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cries, 'This is the liver-vein, which makes flesh a deity, a green goose a goddess: pure, pure idolatry. God amend us, God amend! we are much out o' the way.' Could the man who had written that, afterwards address such sonnets as are Shakespeare's to other than an Idea? Later in the same play (IV. iii. 139-42) the King says to two of the offending sonneteers,
'I heard your guilty rhymes, observed your fashion,
Although the words 'guilty rhymes' refer to the breach of the vow they had made, the scorn is applied to the extravagance of their sonnets. Biron says later (IV. iii. 158), Tush, none but minstrels like of sonneting.' All this from young Shakespeare, and at a time when the campaign of extravagance in England had barely begun! In later plays the same scorn is shown, notably in Henry V.' (III. vii. 42-7), where the Dauphin concludes the preposterous praise of his horse with: 'I once writ a sonnet in his praise, and began thus: "Wonder of nature," The Duke of Orleans remarks: 'I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's mistress'; and the Dauphin replies, 'Then did they imitate that which I composed to my courser, for my horse is my mistress.'
Neither are such views consistent with Shakespeare's character as given by his contemporaries and as shown in his known behaviour. We think it is clear that his character was remarkable in the eyes of those who knew him. That Chettle, the publisher merely of Green's
attack, should afterwards write as he did, shows that he must have been very specially struck with Shakespeare's bearing and the report made of him. Jonson's testimony, 'For I loved the man, and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any; he was indeed honest';1 and the testimony of his fellow-actors Heming and Condell, when they wrote in the First Folio that their sole object in publishing his works was to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare'; both strike the same note, and the same note as Chettle-he was scrupulous-notably scrupulous. That as a writer he had laid down for himself strict principles, and that he firmly adhered to them, is shown by the fact that though epitaphs abounded at the deaths of notable persons, and laudatory verse to the living was common, not a line of any such did Shakespeare write. Yet Ben Jonson, who so often expressed his high sense of the poet's calling, wrote both. On the death of Elizabeth, though no poet had received such patronage from her, Shakespeare was one of the few who refrained, although his old acquaintance Chettle, in his own. oblation, besought him to
'Drop from his honied muse one sable teare,
But the most remarkable fact of all, in this connection, is that he wrote not a line of commendatory verse to be prefixed to the works of any of his poet friends. That
he took not the least part in a practice so general could only have been because of a firm resolve based on principle; for, being the most successful writer of the time and remarkable for 'friendliness,' 'civility,' 'gentleness,' he must often have been solicited, and must, apart from such a resolve, "often have complied.
But, above all, such views of the Sonnets as we have mentioned are inconsistent with the universally accepted verdict, as to the man, that results from a study of his plays. For no one will deny that to the Shakespeare of the plays the words of Dryden, 'he was the man who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul'; the words of Wordsworth, the judgment of Shakespeare is not less admirable than his imagination';2 the words of Coleridge, in all points, from the most important to the most minute, the judgment of Shakespeare is commensurate with his genius-nay, his genius reveals itself in his judgment as in its most exalted form';3-may be applied not in a restricted sense merely, but in the widest; or that the 'superlative self-command' which Sir Leslie Stephen says all see that Shakespeare admired in his own Henry V., was admired not as something to which he himself could not attain, but as something which his regard for it had long caused him to cultivate, and cultivate successfully.
The evidence from all points-that of his contem
1 Essay on Dramatic Poesie, 1668, p. 47.
2 Essay supplementary to the Preface, Poems, ed. 1849, p. 583.
3 Notes and Lectures on Shakespeare and other Poets now first collected by T. Ashe, 1883, p. 226.
* Studies of a Biographer, vol, iv. p. 34.
poraries, of his other writings, of his behaviour on the occasions on which laudation was common-is in perfect accord, and presents him as a man exceptionally unlikely to grossly prostitute his genius, as he did far more than any contemporary if his sonnets are to be taken either literally as addressed to a man friend and a mistress, or as a medley of exercises on current conceits written merely for the purpose of demonstrating his superior faculty.
Shakespeare's idea of showing his inmost self to posterity was probably an adopted idea. His habit of adopting the ideas of others and his power of putting them to a nobler use are two of his most notable characteristics, and there is reason to suppose that the Sonnets are a very remarkable instance of this habit and this power.
In 1580 there was published in France the first installment of that extraordinary book Montaigne's 'Essays,' and new editions with added matter, appeared in 1582, 1587, 1588, and finally, three years after Montaigne's death, in 1595. Who can doubt that this book was known to Shakespeare before 1594, when he began to write the Sonnets! A book which was immediately famous, and which was then a unique example of self-revelation! A book which analysed the human heart in the downright, direct, unpedantic manner which was Shakespeare's manner as dramatist! The books brought back by the many travellers on the continent enabling the writers of England to be well in touch with those of France, such a book as Montaigne's
Essays' must have been well known among them long
before one of their number, John Florio, in 1603, twentythree years after its first appearance, translated it into English. Shakespeare being so specially concerned in the portrayal of human nature, such a book was especially likely to find its way to him. Neither the fact that almost the only scrap of writing (apart from his signatures on legal documents) which has any claim to be considered Shakespeare's is that which is supposed to be his autograph in a copy of Florio's Montaigne' now in the British Museum, nor the fact that he quotes from that book in 'The Tempest,' was needed to convince one of his acquaintance with it. The original would be known to him before Florio's translation appeared, and in all probability he owed to it something of the idea of his autobiographical Sonnets.
Montaigne said of his book: 'I have dedicated it to the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends, so that, having lost me (which they must do shortly), they may therein recover some traits of my conditions and humours, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of me. Had my intention been to seek the world's favour, I should surely have adorned myself with borrowed beauties: I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary manner, without study and artifice: for it is myself I paint. My defects are therein to be read to the life, and my imperfections and my natural form, so far as public reverence hath permitted me. Thus, reader, myself am the matter of my book.'
1 "The author to the reader," prefixed to Essays, Cotton's trans. ed. W. C. Hazlitt.