The Sonnet, together with the Ottava Rima, seems to have been theinvention of the Provincial bards, but to have been reduced to itspresent rhythmical prosody by some of the earliest Italian poets. It isa short monody, or Ode of one stanza containing fourteen lines, withuncommonly frequent returns of rhymes more or less combined. But thedisposition of the rhymes has been sometimes varied according to thecaprice or the convenience of the writer. There is a sonnet of theregular construction in the Provincial dialect, written by Guglielmo degli Amalricchi, on Robert king of Naples who died in 1321. But theItalian language affords earlier examples. (The multitude of identicalcadences renders it a more easy and proper metre to use in Italian thanin English verse.)
No species of verse appears to have been more eagerly and universallycultivated by the Italian poets, from the fourteenth century to thepresent times. Even the gravest of their epic and tragic writers haveoccasionally sported In these lighter bays. (A long list of them isgiven in the beginning of the fourth Volume of Quadrios History ofItalian Poetry.) But perhaps the most elegant Italian sonnets are yet tobe found in Dante. Petrarch's sonnets are too learned (metaphysical) andrefined. Of Dante's compositions in this style I cannot give a betteridea, than in (the ingenious) Mr. Hayley's happy translation of Dante'sbeautiful sonnet to his friend Guido Calvacanti [sic], written in hisyouth, and probably before the year 1300.
Henry! I wish that you, and Charles, and I,
By some sweet spell within a bark were plac'd,
A gallant bark with magic virtue grac'd,
Swift at our will with every wind to fly:[Pg 3]
So that no changes of the shifting sky
No stormy terrors of the watery waste,
Might bar our course, but heighten still our taste
Of sprightly joy, and of our social tie:
Then, that my Lucy, Lucy fair and free,
With those soft nymphs on whom your souls are bent,
The kind magician might to us convey,
To talk of love throughout the livelong day:
And that each fair might be as well content
As I in truth believe our hearts would be.
We have before seen, that the Sonnet was imported from Italy intoEnglish poetry, by lord Surrey and Wyat, about the middle of thesixteenth century. But it does not seem to have flourished in itslegitimate form, till towards the close of the reign of queen Elisabeth.What I call the legitimate form, in which it now appeared, was notalways free from licentious innovations in the rythmical arrangement.
To omit Googe, Tuberville [sic], Gascoigne, and some other petty writerswho have interspersed their miscellanies with a few sonnets, and whowill be considered under another class, our first professed author inthis mode of composition, after Surrey and Wyat, is Samuel Daniel. HisSonnets called Delia, together with his Complaint of Rosamond,were printed for Simon Waterson, in 1591. It was hence that the nameof Delia, suggested to Daniel by Tibullus, has been perpetuated in thesong of the lover as the name of a mistress. These pieces are dedicatedto Sir Philip Sydney's sister, the general patroness, Mary countess ofPembroke. But Daniel had been her preceptor. It is not said inDaniel's Life, that he travelled. His[Pg 4] forty-eighth sonnet is said tohave been "made at the authors being in Italie." Delia does notappear to have been transcendently cruel, nor were his sufferingsattended with any very violent paroxysms of despair. His style and hisexpressions have a coldness proportioned to his passion. Yet as he doesnot weep seas of tears, nor utter sighs of fire, he has the merit ofavoiding the affected allusions and hyperbolical exaggerations of hisbrethren. I cannot in the mean time, with all these concessions in hisfavour, give him the praise of elegant sentiment, true tenderness, andnatural pathos. He has, however, a vigour of diction, and a volubilityof verse, which cover many defects, and are not often equalled by hiscontemporaries. I suspect his sonnets were popular. They are commended,by the author of the Return from Parnassus, in a high strain ofpanegyric.
Sweet honey-dropping Daniel doth wage
War with the proudest big Italian
That melts his heart in sugar'd sonnetting.
But I do not think they are either very sweet, or much tinctured withthe Italian manner. The following is one of the best; which I the ratherchuse to recite, as it exemplifies his mode of compliment, and containsthe writer's opinion of Spenser's use of obsolete words.
Let others sing of knights & Paladines,
In aged accents, and untimely words,
Paint shadowes in imaginarie lines,
Which well the reach of their high wit records;
But I must sing of thee, and those faire eyes
Autentique shall my verse in time to come,
When yet th' vnborne shall say "Loe, where she lyes,
Whose beauty made Him speak that els was dombe."[Pg 5]
These are the arkes, the trophies I erect,
That fortifie thy name against old age,
And these thy sacred vertues must protect
Against the Darke, & Times consuming rage.
