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is requested to bear in memory these lines from Pope's
Essay on Criticism," as especially essential in this instance :
In reference to the theory now promulgated, I beg to inform my readers that it has been entertained for some years; and now, after long reflection and research, I am induced to publish my discoveries, hoping they may prove an advantage to all who may desire to understand the Sonnets of Shakespeare.
THERE are many objections made to the Sonnets of Shakespeare, but they arise entirely from misunderstanding. Those who so misjudge should be told, as were the readers of the first folio of his dramatic works, to “read him therefore again and again, and if then you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger not to understand him."* If such a request was made for the Plays, how much more necessary is it for the Sonnets, which are throughout as dark as the Plays are clear!
The first question upon the subject is, who was the friend spoken of so much in the poems in question ? I answer, Master William Herbert, afterwards third Earl of Pembroke,t and him alone it is the object of these pages to establish as claiming the honour of the friendship of Shakespeare. It was to this nobleman and his brother, designated those “incomparable pair of brethren,” that the first folio was dedicated, as the “ remains of your servant Shakespeare,” at the time when Lord Southamp
* Preface to the edition of 1623.
+ It is also to this nobleman's honour that to his patronage England can boast of one of her greatest architects, Inigo Jones.
ton, who was publicly known as our poet's earliest patron, was living and in London. About the date this loving friendship was contracted (1597), Lord Southampton embarked as a volunteer in the expedition against Spain, and in the following year he attended Essex to Ireland as general of the horse, and subsequently, when Essex fell under the royal displeasure, Southampton, who was leagued with him in his mad-cap rebellion, was committed to the Tower, and although his life was spared, he was kept in prison during the remainder of Elizabeth's reign. (See Bell's Poems of Shakspeare, p. 36.) Our poet himself, cautious against arousing the enmity of church or state, would naturally turn to one cautious and politic like himself, which Herbert was. Shakespeare may also have offended the headstrong earl in seeking, by good advice, to curb his wild career.
This might naturally lead to a transfer of friendship; and the one fact of Shakespeare not being known to pen consolatory verses to Southampton when in prison for high treason, as other poets were doing, significantly points to a rupture between them. The reason of this is that Lord Southampton was merely a patron sought for by the poet, while Master Herbert proved more than patron, he became Shakespeare's all unlooked-for constant friend, from his youth upward. Hence the poet pays him a higher compliment than Lord Southampton had received. Master Herbert is the actual Adonis of the poem addressed to him. I acknowledge that he is no new claimant. My object is to add to the evidence already brought forward in proof of his right to it, although numerous critics assent to his being the man, among whom is Mr. Hallam. But what is most to the purpose is that there is full agreement between that young lord and the youth described in the Sonnets. The beauty which distinguished him so much above others I am able to show, Shakespeare was not alone in extolling.
It may be asked why such addresses were penned to one of his own sex? The judicious Shakespeare could never have been guilty of such errors. If such an inquirer will turn to one of our poet's earliest Comedies
-that humorous satire upon the fashionable jargon of the day, “ Love's Labour's Lost”-he will there find that even in the dawn of genius he expressed a dislike to mistress adulation in such spruce affected terms, till in maturity he penned these diversions for the delight of his patron. These lines from the Comedy suffice to show the drift of the poet :
“Tush ! none but minstrels like of Sonnetting.” “Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn Sonnetteer.”
“ This is the liver vein, which makes flesh a deity ;
God amend us, God amend ! we are much out o' the way.” Thus in two important points Shakespeare differed from his contemporaries ; he was averse to either making a green goose a goddess, i. e., mistress sonnetting, or to flatter every rhymester, to be, as was the custom, extolled in return.
I will now show the origin of the friendship between the patron and the poet, which the player editors affirm was prosecuted with so much favour. According to a letter written by Rowland White to Sir Robert Sidney, (brother to the author of the “ Arcadia” dated April,
1597, and printed in the Sidney Papers, it was about this date that the accomplished youth obtained his father's sanction to live in London,* but it is highly probable he had visited the capital on several occasions before making it his abode. The earliest notice I find of his being in London is in the “Sidney Memoirs,” Vol. 2. We there learn from one of White's letters, dated April 3, 1597, that he was then on a visit to the Sidneys S“My Lord Herbert, coming into the garden ;” and probably it was the close connections he was making that induced him thus to solicit his father, as it must have been about this time that an acquaintanceship was formed between Shakespeare and this attractive young lord: . It is described (Sonnet 25) as an “unlooked-for joy,” intimating that the youth proffered his friendship to the poet. A supposition may be formed from some of the earliest Sonnets addressed to Master W. H. that the youth's mother, either directly or indirectly, instigated Shakespeare to advocate so strenuously for his young friend to contemplate at once yoking himself to the car of Hymen, though but seventeen years of age; and by self-example the poet with a good grace might advocate such a course.
This appears to be referred to in Sonnets 2 and 3, where the poet speaks of his children being his “old excuse" for his loss of youth, vigour, and appear
Add to this the circumstance of the Countess of Pembroke being herself a poetess and patroness of poets, and it is but natural she would desire her “lovely boy"
* White says :—“My Lord Herbert hath with much ado brought his father to consent that he may live at London, yet not before the next spring." (Letter to Sir R. Sidney, April, 1597), but he was probably much engaged in London from the date, 1597.