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Title: Testimony of the Sonnets as to the Authorship of the Shakespearean Plays and Poems
Author: Johnson, Jesse, 1842-
Language: English
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Testimony of the Sonnets
as to the Authorship
of the Shakespearean
Plays and Poems

By Jesse Johnson


The Knickerbocker Press


Copyright, 1899


Entered at Stationers' Hall, London

The Knickerbocker Press, New York




  Scope and effect of the discussion                                1-5

Chapter I
  The Sonnets contain a message from their author; they
  portray his real emotions, and are to be read and
  interpreted literally                                            7-18

Chapter II
  They indicate that the friend or patron of the poet was a
  young man, and of about the age of Shakespeare;
  and that their author was past middle life, and considerably
  older than Shakespeare                                           19-48

Chapter III
  Direct statements showing that the Sonnets were not
  written by their accredited author--were not written
  by Shakespeare                                                   49-58

Chapter IV
  The known facts of Shakespeare's history reveal a character
  entirely inconsistent with, and radically different
  from, the revelations of the Sonnets as to the character
  of their author                                                  59-72

Chapter V
  The general scope and effect of the Sonnets inconsistent
  with the theory that they were written by Shakespeare            73-96

Chapter VI
  The results of the discussion summarized                         97-99


The Shakespearean Sonnets are not a single or connected work like an
ordinary play or poem. Their composition apparently extended over a
considerable time, which may be fairly estimated as not less than four
years. Read literally they seem to portray thoughts, modes or
experiences fairly assignable to such a period. Though variable and
sometimes light and airy in their movement, the greater portion appear
to reveal deep and intense emotion, the welling and tumultous floods
of the inner life of their great author. And their difficulty or
mystery is, that they indicate circumstances, surroundings,
experiences and regrets that we almost instinctively apprehend could
not have been those of William Shakespeare at the time they were
written, when he must have been in the strength of early manhood, in
the warmth and glow of recent and extraordinary advancement and

It is this difficulty that apparently has caused many to believe that
their literal meaning cannot be accepted, and that we must give to
them, or to many of them, a secondary meaning, founded on affectations
or conceits relating to different topics or persons, or that at least
we should not allow that in them the poet is speaking of himself.
Others, like Grant White, simply allow and state the difficulty and
leave it without any suggestion of solution.

Before conceding, however, that the splendid poetry contained in the
Sonnets must be sundered or broken, or the apparent reality of its
message doubted or denied, or that its message is mysterious or
inexplicable--we should carefully inquire whether there is not some
view or theory which will avoid the difficulties which have so baffled

I believe that there is such a view or theory, and that view is--that
the Sonnets were not written by Shakespeare, but were written to him
as the patron or friend of the poet; that while Shakespeare may have
been the author of some plays produced in his name at the theatre
where he acted, or while he may have had a part in conceiving or
framing the greater plays so produced, there was another, a great
poet, whose dreamy and transforming genius wrought in and for them
that which is imperishable, and so wrought although he was to have no
part in their fame and perhaps but a small financial recompense; and
that it is the loves, griefs, fears, forebodings and sorrows of the
student and recluse, thus circumstanced and confined, that the Sonnets

Considering that the Sonnets were so written, there is no need of any
other than a literal and natural reading or interpretation. Commencing
in expressions of gratulation and implied flattery, as they proceed,
they appear to have been written as the incidents, fears and griefs
which they indicate from time to time came; and it may well be that
they were written not for publication, but as vents or expressions of
a surcharged heart. With such a view of the situation of the poet and
of his patron, we may not only understand much that otherwise is
inexplicable, but we may understand why so much and such resplendent
poetry is lavished on incidents so bare, meagre, and commonplace, and
why they present both poet and patron with frailties and faults naked
and repellant; and we can the better palliate and forgive the weakness
and subjection which the Sonnets indicate on the part of their author.
With such a reading the Sonnets become a chronicle of the modes and
feelings of their author, resembling in this respect the _In Memoriam_
of Tennyson; and their poetry becomes deeper and better, often
equalling, if not surpassing in pathos and intensity anything in the
greater Shakespearean plays.

Such is the result or conclusion to which the discussion which follows
is intended to lead. I shall not, however, ask the reader to accept
any such conclusion or result merely because it removes difficulties
or because it makes or rather leaves the poetry better; but I shall
present--that the Sonnets contain direct testimony, testimony not
leading to surmise or conjecture, but testimony which would authorize
a judgment in a court of law, that the Sonnets were not written by
Shakespeare, and that they very strongly indicate that Shakespeare
was the friend or patron to whom so many of them are addressed.

How such a conclusion from such testimony may be affected by arguments
drawn from other sources I shall not discuss, contenting myself if
into the main and larger controversy I have succeeded in introducing
the effect and teaching of this, certainly, very valuable and
important testimony.




In these pages I propose an examination and study of the Shakespearean
Sonnets, for the purpose of ascertaining what information may be
derived from them as to the authorship of the Shakespearean plays and
poems. I am aware that any question or discussion as to their
authorship is regarded with objection or impatience by very many. But
to those not friendly to any such inquiry I would say, let us at least
proceed so far as to learn precisely what the author of these great
dramas says of himself and of his work in the only production in
which he in any manner refers to or speaks of himself. Certainly an
inquiry confined to such limits is appropriate, at least is not
disloyal. And if we study the characters of Hamlet, Juliet or
Rosalind, do we not owe it to the poet whose embodiments or creations
they are, that we should study his character in the only one of his
works in which his own surroundings and attachments, loves and fears,
griefs and forebodings, appear to be at all indicated?

From the Homeric poems, Mr. Gladstone undertook to gather what they
indicate as to the religion, morals and customs of the time; of the
birthplace of the poet, and of the ethnology and migrations of the
Hellenic peoples. Those poems were not written for any such purpose;
they were for a people who, in the main, on all those subjects knew or
believed as did their author. And it is both curious and instructive
to note how much information as to that distant period Mr. Gladstone
was able to gather from the circumstances, incidents, and implications
of the Homeric poetry. The value of such deductions no one can
question. We may reject as myths the Trojan War or the wanderings or
personality of Ulysses, but from these poems we certainly learn much
of the method of warfare, navigation, agriculture, and of the social
customs of those times.

So reading these Sonnets, we may perhaps not believe that the grief or
love of the poet or the beauty of his friend was quite as great as the
poetry indicates. But we may fairly take as correct what he says of
his friend or of himself, as to their relations and companionship, the
incidents and descriptions, which were but the framework on which he
wove his poetic wreaths of affection, compliment, or regret.

But before entering on this inquiry, it is quite relevant to ascertain
what relation these Sonnets bear to the Shakespearean plays and poems.
The works of Shakespeare, as published, contain thirty-seven separate
plays. Most of them are of the highest order, and rank with the most
consummate products of poetic genius. But criticism seems to have
established, and critics seem to agree, that in the works accredited
to him are plays of a lower order, which certainly are not from the
same author as the remainder, and especially the greater plays. In
this widely different and lower class, criticism seems to be agreed in
placing the greater portion of _Pericles_, _Titus Andronicus_,
_Timon of Athens_, two parts of _Henry VI._, and _Henry
VIII._[1] In addition to those, there are at least ten plays not now
published as Shakespeare's, that are conceded to be of a lower order and
by a different author, but which, apart from internal evidence, can be
almost as certainly shown to be his work as many of the greater of the
recognized Shakespearean plays. In the same high class of poetry as
the greater of these dramas are the Sonnets; and they are
unmistakably, and I think concededly, the work of the author of those
greater plays.

It is of our poet, as the author of these greater dramas as well as of
the Sonnets, that we would seek to learn in the study of the Sonnets.
It is only in the Sonnets that the poet speaks in the first person, or
allows us any suggestion of himself. His dramas reveal to us the
characters he has imagined and desires to portray; but they reveal
nothing of the author. His two great poems are dramatic in substance
and equally fail to give us any hint of their creator; but in the
Sonnets his own is the character whose thoughts and emotions are
stated. There we come nearest to him; and there it would seem that we
should be able to learn very much of him. Perhaps we shall find that
they do not present him at his best; it may be that they were intended
only for the eye of the friend or patron to whom they are addressed.
Perhaps they reveal the raveled sleeve, the anxieties of a straitened
life and of narrow means. Certainly, while they reveal the wonderful
fertility, resource, and fancy of the poet, they do not indicate that
in outward semblance, surroundings or history their author was either
fortunate or happy; and as we read them, sometimes we may feel that we
are entering the poet's heart-home unbidden and unannounced. But if we
have come there when it is all unswept and ungarnished, may we not the
more certainly rely on what it indicates?

Before entering on the study of the Sonnets we may inquire what, if
anything, there is, distinctive of our great poet, the recognition of
which may aid us in their interpretation.

Taine says that "the _creative_ power is the poet's greatest gift, and
communicates an extraordinary significance to his words"; and further,
that "he had the prodigious faculty of seeing in a twinkling of an eye
a complete character."[2]

The poet does not bring those characters to us by description, but he
causes them to speak in words so true and apposite to the character he
conceives that we seem to know the individuals from what they say and
not from what the poet wrote or said. But the poet goes much farther,
and in all his works presents surroundings and accessories, impalpable
but certain, which fit the characters and their moods and actions. The
picture of morning in _Venus and Adonis_ is apposite to the rich,
sensuous and brilliant colorings of the queen of love; the reference
in _Romeo and Juliet_ to the song of the nightingale "on yond'
pomegranate tree" is but an incident to the soft, warm and
love-inviting night; Rosalind moves and talks to the quickstep of the
forest; in _Macbeth_ the incantation of the witches is but the outward
expression of an overmastering fate, whose presence is felt throughout
the play. Let us then, in studying the Sonnets, consider that they are
from the same great master as the dramas. And we shall be thus
prepared, where the meaning seems plain and obvious, to believe that
the writer meant what he said, and to reject any interpretation which
implies that when he came to speak of himself he said what he did not
mean, or filled the picture with descriptions, situations or emotions,
incongruous or inappropriate. And if in so reading they seem clear and
connected, fanciful and far-drawn interpretations will not be adopted.
We should not distort or modify their meaning in order to infer that
they are imitations of Petrarch, or that the genius of the poet,
cribbed and confined by the fashion of the time, forgot to soar, and
limped and waddled in the footsteps of the inconspicuous sonneteers
of the Elizabethan era.

