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as appear in some of these Sonnets. For a friend he might -not, we are persuaded, on his own account; or, he might be led into these revelations simply by the force of fancy. " Such tricks hath strong imagination.” In the dearth of letters and ignorance of the poetic art, what more likely than that a person of Shakspere's great facility of composition and command of the poetical tongue should be called on, from time to time, to write epistles for the benefit of friends not equally gifted with himself? Many of these productions may thus have been written, as it were, to command, and for the purpose of soothing the real griefs or promoting the love-suits of others. Three only of the Sonnets have an appearance of strict personality. One of these refers to the profession of a player, and complains that his higher nature was suffering by contact with the meannesses incident to the position; and the other two punning on and playing with the name of " Will.” Yet even in these cases the probability seems to be that Shakspere was writing for others, not for himself. Such at least is our impression. On the hypothesis that the Sonnets are autobiographical, the inconsistencies become too glaring for belief. All the quiet modest traits of the man, as we otherwise know him, become outraged and lost. He is a sycophant, a flatterer, a breaker of marriage vows, a whining and inconstant person-in short, a character unrecognisable as the Shakspere of Ben Jonson, or the author of the plays and the dedications.
Other points connected with the Sonnets remain for some passing notice. The volume containing them was published in 1609, when Sbakspere was in his forty-fifth year. It was prefaced by the following quaint and curious dedication, which is here reproduced as nearly as possible in the type and form of the original:
Ti · the · Onlir · begetter · of
These · Pasaing · Bonarts
To the casual reader this is a mere enigma, but it will be
found that several of the difficulties are made to disappear on slight examination. Mr Samuel Neil, in his excellent little book, “ Shakspere, a Critical Biography,” furnishes an explanation of the initiatory difficulty :
What is meant by begetter? Does it signify inspirer or collector ? Hallam says, that by begetter" we can only understand the cause of their being written;" and he infers that “ this mysterious Mr W. H. must be presumed to be the idolised friend of Shakspere." Boswell, on the other hand, asserts that “ the begetter is merely the person who gets or preserves a thing.” Dr Johnson agrees with this, as Chalmers remarks-"W. H. was the bringer forth of the Sonnets. Beget is derived by Skinner from the Anglo-Saxon begettan=obtinere. Johnson adopts this derivation and sense.”
T. T. at the end of the dedication is known to be Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the Sonnets. But who was Mr W. H.? That question has as yet received no satisfactory answer. William Hart, nephew of the poet, has been suggested by one authority, whilst the Earl of Pembroke and Lord Southampton, the initials of whose proper names so far correspond with the W. H., have been adopted by others. All these suggestions, however, are open to grave question. Mr Neil believes that the mysterious personage was William Hathaway, brother-in-law of the poet-a suggestion with an air of feasibility, but without any proper basis to support it. Another explanation we thought at one time to lie as near to the surface as any. The reader will not fail to observe that the line in which the initials occur has been, in printer's phraseology, 6 spaced out" like the others, so as to give an appearance of openness to the dedication. Now, supposing we carry off the two dots between the “ H.” and the “ all” following as a mere printer's flourish, we have at once the names W. Hall,” the line reading quite intelligibly and properly after the change—“ Mr W. Hall, happiness and that eternity,” &c. But will this clear up the difficulty ? Perhaps it will not, since we know not at this moment who Mr W. Hall was. As matter of fact, it is known that two years previous to the appearance of the Sonnets Shakspere's eldest daughter Susannah was married at Stratford to a Dr John Hall, but we must confess that we have been unable as yet to identify any Mr W. Hall amongst the friends of Shakspere. It has to be confessed that almost every single point connected with the Sonnets is matter of doubt and question. In what manner they were collected together, or how they fell into the hands of Thomas Thorpe for publication, are amongst those vexing and insoluble problems which haunt nearly everything connected with Shakspere. That he wrote the Sonnets there can be no manner of doubt, for they are marked all over with the true Shaksperian seal and signature. We hold it to be equally certain that he in no way superintended their publication, and for this reason that the editor, whoever he was, has contrived to make of his work a mass of confusion and disorder-such confusion and disorder as have given so much scope to theory and supposition as almost to create a literature of its own. Mr Massey's theory being the latest—as it is certainly amongst the most pretentious—may be entitled to claim a little consideration.
II.—MR GERALD MASSEY ON THE SONNETS. Mr Massey's ponderous volume illustrates perhaps better than anything in our literature the difficulties connected with the subject. The author is a man of acuteness, is an excellent prose writer, and as a poet, with the divine “ Ballad of Babe Christabel ” lying before us, we can scarcely say that he occupies any rank except the first. He has devoted three years to the study of the Sonnets, and the result has been a book of upwards of 600 pages in elucidation of a particular theory.* Yet, after all, it cannot be said that Mr Massey has brought light out of the prevailing darkness. He believes, as we do, that the Sonnets are not autobiographical, and he seeks to discover, and thinks he has infallibly discovered, the parties for whom they were composed.
