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tenance. The early editors, Gildon and Sewell, both maintained that the whole collection is addressed to a female !
Some of the commentators have been puzzled by the amátory character of the expressions unequivocally applied in many instances to a male object. But it should be remembered, that in the age of Shakespeare there was very little distinction between the ordinary expressions of love and friendship. The latter frequently bordered on the strongest language of the former. Warton observes, that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, there were published entire sets of sonnets devoted to the record of a species of tender attachment beween male friends, which, though wholly free from any direct impurity of expression or open immodesty of sentiment, would not be tolerated in these days. He alludes, as an instance, to the “ Affectionate Shepherde” of Richard Barnfielde, printed in 1595, in a series of twenty “ not inelegant sonnets,” which were exceedingly popular. The poet bewails his unsuccessful love for a beautiful youth, in " a strain of the most tender passion, yet with professions of the chastest affection." The meaning attached to the ardent phrases that are now confined to the intercourse of sexual passion, is not to be given by the modern reader to the same expressions in some of our elder writers. It will be generally admitted, however, that the revolution in our language in this respect is a very pleasant and proper one ; and it cannot be denied that in too much of the poetry of the 15th and 16th centuries the effect of great originality, force, and beauty of imagery and thought, is often injured by the disagreeable feeling, bordering on disgust, with which we encounter expressions, that however customary and decorous in the olden time, have acquired an air of indelicacy in consequence of the great change that has since occurred in their meaning and their mode of application.
Dr. Drake has entered into a very elaborate, and certainly a very ingenious and plausible disquisition, to prove that the first
one hundred and twenty-six of the sonnets are addressed to Lord Southampton*. I think, however, that I have discovered various reasonable objections to this hypothesis. The first seventeen sonnets, which so strongly urge the poet's friend to marry, could scarcely have been addressed to Lord Southampton, because that nobleman, then not quite 22 years of age, assiduously courted Mrs. Vernon in 1595, (about 14 years before the sonnets were published, and three years before they were alluded to by Merest as being in private circulation amongst the poet's friends,) and he married her (his marriage having been delayed by the interference of Queen Elizabeth) in 1599. In the next place almost the only praise bestowed on the object of these sonnets is that of extra. ordinary beauty, and I do not recollect that Lord Southampton has been celebrated for the wonderful perfection of his face or person, though if his portrait in Malone's Shakespeare be authentic, he was not uncomelyt. His wit and learning, however, are indisputable, and were warmly eulogized by Chapman, Brothwate, Nash, and other contemporary writers ; but throughout the 126 sonnets, supposed to be dedicated to his merits, it is remarkable that there are but two allusions to any mental qualities.
The first of the following quotations almost implies a want of mind, or at all events that the world gave the object of the sonnet no credit for mental endowments, though his personal beauty was generally admitted.
“ Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view,
Want nothing that the thoughts of hearts can mend :
He proposes to reverse the initials W. H. and make them stand for Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton.
+ It is possible that Meres may have alluded to the sonnets in the Passionate Pilgrim, published in 1599. Leigh Hunt has fallen into a mistake, in supposing that the 154 sonnets were not published till after the poet's death.
His features were at all events masculine, but in the 20th sonnet the poet exclaims :
“ A womin's face, with nature's own hand painted,
All tongues (the voice of soul) give thee that due,
Son. 69. The next passage, however, is an acknowledgment, though on the part of the poet only, of his possessing mental excellence. He does not hint that this praise will be confirmed by the opinion of others.
“ Thou art as fuir in knowledge as in hue.” Son. 82. But even this compliment may have been extorted from the writer, by the reproaches of his friend, who it appears was inordinately fond of praise, and no doubt felt somewhat piqued at the absence of all allusion to the qualities of his mind.
“ I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
“ You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,
Being fond of praise."
“ Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,
Son. 87. This last line seems to be a strange mode of address to a respected nobleman and the poet's patron! If the object of the sonnets was intellectually gifted, and it was thought desirable to please and compliment him, it would seem that mental endowments must
have been of minor importance in the poet's estimation, and beauty every thing, even in a man. As I observed before, in only two places in 126 sonnets, or 1764 lines, supposed to be devoted to eulogiums on a single male character, is there any allusion to his mind; while almost every line conveys some compliment to his exterior charms. Had he been distinguished for any other qualification than his pretty looks, I think Shakespeare was not the man to have done injustice to his merits. Even his moral character appears as doubtful as his intellectual.
In sonnet 33, he says, that as “ full many a glorious morning” has permitted
“ The basest clouds to ride,
Suns of the world may stain, when Heaven's sun staineth." This surely implies something infamous in his conduct. But the subject is continued in the ensuing lines :
“ 'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief.” Son. 34. In sonnet 35 the poet exhorts him to be no longer grieved at what he has done, for, roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;” and in sonnet 95, he again alludes to his faults, and exclaims,
“O! what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee !
Is this the style in which Shakespeare would have addressed his distinguished patron ?
It affords another very strong presumption against the notion that Lord Southampton was the object of so many of these sonnets by the greatest of our English poets, that his remarkable personal bravery, his many and strange duels, and the numerous striking circumstances of his life are in no instance in the slightest degree alluded to, though one would think that they must naturally have occurred to the mind of his friend and admirer, when collecting topics of sympathy or eulogium. It is to be observed also, that between the ages of Shakespeare and Southampton there was only a difference of about nine years, and yet the poet alludes to the autumn of his own life and the spring of the object of the sonnets. The last sonnet, in the number supposed to be addressed to a male, speaks of him as a " lovely boy."
I find myself in some two or three particulars forestalled in these objections to Dr. Drake's hypothesis by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for September and October, 1832. My notes on this subject, however, though not published, were printed as memoranda for my own use (on a few slips of paper only) at the Bengal Hurkaru Office, in Calcutta, at least four years ago, and I have still some of the proofs in my possession*. I do not wish to deduct from the merit of the writer alluded to, but to protect myself from the charge of plagiarism on account of a mere coincidence of opi. nion. The contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine has endeavoured to prove, in a very shrewd and able paper, that Lord Southampton is not the person addressed in the first 126 sonnets, and that the real object of them is Mr. William Herbert, subsequently third Earl of Pembroke.
I dare not encroach on the reader's patience with a regular analysis of the writer's argument. I admire his sagacity and acute
• The present article appeared in the Calcutta Literary Gazette, April 5, 1834.