I would illustrate my meaning. Sonnet CXXVI. is sometimes said to be
an invocation to Cupid.[3] That seems to me to destroy all its grace
and beauty. The first two lines of the Sonnet,

    O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
    Dost hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle, hour--

are quite appropriate, if addressed to the god of love. But the lines
succeeding are quite the reverse. In effect they say that you have not
grown old because Nature, idealized as an active personality, has
temporarily vanquished Time, but will soon obtain the full audit. If
the Sonnet is addressed to the god of love it reduces him to the
limitations of mortality; if it is addressed to his friend, it
indicates that, though but for a little while, Nature has lifted him
to an attribute of immortality. The latter interpretation makes the
poet enlarge and glorify his subject; the former makes him belittle
it, and bring the god of love to the audit of age and the ravage of
wrinkles. This is the last sonnet of the first series; with the next
begins the series relating to his mistress. Reading it literally,
considering it as addressed to his friend, it is sparkling and poetic,
a final word, loving, admonitory, in perfect line and keeping with the
central thought of all that came before. From this Sonnet, interpreted
as I indicate, I shall try to find assistance in this study. But if it
is a mere poetical ascription to Cupid, it, of course, tells us
nothing except that its author was a poet.

I should not, however, leave this subject without stating that the
fanciful interpretation of these Sonnets does not seem to be favored
by more recent authors. I find no indication of such an interpretation
in Taine's _English Literature_, or in Grant White's edition of
Shakespeare. Professor Edward Dowden, universally recognized as a fair
and competent critic, says: "The natural sense, I am convinced, is the
true one."[4] Hallam says: "No one can doubt that they express not
only real but intense emotions of the heart."[5] Professor Tyler, in a
work relating to the Sonnets, says: "The impress of reality is
stamped on these Sonnets with unmistakable clearness."[6] Mr. Lee,
while regarding some of these as mere fancies, obviously finds that
many of them treated of facts.[7] Mr. Dowden, in a work devoted to the
Sonnets, states very fully the views which have been expressed by
different authors in relation to them. His quotations occupy sixty
pages and, I think, clearly show that the weight of authority is
decidedly in favor of allowing them their natural or primary meaning.

There are one hundred and fifty-four of these Sonnets. The last two
are different in theme and effect from those which go before, and may
perhaps not improperly be considered as mere exercises in poetizing.
They have no connection with the others, and I would have no
contention with those who regard them as suggested by Petrarch, or as
complaisant imitations of the vogue or fashion of that time. Those two
Sonnets I leave out of this discussion, and would have what may be
here said, understood as applying only to the one hundred and
fifty-two remaining.

These one hundred and fifty-two Sonnets I will now insist have a
common theme. Most of them may be placed in groups which seem to be
connected and somewhat interdependent. Those groups may perhaps, in
some cases, be placed in different orders, without seriously affecting
the whole. To that extent they are disconnected. But in whatever order
those groups are placed, through them runs the same theme--the
relations of the poet to his friend or patron, and to his mistress,
the mistress of his carnal love, who is introduced only because the
poet fears that she has transferred her affections or favors to his
friend, wounding and wronging him in his love or desire for each.

It is easy to pick out many Sonnets which may be read as disconnected
and independent poetry. But very many more verses could be selected
from _In Memoriam_ that can be read independently of the remainder of
that poem. And there are none of the Sonnets, however they may read
standing alone, that do not fit the mode and movement of those with
which they stand connected. There is, I submit, no more reason for
sundering Sonnets of that class from the others, than there is for
taking the soliloquy of Hamlet from the play that bears his name.

This statement of the theme and the connected character of the Sonnets
is not essential to the views I shall present. Nevertheless, if it is
accepted, if we are able to agree that they all are relevant and
apposite to a common theme, it strengthens the proposition that we
should seek for them a literal meaning and should reject any
construction which would make any of their description or movement
incongruous to any other part. Of course we shall expect to find in
them the enlargement or exaggeration of poetic license. But so doing
we must recall the characteristics of their great author, who with all
exaggeration preserves harmony and symmetry of parts, and harmony and
correspondence in all settings and surroundings. With such views of
what is fair and helpful in interpretation, I propose to proceed to a
closer view of the first one hundred and fifty-two of what are known
as the Sonnets of Shakespeare.


[1] Brandes's _William Shakespeare, a Critical Study_. Temple edition
of Shakespeare, introduction to plays above named.

[2] Taine's _English Literature_, pp. 83, 84.

[3] Lee's _Life of Shakespeare_, p. 27. The Sonnet is printed in full
at p. 28.

[4] Dowden, _Shakespeare: His Mind and Art_, pp. 102, 103.

[5] Hallam's _Literature of Europe_, Vol. II., Chap. V.

[6] Tyler, _Shakespeare's Sonnets_, p. 10.

[7] Lee's _Life of Shakespeare_, pp. 97, 125, 126.



Adopting the views which fix the later period as the date of the
Sonnets, it seems practically certain that they were written as early
as 1598,--though some of them may have been written as late as
1601,--and that a great portion were probably written as early as
1594.[8] Shakespeare was born in 1564. Consequently they appear to
have been written when he was about thirty or thirty-four, certainly
not over thirty-seven years of age.

_It will be the main purpose of this chapter to call attention to
portions of the Sonnets which seem to indicate that they were written
by a man well past middle age,--perhaps fifty or sixty years old, and
certainly not under forty years of age._

But before proceeding to the inquiry as to the age of the writer, I
invite attention to what they indicate as to the age of the patron or
friend to whom the first one hundred and twenty-six seem to have been
written. In poetry as in perspective, there is much that is relative,
and in the Sonnets the age of the writer and that of his friend are so
often contrasted, that if with reasonable certainty, and within
reasonable limits, we are able to state the age of his friend, we
shall be well advanced toward fixing the age of the writer.

The first seventeen of these Sonnets are important in this connection.
They have a common theme: it is that his friend is so fair, so
incomparable, that he owes it to the world, to the poet, whose words
of praise otherwise will not be believed, that he shall marry and
beget a son. The whole argument clearly implies that the writer deems
such admonition necessary, because his friend has passed the age when
marriage is most frequent, and is verging toward the period of life
when marriage is less probable. His friend appears to the writer as
making a famine where abundance lies; he tells him that he beguiles
the world, unblesses some mother; that he is his mother's glass and
calls back the April of her prime; asks him why he abuses the
bounteous largess given him to give; calls him a profitless usurer;
tells him that the hours that have made him fair will unfair him; that
he should not let winter's rugged hand deface ere he has begotten a
child, though it were a greater happiness should he beget ten. He asks
if his failure to marry is because he might wet a widow's eye, and
then in successive Sonnets cries shame on his friend for being so
improvident. He tells him that when he shall wane, change toward age,
he should have a child to perpetuate his youth; and the thought again
brings to the poet the vision of winter, summer's green borne on
winter's bier, and he urges him that he should prepare against his
coming end, by transmitting his semblance to another; that he should
not let so fair a house fall to decay, but should uphold it against
the stormy blasts of winter by begetting a son; seeing in his friend
so much of beauty, he prognosticates that his friend's end is
beauty's doom and date. Noting that nothing in nature can hold its
perfection long, he sees his friend, most rich in youth, but Time
debating with decay, striving to change his day to night, and urges
him to make war upon the tyrant Time by wedding a maiden who shall
bear him living flowers more like him than any painted counterfeit. He
tells him that could he adequately portray his beauty, the world would
make him a liar, and then closes this theme by saying:

    But were some child of yours alive that time,
    You should live twice in it, and in my rhyme.

Any impression as to the age of the poet's friend which this brief
synopsis of the first seventeen Sonnets conveys, I think will be
increased by reading the Sonnets themselves. I have refrained from
stating any portions of Sonnets II. and VII., desiring to present to
the reader their exact words. Sonnet VII. reads as follows:

  Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
  Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
  Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
  Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
  And having _climb'd the steep-up heavenly hill,
  Resembling strong youth in his middle age_,
  Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
  Attending on his golden pilgrimage;
  But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
  Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
  The eyes, 'fore duteous, now converted are
  From his low tract, and look another way:
    _So thou, thyself out-going in thy noon,
    Unlook'd on diest, unless thou get a son._

The poet sees his friend, as is the sun after it has climbed the
morning steep and is journeying on the level heaven toward the zenith.
Certainly that must indicate that his friend was advanced toward the
middle arch of life.

Sonnet II. reads as follows:

  When _forty_ winters shall besiege thy brow
  And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
  Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
  Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
  Then, being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
  Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
  To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
  Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.

    *       *       *       *       *

    This were to be new made when thou art old,
    And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

These lines indicate that his friend had not yet reached forty years.
And equally do they indicate that in the mind of the poet the fortieth
year was not in the ascending scale of life, but was at, or perhaps
beyond, the "highmost pitch" toward which, in the seventh Sonnet, he
described his friend as approaching.[9]

Taking these seventeen Sonnets together, reading and re-reading them,
can we suppose that they were composed by the great delineator, of or
toward a person under or much below thirty? They imply that the person
addressed was not so far below middle life that a statement of the
decadence that would come after his fortieth year presented a remote
or far-off picture. Besides, if his friend was below thirty years,
while it might be well to urge him to marry, hardly would the poet
have used language implying that his marrying days were waning. To
put it roughly, there would not be so much of the now-or-never thought
running through the ornate verse in which the poet voices his appeal.

As we read these seventeen Sonnets, we may perhaps suspect that the
desire that his friend shall marry is so strongly stated and
presented, because it is a theme around which the poet can
appropriately weave so much of compliment and expressions of
admiration and affection. But if that be so, must we not still believe
that the great dramatist could not have addressed them to his friend,
unless in substance and in all their more delicate shades of meaning
and of coloring they were appropriate to him?

We may now pass from this first group to other Sonnets which convey
similar and, I submit, unmistakable intimations as to the age of the
poet's friend or patron.

Sonnet C., especially when read with the one preceding, clearly
indicates that it was written as a greeting or salutation after
absence, and on the poet's return to his friend. In it he says:

  Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
  _If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
  If any, be a satire to decay_,
  And make _Time's spoils_ despised everywhere.
    Give my love fame faster _than Time wastes life_;
    So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife.

Closely following, in Sonnet CIV., the poet says:

  To me, fair friend, _you never can be old_,
  For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
  Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,[10]

    *       *       *       *       *

  In process of the seasons have I seen,

    *       *       *       *       *

  Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
  Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
  Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
  So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
  Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived[11]:
    For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
    Ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.

The thought is: your beauty may be passing; it may be that my eye that
sees it not, is deceived. We should carefully note the words, "Three
winters cold," "Since first I saw you fresh, which _yet_ are green."
Though they present no clear or sharp indication as to the age of his
friend, yet I think that of them this may be fairly said: the word
"green" is used as opposed to ripe or matured, and his friend's age is
such that three years seem to the poet to have carried him a step
toward maturity. And so reading these words, they harmonize with the
expression of the poet's fear that his great love for his friend may
have prevented him from seeing his beauty

            like a dial hand,
     Steal from his figure.

