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can be no question that this poetic gem, in the hands of our great master, was wrought into a degree of perfection that has never been surpassed in our own or any other tongue. There is an abiding interest in the one hundred and fifty-four short poems of this kind that Shakspere wrote, which is ever attracting the fancy and ingenuity of new students of his genius, inasmuch as it is generally admitted that they embody the real feelings and experiences of the man himself; that in them he lays bare the joys and sorrows and inner workings of his own marvellous personality.*
• Shakspere's Sonnets were published in 1609 by T. T. (Thomas Thorpe) and, like the plays that were published in 4to during his life­time, without the poet's knowledge. The Dedication of them runs "To the only begetter of these ensuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H." Who this W. H. was has given rise to many conjectures, and to much ingenious special pleading, but the truth will probably never be known with certainty. The most plausible conjectures are that the initials stand for (1) Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, the poet's junior by nine years, who is known to have been his early patron, and to whom he dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece; and (2) William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to whom Heminge and Condell dedicated the first folio in 1623.
It is obviously impossible to discriminate to what extent the deeper utterances of a poet are purely subjective, or are the outcome of his objective experience. The sustained, passionate depth of emotion, how­ever, that is clearly perceptible throughout the sonnets, lead almost con­clusively to the belief that they embody the poet's own feelings, and portray, though dimly, a series of real occurrences. Mr. Archibald Brown's hypothesis as to the story they tell, modified by Professor Dowden, seems the most natural and reasonable one that has Leen suggested, and is in accordance with the later developments of the poet's genius. It is to the effect that Sonnets 1 to 127 were addressed to a young man, and that the rest were written to, or about, a " dark lady," imperious, gifted, and fascinating, but unfaithful, who was for a time Shakspere's mistress. The young friend had wealth, rank, great beauty of person and mind, and the poet entertained for him an inordinate affection. They gradually became estranged, however; the younger suc­cumbs to the seductions of the dark lady, and this double faithlessness plunges the poet into profound darkness and sorrow. The bitterness, however, in time passes out of his heart, the friends become reconciled and bound together by a love that is now purged from all earthly dross.
An attempt has been made of late to identify this mysterious lady as Mary Fitton, of Gawsworth, Cheshire, at one time maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth.