are legitimately constructed, and are not so bad as they might have been. Herbert wrote fourteen sonnets, all on sacred themes, and all illegitimate. They are better on the whole, perhaps, than those of Donne, one of them being good enough for Gray to steal from. The latest of all these sonnets must have been written before the third of March, 1632, the date of Herbert's death, which was less than a year after the death of Donne. They belong, therefore, to the poetical productions of the first third of the seventeenth century.
Eight years before the death of Shakspere there was born in London a boy whose name, in the fullness of time, was to be associated with his as the second great English poet. The light of day shone first upon his infant eyes in Bread street, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, which was the armorial ensign of his family. His father, who
was a scrivener, and distinguished for his musical talents, saw early promises of genius in his precocious mind. A poet at the age of ten, he turned two psalms into creditable poetry when he was fifteen, after which feat he was admitted a pensioner to Christ's College, Cambridge. Here he was soon distinguished for his skill in writing Latin poetry—a laborious accomplishment, which was then greatly esteemed by scholars, and has not yet fallen into disfavor in English universities. He wrote four English poems while at college-an elegy on the death of a fair infant dying of a cough, in the measure of Shakspere's "Lucrece," and a vacation exercise, in couplets, in praise of the English language; the third and fourth poems were sonnets. The vacation exercise and the elegy need not detain us, for other poets might have written them; but the sonnets must not be passed over lightly, for they mark an era in English sonnet-writing, the first close of which they illustrated and delayed. Both have what may be called a personal basis-one being the feelings of a young poet on listening to a nightingale, the other his reflections on his twenty-third birth-day. They differ from all the sonnets of the time, in that they are simple in thought and unstudied in expression, and that they convince us of the entire sincerity of the singer. We feel that they were not written because other poets had made a reputation by such compositions, but because their writer had something to say, and knew that the best way for him to say it was in this form. If he had read Shakspere and Drummond, or Drayton and Daniel, he forgot them in his remembrance of Petrarch, whose form he mastered, at the age of twenty-three, as no English poet since Sidney had done. They do not read like the productions of a young man, for they are mature in conception and severe in execution-demanding our deepest respect as well as our highest admiration. The credentials of a strong intellect, which knows itself and the work it has to do, their gravity is Shaksperean. They bear a weight of thought which had never before laid upon the English sonnet, and they bear it lightly as a flower. Such, I conceive, are the sonnets of John Milton, which were as slow of acceptance by the readers of poetry as those of Shakspere. "They deserve not any particular criticism," Johnson declared, "for of the best it can only be said they are not bad."
The sonnets of Milton cover a period of