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We have thus, in as short a compass as the nature of the subject would admit, given, we trust, a more accurate view of the Shakspearean era, as it existed independent of the Drama, than has hitherto been attempted.
That Shakspeare was an assiduous reader of English Poetry; that he studied with peculiar interest and attention his immediate predecessors and contemporaries, there is abundant reason to conclude from a careful perusal of his volume of miscellaneous poetry, which is modelled on a strict adherence to the taste which prevailed at the opening of his career. The collection, indeed, may, with no impropriety, be classed under the two divisions of Historic and Lyric poetry; the former concluding "Venus and Adonis," and the "Rape of Lucrece," and the latter the "Sonets," the "Passionate Pilgrim," and the "Lover's Complaint."
The great models of Historic poetry, during the prior portion of Shakspeare's life, were the" Mirrour for Magistrates" and "Warner's Albion's England;" but for the mythological story of Venus and Adonis, though deviating in several important circumstances from its prototype, we are probably indebted to Golding's Ovid; and for the Rape of Lucrece and the structure of the stanza in which it is composed, to the reputation and the metre of the "Rosamond" of Daniel, printed in 1592. For the Sonnets, he had numerous examples in the productions of Spenser, Sidney, Watson, and Constable; and, through the wide field of amatory lyric composition, excellence of almost every kind, in the form of ode, madrigal, and song, might be traced in the varied effusions of Gascoigne, Greene and Raleigh, Breton and Lodge.
How far our great bard exceeded, or fell beneath, the models which he possessed; in what degree he was independent of their influence, and to what portion of estimation his miscellaneous poetry is justly entitled, will be the subjects of the next chapter, in which we shall venture to assign to these efforts of his early days a higher rank in the scale of excellence than it has hitherto been their fate to obtain.
Dedications of Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis, and Rape of Lucrece, to the Earl of Southampton -Biographical Sketch of the Earl-Critique on the Poems of Shakspeare.
SHAKSPEARE'S dedication of his "Venus and Adonis" to the Earl of Southampton in 1593; the accomplishments, the liberality, and the virtues of this amiable nobleman, and the substantial patronage which, according to tradition, he bestowed upon our poet, together claim for him, in this place, a more than cursory notice as to life and character.
Thomas Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield, was born on the sixth of October, 1573. His grandfather had been created an Earl in the reign of Henry the Eighth; and his father, who married Mary, the daughter of Anthony, first Viscount of Montague, was a strenuous supporter of the rights of Mary Queen of Scots. Just previous to the completion of his eighth year, he suffered an irreparable loss by the death of his father, on the 4th of October, 1581. His mother, however, appears to have been by no means negligent of his education; for he was early sent to Cambridge, being matriculated there when only twelve years old, on the 11th of December, 1585. He was admitted of St. John's College, where, on the 6th of June, 1589, he took his degree of Master of Arts, and, after a residence of nearly five years in the University, he finally left it for Town, to complete his course of studies at Gray's Inn, of which place, in June, 1590, he had entered himself a member.
The circumstances which, so shortly after Lord Southampton's arrival in London, induced Shakspeare to select him as his patron, may, with an assurance almost amounting to certainty, be ascribed to the following event. Not long after the death of her husband, Lady Southampton married Sir Thomas Heneage, treasurer of the chamber, an office which necessarily led him into connection with actors and dramatic writers. Of this intercourse Lord Southampton, at the age of seventeen, was very willing to avail himself, and his subsequent history evinces, that, throughout life, he retained a passionate attachment to dramatic exhibitions. No stronger proof, indeed, can be given of his love for the theatre, than what an anecdote related by Rowland Whyte affords us, who, in a letter to Sir Robert Sydney, dated October 11th, 1599, tells his correspondent, that "my Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland come not to the Court (at Nonesuch). The one doth but very seldome. They pass away the tyme in London merely in going to plaies every day."
