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SONNETS OF SHAKSPERE.
THESE Sonnets were published without the consent or knowledge of the author in 1609, with the following dedication :
It has been strongly advocated by Mr. Boaden, and very generally believed, that William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, is the person to whom the Sonnets are addressed; but I trust the following pages will satisfactorily refute this ingenious supposition. The dedi. cation, in my opinion, merely means, Mr. T. T., Thos. Thorpe, the publisher, wishes Mr. W. H., the collector of these sonnets, all happiness and that eternity, which the Poet promised his friend.
“Some have thought these sonnets are arranged according to a definite, although shadowy, plan, while others maintain they are quite disjointed and fragmentary; some that they are all addressed to one individual, and others that they are addressed to various persons; some that they are substantially real, and others that they are entirely fictitious. It is most singular how the mystery, which more or less shrouds Shakspere's entire history, should have intensified into a very blackness of darkness over the only work of his, which partakes of an autobiographical cha
Many of the sonnets naturally form little poems or fragments; and Mr. C. Knight, in his illustrations of the sonnets in the Pictorial Shakspere, has made an arrangement according to the leading idea in the different pieces; but has, unfortunately, been misled by the supposition, that the sonnets were principally fictitious, and written in imitation of the Italian poetry.
Having a wish to read the poems of Shakspere once again—not having read them since more than thirty years ago, I resolved, "with regard to the reality or unreality of the sonnets, or as to the occasion of their being written,” to examine them carefully and minutely, merely as an amusement or mental exercise, and certainly not with the idle vanity of supposing I could start fresh game on such a well-beaten field. After having read the Venus and Adonis and the Lucrece, it again seemed to me strange, as it did formerly, that Shakspere should have dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, æt. 20, two poems of such an opposite character. Mr. C. Knight has justly observed, “ there is to our mind the difference of eight or even ten years in the aspect of these poems;” and why?— because Shakspere, during the twelve months which elapsed between their publication, passed through one of those convulsions, as purifying to the moral atmosphere of the soul, as a storm in the dog-days is to the world without; from the sonnets, however, may be extracted the following explanation :
1 Poetical Works of Shakspeare and Surrey, ed. 1856.
It would appear, that Shakspere, some months after the publication of the Venus and Adonis, discovered, that his Adonis had succumbed to the assaults of his Venus; as soon as he had recovered from the shock of this discovery, having received his repentant friend again to his heart, and remembering his promise about "some graver labour," he selects the story of Lucretia, as peculiarly applicable under existing circumstances, and as an excellent vehicle for delivering a lecture on morality-not only to his young friend, but especially to the lady. It is also highly probable, that the Venus and Adonis was written with the good intention of rousing the dormant feelings of his chaste and virtuous friend, and stimulating him to marriage; but, unfortunately, the poem was published after the Earl had become acquainted with Marlowe, and subject to the influence of his immoral character.