In Sonnet LXX. the poet says of his friend:

    And thou present'st a pure unstained prime.
    Thou hast pass'd by _the ambush of young days_,
    Either not assail'd, or victor being charged.

In Sonnet LXXVII. the poet says:

    The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
    Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
    Thou by thy dial's shady stealth mayst know
    Time's thievish progress to eternity.

Sonnet CXXVI. is as follows:

  O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
  Dost _hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle, hour_;
  Who hast by waning grown, and therein show'st
  Thy _lovers withering as thy sweet self grow'st_;
  If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
  As thou goest onwards, _still_ will pluck thee back,
  She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
  May _time disgrace_ and wretched _minutes_ kill.
  Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
  She may _detain_, but not _still_ keep, her treasure:
    Her audit, though delay'd, answer'd must be,
    And her quietus is to render thee.

This is the last Sonnet which the poet addresses to his friend. Except
the last two, all that follow are of his mistress, and are of the same
theme as Sonnets XL., XLI., and XLII., and, we may fairly infer, are
of the same date. If so, Sonnet CXXVI. is practically the very latest
of the entire series, and we may deem it a leave-taking, perhaps not
of his friend, but of the labor that had so long moved him. Perhaps
for that reason its words should be deemed more significant, and it
should be read and considered more carefully.[12] All its thoughts
seem responsive to the central suggestion that his friend appears much
younger than he is. To the poet he seems still a boy because he has so
held the youth and freshness of boyhood that it is not inappropriate
to say that he holds in his power the glass of Time; Nature has
plucked him back to show her triumph over Time, but she cannot
continue to do so, but will require of him full audit for all his

For what age do such expressions seem natural as words of compliment;
and when first would it have pleased us to be told that we looked
younger than we were, and to one that loved us, still seemed but as a
boy? Hardly much before thirty; till then we took but little account
of years and would have preferred to be told that we seemed manlier
rather than younger than we were. But on this let us further consult
our poet. He tells us that at ten begins the age of the whining
school-boy; at twenty of the lover, sighing like a furnace, and that
of the soldier, a vocation of manhood, at thirty.[13] To me it seems
very clear that the rich poetic fancy of this Sonnet would be greatly
lessened by assuming it to be addressed to a person below twenty-five
years of age, and if it came, as may hereafter appear, from a person
of fifty years or over, its caressing compliments and admonition would
seem quite appropriate for one who had reached the fourth age of life.
The indication of the last four Sonnets, to which I have referred, I
submit, is in entire accord with that of the first group of seventeen.

I would not, however, leave this branch of the discussion without
indicating what I deem is the fair inference or result from it. I do
not claim that the age of the poet's friend can be certainly stated
from anything contained in the Sonnets. It seems to me, however, that
it mars the poetry and makes its notes seem inappropriate and
discordant, to suppose that the poet had in mind a person below
twenty-five years of age. To do so would make some, at least, of his
terms of description inapt, subtract from the sparkle and force of his
compliments, and cause his words of loving admonition and advice to
appear ill-timed and inappropriate. Certainly the Sonnets indicate
that his friend was on the morning side of life and below forty; and
perhaps ten or twelve years below would best fit the verse. It may be,
probably it is the fact, that a number of years, from four to seven,
elapsed between the earliest and the latest of these Sonnets; and that
may explain why we are not able to find any more specific indications
as to the age of his friend.

There are also Sonnets from which it has been inferred that the poet's
friend was much younger than thirty, and possibly or probably below
twenty years of age. A careful examination of these Sonnets will,
however, I think very clearly indicate that no such inference can be
fairly drawn.

In Sonnet LIV. the poet says:

    And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
    When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

In Sonnet XCVI. he says:

    Some say, thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
    Some say, thy grace is youth and gentle sport;

Similar expressions appear in Sonnets II., XV., XXXIII., and XLI.

In Sonnet CXIV. he says:

    Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble.

Sonnet CXXVI., containing the appellation, "my lovely boy," has been
already quoted.[14]

In Sonnet CVIII. he says:

  What's in the brain, that ink may character,
  Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
  What's new to speak, what new to register,
  That may express my love, or thy dear merit?
  Nothing, _sweet boy_; but yet, like prayers divine,
  I must each day say o'er the very same;
  Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
  Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
  So that eternal love in love's fresh case
  _Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
  Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
  But makes antiquity for aye his page_;
    Finding the _first_ conceit of love there bred,
    Where _time_ and _outward form_ would show it dead.

Hardly could any argument for extreme youth be made from any of these
lines, except as based on the term "boy." The term "youth" obviously
has a broader significance, and by no strained construction,
especially if coming from a man of advanced years, may be applied to
persons on the morning side of life without any precise or clear
reference to, or indication of, their age. We should therefore turn to
the lines containing the appellation "boy" for whatever of force there
is in the claim for the extreme youth of the poet's friend. Doing so,
the context in each case clearly indicates that no such inference can
be fairly drawn. In the Sonnet last quoted (CVIII.), the poet, saying
that there is nothing new to register of his love for his friend, and
that he counts nothing old that is so used, then says that his eternal

    Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
    Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place.

Hardly could he have said plainer that his loving appellation, "sweet
boy," is made because he can allow neither his friend, nor his love
for him, nor his own frequent recurring expressions of it, to grow
old; the last two lines of the Sonnet, referring to the indications
of time and outward form, seem to be a continuance and enlargement of
the same thought.

So interpreting his verse it is fresh, sparkling, and complimentary;
but deeming that the person addressed was sixteen or twenty years old,
indeed a mere boy, at least half of the portion of the Sonnet
following the term "sweet boy" is inappropriate and useless. This
Sonnet, I think, might be cited as indicating that, except to the eye
of love, that is in sober fact, the poet's friend was no longer a boy.

Sonnet CXXVI., is quoted at page 28, and discussed, and presented as
clearly stating that his friend was termed a boy only because, as to
him, Time had been hindered and delayed.

There is, however, a further consideration which I think should
effectually dispose of any doubts that may remain on account of the
use of the words "youth" or "boy." In the succeeding portions of this
chapter I shall quote Sonnets indicating, indeed saying, that the poet
was on the sunset side of life--probably fifty years of age or older,
and so at least twenty years older than is indicated of his friend,
except in the Sonnets now being considered. If the poet was fifty
years of age or more, the terms here discussed are amply and fully
satisfied without ascribing to them any definite indication as to the
age of the person addressed. To a person of the age of fifty or sixty
years, addressing a person young enough to be his son, especially if
of a fair and youthful appearance, the expressions "boy" or "youth"
come quite naturally and have no necessary significance beyond
indicating the _relative_ age of the person so addressed.[15] And
especially is this so when the words are used in expressions of
affection and of familiar or caressing endearment.

With such aid as may be had from considering the age of his friend, we
come to the more important inquiry: WHAT WAS THE AGE OF THE AUTHOR
PLAYS? I shall present that which indicates that HE WAS PROBABLY
he wrote the Sonnets.

But if our great poet was forty,--probably if he was thirty-five years
of age, when these Sonnets were composed,--he was born before 1564,
before the birth date of William Shakespeare.

    *       *       *       *       *

The poet clearly indicates that he is older than his friend. In Sonnet
XXII. he says:

  _My glass shall not persuade me I am old_,
  So long as _youth and thou_ are of one date;
  But when in thee time's furrows I behold,
  Then look I death my days should expiate.
  For all that beauty that doth cover thee
  Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
    Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
    How can I then be _elder_ than thou art?

In Sonnet LXXIII. he speaks directly of his own age or period of life,
as follows:

  That _time of year_ thou mayst in me behold
  When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
  Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
  Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
  In _me_ thou seest the _twilight_ of such day
  As _after sunset_ fadeth in the west;
  Which by and by black night doth take away,
  Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
  In me _thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
  That on the ashes of his youth doth lie_,
  As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
  Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
    This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
    To _love that well which thou must leave ere long_.

The latter part of Sonnet LXII. and Sonnet LXIII. are as follows:

  But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
  _Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity_,
  Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
  Self so self-loving were iniquity.
    'T is thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
    Painting _my age with_ beauty of thy days.

  Against my love shall be, _as I am now_,
  With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'erworn;
  _When hours have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
  With lines and wrinkles_; when his youthful morn
  Hath travell'd on to _age's steepy night_,
  And all those beauties whereof now he's king
  Are vanishing or vanish'd out of sight,
  Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
  For such a time do I now fortify
  Against confounding age's cruel knife,
  That he shall never cut from memory
  My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
    His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
    And they shall live, and he in them still green.

It should be noted that the poet is picturing no morning cloud or
storm or eclipse; but his grief is that he has had his morning and his
noon and that he is now at "age's steepy night" _because his sun has
travelled so far in his life's course_. The Sonnet seems to be the
antithesis of Sonnet VII., quoted at page 22. The metaphor is the
same, comparing life to the daily journey of the sun. In each, the
poet views the _steep_ of the journey, the earlier and the later
hours of the day; and while he finds that his friend's age is
represented by the sun passing from the "steep-up" hill to the zenith,
with equal clearness and certainty he indicates that his age is
represented by its last and declining course, that _he_ has "travelled
on to _age's steepy night_." As clearly as words can say, the poet
states that he is on the sunset side of life and indicates that he is
well advanced toward its close.

Sonnet CXXXVIII. is as follows:

  When my love swears that she is made of truth,
  I do believe her, _though I know she lies_,
  That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
  Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
  Thus _vainly_ thinking that she thinks me young,
  _Although she knows my days are past the best_,
  Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
  On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
  _But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
  And wherefore say not I that I am old?_
  O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
  And _age in love loves not to have years told_:
    Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

The poet is here speaking of his mistress, the mistress of his carnal
love, who had in act her bed-vow broke (Sonnet CLII.). Having stated
that when she swears she is true he knows she lies, he adopts the
conceit of asserting that he is not old, as an equivalent to her
obvious falsehood in saying that she is not unjust. This is one of
twenty-six Sonnets relating to his mistress and her desertion of him
for his friend. In Sonnets XL., XLI., and XLII. he complains to his
friend of the same wrong.

The fact that the poet found a subject for his verse in such an
occurrence has been much commented on. Poetic fancy would hardly have
chosen such a theme, and these Sonnets seem to be certainly based on
an actual occurrence. And if so, certainly we may construe them very
literally; and read literally they certainly appear to be an old man's
lament at having been superseded by a younger though much loved rival.