To a young nobleman thus inclined, imbued with a keen relish for dramatic poetry, who was ardent in his thirst for fame, and liberal in the encouragement of genius, it was natural for our poet to look not only with hope and expectation, but with enthusiastic regard. To Lord Southampton, therefore, though only nineteen years old, Shakspeare, in his twenty-ninth year,* dedicated his Venus and Adonis, "the first heire of his invention."
The language of his dedication, however, indicates some degree of apprehension as to the nature of its reception, and consequently proves that our author was not at this period assured of His Lordship's support; for it commences thus: -"Right Honorable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship;" and he adds in the opening of the next clause, "onely if your Honor seeme but pleased, I account myselfe highly praised." These timidities appear to have vanished in a very short period: for our author's dedication to the same nobleman of his Rape of Lucrece, which was entered on the Stationers' Books on May 9th, 1594, and published almost immediately afterwards, speaks a very different language, and indicates very plainly that Shakspeare had already experienced the beneficial effects of His Lordship's patronage. Gratitude and confidence, indeed, cannot express themselves in clearer terms than may be found in the diction of this address:-" The love I dedicate to Your Lordship," says the bard, "is without end.-The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duety would shew greater; meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship." Words more declaratory of obligation it would not be easy to select, and we shall be justified, therefore, in inferring, that Lord Southampton had conferred upon Shakspeare,
Venus and Adonis was entered on the Stationers' Books, by Richard Field, April 18, 1593, six days before its author completed the twenty-ninth year of his age.
in consequence of his dedication to him of Venus and Adonis, some marked proof of his kindness and protection.
Tradition has recorded, among other instances of this nobleman's pecuniary bounty, that he, at one time, gave Shakspeare a thousand pounds, in order to complete a purchase, a sum which in these days would be equal in value to more than five times its original amount. This may be, and probably is, an exaggeration; but that it has been founded on the well-known liberality of Lord Southampton to Shakspeare; on a certain knowledge that donations had passed from the peer to the poet, there can be little doubt. It had become the custom of the age to reward dedication by pecuniary bounty, and that Lord Southampton was diffusively and peculiarly generous in this mode of remuneration, we have the express testimony of Florio, who, dedicating his "World of Words" to this nobleman in 1598, says: -"In truth, I acknowledge an entire debt, not only of my best knowledge, but of all; yea, of more than I know, or can to your bounteous lordship, in whose pay and patronage I have lived some years; to whom I owe and vowe the years I have to live. But, as to me, and many more, the glorious and gracious sunshine of your honour hath infused light and life." Here, if we except the direct confession relative to "pay," the language is similar to, and not more emphatically expressive of gratitude than was Shakspeare's; and that, under the phrase "many more," Florio meant to include our poet, we may, without scruple, infer. To an actor, to a rising dramatic writer, to one who had placed the first fruits of his genius under his protection, and who was still contending with the difficulties incident to his situation, the taste, the generosity, and the feeling of Lord Southampton would naturally be attracted; and the donation which, in all probability, followed the dedication of Venus and Adonis, we have reason, from the voice of tradition, to conclude, was succeeded by many, and still more important, proofs of His Lordship's favour.
In 1597, when Lord Essex was appointed General of the forces destined to act against the Azores, Southampton, at the age of twenty-four, gallantly came forward as a volunteer, on board the Garland, one of Her Majesty's best ships,—an offer which was soon followed by a commission from Essex to command her. An opportunity speedily occurred for the display of his courage; in an engagement with the Spanish fleet, he pursued and sunk one of the enemy's largest men of war, and was wounded in the arm during the conflict. Sir William Monson, one of the Admirals of the expedition, tells us, that the Earl lost time in this chase, which might have been better employed; but his friend Essex appears to have ` considered his conduct in a different light, and conferred upon him, during his voyage, the honour of knighthood.
