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about thirty years, beginning with the one "To the Nightingale," written in 1631, and ending with the one "On his Deceased Wife," written in 1658. They are more autobiographic than the sonnets of any other English poet, and they show, as no other poetic compositions could do, his indomitable dependence upon himself. If he could have been influenced by consideration of popularity, he would scarcely have written sonnets, for they had ceased to be popular when he began, and were nearly, if not quite, extinct when he finished. A change had come over the form of English poetry which I chronicle but cannot explain, and which contributed to the dethronement of the sonnet and the crowning of the lyric in its stead. There was no great change in its spirit, which occupied itself with what by courtesy is called lovepoetry, but it was in a fashion of its own, which was foreign to that of the early masters, and no whit nearer nature than theirs. Carew was singing the praises of Celia, Habington the praises of Castara, Waller the praises of Saccharissa, Lovelace the praises of Lucasta, Cowley the praises of the shadow which he pretended was his mistress, and the lesser poets-the mob of gentlemen, who wrote with ease—the praises of their Chloës and Amandas, but none in the measured octaves and sestettes of Petrarch, or the loose stanza-sonnet of Shakspere. I recall but one sonnet in the poetical works of Carew, ten in those of Fanshawe, and eight in those of Cotton. A curious semblance of the sonnet lingers, however, in Habington's "Castara," but it is a remembrance of its spirit, and not its form; for while it inspired fifty-four poems of fourteen lines each, it allowed them to shape themselves in couplets.
objected to the touch of classicism in the second line:
"And redd'ning Phoebus lifts his golden fire,"
though he was willing to permit himself, when it suited him, to
"Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea, Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn." Milton and Spenser and Dryden are laid under contribution in it, and the last line,
"And weep the more because I weep in vain," is taken bodily, either from Fitz-Jeffrey's "Life and Death of Sir Francis Drake " (1596), or Cibber's adaptation of " Richard the Third" (1700), most probably the latter.
The next English sonnets came from the pens of Thomas Edwards and Thomas Warton. Edwards, who was a member of Lincoln's Inn, was an early Shaksperean, who was moved to wrath by the ignorance and arrogance displayed in Warburton's edition of his favorite poet, which he proceeded to scarify in his "Canons of Criticism" (1748). This passed through several editions, the latest of which, published in 1765, contained forty-five sonnets, thirteen of which appeared eight years before in Dodsley's Collection of Poems. They are not remarkable for originality of thought, but the sentiments which they express are pleasing, and the language in which they are clothed is scholarly and refined. The same may be said of the sonnets of Warton, of which the earliest were published in the same Collection four years later than those of Edwards. A better sonneteer than either was John Bampfylde, a man of family in the last century, whose only wish was to live in solitude and amuse himself with poetry and music. His relatives thought this was a sad life for him, and forced him to London, where he was put into Newgate for break
the windows of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Released by his mother, Lady Bampfylde, his alacrity in sinking landed him in beggarly lodgings in Holborn, whence he was sent to a private mad-house, where he remained twenty years, only recovering his reason when he was dying of consumption. His sonnets, which were published in 1778, were dedicated to Miss Palmer, a niece of Sir Joshua's, to whom he was inclined to pay his addresses. They indicate a sensitive temperament, an appreciation of natural scenery, a cultivated sense of the picturesque and the beautiful, and shed a
If the sonnets of Milton produced no other effect upon the class of compositions which they adorned beyond those of all other English poets, they dealt a death-blowing to its artificiality and fondness for conceits, and introduced in their stead the uncommon poetic quality of common sense. It cropped out in the next century in the next sonnet of which we have any knowledge, and never again disappeared from the body of English poetry. This sonnet was written by Thomas Gray, in commemoration of his friend, Richard West,-a fellow Etonian, the son of the Lord Chanceilor of Ireland, who died in the summer of 1742. It is a manly production, which has not escaped the censure of Wordsworth, who
tender light over one of the most pathetic pages in the Calamities of Literature.
