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Lordship, out of what frenzy one of my meanenesse hath presumed to commit this Sacriledge, in the straightnesse of your Lordship's leisure, to present a peece, for matter and model so unworthy, and in this scribling age, wherein great persons are so pestered dayly with Dedications. All I can alledge in extenuation of so many incongruities, is the bequest of a deceased Man; who (in his life time) having offered some translations of his unto your Lordship, ever wisht if these ensuing were published, they might onely bee addressed unto your Lordship, as the last Testimony of his dutifull affection. (to use his own termes) The true and reall upholder of Learned endeavors. This therefore beeing left unto mee, as a Legacie unto your Lordship: pardon my presumption, great Lord, from so meane a man to so great a person) I could not without some impiety present it to any other; such a sad priviledge have the bequests of the dead, and so obligatory they are, more than the requests of the living. In the hope of this honourable pardon and acceptance I will ever rest
Your lordships humble devoted,
We submit that a comparison of the foregoing dedications with that of the Sonnets (p. 170) supports the opinion that the publication of the Sonnets was not piratical. It must be remembered that in 1609 (all but three of his plays having been written) Shakespeare was at the height of his fame. More than ten years earlier, Meres, in a summary notice of many of the writers of the time, had said of him that he was ( the most excellent in both kinds for the stage'; that 'the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends'; that the Muses would speake with
1 In the original, the body of the dedication is in italics, and the words we have printed in italics are in large ordinary type.
Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speake English.' And in the same year as, but a few months earlier than, the publication of the Sonnets, the piratepublishers of Troilus and Cressida' had said of him, with much other praise, 'So much and so savored salt of witte is in his Commedies, that they seeme (for their height of pleasure) to be borne in that sea that brought forth Venus. And beleeve this, that when hee is gone, and his Commedies out of sale, you will scramble for them, and set up a new English inquisition. Take this for a warning.' Now if Thorpe, who was peculiarly addicted to commenting on the book he was issuing, had in 1609 procured such a considerable hitherto-unpublished work by Shakespeare, and had had a free hand, would it not have been heralded by a fantastic, long-winded trumpet-blast that would have rent the air? We have seen that the fact of a publication being unauthorized by the writer would not have caused the publisher to restrain himself. Indeed, the pirate-publishers of 'Troilus and Cressida' even boasted that it was published in defiance of the 'grand possessors,' the players. So far however is Thorpe's dedication from being specially laudatory, that it is much less so than usual; and while being in marked contrast to his style, is, in its shortness, simplicity, and quietness, exactly in keeping with the unassuming character of Shakespeare. By this we do not mean that Shakespeare wrote it; but that he controlled it.
The circumstances we imagine to have been these: Shakespeare intended the Sonnets for publication, but as they were meant for a later time and dealt with such
1 Palladis Tamia, 1598.
private matters, he (ordinarily shrinking from notice) wished them to be launched as quietly as possible; in handing them to Thorpe he would express this wish, and Thorpe would in consequence submit to him the dedicatory salutation he proposed to attach to them, which may very well have been edited by Shakespeare and made by him to take a form in keeping with his purpose.
The dedication to Pembroke in 1616 may be held to offer evidence that Thorpe's dedication of the Sonnets was controlled by Shakespeare. Thorpe is there explaining to Pembroke how he came to write the dedication to him, and the reason he gives is that such was the author's wish. We believe that he modified his dedication of the Sonnets in accordance with the author's wish; and it is possible that when he was afterwards writing his dedication to Pembroke he had the dedication of the Sonnets in mind; for he speaks of these ensuing,' and compares the 'bequests of the dead' with the requests. of the living.' In the dedication of the Sonnets he had spoken of these ensuing,' and spoken of them, we maintain, in accordance with the 'requests of the living.' The dedication to Pembroke was written in 1616, and if after April 23rd of that year Shakespeare's death shortly before would have made it still more natural for Thorpe to have the dedication of the Sonnets in mind.
What is known of Thorpe is told by Mr. Sidney Lee in his 'Life of Shakespeare.' Unlike all others who served an apprenticeship to the trade of stationer and remained connected with it, Thorpe occupied a shop and had his own printing press for a few months only (during 1608), and during the rest of his career, from the time of his
independent appearance, his occupation was that of 'procurer' only. Mr. Lee deduces from this that Thorpe failed as a printer and publisher, and filled the rôle of procurer of necessity. It seems to us however that Thorpe is more correctly described as the prince of procurers than as a failure as a printer and publisher: that he specialized as a procurer because that occupation was more congenial. Such a man as from his dedications he is seen to be, would not be shut up in a shop while he could make a living (even though only a poorer one) as a middleman by mixing with printers, scriveners, players, and writers. Mr. Lee admits that he was possessed of a literary sense, recognised a good manuscript when he saw one, knew something of Latin, and published, besides Shakespeare's Sonnets, not a few volumes of genuine literary value.1 He was the chief middleman of the time, and just the man into whose hands Shakespeare would be likely to place his Sonnets for publication. Shakespeare simply wished to give them to the world; and Thorpe's description of himself in the dedication as the 'wellwishing adventurer in setting forth,' contrasts him with the writer, who had placed the Sonnets in his hands for publication and had then finished with them, leaving to him the profit or loss.
The meaning of the word 'begetter' in Thorpe's dedication has been the subject of much controversy. Apart from his use of it, the word denotes the 'causer as distinguished from the 'bearer,' and this, we believe, was the meaning attached to it by Thorpe; for on reading
1 Among his publications are three works of Chapman's and four of Ben Jonson's.
the Sonnets there will be noticed above all else, the sense in the writer of immense incitation; he addresses something that causes in him great depths of passionate love or hatred, of which his verse is the outcome; and this influence, inciter, or inspirer, is, in the strictest sense, the begetter of his verse. Moreover, in the Sonnets themselves there is mention of a 'begetter' and 'inspirer.' Shakespeare says to the object he addressed that his verse was the outcome of his 'influence' and was born of thee':
SON. 78. 'So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,
As every alien pen hath got my use,
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned's wing,
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
So also Samuel Daniel, in 1615, in a dedication to Anne
'Here, what your sacred influence begat,
(Most loved and most respected Majesty)
1 Hymens Triumph, 1615.