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at the outstep that we acknowledge no allegiance-own no homageto the Italian. Our literary territory is held absolutely, or it had better be relinquished entirely. There is too much Saxon blood in our veins to bide content on a divided soil or under a feudal tenure. It may be shown that the sonnet is a form of poetry fairly introduced in the literature of England, fully sustained, and now, without reserve or qualification, by the law of letters it is our own. propose, therefore, to say a word for our English title and our English fame in this province of poesy.

Before advancing further, the looseness in the acceptation of the term "sonnet," in consequence of its application to several different forms of poetry, demands some attempt to ascertain its true use, or, at least, to give it some precision. The most obvious property, which is common to the sonnets of all countries, is its limitation to fourteen lines. With the exception of some of the earliest English sonnets, and those of not much merit, which extended to eighteen lines, this may be said to be universally true. It is composed of four parts, two quadrains and two terzines, which are usually indicated by the typography in the foreign sonnets, but not in the English. Rhyme is also an essential property, and it is to it that the different varieties of the sonnet have reference : the lines are of equal length and the measure iambic. The form which is considered as especially entitled to the name is that which is framed after the Italian sonnet,—the Petrarcan model. In this the rhymes are repeated at certain intervals so as to produce a recurrence of the same closing sound; and it is this property which seems to suggest the origin of the name itself. The arrangement is such that, in fourteen lines, there are but five, and sometimes not more than four, several rhymes. I am a little fearful I am making myself disagreeable by the technicalities of prosody. By means of a specimen, 1 may accomplish my wish of conveying an idea of the general structure of this variety of the sonnet much better and certainly more agreeably. In quoting, with this view, Mr. Wordsworth's sonnet composed upon Westminster Bridge, I did not intend to be diverted from the mere consideration of its metrical character. I cannot, however, refrain from asking the reader to recall his feelings when he has happened to pass along the streets of a city yet in its slumbers; and, unless our own deceive us, he will find, we think, an echo to them in the following specimen of the metre of the sonnet :


"Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty.

This city now doth like a garment wear


The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep,
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still!"

In this form the poem is cast by those who have implicitly revered the ancient landmarks. It is the most usual form of the Spanish and Portuguese as well as the Italian sonnet. The English poets, with Shakspeare as a leader, have, with a characteristic temper, claimed greater freedom. This appears in several different structures of the poem, in which the variety is effected in some by a different distribution of the rhymes, and in others by increasing the number of them to six and seven, but not attaching them throughout to consecutive lines. The following, selected from the same poet in order to avoid distracting attention to other points of comparison, may serve as specimens of some of these varieties :—

"The shepherd, looking eastward, softly said,

'Bright is thy veil, O moon, as thou art bright!'
Forthwith that little cloud, in ether spread
And penetrated all with tender light,
She cast away, and show'd her fulgent head
Uncover'd, dazzling the beholder's sight,
As if to vindicate her beauty's right,-
Her beauty thoughtlessly disparaged.
Meanwhile that veil, removed or thrown aside,
Went floating from her, darkening as it went;
And a huge mass, to bury or to hide,
Approach'd this glory of the firmament,
Who meekly yields and is obscured,-content
With one calm triumph of a modest pride."


The following specimen may be noticed, by the way, as presenting a striking instance of the combined action of reflective and imaginative power :

"In my mind's eye a temple, like a cloud,
Slowly surmounting some invidious hill,

Rose out of darkness: the bright work stood still,
And might of its own beauty have been proud.
But it was fashion'd and to God was vow'd
By virtues that diffused, in every part,
Spirit divine through forms of human art:
Faith had her arch,—her arch, when winds blow loud,

Into the consciousness of safety thrill'd:
And Love her towers of dread foundation laid
Under the grave of things; Hope had her spire
Star-high, and pointing still to something higher.
Trembling I gazed, but heard a voice; it said,
Hell-gates are powerless phantoms when we build.”

The recently-published volume of poems by Mr. Wordsworth contains

a number of sonnets showing his talent in unabated vigour :



"Though joy attend thee, orient, at the birth

Of dawn, it cheers the lofty spirit most

To watch thy course when daylight, fled from earth,

In the gray sky hath left his lingering ghost
Perplex'd, as if between a splendour lost
And splendour slowly mustering. Since the sun,
The absolute, the world-absorbing One,
Relinquish'd half his empire to the host,
Embolden'd by thy guidance, holy star,
Holy as princely, who that looks on thee,
Touching, as now, in thy humility
The mountain-borders of this seat of care,
Can question that thy countenance is bright,
Celestial Power! as much with love as light?