Three minor English poets now published volumes of verse, which increased the bulk, if not the value, of sonnet-literature,—Charlotte Smith, in 1784, Samuel Egerton Brydges, in 1785, and William Lisle Bowles, in 1789. Mrs. Smith was an English gentlewoman, who married before she was seventeen the partner of her father in a mercantile business in London.
reckless, extravagant man, who lived beyond his means, he became an inmate of the King's Bench, whither she accompanied him, the mother of eight children, who, as well as their worthless father, were dependent on her for support. Enamored of poetry in her childhood, she collected what she considered her best poems and printed them. They hit the taste of the public, and passed through five editions in as many years. Her only dated sonnet was written in May, 1784. As the earliest dated sonnet of Brydges was written nearly two years before (July 18th, 1782), he was probably the older sonneteer. He was certainly the less popular, for twenty-two years elapsed before his sonnets reached a fourth edition. He has composed one sonnet, "On Echo and Silence" (October 20th, 1782), which has been placed by common consent among the few imperishable sonnets; but, with this exception, he cannot be said to have surpassed his fair competitor, who possessed more poetic sensibility than he, and obeyed more readily the dictates of her heart. She had a warmer love of nature, a keener susceptibility to its beauties, and (unfortunately for her) a more intimate acquaintance with suffering. Bowles, who was the same age as Brydges, had an attachment for the niece of Sir Samuel Romilly, which resulted unhappily, and caused him to wander on the Continent, and to sonnetize. He had so little thought of writing down his sonnets that many of them escaped his recollection until his return to England, when he committed them to paper. Three poets were captivated by them-Coleridge, who reproduced them several times in manuscript; Southey, who said they meliorated his poetic style; and Wordsworth, who, on the eve of a pedestrian tour from London, retreated into one of the recesses of Westminster Bridge, and could not be induced to rejoin his companions until he had. finished the perusal of them. Coleridge addressed a sonnet to their author, beginning with the line,
'My heart has thanked thee, Bowles, for those soft strains,"
but was afterward ashamed of his enthusiasm.
Three or four years after their publication the veteran Cowper became a sonneteer. He began by translating the Italian sonnets of Milton, and followed by writing four sonnets to his friends-one to Romney, who had painted his portrait (October, 1792), another to his Platonic mistress, Mrs. Unwin (May, 1793), a third to his kinsman. Johnson (May, 1793), and a fourth to Hayley (June 29, 1793), who was a poet in a small way.
A greater poet than Cowper-a fiery southern soul, whose misfortune it was to be born in Presbyterian Scotland-tried his "'prentice han'" on two sonnets, one upon his thirty-fourth birthday (January 25th, 1793), the other in memory of his whilom friend Riddell, who died in the spring of 1794. To say that they are indifferent is to dismiss them lightly.
The last lustrum of the eighteenth century witnessed a mild triumph for the sonnets of Bowles in the sonnets of Coleridge, which they suggested, and a milder one in the sonnets of Lamb, which they suggested at second hand, the effusions of the two poets appearing together in a single volume in 1796. The early sonnets of Coleridge are uninteresting, from whatever point of view we regard them, and those of Lamb are only noticeable on account of their allusions to a tender
attachment, concerning which his biographers have nothing definite to tell us. Both Lamb and Coleridge wrote a few good sonnets, but they are not included in the joint volume above spoken of. The birth of his son Hartley quickened the erratic genius of the latter, who remembered for a moment that he was a husband and a father, and recognized his human obligations toward the hostages he had given to fortune, and it produced one remarkable sonnet. It was written after September 19th, 1796, and was addressed to his friend Lamb, who asked him how he felt when the nurse presented the infant to him:
"Charles! my slow heart was only sad when first
'Twas even thine, beloved woman mild! So for the mother's sake the child was dear, And dearer was the mother for the child."
The century closed with the sonnets of Southey, who struggled to lift his commonplace into poetry by rash metrical experiments, but never succeeded in mastering the laws of the sonnet, if, indeed, he cared to master them,-and who never wrote a sonnet that is worth remembering.