William Shakespeare was a prosperous, a very successful man. In twenty
years he accumulated property which made him a rich man,--yielding a
yearly income of $5000, equivalent to $25,000 dollars at the present
time. He was an actor publicly accredited as a man of amorous
gallantries[16]; he married at eighteen, apparently in haste, and less
than six months before the birth of a child.[17] We know from legal
records that he and his father before him had frequent lawsuits.[18]
While a uniform tradition represents him as comely, pleasing and
attractive, equally does it represent him as a man of ready,
aggressive and caustic wit, and rebellious and bitter against
opposition.[19] The lines on the slab over his grave are less
supplicatory than mandatory against the removal of his bones to the
adjacent charnel-house.[20] His name, often written with a hyphen,
indicates that he came of English fighting stock. When the Sonnets
were written he was in the full tide of success. It is not credible
that such a man at thirty or thirty-five, of buoyant and abounding
life, could have so bewailed the loss of a mistress.

Mr. Lee says that the Sonnets last quoted admit of no literal
interpretation.[21] In other words, as I understand, he concedes that
a literal interpretation is destructive of what he assumes to be the
fact as to the authorship of the Shakespearean plays. By what right or
rule of construction does he refuse them their literal reading? They
indicate no hidden or double meaning, but seem direct though poetic
statements of conditions and resulting reflections and feelings. And
more than that, though appearing in separate groups, their indications
as to age all harmonize, and are not in conflict with any other part
or indication of the Sonnets. Mr. Lee urges that these Sonnets were
mere affectations, conceits common to the poets of that day. That view
will not bear investigation. He cites passages from poets of that time
ascribing to themselves in youth the ills, the miseries, the wrinkles,
the white hairs of age. But such is not the effect of what has been
here quoted. The poet says that it is _his age_ that oppresses him,
and brings him its ills and marks and ravages; and about as clearly as
poetic description is capable of, indicates and says that he is on
the sunset side of his day of life. I cannot at this instant quote,
but I am impressed that in the plays of the great poet, the instances
are frequent where sorrow or despair bring his youthful characters to
picture their lot with the deprivations, the ills or forebodings of
age. But in no such passages is language used which is at all
equivalent to that here quoted. Nowhere does he present such a
travesty as to allow Juliet to describe herself in good straight terms
that would befit her grandmother; and there is nothing that the
much-lamenting Hamlet says which would lead an actor to play the part
with the accessories of age and feebleness with which they represent

Having now called attention to these Sonnets which give direct
indications as to the age of the poet, I ask the reader to consider
again those which I have quoted in relation to the age of his friend,
and particularly Sonnets II. and VII. (pp. 22 and 23). If those
Sonnets came from a poet of the age and infirmities which a literal
reading indicates, how forceful, strong, and poetic is their appeal.
But if it is to be assumed that they were written by a man of thirty
or thirty-five, strong, vigorous, aggressive, fortunate, and
successful, the appeal seems out of harmony, and lacks that delicate
adaptation of speech to surroundings which is characteristic of the

    *       *       *       *       *

I would next call attention to portions of these Sonnets which I do
not present as of themselves having any clearly determinate weight as
to the age of the poet, but which do have great significance from
their correspondence in tone and effect with what has been already
quoted. The poet repeatedly falls into meditations or fancies which
seem more natural to a person on the descending than on the ascending
side of life.

In Sonnets XXX. and XXXI. he says:

  When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
  I summon up _remembrance of things past_,
  I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
  And with old woes _new wail my dear time's waste:_
  Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
  For _precious friends hid in death's dateless night_,
  And weep afresh love's _long since_ cancell'd woe,
  And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
  Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
  And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
  The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
  Which I new pay, as if not paid before.

    *       *       *       *       *

  Thy bosom is endeared with _all hearts_,
  Which I _by lacking have supposed dead_;
  And there reigns love, and all love's loving parts,
  And all those _friends which I thought buried_.
  How many _a holy and obsequious tear_
  Hath dear, religious love stol'n from mine eye,
  As _interest of the dead_, which now appear
  But things removed that hidden in thee lie!
  Thou art the grave _where buried love doth live_,
  Hung with the _trophies of my lovers gone_,
  Who all their parts of me to thee did give:
  That due of many now is thine alone:

In Sonnet LXXI. he says:

  No longer _mourn for me when I am dead_
  Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
  Give warning to the world _that I am fled_
  From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
  Nay, if you read this line, remember not
  The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
  That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
  If thinking on me then should make you woe.

In Sonnet CXXII. he says:

  Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain

    *       *       *       *       *

  Beyond all date, even to eternity:
  Or, at the least, _so long as brain and heart_
  Have faculty by nature to subsist;
  Till each to razed oblivion yield his part.

In Sonnet CXLVI. he says:

  Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
  . . . these rebel powers that thee array,
  Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
  Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
  Why so large cost, having _so short_ a lease,
  Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
  Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
  Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
  Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
  And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
  Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
  Within be fed, without be rich no more:
    So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
    And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

In Sonnets LXVI. and LXXIV. appear further similar meditations. Such
thoughts and meditations do not seem to be those of the successful and
prosperous man of thirty or thirty-five.

The persuasive force of the Sonnets which have been quoted or referred
to in this chapter is much increased by reading or considering them
together. To illustrate: four Sonnets have been quoted containing
direct statements by the poet that he was in the afternoon of life. It
needs no argument to establish that this concurrence of statements
made in different groups of Sonnets and doubtless at different times
has much more than four times the persuasive force of one such
statement. And in like ratio do the other Sonnets indicating the
reflections and conditions of age, increase the weight of the
statements in these four Sonnets. Taking them all together they seem
to present the statements, conditions, and reflections of a man
certainly past the noon of life,--past forty years of age, and so
older than was Shakespeare at the time of their composition.

If this conclusion is correct, it does not aid, but about equally
repels the claim that Bacon was the author of the Sonnets, or of the
plays or poems produced by the same poet. Bacon was born in 1561, and
was therefore but three years older than Shakespeare.


[8] Lee's _Life of Shakespeare_, p. 87; Preface to Sonnets, Temple

[9] In a note to page 30 is the poet's familiar expression or
statement of the Seven Ages of man. It clearly places the decade from
forty to fifty as past the middle arch of life, and next to the age of
the slippered pantaloon and shrunk shank; from thirty to forty he
describes as the age of the soldier, and from twenty to thirty that of
the lover.

[10] It is generally considered that the first of the Shakespearean
plays was produced in 1591. If they were written by an unknown poet
and brought out or published by Shakespeare, the time between their
first joint venture and the earlier date assumed for these Sonnets,
would be _three years_.

[11] The phrase "mine eye may be deceived," may also throw some light
on another subject discussed in this chapter,--the age of the poet.
Such an expression would seem much more natural to a person above,
than to a person below, forty years of age.

[12] See discussion of claim that this Sonnet was addressed to Cupid,
pages 14, 15.

[13] _As You Like It_, Act II., Sc. VII.:

                  "All the world's a stage,
  And all the men and women merely players:
  They have their exits and their entrances;
  And one man in his time plays many parts,
  His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
  Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
  Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
  And shining morning face, creeping like snail
  Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
  Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
  Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
  Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
  Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
  Seeking the bubble reputation
  Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
  In fair round belly with good capon lined,
  With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
  Full of wise saws and modern instances;
  And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
  Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
  With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
  His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
  For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
  Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
  And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
  That ends this strange eventful history,
  Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
  Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing."

[14] Page 28, _supra_.

[15] In Lee's _Life of Shakespeare_, p. 143, appear some statements so
relevant to this discussion that I cannot forbear quoting them:

     "Octavius Cæsar at thirty-two is described by Mark Antony after
     the battle of Actium as the 'boy Cæsar' who 'wears the rose of
     youth' (_Antony and Cleopatra_, III., ii., 17 _seq._). Spenser in
     his _Astrophel_ apostrophizes Sir Philip Sidney on his death near
     the close of his thirty-second year as 'oh wretched boy' (l. 133)
     and 'luckless boy' (l. 142)."

I was at a public dinner given some years ago, at which General Henry
W. Slocum and Colonel Fred Grant were both speakers. In his remarks,
the General, having stated that his friend the Colonel spoke to him
about being a candidate for an office, continued, "I said to him,
'Why, Fred, you are a mere boy,' and his answer to me was, 'Why,
General, I am as old as my father was when he took Vicksburg.'"
General Grant was then forty years old.

[16] Post., pp. 68-70.

[17] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 19-22.

[18] Post., pp. 66-68.

[19] Post., pp. 60-66.

[20] Post., p. 66.

[21] Lee's _Shakespeare_, p. 85.



Sonnets LV. and LXXXI. are as follows:

  Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
  Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
  But _you_ shall shine more bright in these contents
  Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
  When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
  And broils root out the work of masonry,
  Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
  The living record of _your memory_.
  'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
  Shall _you_ pace forth; your praise shall still find room
  Even in the eyes of all posterity
  That wear this world out to the ending doom.
    So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
    _You_ live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

  Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
  Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
  From hence _your_ memory death cannot take,
  Although in _me_ each part will be forgotten.
  _Your_ name from hence immortal life shall have,
  Though I, once gone, _to all the world must die_:
  The earth can yield _me_ but a common grave,
  When _you_ entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
  _Your monument_ shall be _my gentle verse_,
  Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read;
  And tongues to be _your_ being shall rehearse,
  When all the breathers of this world are dead;
    _You_ still shall live--such virtue hath _my_ pen--
    Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

In all the plays and poems of Shakespeare, including these Sonnets,
there is no mention of any man or woman then living. The only mention
of a person then living made by our poet, either in prose or verse, is
in the dedication of the two poems to the Earl of Southampton. To
Shakespeare, to Shakespeare alone, have the Shakespearean poems and
plays been a monument; and for him have they done precisely that which
the poet says his "gentle verse" was to do for his friend; and they
have not done so in any degree for any other.

An anonymous writer in Chambers's _Edinburgh Journal_, in August,
1852, seems to have been one of the first to suggest the doubt as to
the authorship of the Shakespearean plays. His suggestion was that
their real author was "some pale, wasted student ... with eyes of
genius gleaming through despair" who found in Shakespeare a purchaser,
a publisher, a friend, and a patron. If that theory is correct, the
man that penned those Sonnets sleeps, as he said he would, in an
unrecorded grave, while his publisher, friend and patron, precisely as
he also said, has a place in the Pantheon of the immortals.

Very many of these Sonnets seem to be evolved from, or kindred to, the
thought so sharply presented in Sonnets LV. and LXXXI. I would refer
the reader particularly to Sonnets XXXVIII., XLIX., LXXI., LXXII, and
LXXXVIII. The last two lines of Sonnet LXXI. are as follows:

    Lest the _wise_ world should look into your moan,
    And mock you with me after I am gone.