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One word more on this subject of definition before I leave it. Some one perhaps may seek to resolve his doubts on the acceptation of the term "sonnet," by that innocent-hearted method of looking into the dictionary. In the folio edition of Johnson's he will find the following definition :Sonnet, a short poem consisting of fourteen lines, of which the rhymes are adjusted by a particular rule. It is not very suitable to the English language, and has not been used by any man of eminence since Milton." And then, in evidence of the lexicographer's conception of the character of the poem in question, inserted at length is Milton's sonnet, written on the detraction which followed his "Tetrachordon" and other of his prose treatises. It was a piece of scoff at his political foes; and the humour of it, such as it is, seems to consist in the introduction of as many rugged proper names as the poet could manage in the space of fourteen metrical lines. The smile of the great republican poet, at least as far as we trace it in his prose writings, was certainly not his most agreeable expression: it was tinctured with bitterness. If Dr. Johnson meant, as no doubt he did, to cite that sonnet as a fair specimen, it either evinces a lamentable want of taste, or is additional proof how completely his vision was sealed to the wealth of the best periods of English poetry. The definition which succeeds to the above


is "Sonnetteer, a small poet; in contempt." Let us see who they are. To say nothing of the worthy train of early poets who were small only by comparison with their great contemporaries, the sonnet was a favourite form of composition with each one of that glorious triumvirate who kindled the flame of poetry higher than ever since the creation it flamed by mere human kindling, and kept it burning at its brightest for a century:-EDMund Spenser, WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, JOHN MILTON, -sonnetteers all,-"small poets, in contempt! Samuel Johnson! in


charity I hope that you are forgiven !

My principal object, thus far, has been merely to illustrate what form of English poetry it is which is designated by the name of the sonnet, and incidentally to call attention to the true conception and exquisite finish of the specimens, selected with no very great pains, from the pages of a living poet. Let it now be distinctly understood that I do not, of course, claim for England the invention of the sonnet. It had its birth under a Southern sky. Whether Italian or Provençal in its origin would not be pertinent at present to discuss. Its date is anterior to Petrarch, though, from the fact that it was developed and rendered more popular by him, it is identified so intimately with his name. There is a theory suggested by Ginguené or Sismondi, which traces to the poetry of the Arabs the fashion of continuing and intermingling the metrical sounds in their verses. Now, this is one of the distinguishing features of the sonnet; and the use of rhyme, which is another, is a Gothic fashion,—a northern barbarism, as it was regarded by all who, like old Roger Ascham, fed in their hearts the hope of living to see their vernacular dialects set to the tune of hexameters. May it not be, then, that the wealth of several different quarters of the globe was laid under contribution to be coined in the diminutive mould of the sonnet? It would be a singular boast for anything so humble and unassuming. It is easy, we are aware, to weave theories, and, upon this subject, to extract much plausibility from the fact of the singular fusing of the European and Saracenic races together in the South of Europe during a part of the Middle Ages. History presents, probably, no more extraordinary instance of the kind than the intermingling of three distinct races in a very limited territory at the time of the Norman establishment in Sicily: there was the remnant of the old Sicilian race— their conquerors, the Arabs-and the final victor, the Norman. Well might their music blend together, where they were girt in by the ocean in this little plot. In all diffidence we offer our fancy-we will not dignify it with the title of theory-that one graft was brought by the Arab from the East, and another from the region of the Goth, and that these grew into one growth under the genial influence of an Italian or Sicilian sun.

How is a nation's claim to any form of composition, whether metrical or not, to be established? Not by discovery or preoccupation. Parnassus is as free and illimitable as the ocean or the wind. If there be any method of taking a ceremonious possession, as territory is acquired by planting a standard or erecting a pile of stones, I have yet to learn what it is. It would not be more presumptuous and irrational to attempt to check the free current of a breeze that has wafted over Italy, than to contend that a certain arrangement of poetic melodies first uttered there must, therefore, remain Italian to the end of time. The domain of letters is no more susceptible of private exclusive dominion than is the open sea. If there should be perceived a disposition on the one hand to assert, and on the other to yield to such a claim, it would be time for some one, invoking the spirit of old Grotius to his aid, to compile a Helicon Liberum. What would it be but reviving the principle of the old Portuguese claim? Petrarch, like De Gama, may have all the fame of discovery, but we yield nothing of long-maintained possession and of present title. We claim our ancient English rights of sailing on the wide sea wherever the winds may carry us, and of tuning our language to any note to which it will answer.

Any form of writing, no matter how artificial in its structure or how remote in its origin, may be naturalized into a language, if it is adapted to the character of that language, and if writers can be found who have shown this by actual experiment. In reference simply to origin, the sonnet is an exotic; but so is the epic or the ode. I cheerfully admit as much in one case as in the other, but nothing more; and this admission is but equivalent to the acknowledgment that Homer came into the world before Milton, Pindar before Dryden and Gray, and Petrarch before Surrey. A seed from this Southern plant has been sown in the soil of English literature, and, exposed to all the inclemency of a Northern climate, it has been followed by a growth as vigorous and flourishing as the parent-stock. What I take exception to is the propensity still to regard it as an unnatural transplantation, or a forced and artificial growth. When we dwell with an exulting national pride upon the pages of the "Paradise Lost," our own English epic,--we are never rebuked by being reminded of the claims of Homer. And when we read the English sonnet, able as we are to cite hundreds of them which would adorn the literature of any country, we cannot consent to stand always cap-in-hand to the shade of Petrarch. A brief reference to a few of the English sonnet-writers of different periods will firmly establish our claim, and serve at the same time to correct the prejudices against the form itself.

The most obvious of these prejudices is directed against the narrow

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