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stands, yet it is reasonable in itself, and suggests the justice and propriety of our attributing much that is confused or objectionable in the selection and arrangement of the contents to a want of judgment in the publisher. The dedication to which I have already alluded is printed as follows, in the first edition :
“ To. The. onlie. begetter. of.
These. insuing. Sonnets.
T. T." The commentators have taxed their utmost ingenuity to discover who this W. H. can be. Dr. Farmer supposes that the sonnets are addressed to William Harte, the poet's nephew; but this has since been discovered to be impossible, as he was not born before the year 1600, and the sonnets were published in 1609, and some of them are known to have been written and circulated amongst the author's private friends several years before. Meres praises these “sugred sonnets” in his “ Wit's Treasury," published in 1598. The first seventeen were written to persuade the object of them to marry, and it is absurd to suppose they were addressed to a little child, as Harte must then have been. Besides which, he was of humble birth and pretensions, whereas there are innumerable passages in the sonnets that plainly allude to a patron and friend of distinguished rank and influence. Mr. Tyrwhitt once pointed out to Mr. Malone a line in the 20th sonnet, which induced the latter to believe that W. H. stands for William Hughes.
“ A man in hew, all Hews in his controlling--"
To this person
The name of Hughes was formerly written Hews. Mr. Malone says that it is probable the first 126 sonnets are addressed, and the remaining 28 to a lady. The play upon the author's own Christian name in the 135th and 143rd sonnets seems in accordance with this notion
“ Let no unkind, no fair beseeches kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will."
“ So will I pray that thou may'st have thy Will."
It may be observed, by the way, that these truly contemptible puns and equivoques in a species of composition that was not addressed to a mixed circle like the author's dramas, of which the occasional bad taste has hitherto been thought an unwilling sacrifice to the “groundlings," seem to prove an early and innate propensity to sins of this description. But no poet is perfect. The 20th sonnet, in which the word Hews occurs, is the most puzzling and inexplicable of the whole series. I would extract it entire, if it did not appear objectionable on the score of decency. If I understand it rightly, of which I am very far from being certain, it is in every respect a disgrace to the name of Shakespeare. (And yet how can we know that it is really his ?) The reverend Mr. Dyce, the editor of a new edition of these poems, praises Mr. Tyrwhitt's “ ingenuity" in the conjectures concerning Mr. Hughes, but without much cause. It is not certain that Shakespeare in this case intends to commit a pun on a name, because the word hew in Shakespeare's time, as Dr. Drake observes, meant mien and appearance, as well as tint, and it is possible that the poet is playing on the different meanings. Who is W. Hughes ? “ A Mr. Hughes," as Mr. Dyce calls him ;-he seems created for the occasion. He is a name and nothing else. Is it likely that such a person, of whom no one has heard, was the great patrician patron of our immortal bard? and is it possi
ble that he should have been addressed by Shakespeare in such lines as the following ?
“ Thou, that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring."
Against that time, if ever that time come,
The following passages evidently allude to one who was the observed of all observers, the object of more than one complimentary Muse, and the patron of the learned.
“ So oft have I invoked thee for my muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse,
“ And having thee, of all men's pride I boast.”
It is, I think, pretty clear, that “ A Mr. Hughes" is not the person who was “all men's pride,” and who gave “grace a double majesty." But if Tyrwhitt and Malone fell into the error of giving Shakespeare a patron and a subject somewhat too humble and obscure, Mr. George Chalmers has made a very opposite mistake, and in his anxiety to find a sufficiently dignified object for the poet's praise and gratitude has fixed upon royalty itself. He insists upon it that the whole series of sonnets (154) is addressed to Queen Elizabeth! To those who are familiar with the sonnets, and the palpable indications of many of them being addressed to a male object, this opinion seems too ridiculous to be received with any other answer than a laugh. I have gone through the sonnets with great attention, to satisfy myself as to the sex of the object or objects of them, and the following are some of the many passages which I found glaringly opposed to the notion of Mr. Chalmers :
“ Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest,
Now is the time that face should form another ;
“ Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye
That thou consumest thyself in single life ?
.“ Dear my love, you know, You had a father ; let your son say so."
“ Now stand you on the top of happy hours ;
And many maiden garlands yet unset,
“O carve not with thine hours my love's fair brow,
And draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
“ Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage--"
“ The region cloud hath masked him from me now,
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth.”
“ Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;
“ Beauteous and lovely youth, When that shall fade, my verse distils your truth.”
“ His beauty shall in these black lines be seen."
“ Ah ! wherefore with imperfection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
“ Thus is his cheek the map of outworn day.”
“ Nothing, sweet boy, &c.”
“0! thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power—"
Son. 126. Queen Elizabeth must have been an old woman (about 64) when she was thus addressed by Shakespeare, according to Mr. George Chalmers, as his "sweet boy !” The W. H. of the dedication, and the perpetual allusions to a male object, are no obstacles to our critic, who does not even hesitate to unsex the Queen for the sake of his ingenious speculation. He supposes that the masculine phrases were addressed to her in her character of sovereign! Some of the sonnets that have a female object are any thing but complimentary; and if they were really addressed to Elizabeth, either prove her majesty to have been a base and licentious woman, or William Shakespeare to have been guilty of a gross and malicious libel on a “ Virgin Queen."
“ In nothing art thou black, save in thy deeds."
“ For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night."
« Oh ! how I love what others do abhor."
He calls her also in different sonnets, “his false plague,” his “ female evil,” his “colored ill,” and accuses her of “seducing his friend."
Absurd as is the conjecture of Mr. George Chalmers, there has been no want of mad or careless critics to keep him in coun