The first lines of Sonnet LXXII. are as follows:

  O! lest the world should task you to recite
  What merit lived in me, that you should love
  After my death, dear love, forget me quite,
  For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
  Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
  To do more for me than mine own desert,
  And hang more praise upon deceased I
  Than _niggard_ truth would _willingly_ impart:

Many of these Sonnets, which otherwise seem entirely inexplicable, and
which have for that reason been held to be imitations or strange and
unnatural conceits, become true and genuine and much more poetic, if
we conceive them to be written, not by the accredited author of the
Shakespearean dramas, but by the unnamed and unknown student whose
connection with them was carefully concealed. I suggest that the
reader test this statement by carefully reading the four Sonnets last

The claim for a literal reading of Sonnet LXXXI. is greatly
strengthened by its context, by reading it with the group of Sonnets
of which it forms a part. Sonnets LXXVII. to XC. all more or less
relate to another poet, who, the author fears, has supplanted him in
the affection, or it may be, in the patronage of his friend. That
particularly appears in Sonnet LXXXVI.:

  Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
  Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
  That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
  Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
  Was it _his_ spirit, by spirits taught to write
  Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
  No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
  Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
  He, nor that affable familiar ghost
  Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
  As victors, of my silence cannot boast;
  I was not sick of any fear from thence:
    But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
    Then lack'd I matter; that enfeebled mine.

That what is there stated as to another poet refers to an actual
transaction, and is to be read literally, is recognized, I think, by
all critics; and many have thought that the description contained in
the Sonnet quoted indicates Chapman, who translated the _Iliad_ about
that time. It is in this group of Sonnets, referring to another poet,
that we find Sonnet LXXXI. The thought of the entire group is
complaint, perhaps jealousy, of a rival poet; and running through them
all are allusions or statements which seem to have been intended to
strengthen the ties between him and his friend,--to hold him if he
meditated going, and to bring him back if he had already strayed. It
was obviously for that purpose that Sonnet LXXXI., one of the central
Sonnets of that group, was written; and, considered as written for
that purpose, how apt and true its language appears! The poet,
asserting that his verse is immortal, says to his friend, the
immortality it confers is yours; "your name from hence immortal life
shall have," but I shall have no share in that fame; "in me each part
will be forgotten," and "earth can yield me but a common grave."
Though the Sonnet is in the highest degree poetic, as a bare statement
of fact it is perfectly apt and appropriate to that which was the
obvious purpose of this group of Sonnets.

It is sometimes claimed that the author of the Shakespearean plays was
a lawyer. Certainly he was a logician and a rhetorician. The clash of
minds and of speech appearing in _Julius_ _Cæsar_, in _Antony and
Cleopatra_, in _Henry IV._, and in many other plays, shows a most
wonderful facility for stating a case, for presenting an argument. Let
us then assume that the poet was simply stating his own case against a
rival poet, presenting his own appeal,--and the verse at once has
added dignity and passion, and we almost feel the poet's heart throb.
Of course the final question--whether or not the two Sonnets printed
at the head of this chapter were founded on the conditions and
situations they state, and whether or not they express actual feelings
and emotions--must be answered by each from a careful reading of the
Sonnets themselves. To me, however, their message of sadness,
loneliness, and implied appeal seems as clear and certain as the
portrayal of agony in the marble of Laocoön.

That Sonnet LV., and perhaps in some degree Sonnet LXXXI., are moulded
after verses of Ovid or Horace, is often mentioned. And it is
mentioned as though that somehow detracted from their meaning or
force. That fact seems to me rather to reinforce that meaning. The
words of Ovid are translated as follows:

  Now have I brought a work to an end which neither Jove's fierce wrath,
  Nor sword nor fire nor fretting age with all the force it hath,
  Are able to abolish quite.[22]

The Ode of Horace has been translated as follows:

  A monument on stable base,
  More strong than Brass, my Name shall grace;
  Than Regal Pyramids more high
  Which Storms and Years unnumber'd shall defy.

  My nobler Part shall swiftly rise
  Above this Earth, and claim the Skies.[23]

Agreeing that the poet had in mind the words of Ovid and of Horace and
believed that his productions would outlast bronze or marble, we see
that, so far following their thoughts, by a quick transition he says
that not he, but his friend, is to have the immortality that his
poetry will surely bring. While this comparison with the Latin poems
may not much aid an interpretation that seemed clear and certain
without it, at least its sudden rending from their thought does not
weaken, but strengthens the effect of the statement that the writer
was to have no part in the immortality of his own poetry.

It may be said that it is entirely improbable that the author of the
greater of the Shakespearean plays should have allowed their guerdon
of fame and immortality to pass to and remain with another. But if we
accept the results of the later criticism, we must then agree,--that
there were at least three poets who wrought in and for the
Shakespearean plays, that two of the three consented that their work
should go to the world as that of another, and that at least one of
the two was a poet of distinctive excellence. At that time the
publication and sale of books was very limited and the relative rights
of publishers and authors were such that the author had but little or
none of the pecuniary results. The theatre was the most promising and
hence the most usual market for literary work, and it seems certain
that poets and authors sold their literary productions to the managers
of theatres, retaining no title or interest in them. However the poet
of the Shakespearean plays may have anticipated the verdict of
posterity, the plays bear most abundant evidence that they were
written to be acted, to entertain and please, and to bring patrons and
profit to the theatres which were in the London of three hundred years

Boucicault was the publisher and accredited author of one hundred and
thirty plays. But no one would deem it improbable that in them is the
work of another, or of many other dramatists.

I submit that the argument from probabilities is without force against
the clear and unambiguous statements of the Sonnets quoted in this


[22] _Ovid's Metamorphoses_, xv., 871-9.

[23] Horace, Book III., Ode XXX.



The Sonnets certainly reveal their author in an attitude of appeal,
more or less open and direct, for the love or favor of his friend. No
fervor of compliment or protestation of affection allows him to forget
or conceal this purpose. When, as is indicated by Sonnets LXXVII. to
XC., he feared that his friend was transferring his favor or patronage
to another poet, his anxiety became acute, and in that group he
compared not only his poetry, but his flattery and commendation with
that of his rival. In Sonnets XXXII. to XXXVII., portraying his grief
at his friend's unkindness, he hastens to forgive; and, as already
stated, in Sonnets XL. to XLIII. and CXXVII. to CLII., chiding his
friend for having accepted the love of his mistress, he crowns him
with poetic garlands of compliment and adulation. Smitten on one
cheek, not only does he turn the other, but he bestows kisses and
caresses on the hand that gave the blow.

All we know of the character of Shakespeare indicates that he was
neither meek and complacent, nor quick and eager in forgiving; but
that his character in those aspects was quite the reverse of the
character of the author of the Sonnets.

Mr. Lee states the effect or result of the various traditions as to
Shakespeare's poaching experiences, and his resentment of the
treatment he had received, as follows[24]:

     'And his [Shakespeare's] sporting experiences passed at times
     beyond orthodox limits. A poaching adventure, according to a
     _credible_[25] tradition, was the immediate cause of his long
     severance from his native place. "He had," wrote Rowe in 1709,
     "by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill
     company, and among them, some, that made a frequent practice of
     deer-stealing, engaged him with them more than once in robbing a
     park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote near
     Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, _as he
     thought, somewhat too severely_; and, _in order to revenge_ that
     ill-usage, he made a ballad upon him, and though this, probably
     the first essay of his poetry, be lost, _yet it is said to have
     been so very bitter_ that it redoubled the prosecution against
     him to that degree that he was obliged to leave his business and
     family in Warwickshire and shelter himself in London." The
     independent testimony of Archdeacon Davies, who was vicar of
     Saperton, Gloucestershire, late in the seventeenth century, is to
     the effect that Shakespeare "was much given to all unluckiness in
     stealing venison and rabbits, particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy,
     who had him oft whipt, and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made
     him fly his native county to his great advancement." The law of
     Shakespeare's day (5 Eliz., cap. 21) punished deer-stealers with
     three months' imprisonment and the payment of thrice the amount
     of the damage done.

     The tradition has been challenged on the ground that the
     Charlecote deer-park was of later date than the sixteenth
     century. But Sir Thomas Lucy was an extensive game-preserver, and
     owned at Charlecote a warren in which a few harts or does
     doubtless found an occasional home. Samuel Ireland was informed
     in 1794 that Shakespeare stole the deer, not from Charlecote, but
     from Fulbroke Park, a few miles off, and Ireland supplied in his
     _Views on the Warwickshire Avon_, 1795, an engraving of an old
     farmhouse in the hamlet of Fulbroke, where he asserted that
     Shakespeare was temporarily imprisoned after his arrest. An
     adjoining hovel was locally known for some years as Shakespeare's
     "deer-barn," but no portion of Fulbroke Park, which included the
     site of these buildings (now removed), was Lucy's property in
     Elizabeth's reign, and the amended legend, which was solemnly
     confided to Sir Walter Scott in 1828 by the owner of Charlecote,
     seems pure invention.

     The ballad which Shakespeare is reported to have fastened on the
     park gates of Charlecote, does not, as Rowe acknowledged,
     survive. No authenticity can be allowed the worthless lines
     beginning, "A parliament member, a justice of peace," which were
     represented to be Shakespeare's on the authority of an old man
     who lived near Stratford and died in 1703. But _such an incident
     as the tradition reveals has left a distinct impress on
     Shakespearean drama. Justice Shallow is beyond doubt a
     reminiscence of the owner of Charlecote._[26] According to
     Archdeacon Davies of Saperton, Shakespeare's "_revenge_ was so
     great" that he caricatured Lucy as "Justice Clodpate," who was
     (Davies adds) represented on the stage as "a great man" and as
     bearing, in allusion to Lucy's name, "three louses rampant for
     his arms." Justice Shallow, Davies's "Justice Clodpate," came to
     birth in the Second Part of _Henry IV._ (1598), and he is
     represented in the opening scene of the _Merry Wives of Windsor_
     as having come from Gloucestershire to Windsor to make a
     Star-Chamber matter of a poaching raid on his estate. The "three
     luces hauriant argent" were the arms borne by the Charlecote
     Lucys, and the dramatist's prolonged reference in this scene to
     the "dozen white luces" on Justice Shallow's "old coat" fully
     establishes Shallow's identity with Lucy.

     The poaching episode is best assigned to 1585, but it may be
     questioned whether Shakespeare, on fleeing from Lucy's
     persecution, at once sought an asylum in London.'

Halliwell gives the following traditions of Shakespeare's sharp
encounters or exchanges of wit[27]:

Mr. Ben Jonson and Mr. Wm. Shakespeare being merry at a tavern, Mr.
Jonson having begun this for his epitaph,--

  Here lies Ben Jonson, that was once one,

he gives it to Mr. Shakespeare to make up, who presently writes,

  Who while he lived was a slow thing
  And now being dead is nothing.

Another version is:

  Here lies Jonson,
  Who was one's son
  He had a little hair on his chin,
  His name was Benjamin!

an amusing allusion to his personal appearance, as any one may see who
will turn to Ben's portrait.

  _Jonson._ If but stage actors all the world displays
  Where shall we find spectators of their plays?

