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surdity. Tyrwhitt, putting together the initials w. H. in the Dedication to the Sonnets, and the toilowing line of the xxth Sonnet, given thus in the original edition,

“ A man in hew all Hews in his controlling” imagined that the mysterious personage was a W. Hughes; while George Chalmers, as if to show that there are no bounds to the folly of a critic, maintained that Queen Elizabeth was typified by the poet's masculine friend !

Perhaps, after all, what Lord Byron says of
Junius, is true concerning the object to whom the
Sonnets are principally addressed ;

“ I've an hypothesis,—'tis quite my own,
'Tis, that what Junius we are wont to call,
Was really, truly, nobody at all;"

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my conceit: being nothing else but an imitation of Virgill
in the second Eglogue of Alexis.” I may add, that at a
considerably later period, Phineas Fletcher (one of the
purest of poetical spirits) in his first Piscatory Eclogue, in-
troduces Thelgon lamenting the inconstancy of Amyntas;
and that in a short copy of versesTo Master W. C.” by
the same writer, is the following stanza :

“ Return now, Willy; now at length return thee :
Here thou and I, under the sprouting vine,
By yellow Chame, where no hot ray shall burn thee,
Will sit, and sing among the Muses nine ;
And safely cover'd from the scalding shine,
We'l read that Mantuan shepherds sweet complaining,

Whom fair Alexis griev'd with his unjust disdaining." See his Piscatorie Eclogs, and other Poeticall Miscellanies (appended to The Purple Island,) 1633, p. 1, and D. 60.

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perhaps, Shakespeare's “lovely youth" was merely the creature of imagination, and had no more existence than those fair ones, whom various writers have so perseveringly wooed in verse.79 I have long felt convinced, after repeated perusals of the Sonnets, that the greater number of them was composed in an assumed character, on different subjects, and at different times, for the amusement, and probably at the suggestion, of the author's intimate associates.80 While, therefore, I contend that allusions scattered through these pieces should not be hastily referred to the personal circumstances of Shakespeare, I am willing to grant that one or two Sonnets have an individual application to the poet, as for instance, the cxth and the cxich, in which he expresses his sense of the degradation that accompanies the profession of the stage. Augustus Schlegel is of opinion, that sufficient use has not been made of them, as important materials for Shakespeare's biography; but, even if we regard them all as transcripts of his genuine feelings, what a feeble and uncertain light would they throw on the history of his life!

79 « Dost thou think the poets, who every one of 'em celebrate the praises of some lady or other, had all real mis. tresses ?... No, no, never think it; for I dare assure thee, the greatest part of 'em were nothing but the mere imaginations of the poets, for a ground-work to exercise their wits upon, and give to the world occasion to look on the authors as men of an amorous and gallant disposition.” Don Quixote (translated by several hands) i. 225. ed. 1749.

80 Meres calls them “ his sugred Sonnets among his prie vate friends :" see p. xlviii.

About the excellence of these Sonnets, slightly disfigured as they are by conceits and quibbles, 81 there can be no dispute.

Next to the dramas of Shakespeare, they are by far the most valuable of his works. They contain such a quantity of profound thought as must astonish every reflecting reader; they are adorned by splendid and delicate imagery; they are sublime, pathetic, tender, or sweetly playful; while they delight the ear by their fluency, and their varied harmonies of rhythm. Our language can boast no sonnets altogether worthy of being placed by the side of Shakespeare's, except the few which Milton 82 poured forth,—so severe, and so majestic.

Among the minor poems in the present volume, A Lover's Complaint stands pre-eminent in beauty. We recognize but little of Shakespeare's genius in The Miscellany entitled The Passionate Pilgrim : it appears to have been given to the press without his consent, or even his knowledge; and how much of it proceeded from his pen, cannot be distinctly ascertained.

81 What Robert Gould, in The Play House, á Satire, (Works ii. 245. ed. 1709), says of our author's dramas, applies also to his poen:s; And Shakespeare play'd with words, to please a quibbling

age.” 82 The English Sonnets that approach nearest in merit to Shakespeare's and Milton's, are undoubtedly those by the living ornament of our poetic literature, Wordsworth

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APPENDIX I.

CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF SHAKESPEARE's

PLAYS. 1

Pericles ..

1590 Second Part of Henry VI....... 1591 Third Part of Henry VI. ......

1591 Two Gentlemen of Verona 1591 Comedy of Errors ...

1592 Love's Labour's Lost...

1592 Richard II.

1593 Richard III.

1593 Midsummer Night's Dream .... 1594 Taming of the Shrew

1596 Romeo and Juliet...

1596 Merchant of Venice

1597 First Part of Henry IV.

1597 Second Part of Henry IV. 1598 King John...

1598 All's Well that Ends Well 1598 Henry V. ....

1599 As you like It

1599 Much Ado about Nothing 1600 Hamlet ..

1600 Merry Wives of Windsor

1601 Twelfth Night

1601

" See p. XXX.

• See Collier's Hist. of English Dram. Poet. i. 327.

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Troilus and Cressida...
Henry VIII. .....
Measure for Measure
Othello 3
King Lear.
Macbeth
Julius Cæsar..
Antony and Cleopatra
Cymbeline...
Coriolanus.
Timon of Athens
Winter's Tale
Tempest...

1602 1603 1603 1604 1605 1606 1607 1608 1609 1610 1610 1611 1612

.

.

3 I agree

with Malone in thinking that the passage of Othello (act iii. sc. iv.),

“ the hearts of old gave hands, But our new heraldry is hands, not hearts,” does not contain the slightest allusion to the institution of the order of Baronets in 1611: see his Life of Shakespeare, p. 402. (Shak. by Boswell, i.)

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