Mrs Jamieson was, we believe, the first who ventured on the hypothesis that some of the Sonnets were addressed by Shakspere to his good and constant friend Lord Southampton; and others, in this nobleman's name, “ to that beautiful Elizabeth Vernon, to whom the Earl was so long and so ardently attached." Upon this hint Mr Massey speaks; this is the idea which lies at the root of his whole theory of the Sonnets. He writes out in full the story of Lord Southampton, of Elizabeth Vernon, and of her cousin Lady Rich-amongst the three contriving to get rid of a good portion of the productions by connecting them with the history of these personages. Taking advantage of the fact that Southampton was in love with Mistress Vernon, whom he afterwards married, Mr Massey has, on this slight basis, erected an airy and elegant-it must be added, a most insubstantial structure. The very next step in the process shows the weakness of the edifice. Lady Rich,
* Shakspere's Sonnets never before Interpreted, his Private Friends Identified, together with a Recovered Likeness of Himself. By Gerald Massey. London: Longinan & Co. 1866.
without the least sanction from biography, is brought in as the rival of Mistress Vernon in the affections of Southampton; Mistress Vernon is jealous; the Earl remonstrates; and the lady repays her lover by getting up a flirtation on her own account with another person. All this is educed from the Sonnets; and into the domestic imbroglio Shakspere is allowed to come from time to time to give utterance to fourteen lines in his own person, by the way of advice or reproof. But this is not all; nor does the introduction of these characters satisfy the particular exigencies of the case. Several of the Sonnets still remain to be disposed of; none of them will suit the above quartette; and they must, therefore, be otherwise put to service. This difficulty is got over by a second series, under the head of 6 William Herbert's Passion for Lady Rich," in which these two personages are brought forward, and are made to carry off the remainder of the Sonnets, thus leaving no one out of the 154 destitute of its special Masseyan meaning and significance. But the entire conception will be best understood by an extract from the table of contents :
THE DARK STORY OF THE SONNETS.
DRAMATIC SONNETS. Elizabeth Vernon's Jealousy of her Lover, Lord Southampton, and of her Friend, Lady Rich.
A PERSONAL SONNET. Shakspere on the Slander.
DRAMATIC SONNETS. The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon after the Jealorisy. Elizabeth Vernon Repays the Earl by a Flirtation of her own--His Reproach.
PERSONAL SONNETS. Shakspere is sad for the Earl's “ Harmful Deeds."
DRAMATIC SONNETS. A Farewell of the Earl's to Elizabeth Vernon. The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon after his Absence.
PERSONAL SONNETS. Shakspere to the Earl after some time of silence.
DRAMATIC SONNETS. The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon. Their Final Reconciliation ; with Shakspere's
Sonnet on their Marriage.
And so on, each separate Sonnet or presumed group being labelled off to explain some hypothetical position of the character introduced.
In the carrying out of this idea, the inventor, as a matter of course, at once destroys the existing arrangement of the Sonnets ; for in their present shape having proved insoluble, it is Mr Massey's business to make them speak coherently, and to tell an intelligible and sequential story. As an example of the dislocation produced by the new mode of treatment, we cannot do better than select the series which assumes to reveal the connection of Herbert and Lady Rich. Twenty-five of these are requisite for the purposenamely, those numbered in our ordinary copies 127, 132, 128, 138, 130, 131, 96, 135, 136, 142, 143, 57, 58, 139, 140, 149, 137, 148, 141, 150, 147, 152, 151, 129, 146. Out of these bricks Mr Massey makes up a fine mosaic of flirtation and seduction. Now, as every Shaksperian is ready to confess that the Sonnets are in a state of entire confusion-in such a condition of chaos, in truth, as would have prevailed had the parts in “ The Tempest," <As You Like It," and “ King Lear,” been jumbled togetherunbounded gratitude would have been felt towards any one whose genius enabled him to educe order and beauty out of the existing rude and undigested mass. But that Mr Massey has done so is liable to the very gravest doubt. Granting that some of the Sonnets fit in wonderfully well to the supposed position of the parties, others assuredly do not; and on the whole an impression is left of painful patch-work and dead unreality. In the series under notice, the reader will naturally be anxious to know why Lady Rich has secured so prominent a place; and, her name not having in any way been hitherto connected with that of Shakspere, he may be inclined to inquire,
What doth she there, With her unmantled neck, and bosom white and bare ? Mr Massey will tell the reader all about this lady, or should do so, seeing that he has devoted some ninety pages of print to detail the story of her life, and to show the part she played in a portion of the Sonnets. But he will not, because he cannot, tell what necessary connection she had with William Herbert and Lord Southampton. Lady Rich is half a historical character. She was sister to the unfortunate and foolish Earl of Essex, was a gay beauty of the Courts of Elizabeth and James, living apart from her husband Lord Rich, whose place was supplied by the