  _Shakespeare._ Little or much of what we see we do;
  We are all both actors and spectators too.
  Ten in the hundred lies here ingrav'd;
  'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not saved;
  If any man ask, Who lies in this tomb?
  Oh! oh! quoth the devil, 'tis my John-a-Combe.
  Who lies in this tomb?
  Hough, quoth the devil, 'tis my son, John-Combe.

The tradition is that the subject of the last six lines having died,
Shakespeare then composed an epitaph as follows:

  Howe'er he lived, judge not,
  John Combe shall never be forgot,
  While poor hath memory, for he did gather
  To make the poor his issue; he their father,
  As record of his tilth and seed,
  Did crown him, in his latter need.

This is said to have been composed of a brother of John-a-Combe:

  Thin in beard, and thick in purse,
  Never man beloved worse,
  He went to the grave with many a curse,
  The devil and he had both one nurse.

A blacksmith is said to have accosted Shakespeare with,--

  Now, Mr. Shakespeare, tell me, if you can,
  The difference between a youth and a young man?

To which the poet immediately replied,--

  Thou son of fire, with thy face like a maple,
  The same difference as between a scalded and a coddled apple.

An old tradition reports that being awakened after a prolonged
carouse, and asked to renew the contest, he refused, saying, I have
drunk with

  Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
  Haunted Hillborough, and Hungry Grafton
  With Dadging Exhall, Papist Wixford
  Beggarly Broom, and Drunken Bidford.

The lines inscribed on the slab above his grave, preventing the
removal of his bones, according to the custom of that time, to the
adjacent charnel-house, are as follows:

  Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
  To dig the dust enclosed heare;
  Bleste be the man that spare these stones,
  And curst be he that moves my bones.[28]

Mr. Lee gives a statement as to Shakespeare's propensity to litigation
as follows[29]:

     'As early as 1598 Abraham Sturley had suggested that Shakespeare
     should purchase the tithes of Stratford. Seven years later, on
     July 24, 1605, he bought for £440 of Ralph Huband an unexpired
     term of thirty-one years of a ninety-two years' lease of a moiety
     of the tithes of Stratford, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and
     Welcombe. The moiety was subject to a rent of £17 to the
     Corporation, who were the reversionary owners on the lease's
     expiration, and of £5 to John Barker, the heir of a former
     proprietor. The investment brought Shakespeare, under the most
     favorable circumstances, no more than an annuity of £38; and the
     refusal of persons who claimed an interest in the other moiety to
     acknowledge the full extent of their liability to the Corporation
     led that body to demand from the poet payments justly due from
     others. After 1609 he joined with two interested persons, Richard
     Lane of Awston, and Thomas Greene, the town clerk of Stratford,
     in a suit in Chancery to determine the exact responsibilities of
     all the tithe-owners, and in 1612 they presented a bill of
     complaint to Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, with what result is
     unknown. His acquisition of a part ownership in the tithes was
     fruitful in legal embarrassments.

     _Shakespeare inherited his father's love of litigation, and
     stood rigorously by his rights in all his business relations._ In
     March, 1600, he recovered in London a debt of £7 from one John
     Clayton. In July, 1604, in the local court at Stratford, he sued
     one Philip Rogers, to whom he had supplied since the preceding
     March malt to the value of £1 19_s._ 10_d._, and had on June 25th
     lent 2_s._ in cash. Rogers paid back 6_s._, and Shakespeare
     sought the balance of the account, £1 15_s._ 10_d._ During 1608
     and 1609 he was at law with another fellow-townsman, John
     Addenbroke. On February 15, 1609, Shakespeare, who was apparently
     represented by his solicitor and kinsman, Thomas Greene, obtained
     judgment from a jury against Addenbroke for the payment of £6 and
     £1 5_s._ costs, but Addenbroke left the town, and the triumph
     proved barren. Shakespeare avenged himself by proceeding against
     one Thomas Horneby, who had acted as the absconding debtor's

The same author gives the following statement as to his reputation for
_sportive adventure_[30]:

     'Hamlet, Othello, and Lear were _rôles_ in which he [Burbage]
     gained especial renown. But Burbage and Shakespeare were popularly
     credited with co-operation in less solemn enterprises. They were
     reputed to be companions in many _sportive_ adventures. The sole
     anecdote of Shakespeare that is _positively known to have been
     recorded in his lifetime_ relates that Burbage, when playing Richard
     III., agreed with a lady in the audience to visit her after the
     performance; Shakespeare, overhearing the conversation,
     anticipated the actor's visit and met Burbage on his arrival with
     the quip that "William the Conqueror was before Richard the

     Such gossip possibly deserves little more acceptance than the
     later story, in the same key, which credits Shakespeare with the
     paternity of Sir William D'Avenant. The latter was baptized at
     Oxford, on March 3, 1605, as the son of John D'Avenant, the
     landlord of the Crown Inn, where Shakespeare lodged in his
     journeys to and from Stratford. The story of Shakespeare's
     parental relation to D'Avenant was long current in Oxford, and
     was at times complacently accepted by the reputed son.
     Shakespeare is known to have been a welcome guest at John
     D'Avenant's house, and another son, Robert, boasted of the kindly
     notice which the poet took of him as a child. It is safer to
     adopt the less compromising version which makes Shakespeare the
     godfather of the boy William instead of his father. _But the
     antiquity and persistence of the scandal belie the assumption
     that Shakespeare was known to his contemporaries as a man of
     scrupulous virtue._'

All the extracts I have here quoted are from writers who admit no
question as to the authorship of the Shakespearean plays. And there is
nothing which they or any biography or tradition bring to us which
presents any act or characteristic at all at variance with the
indications of these quotations. And it is very remarkable how strong
is the concurrence of indications, from the slab above his grave, from
old, musty, and otherwise forgotten records of court proceedings, and
from traditions, whether from the hamlet of his birth or the city
where he wrought and succeeded.

I have not quoted the lines which have been variously handed down as
those which the young Shakespeare affixed to the gate of the wealthy
and powerful Sir Thomas Lucy. Their authenticity is doubtful.[31] But
that the boy Shakespeare, weak and helpless for such a struggle,
resented his treatment and answered back with the only weapon he had,
risking and enduring being driven from his home and birthplace, and
kept good the grudge in the days of his success, I think cannot be
doubted. The records of court proceedings, the imprecation above his
grave, both indicate a man of strong will and not unaccustomed to
mastery. We may reject one or another of the retorts or sallies in
verse, but we must, I think, agree, that the fact that they are
brought to us by recorded and very old traditions, indicates a
character or repute in accordance with their implication; and
especially must this be so, when we find that they agree with the
indications of other evidence not in any degree in question. These
various indications support each other like the bundle of sticks which
together could not be broken. From them I think we learn that
Shakespeare, however pleasant or attractive at times, was not a man
yielding or complacent to opposition or injury; but that he was a man
of fighting blood or instincts, quick in wit and repartee, apt and
inclined for aggressive sally, ready to slash and lay about him in all
encounters,--in short, a very Mercutio in temperament, and in the
lively and constant challenges of his life.

I submit that the records we have of the life of William Shakespeare
concur in indicating a man who could not have written the Sonnets
under the circumstances and with the motives which they reveal.

It should not be overlooked that at the time these Sonnets were
written, certainly as early as 1597 or 1598, Shakespeare was above
pecuniary want, and had begun to make investments, and apparently
regarded himself and was regarded as a wealthy man.[32]


[24] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 27-29.

[25] The italics in this and all the following quotations are my own.

[26] As I have said elsewhere, I do not contend that Shakespeare did
not have a part and a large part in the production of the
Shakespearean plays. My insistence is only that he was not the
transcendent genius to whom we owe their wonderful and unrivalled

[27] Halliwell's _Shakespeare_, pp. 186, 187, 232, 241-245.

[28] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 272, 273.

[29] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 205, 206.

[30] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 264-266.

[31] The different versions of those lines are printed in the

[32] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 193-196.



As has been said before, the Sonnets obviously have a common theme.
They celebrate his friend, his beauty, his winning and lovable
qualities, leading the poet to forgive and to continue to love, even
when his friend has supplanted him in the favors of his mistress. They
are replete with compliment and adulation. Little side views or
perspectives are introduced with a marvellous facility of invention;
and yet in them all, even in the invocation to marry, in the jealousy
of another poet, in the railing to or of his false mistress, is the
face or thought of his friend, apparently his patron. No other poet,
it seems to me, could have filled two thousand lines of poetry with
thoughts to, of, or relating to one person of his own sex. Who that
person was critics have not agreed. But that he was a person who was
somehow connected with the life-work of the poet seems beyond

Mr. Lee, speaking of the purpose of the Sonnets, at pages 125 and 126,

     'Twenty Sonnets, which may for purposes of exposition be entitled
     "dedicatory" Sonnets, are addressed to one who is declared
     without periphrasis and without disguise to be a patron of the
     poet's verse (Nos. XXIII., XXVI., XXXII., XXXVII., XXXVIII.,
     LXIX., LXXVII.-LXXXVI., C., CI., CIII., CVI.). In one of
     these,--Sonnet LXXVIII.,--Shakespeare asserted:

         So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse
         And found such fair assistance in my verse
         As every alien pen hath got my use
         And _under thee their poesy disperse_.

     Subsequently he regretfully pointed out how his patron's
     readiness to accept the homage of other poets seemed to be
     thrusting him from the enviable place of pre-eminence in his
     patron's esteem.

     Shakespeare's biographer is under an obligation to attempt an
     identification of the persons whose relations with the poet are
     defined so explicitly. The problem presented by the patron is
     simple. Shakespeare states unequivocally that he has no patron
     but one.

         Sing [sc. O Muse!] to the ear that doth thy lays esteem,
         And gives thy pen both skill and argument (C. 7-8).
         For to no other pass my verses tend
         Than of your _graces and your gifts to tell_ (CIII. 11-12).

     The Earl of Southampton, the patron of his narrative poems, is
     the only patron of Shakespeare that is known to biographical
     research. No contemporary document or tradition gives the
     faintest suggestion that Shakespeare was the friend or dependent
     of any other man of rank.'

This quotation has been made because it is fair and accurate, because
of the high authority of the book, but principally because it is the
view of one who has no doubt that Shakespeare was the author of the
Shakespearean plays. Research and ingenuity have been taxed to
ascertain who was the unnamed and mysterious friend at whose feet are
laid so many poetic wreaths, woven by such a master. All discussion
has assumed that this friend was a patron, who somehow greatly aided
the poet, and to whom the poet felt himself greatly indebted. And so
it was at once suggested that his friend was one of the nobility or
peers of that age.

The Earl of Southampton (to whom by name _Venus and Adonis_ and
_Lucrece_ were dedicated) has been very generally assumed to be the
person intended. Lord Pembroke [William Herbert] has also been
presented as the unnamed friend.