On his return to England, in October, 1597, he had the misfortune to find that the Queen had embraced the opinion of Monson, rather than that of Essex, and frowned with displeasure on the officer who had presumed to pursue and sink a Spanish vessel, without orders from his commander; a censure which was intended also to reach the General, with whom she was justly offended for having assumed the direction of a service to which his judgment and his talents were inadequate. His introduction to parlimentary business began on the 24th of October, 1597, and terminated, with the session, on the 8th of February, 1598; and two days afterwards, he left London to commence his tour.
In the course of November, 1598, there is reason to suppose that this enterprising nobleman returned to London; soon after which event, his union with Elizabeth Vernon took place. His bride was the daughter of John Vernon of Hodnet, in the county of Salop, and she appears to have possessed a large share of personal charms. A portrait of her was drawn by Cornelius Jansen, which is said to have "the face and hands coloured with incomparable lustre." The unjustifiable resentment of the Queen, however, rendered this connection, for a time, a source of much misery to both parties. Her capricious tyranny was such, as to induce her to feel offended, if any of her courtiers had the audacity to love or marry
without her knowledge or permission; and the result of what she termed His Lordship's clandestine marriage, was the instant dismissal of himself and his lady to a prison. How long their confinement was protracted, cannot now be accurately ascertained; that it was long in the opinion of the Earl of Essex, appears from an address of his to the Lords of Council, in which he puts the following interrogation "Was it treason in my Lord of Southampton to marry my poor kinswoman, that neither long imprisonment, nor any punishment, besides, that hath been usual, in like cases, can satisfy, or appease?" But we do know that it could not have existed beyond March, 1599; for on the 27th of that month, Lord Southampton accompanied his friend Essex to Ireland, where, immediately on his arrival, he was appointed by the Earl, now Lord Deputy of that country, his general of the horse.
This military promotion of Southampton is one among numerous proofs of the imprudence of Essex, for it was not only without the Queen's knowledge, but, as Camden has informed us, "clean contrary to his instructions." What was naturally to be expected, therefore, soon occurred; Lord Southampton was, by the Queen's orders, deprived of his commission, in the August following, and on the 20th of September, 1599, he revisited London, where, apprehensive of the displeasure of Her Majesty, he absented himself from court, and endeavoured to soothe his inquietude by the attractions of the theatre, to which his ardent admiration of the genius of Shakspeare now daily induced him to recur.
The resentment of the Queen, however, though not altogether appeased, soon began to subside; and in December, 1599, when Lord Mountjoy was commissioned to supersede Essex in the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, Lord Southampton was one of the officers selected by Her Majesty to attend him. Farther than this she refused to condescend; for, though His Lordhip solicited for some weeks the honour of kissing her hand, and was supported in this request by the influence of Cecil, he solicited in vain, and was at length compelled to rest satisfied with the expression of her wishes for the safety of his journey.
One unpleasant consequence of his former transient compaign in Ireland, had been a quarrel with the Lord Grey, who acting under him as a colonel of horse, had, from the impetuosity of youthful valour, attacked the rebel force without orders; a contempt of subordination which had been punished by his superior with a night's imprisonment. The fiery spirit of Grey could not brook even this requisite attention to discipline, and he sent Southampton a challenge, which the latter, on his departure for Ireland, in April, 1600, accepted, by declaring that he would meet Lord Grey in any part of that country. The Queen, however, for the present arrested the combat; but the animosity was imbittered by delay, and Lord Southampton felt it necessary to his character to break off his military engagements, which had conferred upon him the reputation of great bravery and professional skill, and had received the marked approval of the Lord Deputy, to satiate the resentment of Grey, who had again called him to a meeting, and fixed its scene in the Low Countries.
Of this interview we know nothing more than that it proved so completely abortive, that, shortly afterwards, Lord Grey attacked Southampton as he rode through the streets of London, an outrage which affords but a melancholy trait of the manners of the age, though punished on the spot by the immediate committal of the perpetrator to prison.
