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“ Lucrece, of whom proud Rome hath boasted long,
“ Yet I as fair and chaste as ere was she." Matilda, the Fair and Chaste Daughter of Lord Robert Fitzwater. By Michael Drayton, 4to. 1594.-If the reader should look for these lines in any edition of Matilda after the second in 1596, in octavo, he will be disappointed. It is observable that Daniel and Drayton made many alterations in their poems at every re-impression.
From Drayton's having omitted this eulogy on Shakspeare in the subsequent editions, there is reason to believe, that however friendly they might have been in 1596, at a subsequent period some coolness subsisted between them. In Drayton's works he has, I think, mentioned Shakspeare but once, and been rather niggard in his praise.
In The Times displayed in Six Sestiads, 4to, 1646, dedicated by S. Shepherd to Philip Earl of Pembroke, p. 22, sestiad vi. stanza 9, the author thus speaks of our poet :
“ See him, whose tragick scenes Euripides
“ Did understand the depth of poesie.” If it should be asked, how comes it to pass that Shakspeare in his dramatick productions also, did not content himself with only doing as well as those play-wrights who had gone before him, or somewhat surpassing them; how it happened, that whilst his contemporaries on the stage crept in the most grovelling and contemptible prose, or stalked in ridiculous and bombastick blank verse, he has penetrated the inmost recesses of the human mind, and, not content with ranging through the wide field of nature, has with equal boldness and felicity often expatiated extra flammantia mania mundi, the answer, I believe, must be, that his disposition was more inclined to the drama than to the other kinds of poetry; that his genius for the one appears to have been almost a gift from heaven, his abilities for the other, of a less splendid and transcendent kind, and approaching nearer to those of other mortals.
Of these two poems Venus and Adonis appears to me entitled to superior praise. Their great defect is, the wearisome circumlocution with which the tale in each of them is told, particularly in
that before us. When the reader thinks himself almost at his journey's end, he is led through many an intricate path, and after travelling for some hours, finds his inn at a distance : nor are his wanderings always repaid, or his labour alleviated, by the fertility of the country through which he passes ; by grotesqueness of scenery or variety of prospect.
Let us, however, never forget the state of poetry when these pieces appeared; and after perusing the productions of the contemporary and preceding writers, Shakspeare will have little to fear from the unprejudiced decision of his judges. In the foregoing notes we have seen almost every stanza of these poems fraught with images and expressions that occur also in his plays. To the liquid lapse of his numbers, in his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his Sonnets, his Lovers Complaint, and in all the songs which are introduced in his dramas, I wish particularly to call the attention of the reader. In this respect he leaves all his contemporaries very far behind him.-Even the length of his two principal poems will be pardoned, when the practice of his age is adverted to. Like some advocates at the Bar, our elder poets seem to have thought it impossible to say too much on any subject. On the story of Rosamond, Daniel has written above nine hundred lines. Drayton's Legend of Rollo Duke of Normandy contains nine hundred and forty-five lines ; his Matilda six hundred and seventy two; and his Legend of Pierce Gaveston seven hundred and two. On the story of Romeo and Juliet, Arthur Brooke has left a poem of above four thousand lines ; and that of Troilus and Cressida, Chaucer has expanded into no less than eight thousand verses. Malone.
I cannot by any means coincide with Mr. Malone in giving the preference to Venus and Adonis, which appears to me decidedly inferior to the Rape of Lucrece, in which we find not only that liquid lapse of numbers which Mr. Malone has pointed out, but upon some occasions an energy both of expression and sentiment which we shall not easily find surpassed by any poet of any age. It may be added, that he has in this poem been much happier in the choice of his subject, not only as affording greater variety, but in a moral point of view. We have here nothing that the wiser sort,' whom Gabriel Harvey speaks of, had any cause to reprehend; but even in early times it was thought that there was some hazard when the “ younger took delight” in the other. In the Latin comedy, Cornelianum Dolium, 1638, supposed to be written by Thomas Randolph, Cornelius is displeased at finding it in the possession of his daughter:
Venerem etiam et Adonidem petulantem satis librum
DR. FARMER supposed that many of these Sonnets were addressed to our author's nephew Mr. William Harte. But by a reference to the Stratford Register, in vol. ii. it will be seen that William Harte was not born till 1600, the year in which these poems were first printed.
Mr. Tyrwhitt has pointed out to me a line in the twentieth Sonnet, which inclines me to think that the initials W. H. in the Dedication, stand for W. Hughes. Speaking of this person, the poet says he is i «A man in hew all Hews in his controlling=" . so the line is exhibited in the old copy. The name Hughes was formerly written Hews. When it is considered that one of these Sonnets is formed entirely on a play on our author's Christian name, this conjecture will not appear improbable. To this person, whoever he was, one hundred and twenty six of the following poems are addressed; the remaining twenty-eight are addressed to a lady. · Shakspeare's Sonnets were entered on the Stationers' books by Thomas Thorpe, on the 20th of May, 1609, and printed in quarto in the same year. They were, however, written many years before, being mentioned by Meres in his Wit's Treasury, 1598 : “ As the soul of Euphorbus (says he) was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare. Witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends,” &c.
The general style of these poems, and the numerous passages in them which remind us of our author's plays, leave not the smallest doubt of their authenticity.
In these compositions, Daniel's Sonnets, which were published in 1592, appear to me to have been the model that Shakspeare followed.
An edition of Shakspeare's Sonnets was published in 1604, in small octavo, which, though of no authority or value, was followed by Dr. Sewell, and other modern editors. The order of the original copy was not adhered to, and according to the fashion of that time, fantastick titles were prefixed to different portions of these poems : The glory of beauty; The force of love ; True admiration, &c. Heywood's translations from Ovid, which had been originally blended with Shakspeare's poems in 1612, were likewise reprinted in the same volume. MALONE.