If Wordsworth had been asked to name the successor of Milton, there can be no doubt, from what we know of him, that he would have named himself. He would have admitted that he had not written an epic like "Paradise Lost," but would have asserted, as he once did to Lamb, when the plays of Shakspere was in question, that he could have done so, if he had a mind to. ("You see," said Lamb, "he hadn't a mind to.") He would have placed his "Excursion" by the side of, if not above, "Paradise Lost," and would, I believe, have preferred his own sonnets to Milton's. He had a right to think highly of his sonnets; for when they are good they surpass those of his contemporaries; but, unfortunately, the number of his good sonnets is small. He has written hundreds (say five hundred in round figures), of which it would be difficult to name twenty that substantiate his poetic greatness. He wrote upon all occasions, and many of his occasions, it must be confessed, are of the slightest. To stub his toe was to set his poetic feet in motion, and to evolve a train of philosophical musings upon toes in particular and things in general. His prime defect (me judice) is his stupendous egotism, which dwarfed that of Milton, great as it was, and which led him to worship himself, morning, noon, and night. Sacred in his own eye, he could not be otherwise in the eyes of others. That he was, or could be tedious, never entered into his calculation. I honor his memory this side of idolatry, as Ben Jonson wrote of Shakspere, but when I read his sonnets I am constrained to say, with the wicked Jeffrey, "This will never do." Let us see what they are about:-One hundred and thirtytwo are devoted to ecclesiastical subjects; one hundred and twenty-two to miscellaneous subjects; seventy-nine to national independence and liberty; forty-four to the river Duddon; twenty-three to a tour in Italy; nineteen to a tour on the Continent; and fourteen each to liberty and order, and the punishment of death. Shakspere himself could not have written so many sonnets
| upon such themes, the majority of which are neither poetical in themselves, nor capable of poetic treatment. Wordsworth was a worshiper of nature, a lover of freedom, a philosophic thinker, a man of lofty aims and austere virtues; but he wrote too much, and with an evenness that is as provoking in the end as worse writing would be. Critical justice demands that I should admit this, and demands further that I declare him one of England's greatest poets. He rescued the sonnet from his unskillful predecessors-Bowles, Brydges, and the rest
restored its dignity of form, and made it impressive with his meditations.
"In his hand The Thing became a trumpet, whence he blew Soul-animating strains,-alas! too few.”
The sonnets of Wordsworth which linger longest in the memory are: the one which was composed upon Westminster Bridge,
"Earth has not anything to show more fair"; the one in which he protests against the over-worldliness of his countrymen,
"The world is too much with us";
the last of his three sonnets on Sheep,
"A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by"; the addresses to Milton and the men of Kent,
"Milton, thou should'st be living at this hour,"
"Vanguard of liberty, ye men of Kent";
and the noble recognition of the genius of Sir Walter Scott, on his departure from Abwhich do not at once occur to me, are botsford for Naples. Two or three others, notable examples of his art of saying things, -a poetic gift, which he possessed beyond any poet of his time, and which determines In his felicity of epithets, he is Shaksperean. his place among the great poets of all time.
Wordsworth honored himself, as well as Scott, by the sonnet which I have mentioned above, and which I quote here as a noble written at Abbotsford, in the evening of tribute from one poet to another. It was September 22d, 1831:
"A trouble, not of clouds or weeping rain,
Saddens his voice again, and yet again.
Wordsworth's arbitrary division of his poems into classes-a folly of his later years, which disturbs their chronological order-prevents me from affixing dates to his sonnets, and consequently from tracing the influences under which they were written. The few dates which he has allowed to remain only enable me to state that they extended from his early manhood to his old age, a period of about fifty years. The sonneteers of this period, which may be said to cover the first half of the present century, are not of sufficient importance to be studied carefully. Foremost in point of time was Henry Kirke White, whose position among the English poets is quite as much due to Southey's sympathetic memoir of him as to the promise of his early verse. He wrote twenty-three sonnets, the best of which are actual transcripts of his feelings, and as such are still interesting. The poets of the day dropped their melodious tears over his grave, among others a young nobleman, who was soon to astonish the world with his lawless and impassioned genius. Lord Byron wrote seven sonnets, which, curiously enough, conform to Italian models. He professed to hold the sonnet in contempt, for after finishing the two "To Ginevra " (December 19th, 1813), he remarked in his Diary: "I never wrote but one sonnet before, and that was not in earnest and many years ago, as an exercise -and I will never write another. They are the most puling, petrifying, Platonic compositions." His next sonnet (for of course he did not keep his promise) was written on the Continent (June, 1816), after his separation from his wife, and was prefixed to "The Prisoner of Chillon." It was followed in the next month by a sonnet "To Lake Leman" and by a translation of a sonnet of Vittorelli's; and three years later (June 21st, 1819) by a sonnet to the Countess Guiccioli, to please whom he wrote "The Prophecy of Dante," and another (August 12th, 1819) addressed to George the Fourth, for whom he professed a momentary respect. "There, you dogs," he wrote to Murray, in reference to the last, "there's a sonnet for you. You wont have such in a hurry from Fitzgerald." Another
nobleman, whose poetic aspirations were sneered at by Byron in doggerel verse, and by Moore in the " Edinburgh Review," wrote a number of sonnets, which are the salt of the volume in which they were published ("Poems on Several Occasions," by Edward, Lord Thurlow, 1813). Lord Thurlow, if not positively a poet, had the instincts and the feelings which go to the making of poets, and would, I think, have left an enduring name if he had lived in the age of Elizabeth, or of Charles the First. As it was, he mistook his time, and the temper of his contemporaries, who ridiculed his antiquated. affectations, and overlooked the suggestive excellence of his poetry. He is a striking illustration of the truth of the divine saying, that many are called, but few chosen.