Though th' errour of my youth they shall discouer,
Suffise, they shew I liu'd, and was thy louer.
But, to say nothing more, whatever wisdom there may be in allowing thatlove was the errour of his youth, there was no great gallantry intelling this melancholy truth to the lady.
Daniel is a multifarious writer, and will be mentioned again. I shalladd nothing more of him here than the following anecdote. When he was ayoung student at Magdalen-Hall in Oxford, about the year 1580,notwithstanding the disproportion of his years, and his professedaversion to the severer acadamical [sic] studies, the Dean and Canons ofChristchurch, by a public capitular act now remaining, gave Daniel ageneral invitation to their table at dinner, merely on account of theliveliness of his conversation.
About the same time, Thomas Watson published his Hecatompathia, Or thepassionate century of love, a hundred sonnets. I have not been ableto discover the date of this publication: but his First set ofItalian Madrigals appeared at London, in 1590. I have called themsonnets: but they often wander beyond the limits, nor do they alwayspreserve the conformation [or] constraint, of the just ItalianSonetto. Watson is more brilliant than Daniel: but he isencumbered with conceit and the trappings of affectation. In thelove-songs of this age, a lady with all her load of panegyric, resemblesone of the unnatural factitious figures which we sometimes see among thefemale portraits at full length of the[Pg 6] same age, consisting only ofpearls, gems, necklaces, earings, embroidery, point-lace, farthingale,fur, and feathers. The blooming nymph is lost in her decorations.Watson, however, has sometimes uncommon vigour and elegance. As in thefollowing description.
Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold,
Her sparkling eyes in heau'n a place deserue;
Her forehead high and faire, of comelie mould,
Her wordes are musical, of syluer sound, &c.
Her eye-browe hangs like Iris in the skies,
Her eagle's nose is straite, of stately frame;
On either cheeke a rose and lillie lyes;
Her breathe is sweet perfvme, or holie flame:
Her lippes more red than any coral-stone, &c.
Her breast transparent is, like cristal rock,
Her fingers long, fit for Apollo's lute,
Her slipper such, as Momus dare not mock,
Her virtues are so great, as make me mute, &c.
Spenser's Sonnets were printed with his Epithalamium. They areentered, in the year 1593, under this title to William Ponsonby,"Amoretti, and Epithalamium, written not long since by EdmondSpencer." In a recommendatory sonnet prefixed, by G. W. senior, itappears that Spenser was now in Ireland. Considered under the idea whichtheir title suggests, undoubtedly these pieces are too classical,abstracted, and even philosophical. But they have many strokes ofimagination and invention, a strength of expression, and a stream ofversification, not unworthy of the genius of the author of the FaerieQueene. On the whole however, with the same metaphysical flamewhich Petrarch felt for the accomplished Laura, with more panegyric[Pg 7]than passion, Spenser in his sonnets seldom appeals to the heart, andtoo frequently shews more of the poet and the scholar than of the lover.The following, may be selected in illustration of this opinion.
When those renowned noble peers of Greece,
Through stubborne pride among themselues did iar,
Forgetful of the famous golden fleece,
Then Orpheus with his harp their strife did bar.
But this continual, cruel, civil war,
The which myselfe against myselfe doe make,
Whilst my weake powres of passions warried arre,
No skill can stint, nor reason can aslake.
But when in hand my tunelesse harpe I take,
Then doe I more augment my foes despight,
And grief renew, and passion doe awake
To battaile fresh against myselfe to fight.
Mongst whom, the more I seeke to settle peace,
The more I find their malice to increase.
But the following is in a more intelligible and easy strain, and haslent some of its graces to the storehouse of modern compliment. Thethought on which the whole turns is, I believe, original, for I do notrecollect it in the Italian poets.
Ye tradeful Merchants, that with weary toyle,
Doe seek most precious things, to make your gaine,
And both the Indias of their treasure spoile;
What needeth you to seeke so farre in vaine?
For lo, my Love doth in herselfe containe[Pg 8]
All this worlds riches that may farre be found:
If saphyres, loe, her eyes be saphyres plaine;
If rubies, loe, her lips be rubies sound;
If pearles, her teeth be pearles both pure & round;
If iuorie, her forehead iuorie were [wene];
If gold, her locks are finest gold on ground;
If siluer, her faire hands are siluer sheene:
But that which fairest is, but few behold,
Her mind adornd with vertues manifold.
The last couplet is platonic, but deduced with great address andelegance from the leading idea, which Gay has apparently borrowed in hisbeautiful ballad of Black-eyed Susan.
Among the sonnet-writers of this period, next to Spenser I placeShakespeare. Perhaps in brilliancy of imagery, quickness of thought,variety and fertility of allusion, and particularly in touches ofpastoral painting, Shakespeare is superiour. But he is more incorrect,indigested, and redundant: and if Spenser has too much learning,Shakespeare has too much conceit. It may be necessary however to readthe first one hundred & twenty six sonnets of our divine dramatist aswritten by a lady: for they are addressed with great fervency yetdelicacy of passion, and with more of fondness than friendship, to abeautiful youth. Only twenty six, the last bearing but a smallproportion to the whole number, and too manifestly of a subordinatecast, have a female for their object. But under the palliative I havesuggested, many descriptions or illustrations of juvenile beauty,pathetic endearments, and sentimental declarations of hope ordisappointment, which occur in the former part of this collection, willlose their impropriety and give pleasure without disgust. The following,a few lines omitted, is[Pg 9] unperplexed and elegant.
How like a winter has my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness every where!
And yet this time, remov'd, was summer's time;
The teeming autumn big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime, &c.
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute:
Or, if they sing, 'tis with so dull a chear,
That leaues look pale, dreading the winter's near.
In the next, he pursues the same argument in the same strain.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress'd in all his trim,
Has put a sprite of youth in euery thing;
That heauy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet not the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lilies white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion of the rose:
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after thee, thou pattern of all those!
Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow, I with these did play.
Here are strong marks of Shakespeare's hand and manner. In the next, hecontinues his play with the flowers. He chides the forward violet, asweet thief, for stealing the fragrance of the boy's breath, and forhaving died his veins with too rich a purple. The lilly is condemned forpresuming to emulate the whiteness of his hand, and buds of marjoramfor stealing the ringlets of his hair. Our lover is then seduced intosome violent fictions of the same kind; and after much ingeniousabsurdity concludes more rationally,
More flowres I noted, yet I none could see,
But sweet or colour it had stolne from thee.
Shakespeare's Sonnets were published in the year 1599. I rememberto have seen this edition, I think with Venus and Adonis and the rapeof Lucrece, a very small book, in the possession of the late Mr Thomsonof Queen's College Oxford, a very curious and intelligent collector ofthis kind of literature. But they were circulated in manuscriptbefore the year 1598. For in that year, they are mentioned by Meres."Witness his [Shakespeare's] Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, hissugred Sonnets among his priuate friends, &c." They were reprintedin the year 1609; one hundred & fifty four in number. They were firstprinted under Shakespeares name, among his Poems, in the year 1717, bySewel, who had no other authority than tradition. But that they wereundoubtedly written by Shakespeare, the frequent intermixture ofthoughts and expressions which now appear in his plays, and, what ismore, the general complexion of their phraseology & sentiment,abundantly demonstrate, Shakespeare cannot be concealed. Their lateingenious editor is of opinion, that Daniel was Shakespeare's model.
I have before incidentally mentioned Barnefield's Sonnets, which,like Shakespeare's, are adressed [sic] to a boy. They are flowery andeasy. Meres recites Barnefelde among the pastoral writers. Thesesonnets,[Pg 11] twenty in number, are written in the character of a shepherd:and there are other pieces by Barnefield which have a pastoral turn, inEnglands Helicon. Sir Philip Sydney had made every thing Arcadian. Iwill cite four of this authors best lines, and such as will be leastoffensive.
Some talk of Ganymede th' Idalian boy,
And some of faire Adonis make their boast;
Some talke of him whom louely Leda lost
And some of Echo's loue that was so coy, &c.
Afterwards, falling in love with a lady, he closes these sonnets with apalinode.
I have before found occasion to cite the Sonnets of H. C. called Dianaprinted in 1592. As also Dieella [sic], or Sonnets by R. L.printed in 1596. With these may be mentioned a set of Sonnets,entitled Fidessa more chaste than kinde. By B. Griffin, Gent. AtLondon. Printed by the Widow Orwin for Matthew Lownes, 1596. Theyare dedicated to Mr William Essex of Lambourne in Berkshire. Thenfollows a deprecatory address to the gentlemen of the Inns of Court, whoare earnestly requested to protect at least to approve this firstattempt of a stranger; and who promises, if now successful, to publish apastoral the next time. It is possible that some other writers of thisclass may have escaped my searches. I do not wish to disturb theirrepose, which is likely to be lasting.
NOTES TO THE TEXT
Warton's notes, which in the manuscript are designated by letters orsymbols, have been numbered. Brackets enclose all the editor'scorrections, expansions, and comments. The parentheses are Warton's.