It had been happy, however, for the fame and repose of Southampton, had this been the only unfortunate contest in which he engaged; but he was recalled by Essex from the Low Countries, in order to assist him in his insurrectionary movements against the person and government of his sovereign. Blinded by the attachments of friendship, which he cultivated with enthusiastic warmth, and indignant at the treatment which he had lately received from the Queen, he too readily listened to the treasonable suggestions of Essex, and became one of the conspirators who assembled at the house of this nobleman on the 8th of February,
1601. Here they took the decisive step of imprisoning the Queen's privy counsellors who had been sent to enquire into the purport of their meeting, and from this mansion they sallied forth, with their view of exciting the citizens to rebellion. An enterprise so criminal, so rash, and chimerical, immediately met the fate which it merited; and the trial of Essex and Southampton for high treason took place on the 19th of February, when, both being found guilty, the former, as is well known, expiated his offence by death, while the latter, from the minor culpability of his views, from the modesty and contrition which he exhibited in his defence, and from the intercession of Cecil and the peers, obtained a remission of the sentence affecting his life, but was condemned to imprisonment in the Tower. We have more than once mentioned the great partiality of Lord Southampton to dramatic literature, and it is somewhat remarkable that this partiality should have been rendered subservient to the machinations of treason; for Bacon tells us, that "the afternoon before the rebellion, Merick (afterwards the defender of Essex-house), with a great company of others, that afterwards were all in the action, had procured to be played before them the play of deposing King Richard the Second; when it was told him by one of the players that the play was old, and they should have loss in playing it, because few would come to it, there were forty shillings extraordinary given to play it, and so thereupon played it was." It appears from the State Trials, vol. vii. p. 60, that the player to whom the forty shillings were given, was Augustine Philippes, one of the patentees of the Globe playhouse with Shakspeare, in 1603.
The term old applied to this play, which, according to the report of the Queen, was played forty times in open streets and houses," has induced Dr. Farmer and Mr. Tyrwhitt to conclude that a play entitled Richard the Second, or Henry the Fourth, existed before Shakspeare's dramas on these subjects. This position, however, is dissented from by Mr. Chalmers, who says," In opposition to Farmer and Tyrwhitt, I hold, though I have a great respect for their memories, that it was illogical to argue, from a nonentity, against an entity; that as no such play as the Henry IV. which they spoke of had ever appeared, while Shakspeare's Richard II. was apparent to every eye, it was inconsequential reasoning in them to prefer the first play to the last and I am, therefore, of opinion, that the play of deposing Richard II. which was seditiously played on the 7th of February, 1600-1. was Shakspeare's Richard II., that had been originally acted in 1596, and first printed in 1597."
This opinion of Mr. Chalmers will be much strengthened when we reflect that Lord Southampton's well-known attachment to the muse of Shakspeare, would almost certainly induce him to prefer the play written by his favourite poet to the composition of an obscure, and, without doubt, a very inferior writer.
The death of Elizabeth terminated the confinement and the sufferings of Lord Southampton. No sooner had James acceded to the throne, than he sent an order for his release from the Tower, which took place on the 10th of April, 1603, and accompanied it with a request that he would meet him on his way to England. This might be considered as a certain presage of future favours, and was, indeed, speedily followed, not only by the reversal of his attainder, and the restoration of his property, but by an accumulation of honours. He was immediately appointed master of the game to the Queen; a pension of six hundred pounds per annum was allotted to his lady; in July, 1603, he was installed a knight of the garter, and created captain of Isle of Wight and Carisbrooke Castle, and in the following Spring he was constituted Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, and was chosen by the King as his companion in a journey to Royston.
This flow of good fortune was, however, transiently impeded by the jealousy of James, who stimulated by the machinations of some of his courtiers, envious of the returning prosperity of the Earl, was led to suspect that an improper intimacy had taken place between Southampton and his Queen; a charge of disaffection to His Majesty was, therefore, brought against His Lordship, and he was