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This must explain why so many truly religious works appear to the eye as mere love-stories, which were intended to express the divine affection itself. The love of art also participates in the highest form of the affection, when its action is not corrupted by the mere love of the reputation of an artist, just as the love of knowledge tends to wisdom when it is loved for itself and not merely for its temporal advantages.
We expect to show that love, as used in the Shakespeare Sonnets, had not a mortal being for its object, but an irrepresentable spirit of beauty, the true source of artistic births.
Before proceeding to the point we aim at, let us remark that, about the age of Queen Elizabeth, it was quite common for poets to write series of sonnets, generally love-sonnets, apparently addressed to some lady, in the fashion of Petrarch in an earlier age, whose sonnets were addressed to Laura-said to have been the wife of a dear friend of the poet! Spenser wrote love-sonnets entitled, significantly enough, Amoretti; and among the poets of that age we find that Drayton published a series of sonnets dedicated to Lilia, in the preface to which he
holds this language,—“ If thou muse what my
Lilia is, take her to be some Diana, at the least chaste, or some Minerva; no Venus, fairer far. It may be she is Learning's Image, or some heavenly wonder which the precisest may not mislike: perhaps under that name I have shadowed Discipline."
Drayton published another series of sonnets besides those addressed to Lilia, which he expressly called “Ideas."
The first remark to be made upon Drayton's intimation in his preface to Lilia, and upon the fact that he entitled a series of sonnets Ideas, is, that we may take leave to suppose he was not alone, in the fact that he wrote sonnets, apparently addressed to a lady, which were, in truth, a series of idealistic contemplations upon various subjects of life; and we may use this preface of Drayton's in explanation of the sonnets of other poets of the age in which they were written; for we all know that literature has its fashions like everything else.
Among the poets of that age, or about it, Sir Philip Sidney is to be numbered. He published a series of sonnets entitled Astrophel and Stella ; and no one can read them carefully without perceiving in Stella a personification of some divine conception,
or some conception of the divine, in the mind of the poet. What that conception was we may partly guess from passages in Sidney's Defence of Poetry, where he refers to Songs and Sonnets (the first expression in the sense of Psalms) in these words: “Other sorts of Poetry, almost have we none, but that Lyrical kind of Songs and Sonnets, which, if the Lord gave us so good minds, how well it might be employed we all know, and with how heavenly fruits, both private and public, in singing the praises of the Immortal Beauty, the Immortal Goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write, and wits to conceive, of which we might well want words, but never matter; of which we could turn our eyes to nothing but we should ever find new budding occasions."
In another place of the Defence, Sidney refers to David as a poet in these words : “ For what else is the awakening of his musical instrument; the often and free changing of persons; his notable prosopopeias, when he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in his majesty ; his telling of the beasts' joyfulness, and hills leaping, but a heavenly poetry; wherein almost, he showeth himself a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting Beauty, to
be seen by the eyes of the mind, cleansed by faith.”
Whoever reads Sidney's Sonnets, with these passages from his Defence of Poetry in mind, will surely see, in Stella, Sidney's idea of the Divine Beauty, or that which Plato-and Sidney was a Platonist-calls the Beautiful; not as applicable to a beautiful person or thing, but to the principle of Beauty; in one word, Plato means by it, the Di
We have no disposition to enter here upon the old discussion about the real and the ideal, the idea and the imagination, the one and the many, Plato disposing of the problem (as in the Philebus) by uniting the two expressions into one, and then discussing what he calls the one-and-many, which however, to the imagination, only adds one more to that which was already many; yet here also the single idea is recognized, comprehending in unity the one-andmany, just as it had comprehended the many before; showing, in fact, that there is no eluding the true constitution of the mind by the structure of language, which is not the master but the servant of the soul. It
domineer at first over the young and the immature, but in the end, that which was first must become the last; as our poet tells us in the 85th Sonnet, where he declares that, whatever may be said by others in the praise of the object addressed, the object of his own passion, he could add something more; but that addition, he tells us, was in his thought, which, he says, “though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.”
It may aid a student of the beautiful in Art, to give the Phædrus a careful reading; for that dialogue came from the country, and the time, where and when a sense of the Beautiful was exalted into religion.
Because Poets, and Philosophers also, have not unfrequently addressed this divine something as a mas'culine person, particular instances of it, as in the case of the Sonnets before us, have been explained by an appeal to a supposed custom, by which friends are said to have addressed each other in the language of love; not seeing that this only explains one anomaly by an appeal to a greater; for the question recurs, What is the meaning of that love-literature of the Middle Ages ? Abused, as it no doubt was, fully justifying Cervantes, still, the truth remains, that in the hands of the adepts, Dante, Petrarch, and others, Love was the synonym for Religion :