_I think the Sonnets contain internal evidence that they were not
addressed to either of these peers_, AND WERE NOT ADDRESSED TO ANY ONE

It is very remarkable how narrow is the range of these Sonnets,--how
little they say, convey or indicate as to the person to whom they were
addressed. From the first seventeen Sonnets we infer that the poet
understood that his friend was unmarried; a line in Sonnet III.
perhaps indicates a peculiar pride in his mother, and that it pleased
him to be told that he resembled her; from a line in Sonnet XX., "A
man in hue," etc., it has been inferred that his friend's beard or
hair was auburn, and from Sonnets CXXXV. and CXXXVI. it has been
inferred that his friend was familiarly called "Will," or at any rate
that his name was William. Obviously he was in some way a patron or
helper to our poet, and to another poet as well[33]; he superseded the
poet in the favors of his mistress; he was beautiful, attractive,
genial, and sunny in disposition; that he was not infrequently
responsive to lascivious love is indicated.[34] We have already fully
considered what the Sonnets indicate as to his age. And now I put the
inquiry: Is there anything else as to the poet's friend that these two
thousand lines of poetry state or indicate? With diligent search I can
find in all those lines no other fact indicated or stated as to this
mysterious friend or patron.

In Sonnet CXXIV. the poet says:

  If _my dear love were but_ the child of state,
  It might for Fortune's bastard be unfather'd.

From that it has been argued that his friend was of the nobility, a
"child of state."

Reading those two lines, or reading the entire Sonnet, it seems clear
that if they contain any indication as to the station of his friend,
the indication is rather against than in favor of his being of the
nobility, "a child of state."

I do not think, however, that the lines allow any clear or certain
deduction either way, but have called attention to them because they
are often cited on this point.

In Sonnet XIII. occurs the line,

  Who lets so fair a _house_ fall to decay.

The word "house" as there used has been interpreted as though used in
the sense of the House of York, and so made an implication that his
friend was of a lordly line. Such a far-fetched and unusual
interpretation should not be adopted unless clearly indicated. And the
context clearly indicates that the phrase "so fair a house" is used as
a metaphor for the poet's fair and beautiful body. If this inquiry
were to be affected by far-drawn or even doubtful interpretations, I
might quote from Sonnet LXXXVI. There the poet, referring to his
rival, says:

  But when your _countenance_ fill'd up his line.

By merely limiting the word _countenance_ to its primary meaning, we
may have the inference that his rival's verse was spoken or _acted_ by
his friend, and so that his friend was an actor. I do not think,
however, that either of the two lines last cited are entitled to any
weight as argument, but they illustrate the distinction between lines
or Sonnets which may be the basis of surmise or conjecture, and those
elsewhere cited, to which two different effects cannot be given
without rending their words from their natural meaning.

    *       *       *       *       *

The Earl of Southampton was born in 1573. He bore an historic name;
fields, forests, and castles were his and had come to him from his
ancestors; all of England that was most beautiful or most attractive
was in the circle in which he moved and to which his presence
contributed. In 1595 he appeared in the lists at a tournament in honor
of the Queen; in 1596 and 1597 he joined in dangerous and successful
naval and military expeditions; in 1598 he was married.[35] Is it
conceivable that two thousand lines of adulatory poetry could have
been written to and of him, and no hint appear of incidents like
these? It is simply incredible. What is omitted rather than what is
said clearly indicates that the life of the poet's friend presented no
such incidents,--indeed no incidents which the poet chronicler of
court and camp would interweave in his garlands of loving compliment.

Urging his friend to marry, the poet, comparing the harmony of music
to a happy marriage, in Sonnet VIII. says:

  Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
  Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
  Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
  Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
    Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
    Sings this to thee: "Thou single wilt prove none."

But is it not a little strange that the pen that drew Rosalind and
Juliet should have gone no farther, when by a touch he could have
filled it with suggestions of the fair, the stately and the titled maidens
who were in the court life of that day, and whose names and faces and
reputed characters must have been known to the poet, whatever his place or
station in London? How would a tracing of a mother, nobly born, or of a
lordly but deceased father, of some old castle, of some fair eminence, of
some grand forest, or of ancestral oaks shading fair waters, have lightened
the picture! And could the poet who gave us the magnificent pictures of
English kings and queens, princes and lords--could that poet, writing to
and of one of the fairest of the courtly circle of the reign of Elizabeth,
so withhold his pen that it gives no hint that his friend was in or of
that circle, or any suggestion of his most happy and fortunate
surroundings? Surely, in painting so fully the beauties of his friend,
the poet would have allowed to appear some hint of the beauty of light
and color in which he moved.

I have before me in the book of Mr. Lee, a copy of the picture of the
Earl of Southampton painted in Welbeck Abbey. The dress is of the
court; and the sword, the armor, the plume and rich drapery all
indicate a member of the nobility. Could our great poet in so many
lines of extreme compliment and adulation have always omitted any
reference to the insignia of rank which were almost a part of the
young Earl; and would he always have escaped all reference to coronet
or sword, to lands or halls, or to any of the employments or sports,
privileges or honors, then much more than now, distinctive of a peer
of the realm?

And all that is here said equally repels the inference that these
Sonnets were addressed to any person connected with the nobility. The
claim that they were addressed to Lord Pembroke [William Herbert] I
think is exploded, if it ever had substance.[36] Lord Pembroke did not
come to London until 1598 and was then but eighteen years old. There
is not a particle of evidence that he and Shakespeare had any
relations or intimacy whatever.

While I regard the view that the Sonnets were addressed to Southampton
as entirely untenable, it nevertheless has this basis,--two of the
Shakespearean poems were dedicated to Southampton. At least we may
say that, if they were addressed to any person of that class, there is
a strong probability in his favor. And in order to consider that claim
I would ask the reader to turn back to Sonnet II., page 23. That
certainly is one of the very earliest of the Sonnets, almost certainly
written when Shakespeare was not older than thirty and Southampton not
over twenty-one years of age. With these facts in mind, the assumption
that those lines were addressed to the Earl of Southampton becomes
altogether improbable. Can we imagine a man of thirty, in the full
glow of a vigorous and successful life, saying to a friend of
twenty-one,--you should marry now, because when you are _forty years_
old (about twice your present age and ten years above my own) your
beauty will have faded and your blood be cold?

We should not so slander the author of the Shakespearean plays.

    *       *       *       *       *

The language of the Sonnets implies a familiarity and equality of
intercourse not consistent with the theory that they were addressed
to a peer of England by a person in Shakespeare's position.[37]

The dedication of _Lucrece_, which apparently was written in 1593,
omits no reference to title, and envinces no disposition or privilege
to ignore the rank or dignities of the Earl. I will quote no
particular Sonnet on this point; but the impression which the entire
series seems to me to convey, is that the poet was addressing a friend
separated from him by no distinction of rank. Sonnets XCVI. and XCVII.
are instances of such familiarity of address and communication.

    *       *       *       *       *

On the other hand, there is not a single indication which the Sonnets
contain as to the poet's friend which in any manner disagrees with
what we know of Shakespeare. It may be said that being married the
invocation to marry could not have been addressed to him. But the test
is,--how did he pass, how was he known in London, as married or unmarried?
He is supposed to have come to London in 1586, or when he was twenty-two
years of age, and he was then married and had three children. He remained
in London about twenty-five years, and there is no indication that any
member of his family ever resided there or visited him, and the clear
consensus of opinion seems to be that they did not.[38] The indications
that he had little love for his wife are regrettably clear.[39] When the
earlier Sonnets were written he must have been living there about nine
years, and must have had an income sufficient easily to have maintained
his family in the city.[40] That he led a life notoriously free as to women
cannot be questioned. Traditions elsewhere referred to so indicate[41]; and
whether the Sonnets were written by or to him they equally so testify.
Under such circumstances his friends or acquaintances would not be
led to presume that he was married, but would assume the contrary.
They would have done or considered precisely as we do, classing our
friends as married or unmarried, as their mode of life indicates.
Hence the invocation to marry is entirely consistent with the theory
that the Sonnets were addressed to Shakespeare. When Sonnet CIV. was
written, the poet had known his friend but three years[42]; the
Sonnets referring to marriage are printed first, and very probably
were written much earlier than Sonnet CIV., and perhaps when their
acquaintance was first formed. The fact that the appeal ceases with
the seventeenth Sonnet, and that after that there is not even a hint
of marrying, or of female excellence and beauty, perhaps indicates
that the first seventeen Sonnets had provoked a disclosure which
restrained the poet from further reference to those subjects.

    *       *       *       *       *

The starting point in this chapter is the fact stated by Mr. Lee, and
I think conceded or assumed by all writers on these Sonnets,--that
they were written to some one intimately connected with the
Shakespearean plays, either as a patron or in some other manner. Many,
perhaps all, of the plays were produced, and in that way published, at
the theatre where Shakespeare acted. Those of the higher class or
order as well as those of the lower class were published as his. Those
most strenuous in supporting the claims of authorship for Shakespeare,
have, I think, generally conceded that the plays, as we now have them,
reveal in various parts the work of more than one author. And from
that it has been suggested that Shakespeare must have had a
fellow-worker,--a collaborator. Lee's _Shakespeare_, Brandes's
_Critical Study of Shakespeare_, and the Temple edition of
Shakespeare's works, are practically agreed on this fact in relation
to _Henry VI._, _Henry VIII._, _Titus Andronicus_, and some other
plays. There must have been a very considerable degree of intercourse
between the two persons who worked together even on a single one of
these plays. And there are Sonnets which at least suggest a degree
and kind of intercourse and communication between the poet and his
friend which such a relation would require.

Chiding his friend for absence in Sonnets LVII. and LVIII., the poet
indicates such waiting and watching as would come to him had their
relations been very intimate, and perhaps indicates that he and his
friend lodged together.

Those Sonnets are as follows:

  Being your slave, what should I do but tend
  Upon the _hours_ and times of your desire?
  I have no precious time at all to spend,
  Nor _services_ to do, _till you require_.
  Nor dare I chide the _world-without-end hour_
  Whilst I, my sovereign, _watch the clock for you_,
  Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
  When you have bid your servant once adieu;
  Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
  _Where you may be_, or your affairs suppose,
  But, _like a sad slave, stay_ and think of nought
  Save, _where you are how happy_ you make those.
    So true a fool is love that in your will,
    Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

  That God forbid that made me first your slave,
  I should _in thought control your times of pleasure_,
  Or at your hand the account of _hours_ to crave,
  Being your vassal, _bound to stay your leisure_!
  O, let me suffer, being at your beck,
  The imprison'd absence of your liberty;
  And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
  Without accusing you of injury.
  Be where you list, your charter is so strong
  That _you yourself may privilege your time
  To what you will_; to you it doth belong
  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
    I am to _wait_, though waiting so be hell,
    Not _blame your pleasure_, be it ill or well.

