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Sonnets themselves appear not to have been printed until eleven years afterwards. These Sonnets are felt by all to be in some sort revelations of the poet's Inner Life. I have written on them at length in a paper contributed to the Temple-Bar Magazine, and endeavoured to develop their meaning. They are evidently composed on the plan adopted by Petrarch and Dante, in which, under pretence of the passion of love, aspirations after political liberty, and free thought in religion, were disguised. Other works of Shakspere have, though generally unsuspected, a similar hidden meaning, such as Measure for Measure, Love's Labour's lost, Midsummer-Night's Dream, &c. He is a thorough-going Protestant by anticipation, and one even of extreme opinions, as might be proved by numerous citations. The Sonnets need only be read in the order in which they are usually printed, to become intelligible at once to any one who has any idea of the inner meaning in Italian productions of the same kind.

They compose one poem, commencing with an elaborate protest against Celibacy, and vindicating nature's bounty and wisdom in the institution of marriage. These are addressed to a supposed celibate, who is implored to forego the monstrous pretence. The poet strongly argues against it as a violation of nature's law, and an enemy to succession; whereas with nature all is generation and progress, and provision for the future continuance of races. By reproduction, man obtains an advantage over death. By declining to reproduce, he forsakes his post, and loses the battle. Such a coward, the poet treats with bitter irony, condemning him of “murderous shame” and “ murderous hate.” He is both a suicide and an assassin.

His beneficent Creator, however, had purposed him for something better. He had been made fair, gracious, and gentle, and naturally disposed to be kind-hearted; and as he had himself a father, should return the obligation by having a son, who would better vouch for his parent's personal attractions than even the poet's most enthusiastic praises. Beauty, according to the poet, is peculiarly the attribute of man (as in Hamlet, “In action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world -- the paragon of animals”). Love he appropriates to woman. Man is with him the aristocrat, soft of feature, white of hand, the desire of the female heart, and the source of her supremest joy; and while he broods on the subject, he raises the object he is all along apostrophising into an Ideal. The type- man, and the universal humanity, gradually substitutes the individual. The shortcoming of the latter in his own person the poet laments; but at the same time he rejoices in his association with the former, even while confessing the wide difference between them. This difference he paints under the figure of absence, likening the Ideal to an absent friend, whose inevitable loss is the source of unavailing regret.

But this ideal, while removed from masculine contemplation, is present to the female mind; and

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Argument of the Sonnets.

25 the poet, accordingly, feigns jealousy of an ideal woman who has engrossed the attention of his ideal

This leads him to consider the relations of the sexes, and to indulge in some exquisite comparisons and reflections. And now his thoughts begin to soar;-ultimately, his ideal passes into the divine. The immortal man in a mortal body is to him a source of exultation and sorrow. The complex state of mind in which he now finds himself brings also its special trouble. His absent ideal man has not only a mistress, but has obtained another friend;

so that envy is added to jealousy. He next justifies this conduct of his absent and beloved acquaintance, whose superiority of character of itself transcends censure, and invests whatever he does with its own sacredness. For his truth is as indisputable as his beauty, and our doubts of either arise from imperfection in us, not in him. It is, indeed, the Platonic Logos, into whom his imagination has transformed the Removed Object of his poetic apostrophe.

At length, the poet excuses his own wanderings during his enforced absence from his friend. Compared with his Divine Ideal, he himself is altogether wanting in integrity. He is not a whole man, but only a part of man. He is merely a professional person, not absolute man, grown to full stature and exercising all faculties indifferently. He is reduced to the level of his occupation:

“Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,

And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.”

I need not point out to the qualified reader that such reflections are in the very spirit of Socrates, as recorded in the Dialogues of Plato, and that the argument of the Sonnets follows the course of dialectics generally adopted by the Grecian sage. The sonnets that succeed those which I have just briefly analysed assume a more religious character; and we have much scriptural reference, and such definitions of Divine Love as were never exceeded. The Man has become a Messiah, and the Woman the Church. The former retains his fairness, but the latter is depicted as black. She is, in fact, the black but comely bride of Solomon. But her comeliness is now fatally obscured-she has deified herself, and placed her celestial friend at disadvantage. Both claim the allegiance of Shakspere,—his “female evil” and his “better angel:"

“ The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit, a woman, coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride."

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Thus it is that Shakspere parabolically opposed the
Mariolatry of his time to the purer devotion of the
Word of God, which it was the mission of his age to

I have dwelt the more on this interpretation of Shakspere's Sonnets, because the vulgar notion of Shakspere is that of a profane player, who, by reason of circumstances, grew into a poet and dramatist; and not an original mind that naturally developed

The Poet's Parentage.

27 itself into poetry, and knew itself to be degraded by its professional habits. The Sonnets confirm the contrary of all this, and show a mind well furnished with philosophy, well instructed in theology, and animated with political aspirations that looked forward alike to the regeneration of the Church and the World. We no longer see a mind indifferent to religion, and alive only to a particular art through which it arrives at greatness; but a great mind, armed with knowledge, and inspired by genius, that condescends to work in a selected channel, and contracts itself to the condition of its office. In this, as in his other poems, Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, and his exquisite lyrics, I perceive the profound, energetic, and philosophical mind, — without which, as Coleridge has recorded, Shakspere “might have pleased, but could not have been a great dramatic poet.”

There are a few outer facts of his life that can be depended on.

William Shakspere was the son of John Shakspere, a resident of Stratford, who married Mary the youngest daughter of Robert Arden of Willmecote, in the parish of Aston Cauntlow, and a descendant of the Robert Arden who was groom of the chamber to Henry VII. John Shakspere was a thriving woolstapler, who at the age of twenty-six was rich enough to purchase two copyhold houses and gardens and a croft, and the following year was made a burgess of the corporation of Stratford. Next year we find him one of the four constables of Stratford, and in 1559

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