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writers, including Shakespeare, Shirley, Ben Jonson, Sidney, Overbury, Donne, Ford, &c. His notice of Shakespeare is:
118. To Shakespeare.
Thy Muses sugred dainties seeme to us
119. To the same.
Thou hast so us'd thy Pen, (or shooke thy Speare)
Surely, that these epigrams refer to Shakespeare's Sonnets is unmistakable! Look at the first: 'dainties,' and delicious little complete poems such as sonnets are! (Gabriel Harvey, in 1593, wrote, 'Even amourous sonnets in the gallantest and sweetest civil vein are but dainties of a pleasurable wit'; and Halliwell-Phillipps begins his consideration of the Sonnets with, 'These last mentioned dainty poems.' 2) 'Sugared,' and Meres' words in 1598, referring to Shakespeare, 'witness his sugared sonnets '! And these these sugared dainties' 'tantalizing'! It is evident that Bancroft considered it to be a matter of course that the 'friend' and 'mistress' of the Sonnets were poetical fiction; that he had tried in vain to solve the problem of the Sonnets himself; and that he had enquired of others without finding anyone who could enlighten him.
The second epigram manifestly refers to the same
1 Pierces Supererogation, 1593.
matter as the first. The words in italics are so in the original, and 'shooke thy Speare' seems to be a notice of Jonson's,
'In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
Bancroft stating (after his enquiries) that Shakespeare had so 'shaken his lance'—so challenged his readers' understandings-as to startle and puzzle even the poets.
Ben Jonson had died two years before the publication of Bancroft's book.
There was, in all probability, some connection between Bancroft's two epigrams and enquiries, and a contemplated re-issue of the Sonnets, for it was in the year following the publication of Bancroft's book that the Sonnets were re-issued for the first time, twenty-four years after Shakespeare's death. The issue bears the date 1640, but it would seem to have been actually printed the same year as Bancroft's epigrams. In the introduction to his own edition of the Sonnets, Professor Dowden says of that of 1640: Dr. Bliss had a leaf of this edition, with a contemporary manuscript note, showing that it was printed in 1639, and was sold bound for fifteen pence.' The publication does not consist of the Sonnets alone, but they form the bulk of the book. Eight are omitted, and all but one (No. 20) of the twenty-one poems of the Passionate Pilgrim' are interspersed. Then come, as though they were Shakespeare's, about a dozen other pieces not by him, with the 'Lover's Complaint,' No. 20 of the Passionate Pilgrim,' the 'Phoenix and Turtle,' verses from As you like it,' &c., interspersed. The order
of the Sonnets too is completely changed; and sometimes single sonnets, sometimes sequences, are headed with a short descriptive title. The following are the first twelve of these, with the numbers of the sonnets which make up each' poem'; but no numbers are given; on the contrary, all the matter under one heading is printed as though it constituted one poem, i.e., without any more break than that made by the printing of the couplets a little out of the line of the rest, and with a line across the page at the close:
'The Glory of Beauty, 67, 68, 69; Injurious Time, 60, 63, 64, 65, 66; True Admiration, 53, 54; The Force of Love, 57, 58; The Beauty of Nature, 59; Love's Cruelty, 1, 2, 3; Youthful Glory, 13, 14, 15; Good Admonition, 16, 17; Quick Prevention, 7; Magazine of Beauty, 4, 5, 6; An Invitation to Marriage, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; False Belief, 138.'
The publisher, John Benson, prefixed the following, 'To the Reader':
'I Here presume (under favour) to present to your view, some excellent and sweetely composed Poems, of Master WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Which in themselves appeare of the same purity, the Authour himselfe then living avouched; they had not the fortune by reason of their Infancie in his death, to have the due accommodation of proportionable glory, with the rest of his everliving Workes, yet the lines of themselves will afford you a more authentick approbation than my assurance any way can, to invite your allowance, in your perusall you shall finde them SEREN, cleere, and elegantly plaine, such gentle straines as shall recreate and not perplexe
your braine, no intricate or cloudy stuffe to puzzell intellect, but perfect eloquence; such as will raise your admiration to his praise: this assurance I know will not differ from your acknowledgement. And certaine I am, my opinion will be seconded by the sufficiency of these ensuing Lines; I have beene somewhat solicitus to bring this forth to the perfect view of all men; and in so doing, glad to be serviceable for the continuance of glory to the deserved Author in these his Poems.'
If we connect Benson's venture with Bancroft's enquiries, and bear in mind Benson's address to the reader and his mode of presenting the Sonnets, we shall see very plainly the history of his publication. He was in business as a publisher in order to make money; and to make money he must take care that the books he published should sell. When he thought of re-printing Shakespeare's Sonnets, he could not but note that, though thirty years had passed since they were first published, there had been no re-issue hitherto. It is evident, in his address to the reader, that when inviting the public to buy, and about to assert their great worth, he felt that it was necessary to account for this: 'they had not the fortune by reason of their Infancie in his death, to have the due accommodation of proportionable glory, with the rest of his everliving Workes.' Yet they were published seven years before his death, and of his 'Venus and Adonis' there had been five issues, and of his 'Lucrece' three issues, within the first seven years. Even of the 'Passionate Pilgrim,' which contained only a few poems by him, there had been three issues within the first seven years. Benson could not but know that 'their Infancie in his death' had nothing to do with the neglect
of the Sonnets; and his real opinion as to the reason why there had been no re-issue for thirty years is made evident immediately after he has expressed the pretended one. He was speaking of those poems of which, after a hundred and fifty years more of neglect, no less a Shakespeare enthusiast than Steevens wrote, 'the strongest Act of Parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service.' 1 Benson felt that it was because they were not 'serene'; not 'clear'; not 'elegantly plain.' He felt they would 'perplex the brain'; were 'cloudy stuff'; would 'puzzle intellect'; and he was far from 'knowing' that his 'assurance' to the contrary would not differ from the reader's acknowledgment; far from being 'certain' that the opinion he expressed would be 'seconded by the ensuing lines.' Before reprinting the Sonnets he had tried to solve the problem they presented: as he says, he had been 'somewhat solicitous to bring this forth to the perfect view of all men': he had enquired of Bancroft, and Bancroft of other poets, and, as Bancroft confesses, they recognised an intentional puzzle, but could not find the solution. So Benson makes the best of a bad case he does all he can to obscure the fact that there is a puzzle. He changes the order, often throws a number of sonnets together into one poem, supplies what pretend to be descriptive titles, and prints among the Sonnets proper, sonnets and other poems from the 'Passionate Pilgrim.' Having done all this, and added, besides, many other poems, some not Shakespeare's, he writes his address to the reader, with its many assurances, which assurances perhaps served his purpose with his customers, as they
1 Edition of 1793, vol. i. p. 7.