"Great spirits now on earth are sojourning-" wrote Keats to Haydon sixty years ago, and posterity has confirmed his verdict. For great spirits were certainly sojourning then,-Shelley, and Keats himself, and a lesser but beautiful spirit-Hunt. The three were companions, and the first and last were bosom friends. The story of their poetic amity is pleasanter, I think, than that of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, for they were less opinionated than their elders, and more generous to each other. They wrote sonnets, and one day in the winter of 1818 each wrote one "To the Nile," probably at the suggestion of Hunt, in whose library they were. The merits of these sonnets, which are preserved in their poetical works, are in inverse ratio to their powers, Shelley's being the worst, and Hunt's the best. Once before (December 30th, 1816), Hunt and Keats had waged a similar poetical duel, and the laurels were divided pretty equally between them. It will be long before the companion-sonnets "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket will be forgotten. Hunt was the better scholar, and the better artist, but his art was soon eclipsed by that of his young disciple. He wrote upwards of thirty sonnets, first and last, of which he preserved about half, including those I have mentioned, and which are the finest. The characterization of Cleopatra in the Nile sonnet,—
"The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands,-"
is worthy of any poet that ever lived. Keats wrote fifty-three sonnets, the first on the day that Leigh Hunt left prison (Feb. 3d, 1815),
"What though, for showing truth to flattered | description in the artless quatorzains of the
peasant poet Clare.
and the last,
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art," in the autumn of 1820. Between the writing of these sonnets he ripened from a clever young versifier to a great master of epic song, the peer of Milton and Æschylus. Possessed of a purer poetic intellect than any of his contemporaries, he was more fortunate than they in that he was nurtured by Chaucer, and Spenser, and Shakspere. Having nothing to unlearn,-for his instinct had directed him to the most poetical of poets, his progress was rapid and sure. What Chaucer and Spenser were to him we see in his early poems, as well as in the sonnets which he devoted to their honor; and what Homer was he has trumpeted forth in his sonnet "On first looking into Chapman's Homer," which is not only a magnificent tribute from one poet to the genius of another, but one of the greatest sonnets in the language.
The personality of Keats is clearly revealed, I think, in his sonnets, which are more autobiographic than he was aware. The art of dissimulation, in which Byron was proficient, was so foreign to his nature that we may be sure we know the man as well as the poet. The poet speaks in his sonnets "To the Nile," and "On first looking into Chapman's Homer"; in the two sonnets "On Fame," and in the exquisite sonnet "To Sleep," which is superior to Sidney's: and the man speaks-with what sincerity and sorrow-in the impassioned sonnets which were wrung from him by the cruel coquetries of Fanny Brawne. What had Shakspere done in his twenty-sixth year the age at which John Keats died?
None of the poets that surrounded and succeeded Keats added to their laurels by sonnets; for the greatest, Shelley, who wrote ten, never mastered even their lowest forms of construction, and never contrived to say anything in them that is worth listening to I should mention here the name of John Hamilton Reynolds, the friend of Keats, whose delightful poem of "Robin Hood" was inspired by three of his sonnets, and the greater name of his future brother-in-law Hood, who was feeling his way as a sonneteer in the pages of the "London Magazine." There is an indescribable sense of loveliness in the sonnets of Hood, and curious touches of natural
Keats has added to the small stock of good poems of which the Sea has been the inspiration, by the following sonnet, which was written in April, 1817, at Carisbrooke, in the Isle of Wight, whither he had gone in order to write " Endymion":
"It keeps eternal whisperings around
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell,
I pass over Charles and Alfred Tennyson, whose early sonnets are entitled to considerable praise, and come to a gentlehearted, bright-minded, erratic, and unfortunate creature, whose heritage of genius was a heritage of woe to himself and others. Never did poet have such a son as Coleridge in his first-born Hartley, and never did son have such a stimulated and unguided childhood. Practically fatherless, he grew like a wilding plant in the household of his uncle Southey, whose life was his best poem, and in the society of Wordsworth, whose heart warmed toward him. His father hoped great things from him as he lay in his cradle, and prophesied that he would wander like a breeze by lakes and sandy shores, and beneath the crags of ancient mountains, and see lovely shapes and hear intelligible sounds of the eternal language of God. But Wordsworth, whose
admiration of him was not less than that of