I am not unaware that there are other Sonnets which indicate that they
lived apart, though it is of course quite possible that they lived
apart at one time and together at another. But whether or not they at
any time lodged together, these Sonnets indicate that their lives were
brought together by some common purpose, and that hours and seasons of
communication and perhaps of kindred labor were frequent to them. Our
affections or friendships do not blossom in untilled fields; it is the
comradeship of common effort, mutually helpful and beneficial, that
more than often determines the impalpable garments and coverings of
our lives. Certainly we may believe that the two characters that fill
these two thousand lines of poetry did not live and move so far apart
as were the busy actor at a theatre and the courted and adventurous
peer of England.

If the friend to whom the Sonnets were addressed was Shakespeare, and
if the author of the Sonnets and of the accredited Shakespearean plays
was some "pale, wasted," and unknown student who sold his labors and
his genius to another, we may perhaps see how they would have had
frequent interviews and hours of labor, and how Shakespeare might have
had all the relations to the poet, which the Sonnets imply of the
poet's friend. But if Shakespeare, then well advanced both to fame and
fortune, was the poet it is very difficult to imagine any one person
who could have borne to him all the relations which the Sonnets
indicate--patron or benefactor and familiar associate and companion; a
rival and successor in the favors of his mistress, and a loved or at
least cherished friend.

While I present the view that some unknown student wrote, and
Shakespeare adopted and published, the Shakespearean plays, I do not
deny to Shakespeare a part, perhaps a large part, in their production.
As I have said, there are many plays attributed to Shakespeare, some
or the greater portions of which are distinctively of a lower class
than the greater plays or the Sonnets. The theory of collaboration
affects at least six plays commonly classed as Shakespearean, and
perhaps others classed as doubtful plays. Why is not the situation
satisfied if we ascribe to Shakespeare a capacity equal to the
composition of _Titus Andronicus_? That is a play which seems to have
been attractive from its plot and the character of its incidents. In
it, however, there are but few lines that seem to be from the same
author as the Sonnets and the greater of the recognized Shakespearean
plays. The remainder of the play has no poetic merit which raises it
far above the rustic poetry which is handed down by tradition as
Shakespeare's. And if we give the unknown student all credit for
authorship of the finer poetry of the greater dramas, may we not still
assume that Shakespeare labored with him, assisting in moulding into
form adapted to the stage the poetry that burst from his friend with
volcanic force; or that he perhaps sometimes suggested the side lights
and sudden transitions which appear so often,--for instance, in the
grave scene in _Hamlet_ or the nurse's part in _Romeo and Juliet_?[43]
And if some great unknown was the sole author and Shakespeare was the
publisher and was to take part in the representation of these plays,
may we not still, however they lodged, find ample occasion for the
waiting hours of the poet, which would be entirely unexplained if the
person addressed was the Earl of Southampton or some other member of
the nobility?

Such a view explains very much which is otherwise inexplicable. If
into that series of publications came the genius of the unknown author
of the Sonnets, touching some of the plays like stray sunbeams, and as
the work progressed absorbing and filling all their framework,--it
must yet be assumed that he did not labor without recompense. And so
we may believe that Shakespeare from friend became patron, and that
this employment, coming as the poet was passing to life's "steepy
night," gave him the means and the leisure for those dreams of lovers,
of captains and of kings, so visioned on his brain that he wrote of
them as of persons real and living. So regarding the author of the
Sonnets, we appreciate his jealousy, when (as perhaps in _Henry
VIII._) another and almost equal poet was employed, and may understand
how he could blame his false mistress and yet forgive his friend. His
poetry and the opportunity and leisure for its enjoyment was his real
mistress, like the love of Andromache for Hector displacing and
absorbing all other loves.

    *       *       *       *       *

If the Sonnets were written by Shakespeare, who the friend and patron
so intimately related to the poet and his work was, is a riddle still
unsolved; but if they were written by some unknown poet, the obvious
and reasonable inference is that they were addressed to

It may be asked why I would leave anything as the work of Shakespeare,
if I deny to him the authorship of the greater plays. My answer is
this: I believe he did not write the Sonnets; and if the Sonnets are
the work of another, I think it fairly follows that the great dramas,
considered as mere poetry, are so clearly in the same class as the
Sonnets, that we must ascribe the authorship of the greater
Shakespearean dramas to the same great unknown.

When it is once agreed that any considerable portions of the plays
credited to Shakespeare are from different authors, almost the entire
force of the argument resting on report or tradition is destroyed;
because report or tradition is about equally satisfied and equally
antagonized by ascribing to him the authorship of either section into
which the admission of dual authorship concedes that they are divided.

That Shakespeare must have had a genius for dramatic work,--though not
necessarily for poetry,--his success as a reputed dramatist and as a
manager, all his history and traditions, very clearly indicate. And
conceding him that, why is not the situation fully satisfied by
considering that he was the lesser, or one of the lesser, rather than
the greater of the collaborators; and that his knowledge of the stage
and his talent for conceiving proper dramatic effects or situations,
made his labors valuable to the greater poet, aiding him to give to
his works a dramatic form and movement which many other great poets
have entirely failed to attain. So considering, the Shakespearean
plays will in some degree still seem to us the work of the gentle
Shakespeare, although in large part the product of the older and more
mature mind, the dreaming and loving recluse and student, who could

  _Your name_ from hence immortal life shall have,
  Though _I_, once gone, to all the world must die:
  The earth can yield _me_ but a common grave,
  When _you_ entombed in men's eyes shall lie.

And so believing, may we not still go with reverent feet to that grave
upon the Avon? For there, as I conceive, sleeps he whose sunny graces
won the undying love of the greatest of lovers and of poets, and whose
assistance and support made possible the dreaming hours and days in
which were delivered from his loving friend's overburdened brain the
marvellous and matchless creations of the Shakespearean anthology.



[34] Sonnets XCV. and XCVI.

[35] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 377-380.

[36] Lee's _Shakespeare_, p. 406.

[37] It was not until 1596 or 1599 that a coat of arms was granted to
John Shakespeare, the father of William. That appears to have been
granted on the application of the son, and to have been allowed, in
part at least, because his wife, the mother of William, was the
daughter of Robert Arden, gentleman. The grant gave the father the
title of Esquire and not of Gentleman. Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp.

[38] Lee's _Shakespeare_, p. 26; Halliwell's _Life of Shakespeare_, p.
133; Grant White's _Introductory Life of Shakespeare_, pp. 25, 42.

[39] Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp. 22-26, 273, 274.

[40] Halliwell's _Shakespeare_, p. 172, Lee's _Shakespeare_, pp.

[41] See pp. 68-70, _supra_.

[42] The portion of Sonnet CIV. relevant to this point is printed at
page 26, _supra_.

[43] These plays contain names of places and persons, and allusions
and references, which could hardly have been made had Shakespeare been
a stranger to their composition. In _As You Like It_, the forest has
his mother's family name, "Arden"; the allusion to Sir Thomas Lucy,
has already been noticed. Page 63, _supra_.

[44] While I speak of the poet of the Sonnets and of the greater plays
as unknown, I can but believe that the Sonnets, when carefully studied
in connection with contemporaneous history and chronicles, will yet
afford an adequate clew to his identification. It occurs to me that a
promising line of inquiry might be made on this assumption,--that the
poet was born about twenty years before Shakespeare and died soon
after the production of the plays ceased, or when about sixty-five or
seventy years of age; that he had reverses and disappointments,
perhaps humiliations; that his name was William, and that he had
written other works before he wrote the Shakespearean plays. It is
also possible, although I think not probable, that the initials, W.
H., appearing in the introduction to these Sonnets may refer to him.
That he had produced earlier works, I think is shown by Sonnet LXXVI.
The first lines of that Sonnet are as follows:

  "Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
  So far from variation of quick change?
  Why with the time do I not glance aside
  To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
  _Why write I still all one, ever the same,
  And keep inventions in a noted weed,
  That every word doth almost tell my name_,
  Showing their birth and where they did proceed?"



The result of the preceding discussion, as it appears to me, is as

The Sonnets were not written by Shakespeare, but it is very probable
that he was the friend or patron around whom their poetry moves and to
whom most of them are addressed.

Reading the entire series with that theory in mind, very many
difficulties of interpretation are entirely overcome. Without this
theory so many of the Sonnets seem blind, or obviously false or
inaccurate, that many have been led to the inference of conceits,
affectations, imitations, or hidden meanings. Adopting the theory here
presented, there is neither reason nor excuse for giving to their
words any other than their natural or ordinary meaning.

I would not deny to Shakespeare great talent. His success in and with
theatres certainly forbids us to do so. That he had a bent or a talent
for rhyming or for poetry, an early and persistent tradition and the
inscription over his grave indicate. And otherwise there could hardly
have been attributed to him so many plays beside those written by the
author of the Sonnets.

Assuming that the Sonnets were not written by him, it would then seem
clear that to Shakespeare, working as an actor, adapter or perhaps
author, came a very great poet, one who outclassed all the writers of
that day, in some respects all other writers; and that it is the
poetry of that great unknown which, flowing into Shakespeare's work,
comprises all, or nearly all of it which the world treasures or cares
to remember. I would not dispute any claim made for Shakespeare for
dramatic as distinguished from poetic talent, for wit, or comely or
captivating graces. The case is all with him there,--at least there is
no evidence to the contrary. But I insist that the Sonnets reveal
another poet, and reveal that those great dramas, or at least that
those portions of them which are in the same class or grade of poetry
as the Sonnets, were the work of that great unknown.


The different versions of the verses which Shakespeare is alleged to
have composed on Sir Thomas Lucy are as follows:

  A parliamente member, a justice of peace,
  At home a poore scare-crow, at London an asse;
  If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it,
  Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befalle it:
    He thinkes himselfe greate,
    Yet an asse in his state
  We allowe by his eares but with asses to mate.
  If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it,
  Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befalle it.

    Sir Thomas was too covetous
     To covet so much deer,
    When horns enough upon his head
     Most plainly did appear.

    Had not his worship one deer left?
     What then? He had a wife
    Took pains enough to find him horns
     Should last him during life.

Transcriber's Notes:
  The following printing errors were corrected:
     "Adronicus" corrected to "Andronicus" (book page 10).
     "Th" corrected to "The" (Footnote 11).
     "of" corrected to "on" (Footnote 11).

  Comma changed to period at the end of Footnote 1.

  Passages in italics indicated by underscore _italics_.

  Otherwise, all printing is as appears in the original.

  Additional spacing after some of the poetry and block quotes is
    intentional to indicate both the end of a quotation and the beginning
    of a new paragraph as is in the original text.

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