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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,
perhaps Shakespeare's "lovely youth" was merely
101 Dost thou think the poets, who every one of 'em celebrate the praises of some lady or other, had all real mistresses?... 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 groundwork 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, edition 1749.
102 Meres calls them "his sugred Sonnets among his private friends:" see p. xlviii.
fore, 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 exit, 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!
About the excellence of these Sonnets, slightly disfigured as they are by conceits and quibbles,108 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
103 What Robert Gould, in The Play House, A Satire, (Works ii. 245, edition 1709,) says of our author's dramas, applies also to his poems;
"And Shakespeare play'd with words, to please a quibbling age."
altogether worthy of being placed by the side of Shakespeare's, except the few which Milton 104 poured forth, so severe, and so majestic.
Among the minor poems in the present volume, A Lover's Complaint stands preeminent 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.
104 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, Words worth.
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. ii.)